Building on Dreams


Ranging from the iconic Randy’s Donuts roadside joint to Koenig’s elegant Stahl House, much of the city’s surreal, almost mythological quality stems from a landscape peppered with bizarre and unconventional buildings. And thanks to a mild climate and an abundance of space, that culture of experimentation continues to thrive.

“L.A.’s wide range of hotels and venues with eye-popping aesthetics are a direct extension of L.A.’s long heritage as an epicenter of innovative design,” says Matt Myerhoff, communications manager for L.A. Tourism. “The Pacific Design Center (aka the Blue Whale) is known nationwide for its architecture, as well as for being home to numerous studios where leading minds of the day create and display work.” 

Randy's Donuts

Of L.A.’s many famous structures, the most wellknown is the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, an undulating mass of steel and glass that offers ample space for receptions and private fundraising events. Gehry’s masterpiece, opened in 2003, is located in downtown L.A., which, in the context of its entire sprawl, has become ground zero for new, high-style architecture.

Here, you’ll find gems such as the Rafael Moneo Cathedral, the Bradbury Building and the Biltmore Hotel neighboring newer attractions including the glittering JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton tower and the upcoming 120,000-square-foot Broad Museum, set to open in 2014.

Indeed, some of L.A.’s most anticipated new developments are all centered here. The Ace Hotel will move into a historic theater building downtown. The Wilshire Grand Hotel, a $1 billion, 73-story mixeduse office and hotel tower with 400,000 sq. ft. of office space and 900 new guest rooms, is expected to open downtown in 2017.

Downtown L.A. & Hollywood

Considered a major turning point in the design world when it opened, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall introduced new ideas into the visual vocabulary and remains one of downtown’s most iconic buildings. The 2,265-seat auditorium, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, features a curved ceiling that enhances acoustics and adds warmth. Among the complex’s meeting areas is a skylighted foyer that can hold up to 500 people at standing capacity.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board/Federico Zignani

Just a few miles south is the impressive California Science Center, which last year welcomed the Space Shuttle Endeavor into its permanent collection. As a result, the number of daily visitors to the center has doubled. Groups can meet under the belly of the ship in a 10,000-square-foot pavilion, view screen presentations in the Imax theater and hold a small banquet in the 220-capacity Erteszek Family Foundation Muses Room.

Housed in a former cathedral dating back to 1876, the 11,600-square-foot baroque-style Main Hall at Vibiana wows with Corinthian columns, a Carraramarble stage and 45-foot vaulted ceilings—not to mention an abundance of natural light that pours through the crescent-shaped windows. An adjacent garden courtyard features a mix of native California palm and olive trees, and the new Redbird Restaurant, located in the former rectory, will open this fall with seating for up to 150 guests.

Located in the heart of downtown at Pershing Square, the Millennium Biltmore reflects the opulence of the 1920s. The original lobby, Rendezvous Court, now functions as an elegant atrium, with cathedral ceilings, a trickling fountain and twin Baroque staircases. Each ballroom features handpainted ceilings, graceful colonnades and crystal chandeliers. All meeting spaces are connected by a marble-floored walkway known as the Galeria.

L. A.’s newest architectural tour de force is the 878-room JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, which connects to the 123-room Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles to offer a combined 100,000 sq. ft. of event space. The complex sits next to the L.A. Convention Center, Staples Center and Nokia Theatre. WP24, the Wolfgang Puck-branded Chinese restaurant on the 24th floor of The Ritz-Carlton, can be rented for private events and offers panoramic views of L.A.

The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles

Also within walking distance of the L.A. Convention Center is the Luxe City Center Hotel, a 180-room downtown boutique hotel that recently wrapped up a multimillion-dollar renovation. It’s 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space includes a 3,000-squarefoot ballroom with a retractable wall of windows, which, when pulled back, reveals a terrace with cabanas, fire pits and a sculptured water fountain.


One of the most popular event spaces at NBC Universal Studios is the 9,000-square-foot Globe Theater, with an impressive sound stage. There’s room for groups of up to 700. Later this year, the studio will launch Universal Plaza, an old Hollywood-themed outdoor venue with a programmable water show and space for up to 2,000 guests. At NBC Universal Studios Backlot, attendees can make their own movies or videos at the same place many famous outdoor scenes have been filmed. Rental space is also available for special events.

Leave the celebrity home tours to tourists—instead, book your event inside Greystone Mansion, a swank Beverly Hills estate designed in 1928 by California-based architect Gordon B. Kaufmann. This year, the somber Gothic and neoclassic home began renting out several rooms for private events, including the 1,150-square-foot living room and the 616-square-foot library. The gardens are suited to cocktail receptions for groups of up to 400.

