Southern California’s history cuts a broad swath through a region that encompasses everything from Hollywood to Merle Haggard, and the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet to the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
With each new era, the wide variety of cultures that has migrated to some of California’s most magnetic cities has shaped and honed what’s been inherited from the past. Each succeeding generation has made this history their own, has tweaked and renewed it and, in some cases, discarded it.
What’s left for us to explore and enjoy is a distillation of a heritage that is essential to understanding the region’s modern character. It’s time to make your plans to meet the glamorous history of California’s sun-kissed, southern climes.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame
Los Angeles’ distinct Hollywood culture has been more than a century in the making. The world has associated the city with the glitz and glamour of movie-making since Nestor Studios cried, “Action!” in 1911.
Not that everyone who settled in La La Land was in the movies—not even close. With the endless tract homes in San Fernando Valley and ever-expanding freeways, Los Angeles was a multifaceted behemoth by the 1950s. And new waves of change swept over the increasingly developed landscape year after year. The economic and cultural life of the city continued to evolve and become more diffuse. Yet its star-lit foundation—and reputation—perseveres.
“Los Angeles is a city of dreamers, the birthplace of glamour, the epitome of cool,” says Darren K. Green, senior vice president of sales for Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. “It’s a city that sets worldwide trends and can catapult anyone into stardom.
“No other city in America today offers such unique diversity and creative energy. The pulse of the city and the heart of its culture beats in 224 languages, so all who visit may truly feel at home.”
Los Angeles encompasses a diverse collection of neighborhoods, each with a persona sculpted by a variety of ethnicities and, often, eccentric individuals. Authentic experiences are found at every turn, whether you’re in Koreatown, Chinatown, Sawtelle Japantown, Thai Town, Little Ethiopia or Little Armenia. It’s not just about the international cultures, though. These neighborhoods are anchored by stylish hotels and premium attractions, as well.
MAJOR MEETING VENUESDream Hollywood HotelLuxury hotel; 178 guest rooms; 11,000 sq. ft. of event space; rooftop pool; opened in 2016.Hollywood Roosevelt HotelRenovated in 2015; 330 guest rooms; more than 25,000 sq. ft. of event space; iconic Blossom Ballroom was site of first Academy Awards in 1929.InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown73-story property with a sky lobby on 70th floor; 889 guest rooms; 94,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; first LEED Gold-certified hotel in downtown Los Angeles; opened in spring.Loews Hollywood HotelIts Dolby Theatre is home to the Academy Awards ceremony; 628 guest rooms and suites; 76,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space; catering by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.Los Angeles Convention CenterLEED Gold-certified facility; 720,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 147,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; newly renovated 299-seat presentation theater.Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel802 newly renovated guest rooms; 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space; minutes from Los Angeles International Airport.Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly HillsUnique blend of elegant French fashion and Hollywood glamor; 295 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting or event space.The Beverly Hills Hotel105-year-old luxury hotel known as the Pink Palace; 208 guest rooms, including bungalows; 26,800 sq. ft. of event space; surrounded by 12 acres of lush gardens and exotic flowers.
Los Angeles’ appeal today is grounded in its vibrant history. One example is Universal Studios, which dates back to 1912. It was founded by motion picture visionary Carl Laemmle, a German immigrant who dreamed of building an entertainment empire. When the studio first opened, Laemmle invited the public to watch the making of silent films. The official Universal Studios tour dates to 1964, when star-struck fans were first given an immersive experience of the film-making process. Now, of course, Universal Studios is a world-renowned theme park and integral piece of Hollywood’s history.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is another historic site rooted in entertainment. The coliseum is one of the greatest stadiums in American history and has served as home football field for the USC Trojans since 1923 (and now temporary home for NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, while a new stadium is being built).
A roster of historic events has taken place over a 90-year history. It has hosted two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII), a World Series (1959), a Papal Mass and visits by three U.S. Presidents—John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The coliseum will undergo a $270 million renovation following the 2017 season, with a completion date set before the 2019 USC football home opener. The renovation will incorporate additional aisles, widened seats and more leg room in many of the sections, luxury boxes and club seats.
