Soak Up San Diego: Explore the Vibrant Region that Stays Energized Long After Sundown
“With a wide range of hotels and resorts, our award-winning bayside convention center, iconic venues and attractions, 70 miles of pristine beaches and wonderful weather, San Diego is consistently ranked as a top five U.S. meeting destination by meeting planners.
And as the only U.S. city named a World Smart City by National Geographic Channel, San Diego is a smart choice for meeting planners seeking a successful event.”
–Margie Sitton, Senior Vice President of Sales, San Diego Tourism Authority
Beach towns are often considered lax destinations where everyone moves at a slower, “vacation” pace and venues tend to be outdated. The same can’t be said for San Diego County: The expansive coastal destination’s constant updating may be happening under the radar, but the region’s resorts, casinos, spas and hotels are on the cusp of all that’s happening in tech and travel markets.
It’s not just the downtown neighborhoods keeping up a trendy reputation with their vibrant nightlife. Destinations all the way down the coast are re-emerging as forward-thinking, modern places to meet, dine and relax.
This year, National Geographic Traveler magazine selected San Diego/Tijuana as one of 20 Best of the World destinations for its myriad vacation options.
It’s also a region to watch when it comes to food fads, says Sarah Weinberg-Scalo, San Diego Tourism Authority public relations coordinator. Long-known for its authentic Mexican cuisine, thanks to its proximity to the border, San Diego is now witnessing the rise of Cali-Baja—a revolution that combines California-fresh fare and Tijuana favorites. You can sample the fresh mash-up at Blind Burro in the Gaslamp Quarter and Galaxy Taco in La Jolla, among many other trending restaurants.
There’s a lot happening and a whole lot more in the works. The San Diego Chargers are hoping voters will support a November ballot initiative that would raise funding for a $1.8 billion “convadium,” which would serve as a new NFL stadium and convention center next to Petco Park. The stadium would span 225,000 sq. ft. and seat 65,000, with the ability to expand to 75,000.
If you don’t think state-of-the-art when you think San Diego, it’s time for another look. We’re going from Pala to Coronado, stopping at all of the must-see hot spots along the way.
Wine Cave at Pala Casino Spa & Resort
Located on the Pala Indian Reservation, nearly 50 miles north of downtown San Diego, there’s no better way to jump-start a trip down the coast than in Pala, where tourists can hit the slots, explore wineries and relax at breathtaking spas.
What to Do
Anyone who’s been to Pala will tell you there’s one stop you can’t miss. Set against the incredible backdrop of the Palomar Mountains, the AAA Four Diamond Pala Casino Spa & Resort has just about everything needed to unwind, with 2,000 state-of-the-art slot and video machines and 87 table games, plenty of restaurants to choose from and daily live entertainment at Underground Wine Cave and Starlight Theater. The Pala Spa, named Top 100 Best Spas in America in 2015 by Spas of America, offers 14 treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
The casino is opening a 10-acre RV resort this month that will boast luxury, grassy sites with barbecue grills, free Wi-Fi, billiard rooms, two spas, a heated swimming pool and free shuttles to the casino.
On your way out of Pala, don’t forget to stop by some of the 21 area wineries offering every varietal under the California sun.
Where to Meet
Harrah’s Resort Southern California, Valley Center
The 507-room hotel at Pala Casino Spa & Resort has 40,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space that includes a 20,000-square-foot grand ballroom and 18 breakout rooms, many of which boast outdoor patios overlooking the pool and garden. It can accommodate up to 2,000.
Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center was recently named Best San Diego Hotel by Los Angeles Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Travel Awards. The 1,064-room hotel boasts a casino, multiple pools, a lazy river and swim-up bar, a full-service spa, nine restaurants and 39,000 sq. ft. of conference space.
Carlsbad Flower Field
Less than 30 miles southwest of Pala is Carlsbad, a seaside resort city that spans 7 miles of the Pacific coastline. Home of Legoland California Resort, Carlsbad State Beach and beautiful Flower Fields, this coastal city has plenty of options for everyone.
