The state capital of Sacramento was the center of California action during the Gold Rush of 1848, which sparked one of the largest recorded human migrations in the history of the world. People came by the tens of thousands to find their fortunes along the American River and its tributaries. Today, Gold Rush-era storefronts and modern office buildings reference both Wild West heritage and contemporary city life, while art, wine and river activities keep culture pulsing.
Mike Testa, senior VP of convention sales and business development for the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, remarks, “We’re very spoiled in Sacramento. We have the luxury of California weather, our restaurant scene is unparalleled and thriving, we have more than 200 wineries in our region (many of which are rated among the best in California), we’re surrounded by waterways, and our region is rich with Gold Rush history.”
Entering and leaving Sacramento is now easier, and more eco-friendly, thanks to a $1 billion expansion of the Sacramento International Airport (SMF) in 2011. The four-level project included a two-level roadway to separate arriving and departing traffic and an energy-efficient and environmentally conscious design that received LEED Silver certification. “Because of an airport located just 15 minutes from our downtown core,” Testa says, “meeting planners consistently rate Sacramento high for convenience, but also for quality, diversity and excitement.”
Major Meeting Venues
The Sacramento Convention Center Complex in the heart of downtown is host to more than 600 events each year. It has 134,000 sq. ft. Of exhibition space divisible into five sections. Thirty-one meeting rooms are available, including a 24,000-squarefoot ballroom. Events held at the convention center are certified green, and planners can use the nationally recognized Green-e symbol in their communication materials to announce a group’s commitment to renewable energy.
Crocker Art Museum
Founded in 1885, the Crocker Art Museum is the first art museum in the western United States. The collection includes Californian, European, Asian, African and Oceanic works, international ceramics and one of the finest early collections of master drawings in the U.S. A 125,000-square-foot expansion in 2010 tripled the size of the existing facility; the newest building created one of the largest event spaces in Sacramento, with indoor and outdoor event space. A Norman Rockwell exhibit is on display from Nov. 10, 2012 to Feb. 3, 2013, and includes more than 50 paintings and 323 Saturday Evening Post covers. The museum links to the Riverfront Promenade, which boasts historic light fixtures, wooden sidewalks, clip-clopping horse and- buggies and a wide variety of shopping, dining and entertainment.
Several downtown accommodation options can be found close to the convention center. Adjacent to the center, the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel incorporates the Julia Morgan-designed Public Market and has 503 guest rooms and 22,700 sq. ft. Of meeting space. Across from the state capitol building is the elegant Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Sacramento, with 503 rooms and 28,000 sq. ft. Of indoor and outdoor space, including a dazzling rooftop with skyline views for creatively themed events. A Joie de Vivre property, The Citizen Hotel inhabits an 82-year-old office tower with 198 rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. Of meeting and conference facilities, including the stunning rooftop Metropolitan Terrace.
Terrace Suite at The Citizen Hotel
A charming riverfront option is the Le Rivage Hotel, with 100 rooms and 9,492 sq. ft. Of space. This boutique hotel has luxurious guest rooms, many with river views and private balconies, along with a bocce ball court and a full-service spa.
Step back in time to the Gold Rush era in Old Sacramento, a 28-acre restored town filled with historic buildings, museums and monuments.
Gaze at one of the oldest buildings west of the Mississippi, take an underground “original” Sacramento tour and visit the largest railroad museum in North America. A newer Old Sacramento addition is the Public Market, where endless stalls selling specialty foods, local produce and bouquets of flowers keep the old-school vibe fresh.
Water-based activities, including a Hornblower Cruise, whitewater rafting, a relaxing river float and fishing, make for creative adventure pursuits. Hornblower runs trips on the Sacramento River; options include a paddleboat accommodating 250 people at indoor and outdoor tables and a sleek yacht for 120. Groups can choose from narrated tours or dining cruises.
Even before the recent bike craze, Bicycling Magazine deemed Sacramento one of the best cities to pedal in. With a stellar year-round climate, you can cruise designated bike lanes throughout the city and more than 23 miles of greenbelt from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake, across the American River Parkway.
For a break from the concrete jungle, Capitol Park makes up 40 acres of lushly landscaped green space with more than 100 labeled botanical specimens From around the world. The International World Peace Rose Garden on the east end provides a pop of color to the greenery. Free tours leave hourly from the ground floor.
Western Nevada County
Head northeast from Sacramento about 60 miles to western Nevada County, where nostalgic Gold Rush lore lives on in the small towns surrounded by Sierra Nevada mountain trails and scenic rivers. Moderate temperatures complement a relaxed lifestyle in this year-round destination. At an elevation of 2,500 feet, natural beauty can easily be enjoyed alongside award-winning restaurants, theater productions, museums, art galleries, antique shops and local wineries.
Within the Lakes Basin region and western areas are more than 100 glacially formed lakes and ponds, as well as opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, boating, swimming and fishing. The cities here include Folsom, Grass Valley, Placerville and Nevada City, with Auburn at the southern end. Small-town charm permeates lodging options and attractions, where history and traditions have been lovingly preserved.