Pantages Theatre is both the last grand movie palace to be built in Hollywood and the last venue erected by vaudeville circuit owner Alexander Pantages. The theater was designed by B. Marcus Priteca at the height of the Art Deco era, in 1930. Today the Pantages continues to dazzle visitors with chevrons, zigzags, star bursts and exotic figures.
Since 1958, nearly everyone’s bucket list for Los Angeles has included the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Walk comprises more than 2,700 five-pointed terrazzo-and-brass stars embedded along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood. Each star honors a famous public figure (real or imagined). Who wouldn’t enjoy a team-building event centered around finding favorite celebrities in the sidewalk.
The Beverly Hills Hotel
Hospitality in Los Angeles is held to the highest standards. While many newer hotels pay homage to the classic architectural and interior design styles of years past, real history endures as well.
The Hotel Figueroa opened in 1926. Currently, it’s undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation and will reopen later this year. Its exterior will maintain its graceful Moorish look, while the Moroccan interior will be updated with a more contemporary aesthetic and incorporate a touch of Spanish design. Bathrooms will be expanded and other additions include a second restaurant, 57 new suites, a fourth bar and a roof garden.
Another hotel that exemplifies vintage California is Beverly Hills Hotel. Originally opened in May 1912, its sleek, chic design influenced many other buildings in the area for decades. The property has more than 22,000 sq. ft. of indoor and 4,800 sq. ft. of outdoor function space, along with 208 guest rooms. In 2012, the hotel’s storied past was acknowledged when the city of Beverly Hills crowned it as its first historic landmark.
Groups can participate in a historical tour of the hotel that includes treasures such as the restored Elizabeth Taylor-inspired bungalow. At the end of the tour, visitors are offered the opportunity for a sit down with the hotel “ambassador,” a long-time employee at the hotel. Another group offering is the Polo Lounge’s decade dinner, where chefs can craft a meal themed around a decade of your choosing.
San Diego Convention Center
MAJOR MEETING VENUESCal-a-Vie Health SpaExclusive Spa haven; 32 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of event space; resembles a serene French village; 5:1 staff-to-guest ratio.Catamaran Resort, Hotel and SpaPolynesian-themed resort; 310 rooms and suites, each with private balcony or patio with views; 20,000 sq. ft. of event space.Estancia La Jolla Hotel & SpaAAA Four Diamond hotel; 210 guest rooms; 46,972 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space; outdoor al fresco venues in expansive courtyards.Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
AAA Four Diamond property; 420 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of event space; 30-foot multimedia wall in lobby.
Hilton San Diego Mission ValleyPet-friendly property; 350 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, including outdoor event terrace; new two-story lobby.
San Diego is internationally recognized for its one-of-a-kind essence. Its Cali-Baja culture is defined by a beachy attitude blended with outstanding services and parks. From the San Diego Zoo, which celebrated its centennial in 2016, to the first SeaWorld in the United States, San Diego has an abundance of ways to play outdoors in a nearly ideal climate—regardless of your age.
Built in 1925, Belmont Park is a quintessential SoCal amusement park and home to the Giant Dipper roller coaster, one of the Top 12 historic roller coasters in the United States.
Legoland California Resort, the first Lego theme park in North America, plays off a classic children’s favorite toy with themed rooms. The new Legoland Castle Hotel is scheduled to open in spring 2018, and will include 250 guest rooms and Dragon’s Den Restaurant and Bar.
Much like Los Angeles, San Diego embraces the multiple cultures that have helped shape the city. In the early 1970s, the Hispanic community of Barrio Logan established Chicano Park beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass. As part of a community empowerment effort, the park continues to represent the Chicano Civil Rights Movement and has recently been designated a National Historic Landmark. It also features Chicano Park Monumental Murals, an extraordinary collection of mural artwork adorning freeway bridge supports.
Hotels with a Retro Vibe
Pendry San Diego
Greystone Hotels announced the completion of its first round of renovations in a $7 million, multi-stage refresh of The Bristol Hotel, a 114-room property in the heart of downtown San Diego. The hotel is designed with a 1960s vibe that celebrates the era’s lifestyle and attitude. The phase currently underway includes fully refurbished guest rooms on three floors. In keeping with the decor theme, some rooms and suites will have a 1960s-era turntable paired with a vinyl record collection.
