Time to head to a more creative state

No two meetings are alike. Luckily, the Golden State is unlike any other when it comes to venue variety. The diverse landscape ranges from beach and vineyard to mountain and city and everywhere in between. This robust event infrastructure is paired with a temperate climate that makes taking the meeting outdoors the preferred alternative most of the year.

The Golden State is also a pioneer in environmental and social initiatives that align with many organizations’ priorities. And, since it is the innovation capital of the world, creative technology solutions are at-the-ready to enhance gatherings of all sizes.

Smart Meetings looked at meeting hot spots all over the state to find inspirational ideas for your next convention, incentive or retreat.

Southern California

view of San Diego coast from ocean, small boat in water and five buildings in background

From San Diego to San Luis Obispo, the south coast is brimming with cool spots for gatherings of all sizes. A mix of urban centers and resort areas with easy access to beaches and vineyards makes both the main-stage production and team-building execution as easy as falling off a surfboard.

Read MoreHow a Central California Town Added Autism Accessibility to Its Meeting Amenity List

5 Fantastic Places to Meet

anaheim convention center exterior

One of the largest convention headquarters on the West Coast is 53-acre Anaheim Convention Center with 1.8 million sq. ft. of space across the street from Disneyland Resort. The city boasts 29 hotels with dedicated meeting space, including a new luxury JW Marriott Anaheim and The Westin Anaheim Resort.

pool area of the ritz carlton los angeles la live

Los Angeles Convention Center and its neighbor JW Marriott/ The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles LA Live were recently approved for a $1 billion expansion that will add 700,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to the convention center, connecting the South and West Halls, and increasing its size by 45%.

The dual-branded Marriott properties will add a 37-story tower with 861 rooms, to augment the 1,000 rooms already in place. Plans also include a new 228,000-square-foot conference center. The entire project could take up to 3 years to complete.

hotel del coronado exterior

Hotel del Coronado, the 133-year-old landmark on the beach adjacent to San Diego, is showing off a $450 million renovation that added a conference center and 142 new guest rooms to the iconic white and red Victorian-towered retreat that has hosted Marilyn Monroe, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Edward, Prince of Wales.

inside ballroom of palm springs convention center

Greater Palm Springs is more than an oasis of luxury, it is also a cultural and sustainable resource. Palm Springs Convention Center’s 261,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is powered by 2,574 onsite solar panels. It is served by socially and environmentally conscious properties throughout the nine cities.

pool at zachari dunes on mandalay beach

Toes in sand is easy at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, a completely transformed Curio Collection by Hilton property in Oxnard with direct access for elevated beach picnics. The vibe in Ventura Coast is more laid back and meetings ramp up the local taco trail culture by shredding the formality.

Local Expert Tips

headshot of jay burress wearing black suit and red tieAnaheim:ocV!BE, the adult playground for entertainment, dining and gathering scheduled for completion in Anaheim by 2028 will be ‘transformational.’”

– Jay Burress, CTA                                                                                 president and CEO of Visit Anaheim

headshot of darren green wearing blue suit and blue tie

Los Angeles: “The new LAX is a game changer. The renovation will really alleviate the traffic coming in and out of LAX. And the Delta expansion is out of this world.”

– Darren Green, senior vice president of sales, Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board

headshot of lauren bruggemans wearing black shirt with patterns of orange circles and white squaresGreater Palm Springs: “Visit Greater Palm Springs can use its power and platform and influence to ensure that development is sustainable.”

– Lauren Bruggemans, director of sustainability and community engagement, Visit Greater Palm Springs

headshot of brian tucker wearing black suit with red and grey tieVentura County Coast: “California is a magnet for dreamers, the heart of the California brand is the promise of dreaming big and being welcomed into a California lifestyle that celebrates abundance and diversity. Here in Ventura County Coast, our destination delivers on the California promise where all vibes, are always welcome.

For planners looking for new ways to host unique events, integrate the outdoors, incorporate health and wellness activities, or simply host their event somewhere other than a big metro center we are the perfect choice.