Pool at Mondrian Los Angeles

Philippe Starck’s Sunset Strip masterpiece, the mahogany-and-ivory-accented Mondrian Los Angeles, recently unveiled transformations to its poolside cabanas, which feature fully retractable doors, recessed lighting and built-in screens that can be pulled down for presentations. SkyBar, which can be rented for private events, was renovated last year.

Elegant interiors are offset by a laid-back, beachy vibe at the 138-room Mr. C Beverly Hills. Upstairs, groups can meet in the hotel’s unrivaled 12th-floor banquet room, which comes with 360-degree views across the Hollywood Hills and glittering downtown L. A. A glass-encased teak deck makes an idyllic setting for cocktail parties, while the gardens, pool deck and private cabanas are also available for meetings and events.

SLS Hotel Beverly Hills is ultramodern in every sense: A custom-made SLS app allows guests to order room service or consult with the concierge from iPads and iPhones, while the Philippe Starckdesigned rooms are minimalistic and softly lighted. Chef Jose Andres provides full-service catering throughout the hotel’s 46,283 sq. ft. of indoor-outdoor space, including the sixth-floor rooftop pool. For smaller groups, the new Annenberg Space for Photography Skylight Studios opened in July, offering a 3,000-square-foot studio space with customizable lighting, soundproof walls, two large screens and a 14-foot stage.

SLS Hotel Beverly Hills

Beach Cities & Torrance

The iconic Queen Mary is a repurposed British luxury ocean liner that sits permanently in Long Beach Harbor, surrounded by 40 acres of flexible outdoor space. In addition to being a fully functional hotel, the ship boasts 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, including the Queen Salon, where Liberace once performed, and the Observation Bar, which originally served as the first-class lounge.

Stick with the transport theme by planning a 200-person reception at Encounter, the UFOshaped restaurant located at the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Suspended by two giant metallic arches and illuminated at night in green and purple, the structure is as impressive as it is weird. Though the venue opened in 1997, its surrounding complex, known as the Theme Build-ing, was completed in 1961 as part of the $50 million Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal construction project.

Lush ivy and wildflowers bloom along the facade of Santa Monica’s luxe Oceana Beach Club Hotel, a go-to venue for upscale business travelers. The hotel’s event space centers around a sun-drenched inner pool courtyard and the 893-square-foot Tower 8 restaurant. The Oceanview Boardroom is available for executive meetings of up to 25 guests.

Crisp, urban design and shorefront views are the hallmarks of Viceroy Santa Monica, distinguished by an exterior 14-foot tall light sculpture and interiors reimagined by designer Kelly Wearstler in 2002. At 1,300 sq. ft., the Bristol Room is the hotel’s largest meeting space, with an adjacent patio and a six-foot LCD screen for presentations.

When it comes to gazing down on action-packed Venice Beach boardwalk, you can’t do much better than Hotel Erwin, a 119-room boutique hotel that’s brimming with locally produced artworks and funky skateboard-inspired decor. Groups can make use of three distinct spaces, including the 3,000-squarefoot High Bar rooftop lounge, which has 360-degree views of L.A. and can hold up to 95 guests. Red Bull Dogtown Suite, the sixth-floor penthouse, has a DJ booth and can accommodate groups of up to 30 guests. Larry’s Loft (named after local artist Larry Bell), a gallery-style banquet room, is the hotel’s largest indoor event space.

Hotel Erwin, Venice Beach

In March, Bogart & Co opened at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center (which recently completed a $35 million renovation of its lobbies, meeting rooms and hallways). Consisting of several connecting lounges with intimate booths, cafe-style seating and LED-lighted walls, Bogart & Co can be rented out for receptions.

An affordable option near the beach cities, Torrance has its own Hollywood flair, including Torrance High School, where the TV shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Beverly Hills 90210” were filmed. Del Amo Fashion Center—one of the largest shopping malls in the United States—was a location in “Jackie Brown” and “Bad Santa.” Also home to the American headquarters for Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. and American Honda Motor Co., Torrance’s Japanese influence is reflected at such properties as Miyako Hybrid Hotel, which offers 220 guest rooms and 4,628 sq. ft. of space. The Torrance Cultural Arts Center features a 502-seat theater and the 4,200-square-foot Toyota Meeting Hall.