The swanky Pendry San Diego is located downtown in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and a few blocks from San Diego Convention Center, which affords 615,701 sq. ft. of event space and 72 meeting rooms. Pendry San Diego may echo a retro-California style, yet its amenities are luxurious and its technology is state-of-the-art. The hotel offers 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting or event space and 317 guest rooms, including 36 suites. In 2018, Barracks Hotel at Liberty Station will open. The 80-room property is designed to reflect San Diego’s rich U.S. Navy heritage—it has long been home to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and the 32nd Street Naval Station is one of the largest naval operations in the world.
The Padre Hotel
MAJOR MEETING VENUESBakersfield Marriott at the Convention CenterNewly renovated; connected to Rabobank Arena; 259 guest rooms; 9,136 sq. ft. of meeting space.Doubletree by Hilton BakersfieldResort-like ambience; 262 guest rooms; 14,500 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including largest (7,560 sq. ft.) ballroom in Bakersfield.Rabobank ArenaSeats up to 10,225 attendees; attached is Rabobank Theater and Convention Center, a 17,840-square-foot exhibit hall and 3,000-seat theater.
In 1952, a major earthquake leveled Bakersfield, destroying many of its historical buildings. The city responded with resilience and determination to rebuild—and what became known as the Bakersfield Sound, a distinct genre of country music that rose to the top of the charts thanks to famous artists such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. So popular did the Bakersfield Sound become that it was recently celebrated by a special exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville that ran for 21 months. Visitors to Bakersfield continue to renew memories of these plaintive country classics by visiting Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.
“Bakersfield is a welcoming community,” says David Lyman, manager of Visit Bakersfield. “In fact, our city was founded on hospitality. In the mid-19th century, a fellow named Colonial Thomas Baker settled this area. He let the word out that this was a place where weary travelers could stop and rest—rest themselves and rest their animals.”
Between Bakersfield’s friendliness and charming attractions, the city has a palpable magnetism. In fact, people are literally flocking to the city: Over the past seven years, its population has increased by more than 55 percent, to nearly 350,000.
Local Bites and Beyond
Foodies should take note as well. Basque, the traditional cuisine from the Pyrenees Mountains, followed early settlers to Bakersfield. The city is home to Noriega, which is recognized as the oldest, and last, Basque boardinghouse and restaurant in the world. In 2011, Noriega received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award.
Additionally, eight Bakersfield restaurants were spotlighted in Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which was broadcast on the Food Network in 2015. Another notable option, The Mark Restaurant, entices with glimmers of the past. The building has been renovated into an upscale restaurant and jazz venue. The outside of the building is covered in murals depicting the late 1930s and early 1940s club scene, with famous figures including Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.
The Fox Theatre is another Bakersfield gem. The theater first opened on Christmas Day in 1930. It was one of the last of its kind built in the Gilded Age. Original elements such as its bell tower have undergone painstaking restoration throughout the years. The 1,500-seat venue can put your group’s name up in lights when booked for an exclusive event.
Bakersfield is also home to a multipaneled mural by renowned caricaturist Al Hirschfeld inside Guthrie’s Alley Cat. The mural is extremely rare, only one of six in the world, and displays black-and-white send-ups of legends such as Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Edward G. Robinson and Benny Goodman.
The Padre Hotel in Bakersfield, built in 1928 and completely renovated, is the city’s only AAA Four Diamond hotel. Sunset Magazine listed the property on its 2012 list of the 17 most unique hotels in the West.
Anaheim Convention Center
Watch out Napa—you might have some unexpected competition as the fount of California wine-making. Anaheim was founded in 1857 by 50 German families from San Francisco looking to start a wine-making colony. By 1884, Anaheim had 50 wineries, with production reaching more than 1 million gallons per year. The city’s economy was fine as wine for many generations, and wineries were a major phase in Anaheim history. But a magical genie came out of the bottle to launch the next boom, with the opening of “The Happiest Place on Earth,” also known as Disneyland, on July 17, 1955.