– Brian Tucker, Ventura County Coast (Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, Port Hueneme)

Five Reasons Meeting Profs Love Southern California

exterior of Dolby Theater in Los Angeles
Dolby Theater, Los Angeles
  • Easy Access: Wherever your guests are coming from, there is a good chance that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has a direct flight. It is one of the five busiest airports in the world and is geared up for a $14 billion renovation to be completed in 2023. It will add gate capacity with an expansion of Delta Airlines, modernize the facility and streamline traffic going into downtown. In Orange County, John Wayne Airport (SNA) is the easy way to access the resort towns of Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach.
  • Fresh Air: Meeting outside is always in fashion in sunny SoCal. San Diego’s new $85 million The Rady Shell is part concert hall, part public park and all about bringing people together. In downtown LA, SoFi Stadium is an indoor-outdoor escape that kicks off the networking even when it isn’t game day. Beach access is never far. A short trip to Marina del Ray opens a world of possibilities, including dockside event spaces, private yachts and waterfront dining courtesy of vendors such as FantaSea Yachts. From Pasadena Convention Center’s 130,000-square-foot LEED Gold Certified ballroom to Santa Ana’s Streetscapes, the arts scene is alive and well. Meetings that take the chance to escape to Irvine will find wide-open spaces on world-class golf courses and at Orange County Great Park where 1,300 acres of opportunity await under the big orange balloon. Two hours from Los Angeles, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner drops groups at the Funk Zone where walking from the Pier to a cluster of urban wineries and restaurants is all in a day’s work. Toes in sand is easy at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, a completely transformed Curio Collection by Hilton property in Oxnard with direct access for elevated beach picnics. The vibe in Ventura Coast is more laid back and meetings ramp up the local taco trail culture by shredding the formality.
  • Glam and Glitz: From the early days of Hollywood’s Golden Age, this is a place where the spotlight is a little bigger and everything feels shinier. The Sunset Strip, Santa Monica Boulevard and the Design District in West Hollywood are so bright, you will have to gift sunglasses to attendees. Your event can grace the same Dolby Theater stage as Academy Award Winners or take the meeting to the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures where a red-carpet arrival is an appropriate approach to a celebration in the dramatic 966-seat David Geffen Theater. Across the street, Petersen Automotive Museum offers full buyouts of the three floors of car art, or a more intimate affair in the Penthouse and Pavilion.
  • Brain Trust: Fueled by a concentration of higher education (University of Southern California, Pepperdine University and University of California Los Angeles for three examples), start-up incubators and accelerators, Silicon Beach has launched some of the top internet and medical companies in the world. Leverage that mental energy for speakers and insights.
  • Vintage Vibes: Southern California boasts its own vino culture from Temecula Valley’s wine country where Pechanga Resort Casino is a popular launching pad for foodie tours and air balloon rides alike to San Luis Obispo area where Allegretto Vineyard Resort Paso Robles is an award-winning escape for executive groups looking to grow closer to each other and the beautiful landscape.

headshot of kristin mcgrath wearing black top and silver necklaceQ&A: with Kristin McGrath, Executive Director of Visit Pasadena

Pasadena is known for year-round gatherings. Rose Bowl Stadium just turned 100 years old. How does the history of the area, including its starring role in so many movies and television shows excite interest in registration for events that book the city?

With so much history, Pasadena offers a diverse range of exciting activities, including rich cultural heritage, culinary endeavors, arts and sciences, spectator sports and entertainment. The Rose Bowl Stadium has withstood the test of time and continues to be an incredible venue filled with exciting events, such as the flea market that attracts 20,000 visitors every second Sunday, the spectator sports, concerts and summer music festivals. Ice House Comedy is the oldest comedy club in the country, having seen some of the most acclaimed comedians, and is getting a grand unveil in 2023 with new renovations and an exciting new lineup of entertainment.

The Pasadena Playhouse is known as a star factory, due to the number of celebrities discovered on its stage. As the official state theater of California, the Pasadena Playhouse continues to be one of the most prolific theaters with a 6-month celebration of Sondheim in 2023, culminating in a concert featuring Bernadette Peters. Meeting planners should utilize some of the incredible information that Pasadena’s CVB has to curate impactful destination experiences that can also include architectural tours, film history walking tours, culinary tours and more.