Major Meeting Venues
The historic Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley offers catering in four meeting rooms totaling 2,800 sq. ft. That can accommodate up to 200 guests; be sure to enjoy an old-fashioned at the onsite Golden Gate Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi. With a beautiful outdoor garden, bocce ball court and beer garden, the Old 5 Mile House in Nevada City is a throwback venue from 1890 with a banquet room that can seat up to 70, a patio holding up to 80 and a lawn area that can be tented for groups of up to 200.
For those happiest in the outdoors, nothing beats rafting on the American River. For something more low-key, groups of 25–100 can enjoy a shaded lunch at the Empire Mine State Historic Park, home to one of the oldest, largest and richest gold mines in California. The park also includes eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Empire Mine State Park, courtesy of California State Parks
A central hotel is the Holiday Inn Auburn Hotel with 96 rooms and meeting spaces totaling 3,800 sq. ft. The rooms are contemporary and the ambience bright and spacious. With 38 rooms and 450 sq. ft. Of space, the Historic Cary House Hotel near Placerville has an outdoor terrace that complements quaint, vintage-inspired rooms. A larger option is the Best Western Plus Placerville Inn, situated near regional wineries for off-site excursions. Banquet spaces hold up to 120 people, and 107 rooms include pool and Jacuzzi access.
History buffs may want to learn something new at the Gold Country Museum in Auburn or the Northstar Mining Museum in Grass Valley. For something off-kilter, Haunted Nevada City and Grass Valley Ghost guided tours are available in July, August and October. Built in 1861, the Firehouse #1 Museum is a spooky stop displaying relics from the Donner Party, Chinese temple altars and Victorian-era paraphernalia.
A natural beauty is the South Yuba River State Park, a 20-mile portion of the south fork of the Yuba River, which includes the longest single-span covered bridge of its type in the world. Docent-led history, nature and gold-panning tours are offered seasonally and visitors can enjoy swimming, hiking and wildflowers throughout the year.
Tucked between Napa Valley and Sacramento, Yolo County quietly fuels many passions of Californians and those beyond. Its rich soils led farmers to produce the organic vegetables that launched a food revolution in the San Francisco Bay Area beginning in the 1970s. The University of California Davis is one of the top research universities in the world and is particularly known for producing top winemakers through its advanced programs that range from agricultural and environmental education to viticulture and enology (the study of wine). The city of Davis is also home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame and the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which focuses on major dance, music and theater programming.
Major Meeting Venues
Meet and stay in Davis at the 20-room Best Western Plus Palm Court Hotel, and enjoy access to cafes, restaurants and shops. The 75-room Hyatt Place UC Davis next to campus is another top choice, and both hotels have boardroom space. Major meeting venues are The Odd Fellows Hall, with space for up to 288 people for a reception, the 325- seat Veterans Memorial Center and various facilities at the University of California, Davis campus.
The town of Woodland is ideal for history buffs with its wide range of classic buildings and houses, including the Woodland Opera House and the Heidrick Eg History Center, one of the world’s largest agricultural equipment museum featuring tractors and trucks. It also has a 4,200-square-foot conference and event space.
Winding out into the rural back roads past Capay, where the farming is plentiful, a full-fledged gaming destination awaits in the 200-room Cache Creek Casino Resort. It hosts name entertainment in the showroom and has elegantly appointed rooms and small meeting facilities.
Club 88 dance floor at Cache Creek Casino Resort
Old-fashioned Americana can be found in Winters, a quaint town with cafes, wine-tasting rooms, art galleries and The Palms Playhouse music venue. If you’re looking for a custom-made guitar or an expert repair, check out Arc Guitar to get ready for your next gig.
With recreational activities at elevations from 500 feet to more than 10,000 feet, the Sierra foothills are close to but feel like a world away from historic Gold Rush towns. Traditional hospitality combines with modern amenities in conference centers and historic venues in the towns of Sonora, Jamestown and Groveland, the gateway to glorious Yosemite.
Major Meeting Venues
In the heart of Sonora’s business district, the Sonora Opera Hall has been beautifully restored with an inviting old-town feel on the outside and elegant burgundy velvet draperies and hardwood floors on the inside; the theatrical space can hold 400 people for meeting presentations and up to 250 for a sitdown dinner.
Just outside the Gold Rush town of Murphys, Ironstone Vineyards offers a variety of private function areas for small intimate groups or for thousands in the outdoor amphitheater, which hosts major headliners on summer weekends. The boardroom seats up to 10 people, while the 2,132-square-foot Placer Room accommodates up to 190. Colorful gardens, a demonstration kitchen and winery cave also serve as interactive spaces for groups to experience.
