Northern California gets creative in search for space to come together

Northern California has long been a hit with mega-meetings. In San Francisco alone, Moscone Center’s 2 million-square-foot collection of buildings has hosted everyone from Salesforce’s Dreamforce citywide to Meeting Professionals International’s Annual Conference. A $500 million expansion of the 1980s facility will add more wide-open spaces and a grand ballroom that really lives up to the name. While the cranes are still in the air, more than half of the current exhibit space is out of commission, forcing planners to find alternatives until a planned ribbon-cutting in late 2018.

Because necessity is the mother of creativity, we surveyed insiders all over Northern California for possible alternatives to the big conference center and found lots of unique ideas to inject your events with local color. From the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties in the north to the southern reaches of Silicon Valley and East Bay neighbors in Oakland (pictured), Berkeley and Diablo Valley, the opportunities are like the Bay Area fog, seeping into neighborhoods where you might least expect to find them. See if any of these original spaces strike a chord with your group.

San Francisco Insider Tip
“Get out of downtown—experience the neighborhoods.”
–Deirdre Lewis, senior director, convention services and events, San Francisco Travel
Moscone Center
Moscone Center in San Francisco

Moscone Center’s 256,000 sq. ft. of exhibit floors and 106 meeting rooms were filled to capacity for years before construction started in April, according to Deirdre Lewis, senior director of convention services and events for San Francisco Travel Association. When it reopens with almost double the amount of nonstop space and improved pedestrian walking patterns, the city will be full of shiny new options to stay. Many hotels are using the easing of demand to refresh, and a wave of new building is coming online. In fact, more than 4,500 rooms are in some stage of planning or construction, 20 times the number in the pipeline last year.

Even before the big reveal, San Francisco Travel Association is forecasting a total of 25.6 million visitors to the city for 2017, up almost 2 percent compared to 2016. And bookings for 2019 events have already be strong, according to Lewis.

The tough question for planners considering San Francisco might be deciding which new venue to choose. Lewis shared four new ways to impress coming in the next few years. Spoiler alert: In San Francisco, the key words are “boutique” and “rooftop bar.”

Waldorf Astoria San Francisco will be the centerpiece of a 2 million-square-foot complex filled with restaurants and shops in SoMa (South of Market). It will include 171 rooms, a top-end spa and Peacock Alley restaurant.

Guest room at Proper Hotel

The new Proper Hotel will inject 131 rooms, four indoor-outdoor restaurants and a 3,400-square-foot rooftop bar available for buyouts in the Financial District historic neighborhood.

Event-maker extraordinaire Richard Branson announced he will open his second hotel, Virgin Hotels San Francisco, this fall. The South of Market property is designed to wow guests with 109 suites, The Commons Club and a rooftop bar, all inside a vintage Art Deco building.

Also opening in Fall 2017 is a fourth Yotel, a city hotel concept that incorporates the technology values in its Market Street location with co-working spaces, self-check-in kiosks and a 24-hour gym. Yep, it will also feature a rooftop terrace bar with views of the Financial District in the historic Grant Building, one of the few to survive the 1906 earthquake. The 203 cabin rooms include adjustable beds, monsoon rain showers, mood lighting and lots of places to plug in electronics.
Nearby Metreon offers the latest in theater experience, with power recliner seats, a Dolby sound theater and MacGuffins Bar Lounge.

When Dreamforce returns in November, 170,000 Trailblazers will assemble at Moscone Center West (which remains open during construction), San Francisco Marriott Marquis, InterContinental San Francisco Palace Hotel, Hilton Union Square, Park Central Hotel San Francisco and The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square. These venues have become experts at handling the large crowds that tech events bring to the city and they have stepped up their game this year, recruiting meetings while bookings are down at the convention center. But they are not the only options. A diverse chorus of communities populates the island beyond the core of the Financial District.

Lewis says people are getting creative, booking meetings in warehouses, piers renovated for the America’s Cup games and in restaurants in the Mission and Nob Hill areas. She suggests taking an excursion away from Market street and discovering all that San Francisco has to offer.