“Anaheim’s history is woven throughout every turn [in the city],” says Charles Harris, senior vice president of marketing for Visit Anaheim. He cites a downtown district that has transformed historic buildings into modern communal experiences. “There is an uncommon mix of old and new, whimsy and modern.”
Following the opening of Disneyland, Anaheim began to attract groups wanting to mount events and hold meetings. To accommodate the influx, Anaheim Convention Center opened in 1967 with a design that has been described as a 200-ton flying saucer that landed on Katella Avenue. After seven expansions, the center is now the biggest convention center on the West Coast, with 152,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. An additional 200,000 sq. ft. of space will be added to the facility by September.
MAJOR MEETING VENUESAnaheim Convention CenterFinishing a major renovation in fall 2017 (adding 20,000 sq. ft. of event space); more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; sweeping, wave-shaped wall of glass spans the entire length of the building.Great Wolf LodgeAll-suite property; 603 guest rooms; more than 21,000 sq. ft. of event space; California’s first—and only—indoor water park resort.Hyatt Regency Orange CountyCalifornia Green Lodging Program member; 656 guest rooms; 65,000 sq. ft. of event space; two outdoor, heated pools.
The Packard Building was designed in 1925 with an open, light-filled interior, typical of car showrooms. The Detroit luxury auto brand produced cars until 1958, and the Mission Revival building survived many lives and numerous modifications thereafter. But today, the Packard Building has returned to its 1920s glory, and functions as home to Anaheim Brewery and Umami Burger.
Another site that can take your guests back a few decades—whether for nostalgic or camp value—is Linbrook Bowl, the oldest bowling alley in Orange County. You’ll be able to scope it out pretty easily. It has a Googie-style sign and rotating, neon-lit pin. But if your group is more into performing than kegling, Kopa Room shares space in the building and offers a stage for karaoke.
Disneyland Park is undoubtedly the best-loved Anaheim offering. It opened with just 24 attractions. Even after all these years and many upgrades, it continues to embody Walt Disney’s original vision of a place where children of all ages can have fun together. As always, today’s visitors are enthralled by the Disneyland railroad, Autopia, Mark Twain Riverboat and Main Street, U.S.A.
To meet demand for high-quality accommodations, Anaheim has been working steadily to augment its sole AAA Four Diamond property, the iconic Disneyland Resort Hotels. Four more are in the works. Three of these properties will be located near the convention center to provide more options for groups.
A $225 million, 634-room venue is also planned to replace Anabella Hotel. Located adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center, the hotel will stand eight stories high, with 42,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Construction begins in early fall 2017, with an opening in 2020.
3 Ways to Go Vintage
Dubbed Retro Row, Fourth Street in Long Beach captures the city’s creative spirit. Located between Cherry and Junipero avenues, the district features shops with vintage and contemporary clothing, furniture, art, antiques and collectibles, books, roller skates and skateboards, as well as locally owned restaurants, coffee shops and wine bars. The restored 1920s Art Theatre hosts first-run and art films, live concerts, comedy and other events.
Farmer’s Daughter HotelFarmer’s Daughter Hotel (pictured) originally opened in the 1960s and then took a walk on the wild side as a “no-tell motel” in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that its Fairfax neighborhood was revitalized. In 1999, Ellen and Peter Picataggio did a complete remodel, a “home away from home” approach aimed at mixing homey comforts, upscale amenities and quaint aesthetics into one whimsical brand. Proximity to CBS Television City, The Grove, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and hip Third Street shopping make it a crowd favorite.
History’s Favorite Hotel
In Riverside, a short distance inland from Los Angeles and San Diego, The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa (pictured) is a splendid vestige of America’s past. The property was built in the late 1800s and has since hosted five U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Social leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Susan B. Anthony as well as pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart have also bedded down at this fantastical Spanish Mission-style property with stone archways and walls, secluded garden oases and towers.
The hotel houses a variety of artifacts left by famous visitors. For instance, guests can perch in the oversized chair designed for President William Howard Taft’s visit. The Fliers Wall features more than 140 copper wings dedicated to significant fliers who have stayed at the inn. The Presidential Lounge is the former honeymoon suite of Bette Davis, and was the reception area for Nixon’s wedding.