What are the hot dining and catering trends?

Restaurants in Pasadena range from modest to opulent, innovative to comforting, and cover nearly every cuisine. With over 650 restaurants to choose from, restaurants and eateries continue to delight in this foodie town. New venues continue to pop up with Spanish tapas and paellas at Dos Besos, elevated dim sum in an historic building at Chef Tony, the incredibly Nashville hot chicken at Howlin’ Ray’s first full-service restaurant, and a chock-full line up of cafes featuring teas, bobas, coffees and pastries.

Head over to Burlington Arcade in the South Lake District for a phenomenal photo op while grabbing a cup of handcrafted coffee or herbal tea from the new Mandarin Coffee Stand. At Agnes in Old Pasadena, the charcuterie and cheese boards paired with tinned fish and wine serves as a delightful place for long conversations with new acquaintances. There’s never a dull moment when exploring the cuisines from around the world in Pasadena.

How does the robust STEM infrastructure in place help meeting professionals looking for inspiration and educational speakers?

Meeting professionals can take advantage of Pasadena’s renowned status in the STEM world and work with Pasadena Convention & Visitor Bureau to explore options for educational speakers among the many institutions. The CVB is a part of the fabric of the city and can provide important introductions and connections to Pasadena’s ArtCenter, Caltech, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, the USC Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena Heritage, and more.

These unique opportunities provide attendees access to leading experts in science, technology, engineering, math and space, providing insight into some of the most cutting-edge work today. Meeting professionals can also work with the CVB to curate experiences for attendees, such as tours of these landmark Pasadena institutions that have consistently produced innovation to spark creativity and drive lasting impact on various industries.

Bookmark This

destinationirvine.com // discovercoronado.com // discoverlosangeles.com // sandiego.org // santabarbara.com // surfcity.com // travelpaso.com // travelsantaana.com // venturacoast.com // visitanaheim.org  visitcamarillo.com // visitgreaterpalmsprings.com // visitlagunabeach.com // visitmdr.com // visitoxnard.com // visitpasadena.com // visitslo.com // visittemecularvalley.com // visitwesthollywood.com

Northern California

Innovative, renovated and green all over

The western frontier has long been the destination of dreamers, pioneers willing to risk it all in pursuit of a vision. From The Gold Rush to the Summer of Love and Sand Hill Road that fueled tech innovations, tomorrow started in Northern California. Leverage the creative vibe in the San Francisco Bay Area cities to the north (Wine Country), South (San Jose and San Mateo counties) and East (Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek and Concord).

The Central Coast of Santa Cruz and Monterey offers a nature-inspired relaxed approach to gathering. Sacramento is the capital of farm-to-fork abundance and a few more hours east, Lake Tahoe beckons with year-round recreational charms.

Insider Tips

headshot of mike testa wearing black suit, blue and white vertically stripped dress shirt and red tie“Sacramento really has everything you could want in a West Coast convention location—great weather, award-winning restaurants, comfortable hotels, countless outdoor activities and so much more. And the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center is the perfect modern, sustainable center in the heart of our bustling metropolis to host your meeting. But the magic is in the community.

“Even though we are a thriving city with all the amenities you need for a top-tier event, Sacramento has managed to remain approachable, warm and welcoming. You can still meet a restaurant owner, winemaker or farmer when you’re out exploring. Delegates will feel more like locals than visitors in no time at all.”

– Mike Testa, President & CEO of Visit Sacramento

headshot of carole manning kim wearing dark brown blazer on light brown backgroundThe secret sauce or magic of Oakland is the diversity of The Town. With over 125 languages spoken in Oakland, diversity is celebrated in our culture, in the mix of outstanding event venues, and the experiences offered throughout our city.  It’s found in our vibrant art districts, local ‘Only-in-Oakland’ shops, and our award-winning culinary scene.

“Our inclusive community creates a warm, authentic environment for companies and associations to enjoy as they meet and collaborate. Oakland’s heart, soul and spirit are inspired by diversity. This is one of the many things we proudly share with everyone we welcome to our beautiful destination.” 