Wine Country Insider Tip
“People here have a passion for doing everything to perfection.”
–Teresa Savage, vp of sales, Visit Napa Valley
Guest room at Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa, Sausalito

If it’s time to think outside the conference room; consider staging your next meeting in a wine cave in the world-famous wine-producing regions of Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. Teresa Savage, vice president of sales with Visit Napa Valley, finds that people there have a passion for doing everything perfectly, whether it is making world-class wine or putting together meetings. A number of new venues designed to accommodate groups make this region more accessible than ever before.

Meritage Resort and Spa features a 22,000-square-foot Estate Cave that can host up to 200 people for casual wine tasting or a perfectly paired meal. Guests can stay in one of 322 guest rooms with executive work desks and—thanks to full internet access—not miss a thing while getting away from it all.

Carneros Resort and Spa meeting space, Napa

How about a little bocce with that brainstorming? Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa makes the wine country one of the special guests at your event by incorporating sweeping views and indoor/outdoor spaces for up to 175 people along with menus that make the most of local bounty. Guests can stay in cottages, suites or homes on-site and have access to the entire valley.

Culinary Institute of America offers classes, a new restaurant and a How to Taste Wine in 90 Seconds team—and taste—building activities for groups of two to 500 in an outdoor ampitheater.

After business is done, build that team spirit with a hot air balloon ride or a wine tasting tour—via limo, bike or Segway.

Oakland Insider Tip
“Welcome to the sunny side of the Bay.”
–Rhanee Palma, director of sales, Visit Oakland

East of San Francisco over the new Bay Bridge lies Oakland, which boasts a lively waterfront at Jack London Square where visitors enjoy yachting, kayaking, paddleboarding, industrial arts and bison viewing—yes, wildlife networking. A new wildlife area at Oakland Zoo is introducing an urban audience to the beauty of the Golden State’s natural heritage. California trail is now accessible via a gondola with panoramic views of the entire bay. The glass-walled Landing Cafe at California Trail is the first phase of a $70 million, 100 acre-project set to open in summer 2018.

People are already flocking to the city. Oakland welcomed a record 3.6 million tourists in 2015. Demand for Oakland’s 5,000 hotel rooms was 22 percent higher in 2015 than 2010, according to Visit Oakland statistics.

Palma credits the increase in visitors to more activity at the 64,000-square-foot Oakland Convention Center and more nonstop international flights at Oakland International Airport (OAK). But what might have even more to do with the uptick is the mighty three-pointer. “Any time the Warriors do well, there is an increase in interest internationally,” she says.

The vibrant Lake Merritt waterfront is bringing 4,000 people from United States Rowing Nationals to town in 2018 and 2020. Those visitors will find a lot to do out of the boats, as well. Palma suggests exploring street art, blacksmithing or glassblowing.

For those looking for a home base to check out all the wild life, a number of properties offer updated options.

Fairmont’s Claremont Club & Spa is an urban resort dating back to 1915, but the amenities are brand new. The 276 guest rooms were restored in 2015, four restaurants and bars receive awards each year for their creativity, and The Fairmont Spa’s 32 treatment rooms offer eucalyptus steam rooms, saline whirlpools and deluge showers. Plus, 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space are in the midst of a renovation.

Oakland Marriott City Center completed a $22 million renovation in 2016 of 500 guest rooms. The new M Club arrived in February as a great room restaurant and bar concept and a lot of local art as a backdrop.

Berkeley Insider Tip
“This is not a destination for theme parks: This is an authentic destination.”
–Barbara Hillman, CEO, Visit Berkeley

Berkeley is often seen as the definition of alternative. “We are not a convention center kind of town,” says Barbara Hillman, CEO of Visit Berkeley and Berkeley Film Office. “Instead we have some phenomenal arts and academic spaces, and more on the way.”

UC Theater Taube Family Music Hall, Berkeley

UC Theater Taube Family Music Hall, a block from UC Berkeley, was recently remade into a modern performance space with no permanent seating so it can fit 1,400 people surrounded by history. This is in addition to the existing staging options at Cornerstone Craft Beer and Live Music, Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse (capacity 450) and Berkeley Rep’s two theaters—Roda and Peet’s—available for rent.

University of California, Berkeley campus has hundreds of thousands of square feet available for rental, including the newly renovated, 9,000-square-foot Pauley Ballroom in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and University Club at the top of California Memorial Stadium, which was recently redesigned to take advantage of views of all three bridges from the glass-encased suites.