Surrounded by lush forested landscape, the Evergreen Lodge is located on the Yosemite border. This Frommer’s Favorite has 88 cabins, and groups can meet within 10 indoor and outdoor spaces totaling more than 14,000 sq. ft. The smallest spaces are meeting rooms that can hold up to 25; the largest space is the outdoor Coyote Hill, which accommodates up to 225. Another option for outdoorsy ambiance is the Lazy Z Resort in Twain Harte, with 12 cabins and cottages across 40 acres. Rustic indoor and outdoor spaces can host groups ranging from 70 to 300 people.
Cottage Deck at Evergreen Lodge
Beyond the Sonora hills, the 160-acre Indigeny Reserve is a tasting bar that serves guests hard ciders and spirits produced in small batches and has several function spaces situated amid organic apple orchards and shaded picnic areas. The 3-Barrel Room can accommodate an intimate group of eight guests, while the Cider Processing Room can hold larger groups of up to 100.
Replete with a large outdoor pool, restaurant and lounge, the Three-Diamond Best Western Sonora Oaks Hotel & Conference Center has 101 guest rooms, and three meeting and conference spaces that can accommodate up to 160 attendees. Another option is the historic Sonora Inn, with 63 rooms, two adjoining conference rooms that can fit up to 80 people and an inviting rooftop pool. Actress Grace Kelly stayed at this downtown spot during the filming of High Noon.
Located in Columbia State Historic Park (the best preserved Gold Rush-era town in California), the City Hotel and the Fallon House Hotel are two historic inns with 24 combined rooms. The City Hotel’s stunning Victorian dining room and What Cheer Saloon are something to see, as is the old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Angelo’s Hall is best for larger functions, accommodating up to 150 people. The Groveland Hotel is a stop along the scenic route to Yosemite National Park. It has 17 guest rooms, a conference room for 15 attendees, a casual restaurant that seats up to 30 and two outside spaces.
An alluring golf destination is Greenhorn Creek Resort, with 198 condominiums, 11 cottages and approximately 10,000 sq. ft. Of indoor and outdoor event space situated at 1,300 feet in Angels Camp. Golfers can play a challenging 18-hole championship course redesigned by Robert Trent Jones II. Other adventures include swimming, hiking, ziplining, horseback riding, houseboating and wine tours and tastings. Meeting spaces include the Fireside Room, with space for 50 people, or the Library, which can hold 24 people and also serves as a private dining room catered by the resort’s awardwinning Camps Restaurant, featuring steaks and seafood on the menu.
You may recognize this famous region as the backdrop to several movies and television shows. For instance, Back to the Future III, Bad Girls and Unforgiven were filmed here, as were the TV shows Little House on the Prairie and Death Valley Days. The 26-acre Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is as close to the Old West as California gets, with railcars and tracks, an authentic roundhouse and the Depot Store, a railroad specialty gift shop. Function space includes the station itself, with three separate rooms accommodating small groups, and an expansive lawn area for up to 250.
Outdoor activity options include panning for gold, whitewater rafting, a photo safari of Yosemite National Park led by professional photographers, exploring Tuolumne wine country and guided tours of the underground California Cavern.
Main image: Old Sacramento, courtesy of Tom Myers/Sacramento CVB
• Who: Health Physics Society; 1,200 attendees
• What: Annual Meeting and Exhibition When: July 2012
• Where: Sacramento Convention Center Complex, Hyatt Regency Sacramento and Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel
• Why: “Sacramento was a value for this group of scientists, with hotel rates that are affordable and a city that is very walkable. The staffs at both the Hyatt and Sheraton were superb, professional and accommodating. Sacramento offers so many dining options in all price ranges; you could find chain restaurants, wine bars, neighborhood diners and great ethnic cuisine within a short walk. For HPS, it was a great value and was well received by all!” –Lori Strong, meetings director
• Who: California Career Pathways Consortia & California Partnership Academies; 2,500 attendees
• What: Annual Educating for Careers Conference
• When: February 2012
• Where: Sacramento Convention Center Complex, Hyatt Regency Sacramento and Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel
• Why: “We needed a central location that provided excellent accommodations where travel is relatively easy—whether by air or by vehicle. The hotel and restaurant selections in the downtown area are superb, which is an added bonus to our conference attendees. One of the most exciting aspects of coming to Sacramento for the past three years is the rich diversity of the city itself. Our attendees have a plethora of options at their fingertips when they are not in conference sessions—visiting the state capitol, going to Old Town, going to one of many museums or taking in the theater. Sacramento has it all.” –Carla Cherry, project director, Kern Resource Center
• El Dorado County Visitors Authority: visit-eldorado.com
• Folsom Tourism Bureau: visitfolsom.com
• Gold Country Visitors Association: calgold.org
• Grass Valley/Nevada County: grassvalleychamber.com
• Placer County Visitors Bureau: visitplacer.com
• Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau: discovergold.org
• Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau: tcvb.com
• Yosemite/Mariposa Tourism Bureau: yosemiteexperience.com
• Yolo County Visitors Bureau: yolocvb.net