What to Do
Culver Beer Co., Carlsbad (photo by Gavin Bishop)
Carlsbad boasts three lagoons, providing tourists the opportunity to paddle or view them from above by hiking Hosp Grove Trail. After some blood-pumping paddling and hiking, head to one of the many breweries that helped spearhead San Diego County’s reputation as a craft-brew destination. The newly opened Culver Beer Co. offers a tasting room Wednesday through Sunday and seven craft brews on draft.
Where to Meet
Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort
You won’t find a meeting space that feels less like a board room than the airy terraces at Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort. Sunset and Village terraces each boast French doors that open to coastal verandas. They can accommodate up to 60 and 70 people, respectively. Even the boardroom, which can seat an additional 12, has ocean views. The hotel offers 61 rooms and 132 condo units.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines, La Jolla
Hug the coastline for about 27 miles south and you come to La Jolla, a beachside town that calls itself a vacation paradise where the lines between visitor and local disappear.
What to Do
Some of the biggest attractions of this coastal town are its beautiful views, sought-after beaches and ample shopping. Five beaches offer unique attractions, including snorkeling, surfing, diving, picnicking and volleyball. The shopping options range from modest to haute couture. The best part is you can spend your whole day shopping and still spend much of it outdoors sightseeing.
Where to Meet
The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a AAA Five Diamond property offering more than 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space, with views of the world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course and Pacific Ocean. It boasts 170 guest rooms including seven suites and a 9,500-square-foot spa. Eighty business owners, company executives and thought leaders converged at the Evans Hotels property at the start of the month to take part in an event focused on excellence.
“We are extremely pleased to be holding the Excellence, The Adventure Continues event here at The Lodge at Torrey Pines,” said Robert Gleason, president and CEO of Evans Hotels and co-owner of The Lodge at Torrey Pines.
Host and founder of Authenica Events Craig Lucas said they chose the resort to hike the state preserve, visit nearby USS Midway, host a buffet dinner outdoors on the croquet court and hold fireside chats in the cozy conference room.
This year, the 114-room La Valencia Hotel celebrates 90 years. The Mediterranean-style oceanfront resort has played host to world leaders for over eight decades, and features an elegant ballroom with a marble foyer and crystal chandeliers throughout. The Verandah Room and adjoining terrace can accommodate up to 250 and there’s meeting space for 80.
Just minutes from downtown San Diego, Mission Bay is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Mission Bay Park is a 4,600-acre aquatic playground full of inlets, islets and waterways ideal for sailing, kite surfing, fishing, whale watching, kayaking and more. And there’s plenty to do on land, too.
What to Do
Relax and gaze at the boats in the marina or join the action by taking a water taxi to SeaWorld San Diego for a day of adventure. Upscale resorts, beach bars, surf shops, restaurants and nightclubs can be found along the 3-mile oceanfront boardwalk. On your way downtown, be sure to check out San Diego zoo, ranked No. 1 by Trip Advisor. It houses more than 3,700 animals and is available for picnics, events, and team-building activities. At night, take a moonlight cruise on Bahia Belle, a Mississippi-style riverboat docked at Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa.
Where to Meet
Whether you’re looking to get down to business indoors or meet outside under the sun, the 429-room Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina has the right event space, state-of-the-art equipment and creative catering options. Hyatt Regency’s 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space includes an outdoor pavilion with great opportunities for team building. It’s adjacent to Marina Village Conference Center, which offers an additional 35,000 sq. ft. of convention space.
Located on a 14-acre peninsula, Bahia Resort Hotel has been a San Diego icon for more than 50 years. The secluded 314-room resort boasts 16 meeting rooms and banquet halls totaling 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, plus several picturesque outdoor spaces right on the beach.
Mission Valley/Old Town
Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, Mission Valley
Six miles inland you’ll find Mission Valley, home to San Diego’s second-largest convention center and 4,003 hotel rooms. Steps away is the historic district of Old Town, which boasts many museums, boutique shops and restaurants that have managed to preserve many of the 1800s-era quirks and characteristics, from authentic jewelry, quilts and glassware to cigar and tobacco shops.
What to Do
The recently opened iFly San Diego is the city’s first indoor skydiving wind tunnel. People of all ages and abilities can experience human flight in a safe, comfortable and fun environment, which offers catering and unique event spaces for groups. Take a guided tour through Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where you’ll find original adobes full of rich history.