For a town that is slow to change, a lot of new is going on. Pyramid Hotel Group is preparing to break ground on a 16-story, 335-room, all-suite hotel and restaurant that will include a 14,000-square-foot conference center.

To make deciding on a location for that next meeting easier, Hillman’s team broke the city into seven districts and created a guide on the Visit Berkeley website that covers all 350 restaurants. It offers this advice: “Tie-dye is recommended, but not required.”

Diablo Valley Insider Tip
“Get out and stretch your legs.”
–Elaine Schroth, event and marketing, Visit Concord
Walnut Creek Marriott, meeting space

Farther east, Diablo Valley—Concord, Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill—is known for an even more relaxed vibe. Home of Concord Pavilion, a massive outdoor amphitheater for as many as 12,500 people, and Six Flags Waterworld California, this is a less-crowded way to enjoy western exposure, all within a BART ride of San Francisco. Concord alone offers nine hotels with 1,300 guest rooms and 75,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and access from three airports.

Elaine Schroth, event and marketing representative for Visit Concord, says it is a great place to golf, hike, bike and ride. Mount Diablo State Park is an open invitation for a group outing.

Even the hotels are nature focused. Hilton Concord continues to win awards as a Certified Green Business for the way it operates its 329 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space.

Walnut Creek Marriott recently completed a $12 million renovation that included 17,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, a health club and a concierge lounge. Its 338 guest rooms now offer larger, wall-mounted televisions and more energy efficiency.

San Jose Insider Tip
“Own the city; create a campus-like feel starting the moment you step off the tarmac.”
–Rachel Davis, communications, Team San Jose

San Francisco’s southern neighbor speaks with a tech accent and has America’s fastest free Wi-Fi to prove it. When Comic-Con brought 65,000 people to San Jose McEnery Convention Center in April, they included a festival in Plaza de Cesar Chavez and “took over” downtown with branding banners throughout, and drew on local celebrities such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and NASA scientists for entertainment.

While its campus-like downtown lies at the heart of Silicon Valley and it boasts both a modernized San Jose International Airport (SJC) and easy access to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), its group business is still connected San Francisco and some properties reported a dip when a number of conventions took a break during the Moscone renovation.

Geoff Sarabia-Mason, director of sales and marketing at Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, made a concerted effort six months ago to bump up marketing efforts with transients and groups to make up for what otherwise would have been a decrease in demand. “Groups are getting creative,” he says, and he was happy to help in that effort. The property is located on 6 acres, so by renting tents, he turned 30,000 sq. ft. of space into 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting area.

For those looking for new venues in the land of disruption, Rachel Davis, communications specialist for Team San Jose, named a few coming attractions.
The Tribute Hotel San Jose planned by Marriott International will be a new 24-story, 279-room tower that will hang over the historic Four Points by Sheraton (formerly known as Montgomery Hotel) to serve nearby San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

As part of Museum Place, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is planning a 173-room hotel that will increase the size of the Tech Museum by 54,000 sq. ft and include 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

DoubleTree by Hilton San Jose completed a $5.7 million renovation on its 48,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in March. The 505-room property is close to the airport, Levi’s Stadium and SAP Center.

SoFA District, the area South of First Street, is turning into Silicon Valley’s Creative Center. It is a strip of museums, galleries and nightlife venues, including a new Uproar Brewing Company and Forager taproom, which features the burgeoning craft brew scene in San Jose.

5 Ideas to Transform Your Event and Create Memorable Experiences

When it comes to entertaining in the Bay Area, it is hard to beat San Francisco Giants. We asked Rory Davis, marketing manager at Giants Enterprises, for his tips on staging an event that will be a home run.

1. Cruise San Francisco Bay in Style: Giants Enterprises recently unveiled the newly reimagined California Spirit, a 100-foot luxury yacht ready to navigate San Francisco Bay. Docked within steps of AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants) at Pier 40, the sleek 130-passenger vessel features a sophisticated, modern aesthetic, including three spacious viewing decks, two redesigned bars, elegant furniture and state-of-the-art AV enhancements. This is a refined way for your group to experience a game or any day.