San Fernando & San Gabriel Valleys

Sportsmen's Lodge Event Center, Studio City

Currently finishing up a $14 million renovation, Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center in Studio City offers 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space as well as two outdoor event locations set within six acres of lush gardens. The hotel offers an additional nine meeting rooms, with built-in stages, full A/V equipment and in-house catering; hotel guests have access to free shuttle service to Universal Studios and the largest outdoor pool in the San Fernando Valley.

Adjacent to Bob Hope Airport (BUR), the Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel & Convention Center offers the area’s largest convention facility, with 50,000 sq. ft. of exhibition and event space, including the Academy Ballroom, with 18-foot ceilings. The smaller City Ballroom, located off the main lobby, holds up to 300 guests. Fresh from a $25 million redesign, the hotel is equipped with two resort-style heated pools with cabanas and fire pits.

Castaway, which dates back to the 1960s, is a well-loved establishment built high up in the Burbank hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley. There’s an outdoor deck, fire pits and landscaped patio.

Pasadena is the cultural hub of San Gabriel Valley. For more on Pasadena, see the April 2013 issue of Smart Meetings magazine. Pacific Palms Hotel & Conference Center in the City of Industry is certified by the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) and boasts more than 45,000 sq. ft. of function space, including a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and 28 breakout rooms. The Hilton Los Angeles/San Gabriel features a 12,524-square-foot ballroom and 20,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space.

Alex Schechter is Brooklyn-based freelance travel writer.

Main image: California Science Center

Hotel Chart

Click here for detailed information on the hotels in this story.

Meeting Spotlight

  • Who: Just Cruzin’ Productions; 59 attendees 
  • When: May 12 
  • Where: Mondrian Los Angeles 
  • Why: “While in L.A., our company threw an arriving party for a trip we called Angels & Vegas (since we visited Vegas and Los Angeles). The event took place outside the hotel’s restaurant, Asia de Cuba, and the pool area. We loved the quick and positive response from the team at Mondrian and were treated like special guests. The service, design and location are all reasons we would come back again to host another event here.” —Øystein Tynning, event coordinator

Glitzy Executive Retreats

Peninsula Beverly Hills

Just because you’ve booked your event at the Los Angeles Convention Center doesn’t mean you need to confine yourself to downtown. For a more indulgent retreat, consider these five-star glitzy getaways: 

From its white-tablecloth dining room, The Belvedere, to the stunning rooftop pool, the 209-room Peninsula Beverly Hills is L.A. luxury at its best. Business travelers can enjoy complimentary use of a Cadillac if booking a suite, while those in need of some TLC can book a massage at the intimate spa.

Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills pampers guests at its first-rate spa as well. For the ultimate in R&R, guests can book a private poolside cabana for their treatment. Executives will also appreciate access to personal iPads; there’s one in every guest room and suite.

Complimentary iPads are also available at Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica’s exclusive beachfront resort, which offers 198 guest rooms designed by Michael Smith and features Tibetan rug-topped hardwood floors, TV-equipped whirlpool tubs, and, of course, shutters on every guest door. Yoga on the beach is one of the amenities offered at the full-service wellness center.

You’ll entirely forget your surroundings after a long weekend at the posh Hotel Bel-Air. Its 12 acres of secluded gardens, exclusive Spa by La Prairie and recently upgraded rooms and suites create the ultimate Hollywood retreat. Among the seven specialty suites is one named for Grace Kelly. Deluxe guest rooms designed by Alexandra Champalimaud feature individual garden entrances, private patios, Fili D’oro linens and deep soaking tubs. Room service, should you choose to indulge, comes courtesy of Wolfgang Puck himself, who’s commandeered the hotel’s entire F&B operation.

Angel's Flight

Car Free L.A.

If being stuck at the end of a 20-mile traffic jam, dangerously late for an important meeting (or even just a day of sightseeing in Malibu) isn’t your idea of fun, then rejoice: For the first time in years, L.A. is making a serious push to expand its options for those who simply refuse to be a prisoner of the freeway.

Launched on Earth Day in April (three months after a new public bike-rental system debuted), Car Free L.A. is a citywide campaign that helps drivers save gas money and avoid endless traffic lines. Targeting specific neighborhoods, it encourages visitors to explore popular landmarks such as the Sunset Strip or Santa Monica Pier via bike, bus or on foot.

Among the self-guided itineraries is an eight-hour “Discover Downtown” walking tour, which hits many of the area’s top architectural attractions. Starting off at Angel’s Flight, aka the “world’s shortest railway,” visitors can ride up Bunker Hill for 50 cents, followed by a visit to the iconic Museum of Contemporary Art. Just a short walk away is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which conceals a garden with views over west L.A. From here, the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum are both accessible.