Where to Meet
Town and Country Resort & Convention Center has a whopping 966 guest rooms and 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 41,000-square-foot Grand Hall and Plaza Pavilion. The hotel offers modern amenities and the rooms are currently being remodeled with boutique-style furnishings.
In February, Homewood Suites by Hilton San Diego Mission Valley/Zoo opened near Hotel Circle, offering all-suite accommodations, contemporary furnishings, modern technology and a heated pool. The 118-room hotel has a small boardroom.
The Shout! House, Gaslamp Quarter
Shopping and exploring by day, eclectic dining and entertainment by night, the downtown area, including the Gaslamp district, is the place to be for locals and visitors alike to let loose.
What to Do
During the day, swing by Horton Plaza Park, a much-needed sanctuary amid the vivacious downtown, offering 53,165 sq. ft. of newly designed urban entertainment space for up to 5,000. The park opens May 4 and is available for buyouts. Adjacent to the plaza is the luxury boutique The Westgate Hotel, which offers 223 deluxe rooms and 11 versatile meeting spaces.
At night, there’s no better way to explore the lively nightlife than staying in the heart of it all. Hard Rock Hotel San Diego offers the energetic Gaslamp Quarter at its doorstep, and 421 studios and suites. The 207 bar transforms after dark from a lobby bar into a—you guessed it—state-of-the-art hot spot with live bands, a dance floor and a dazzling LED screen display. The Shout! House offers rock ‘n’ roll dueling pianos seven nights a week and its 5,500 sq. ft. of event space can be rented out for private events for up to 243. The Rock Star Suites are perfect for executives.
Where to Meet
Hotel Solamar, a Kimpton Hotel, San Diego
The stylish, boutique Hotel Solamar, A Kimpton Hotel San Diego completed renovations to its lobby, meeting spaces and 235 guest rooms in March. The hotel offers more than 14,000 sq. ft. of naturally lit meeting space including six flexible meeting rooms, state-of-the-art A/V equipment and a dedicated tech team. Jsix, a farm-to-table restaurant, offers private dining for groups, and the hotel’s sleek rooftop terrace can accommodate 240 seated guests or 500 for receptions. Hotel Solamar and its 211-room sister property Polamar San Diego offer several group packages that include immersive breakouts.
San Diego Convention Center sits right on the bay, steps away in the marina district, and spans 2.6 million sq. ft. It offers a 525,701-square-foot exhibit hall, ballrooms, prefunction space, meeting rooms and outdoor terraces, together totaling 1,288,823 sq. ft. This summer, Pendry San Diego will open three blocks away from the convention center. The upscale hotel will offer 36 suites, restaurants, and an underground ultra-lounge and beer hall.
Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina
In June, Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina will complete a $107 million expansion that will add 280,000 sq. ft. to its waterfront meeting space. Upgrades to the 1,360-room hotel will include new technology (16-screen video wall with state-of-the-art sound, videography and production capabilities) and a two-level ballroom with an outdoor terrace. Each ballroom can accommodate 3,700 and the terrace can host 4,000.
Hotel del Coronado
Often called Coronado Island, Coronado sits across the bay from downtown, and is home to North Island Naval Air Station, Tidelands Parks, Coronado Beach and Coronado Golf Course. With a 98/100 walking score, it’s been called a walker’s paradise. Visitors can also utilize rental bikes, water taxis (33-person capacity) and buses, and the ferry provides a nostalgic 15-minute trip across the bay from the convention center.
What to Do
Embark on a three-hour culinary walking tour and sample all the island’s restaurants have to offer. In addition to taste-testing, tourists learn about the area from chefs and locals. Coronado Boathouse and Clubroom in Glorietta Bay Park offers instructional classes in kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, rowing and sculling, outrigger paddling and boating, so you can hit the water with confidence.
Where to Meet
The 679-room Hotel del Coronado offers 65,000 sq. ft. of versatile indoor and outdoor function space spread across 28 oceanfront acres. The property hosts beach bonfires for groups and offers customized theme parties for every type of event. Some of its team-building opportunities include beach Olympics along the Pacific Coast and a boat-building regatta. Or your team can slap on Beats by Dre Headphones for Beach Spin, a one-of-a-kind fitness experience led by high-praised instructors and overlooking the resort’s Paseo Lawn. The 273-room Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa boasts 22 meeting spaces, including a 7,455-square-foot ballroom for 1,000 and the 5,395-square-foot Skyline Terrace.