– Carole Manning-Kim, Director of Sales, Visit Oakland

5 Fantastic Places to Meet

interior of moscone convention center

Moscone Center’s $551 million expansion in San Francisco added 157,000 sq. ft. of space and created a massive, 504,941-square-foot contiguous area that connects the two existing buildings via an underground addition. The LEED Platinum facility is home base for Salesforce’s epic Dreamforce and more than 100 other conferences each year. It is surrounded by 20,000 hotel rooms within easy walking distance.

atrium of hyatt regency san francisco airport

Hyatt Regency San Francisco completed a major renovation of its 821 guest rooms, 72,000 sq. ft. of meeting space fronting Embarcadero and dramatic geometric-inspired lobby. The catering program under Executive Chef Victor Likewycz echoes the culinary creativity of the city’s neighborhoods.

oceanfront outdoor space at monterey plaza hotel

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa floats above the bay with easy access to Cannery Row and 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor event space.

exterior of sacramentio safe credit union convention and performing arts district

Sacramento SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District’s expansion and renovation added 40,000 sq. ft. of ballroom space for a total of 240,000 sq. ft., a 15,300-square-foot outdoor plaza and a more functional traffic flow for attendees and crews.

ground-level shot of monterey conference center exterior on a gloomy day

Monterey Conference Center added a 10,000-square-foot Immersive Design Studio for virtual or hybrid meetings. The second-floor space in Steinbeck Ballroom is equipped with 360-degree wraparound screens and employs CANVAS software.

4 Reasons Meeting Profs Love Northern California

air balloon floating over vineyard during sunrise

  • A Sustainable Ethos: When surrounded by nature, meeting green comes naturally. Palisades Tahoe (formerly Resort at Squaw Creek), a AAA Four Diamond resort with 33,000 sq. ft. of indoor venue space and 14,750 sq. ft. in the great outdoors, dramatically cut back on plastic usage at the resort and launched mountain-wide revegetation projects at the former Olympic venue. In the tranquil bay of Monterey County, Monterey Bay Aquarium is the authority for sustainable, educational research and education. Dining with the sharks is a dramatic way to punctuate a conference with corporate social responsibility that resonates.
  • The Wine Country: Almost every state of the union now has their own “wine country” but Napa and Sonoma counties are the undisputed founts of the laid-back vibe that comes with meeting in the vines. And the options for meetings grow every year. Meritage Resort and Spa almost doubled in size with the addition of The Grand Reserve at The Meritage and the rustic Vintner’s Room brick-and-glass meeting space. The property now counts 467 guest rooms and 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Five-star Montage Healdsburg brought extreme rustic chic to northern Sonoma County with 130 bungalow-style guest rooms on the oak-studded property.
  • Table Culture: Whether it is farm-, ocean-, forest floor- or vine-to-table, the local food movement born in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley has taken root. Visit Berkeley now counts more than 350 restaurants in the city, with plenty of plant-based options to fit any palette. At Dream Inn in the Central Coast city of Santa Cruz, a Beach Feast capitalizes on the bounty of the ocean with a side of fun. In the state capital of Sacramento, the city leverages its farm-to-fork reputation as a foodie city with a local celebrity-chef-driven dinner on the bridge fundraiser to combat hunger each year.
  • Good Disruption: When the agenda calls for thinking differently, the birthplace of The Sierra Club and the internet is fertile ground for corporate breakthroughs. At San Jose McEnery Convention Center, tech conferences regularly buzz around the Idea Tree interactive public art installation after a $130 million renovation. And in San Francisco, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts’ Hotel Zetta and sister properties mix ultra-modern guest rooms with retro fun like Atari pong tables and virtual reality booths.

Bookmark This

sanjose.org // santacruz.org // seemonterey.com // sftravel.com // sonomavalley.com // thesanfranciscopeninsula.com // visitberkeley.com // visitconcordca.com // visitlaketahoe.com // visitnapavalley.com // visitoakland.com // visitsacramento.com

This article appears in the January 2023 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.