2. Dinner in the Dugout: Ditch the fancy restaurant and overpriced back room and dine in one of the most unconventional and hallowed venues in sports—the San Francisco Giants’ dugout! From black-tie dinners to unforgettable welcome parties, this will leave a lasting impression on guests.

3. Waterfront 5K Run/Walk: In town for a multiday convention and looking for a way to engage your attendees in a fun, healthy and immersive way? A perfect, flat and scenic 5K course along the San Francisco waterfront includes some of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks and plenty of San Francisco air.

4. Bowling Meets Baseball: Treat guests to the most exclusive and secretive venue inside AT&T Park—The Gotham Club game room. This wood-paneled lounge was inspired by the famous pool halls of former Giants manager and Hall of Famer John McGraw. Every corner of the room pays homage to the franchise’s rich history down to the smallest details, and includes a custom, chandelier-topped billiards table, two lustrous bowling lanes, vintage parlor games, old-school arcades, a classic bar and memorabilia-lined walls.

5. Party on the Pier: With approximately 120,000 sq. ft. of space, Pier 48 is one of the largest, most flexible event spaces in San Francisco. Located across from AT&T Park along the waterfront, Pier 48 is available for festivals, receptions, concerts, gala dinners, conventions and more.

This vintage warehouse offers dramatic views of AT&T Park, San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge, while providing a blank canvas for your wildest event dreams to come to life.

Sacramento Boasts Farm to Meeting Capital

Sacramento Capitol rotunda

When Maryland-based American Physical Society was looking for a place to bring 1,300 people to the West Coast for the Division of Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics meeting (a smaller version of the annual conference they hold for 10,000 people each year), Sacramento rose to the top of the list because it is California’s capital.

When meeting planner Christine Lenihan visited for a site inspection, she was thrilled with how easy the city was to navigate and the diversity and quality of the food offerings. “I was just so surprised by how much there was to do and how convenient everything was at the convention center,” Lenihan says. “Everyone wants to come back.”

Mike Testa, new Visit Sacramento CEO, hears that a lot. Associations are Sacramento’s largest clients and a growing segment of the meeting industry there.
“For those who haven’t been to Sacramento in the last three years, the abundance of the foodie scene can be a surprise,” Testa says.

Even the way he talks about the city to planners has changed. Where once the conversation would have centered around Old Sacramento’s Gold Rush history, the opening of Golden 1 Center as the new home for the NBA Sacramento Kings has shifted the focus.

Testa credits the stadium development and all the restaruant and retail space that is accompanying it with revitalizing the downtown corridor. It is also bringing a new 250-room Kimpton Sawyer Hotel with 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a patio overlooking the Downtown Commons (DoCo) scheduled to open in the fall.

Beyond the downtown core, the mixed-use Ice Blocks neighborhood and Railyards Project are scheduled to bring more meetings space, restaurants and a major league soccer stadium.

Also on the drawing board is a $90 million Sacramento Convention Center expansion that will add 205,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and an outdoor amphitheater in the heart of the city.

The neighboring Community Center Theater and Memorial Auditorium will also be renovated with completion slated for 2020. Testa hopes a new convention center hotel will join Sheraton Grand Sacramento and Hyatt Regency Sacramento to allow the city to draw larger groups.

And did we mention restaurants? Testa boasts that there are more Zagat stand-out restaurants in the capital than any other city in Northern California. “Farm to fork is just part of what we do,” he says. From the convention center’s in-house catering service, Classique Catering, to hotel room service and the Cafe in the expanded Crocker Art Museum, ingredients are largely sourced from the local area. That has a lot to do with Sacramento’s sunny climate. “When there is snow on the ground in other parts of the world, strawberries are still popping out of the ground here,” he says.

Heightened Sense of Meaning

For those looking to plan a meeting on the edge (the edge of California and Nevada), North Lake Tahoe overflows with opportunities to craft memorable events inside and out. The California side of this massive alpine lake is home to more than 7,000 guest rooms, 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 30 venues with built-in transportation between the airport, slopes and Nevada side.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is the pinnacle in AAA Five Diamond luxury, with more than 150 guest rooms, including 16 guest suites. A 15,000 sq. ft. outdoor space is anchored by a Fireside Terrace while inside, two ballrooms with mountain views can accommodate up to 400 people. A partnership with Tahoe Adventure Company makes stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing or just relaxing on the beach easy to arrange.