Go Baja or Go Home
If you’ve still got gas in the tank, keep on heading south. The Mexican border is just another 20 miles. Or head 8 miles in the other direction to San Diego International Airport (SAN), also known as Lindbergh Field. Centrally located between Mission Bay and downtown, it’s the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the United States, having hosted a record-breaking 20 million passengers in 2015.
Golf at Every Stop
You can’t mention San Diego without noting its vast golf options. More than 65 golf courses and an average winter temperature of 65 degrees make this city the destination for golf enthusiasts 365 days a year, and there are lots of courses to choose from, no matter which neighborhood you’re in.
Course: Pala Mesa Resort Golf Course, Fallbrook
Designer: William H. Johnson, ASGCA
Details: One of Southern California’s most challenging courses; 18-hole, par 72 championship course accented with magnificent oaks, sycamores and elms.
Course: La Costa Golf Course, Carlsbad
Designers: Dick Wilson, Joe Lee, Damian
Pascuzzo, Steve Pate, Jeff Brauer
Details: Two 18-hole championship courses, Legends and Champions; home to 2012 LPGA Kia Classic; par 72; Champions course has been restored to its original glory and offers new bentgrass greens and Bermuda fairways that snake past lurking bunkers.
Course: Torrey Pines Golf Course, La Jolla
Designer: William P. Bell
Details: Hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and has held the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour since the 1960s; 36 holes, two courses, each par 72; sits on the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Course: Mission Bay Golf Course
Designer: Ted Robinson, former ASGCA president
Details: Only stadium-lit course in San Diego; 18-hole, par 58 executive course featuring four par-four holes and 14 par-three holes; Tiger Woods won a Junior World title here.
Course: Riverwalk Golf Club, Mission Valley
Designers: Ted Robinson Sr. and Ted Robinson Jr.
Details: 27 holes comprised of three nine-hole layouts that can be combined in a variety of ways; four lakes and the San Diego River create strategic diversity and a visually stunning backdrop.
Course: Balboa Park Golf Course
Designer: William P. Bell
Details: The oldest public golf facility in the city; par 72; Sam Neads holds course record (a 60 shot in 1943); 18-hole course plus nine-hole executive course; driving range and putting green.
Course: Coronado Municipal Golf Course
Designers: Jack Daray, Jack Daray Jr.,
Details: Named one of Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play due to its immaculate greens, wide inviting fairways and dramatic views; par 72, 18-hole course.
To the Roof!
One of the greatest perks of meeting in San Diego is the year-round gorgeous weather, and what better way to take advantage of both the climate and the stunning skyline than taking meetings and networking events to the roof? San Diego’s hotels and restaurants offer a multitude of cool rooftop spaces.
AAA Four Diamond San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter (306 guest rooms) boasts Altitude Sky Lounge 22 stories up. Hovering over Petco Park, guests can catch a Padres game and take in the views.
Renaissance San Diego Downtown Hotel (258 guest rooms) offers a third-floor rooftop bar with fire pits, private cabanas and lots of room to lounge.
Andaz San Diego (159 guest rooms) is home to downtown’s largest rooftop bar, and hosts DJs by the pool. RoofTop600 offers private cabanas and can accommodate 500.
Hotel Palomar San Diego
SummerSalt Rooftop Bar and Lounge at Hotel Palomar San Diego (218 guest rooms) offers delicious signature cocktails and a pool.
Located on the fourth floor of the ultra-chic Hotel Solamar, a Kimpton Hotel (235 guest rooms) in downtown San Diego, LoungeSix is a rooftop oasis with several fire pits, a pool and bar.
For a more high-energy experience, head to Omnia Nightclub in Gaslamp Quarter, where the rooftop terrace unveils beautiful skylines in every direction.
Little Italy’s only open-air rooftop lounge, Kettner Exchange offers a unique variety of libation options in its cabanas, including boutique wines, craft cocktail decanters and private, self-serve beer taps.