For Olympic-level accommodations, Resort at Squaw Creek offers ski-in, ski-out access to the site of the 1960 games. This AAA Four Diamond resort is home to 405 guest rooms, an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course, three heated swimming pools and 47,700 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Five on-site restaurants and a short walk to more than a dozen others at Villages at Squaw Valley mean no one will go hungry.

Berkeley City Club
35 guest rooms; 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 2,400-square-foot ballroom; distinguished Member’s Lounge; terrace.
Graduate Berkeley
144 guest rooms; 1,836 sq. ft. of meeting space; boardroom; two breakout rooms; near UC Berkeley campus; formerly Hotel Durant.
Hotel Shattuck
199 guest rooms; 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; four meeting rooms; top floor Whitecotton Room offers views of Berkeley.
Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel
276 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; prime location in Berkeley/Oakland Hills; four restaurants, including AAA Four Diamond rated Meritage.
Diablo Valley
Clarion Hotel of Concord
198 guest rooms; 5,400 sq. ft. of meeting space; free Wi-Fi.
Crowne Plaza Walnut Creek/Concord
324 guest rooms, 26,300 sq. ft. of event space; pet-friendly, indoor atrium; koi pond; Vineyards Restaurant & Bar.
Hilton Concord
329 guest rooms (including allergy-free rooms); 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 8,800-square-foot Golden Gate Ballroom; Technology Lounge; electric vehicle charging stations; Plate & Vine restaurant.
Oakland Marriott City Center
AAA Three Diamond rating; 494 guest rooms; 97,480 sq. ft. of meeting space; 36 meeting rooms; 7,600-square-foot ballroom; remodeled lobby; near BART.
The Roof Garden at the Kaiser Center
Circa 1960 historic space; 3 acres of landscaped event space; 6,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space; near Lake Merritt.
Waterfront Hotel
145 guest rooms; 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 13 meeting rooms; marina views; near Jack London Square.
Redding Civic Auditorium
1969 music venue; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16 meeting rooms.
Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge
Opening in 2018; near Civic Auditorium; 130 guest rooms; 80,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space with capacity for up to 400.
Hyatt Regency Sacramento
AAA Four Diamond hotel; 505 guest rooms; 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 15,544-square-foot Regency ballroom, 10 meeting rooms; views of state Capitol.
Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel
503 guest rooms; 19 meeting rooms; 10,500-square-foot ballroom; next door to Sacramento Convention Center Complex.
The Citizen Hotel
196 guest rooms; 8,252 sq. ft. of meeting and event space; 2,280-square-foot Plaza Park Ballroom; 153-person Grange Restaurant and Bar.
San Francisco
Hotel Tilden
New Union Square location; 118 guest rooms; The Penthouse, 2,100 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space with views; The Mechanics Room, 1,050 sq. ft. of meeting space; hummingbird garden.
Hotel Nikko San Francisco
Reopened in March after $60 million renovation; 532 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 25th-floor meeting space offers Union Square views; 10,000-square-foot health club.
Hotel Via
159 guest rooms; across from AT&T Park, opened in June; exclusive rooftop bar; ground-level Bar Via.
San Jose
California Theatre
Renovated 1927 theater; across from San Jose Convention Center; seats 1,122; three meeting rooms; grand foyer and private courtyard.
Hotel De Anza
1931 Art Deco design; 100 guest rooms, signature meeting space with hand-painted ceiling; La Pastaia restaurant.
Fairmont San Jose
805 guest rooms, 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Imperial Ballroom; Tova Day Spa; rooftop pool and meeting space.
San Jose McEnery Convention Center
372,754 sq. ft. of meeting space; connected to two hotels and Caltrain.
San Jose Marriott
510 guest rooms, two new “war rooms” for private legal meetings; Michael Mina’s excellent Arcadia Steakhouse.
Wine Country
Archer Hotel Napa
Opening Fall 2017; 183 guest rooms (40 with balconies); 17,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space; downtown Napa location.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Newly renovated; 226 guest rooms; 19,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; ballroom with wood-burning fireplace; Willow Stream Spa.
Silverado Resort and Spa, Napa
370 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; new 18,000-square-foot The Mansion Gardens vineyard, lawn and pavilion opening in fall 2017.