Where’s the Beach?

Destinations

“No airport hotel in the country besides (those at) LAX has nearby beaches,” says Michael Krouse, senior vice president of sales and client services for LA INC., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Alongside the beaches, Marina del Rey has the largest man-made harbor in the U.S. and the Port of Los Angeles, near San Pedro, is home to Carnival Cruise Lines and—soon—Disney Cruise Line, giving attendees a chance to sail away on vacation after the meeting ends.

And that’s just the beginning. Los Angeles County has 33 beaches, 75 miles of coastline and 22 miles of a pathway that links the beach cities of Santa Monica, Venice and Marina de Rey with Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo Beaches. Collectively, they’re known to locals as the South Bay. “People don’t realize that all these beach communities are connected, and you can walk or bike the entire path,” Krouse says.
          
Those staying at the hotels lining Century Boulevard and surrounding streets near the airport aren’t left out: They can hop on a regularly scheduled shuttle that drops them right at the beach to join in the fun.
           
Amazingly, all of these cities are within 10 miles of Los Angeles International Airport. And all have meeting space and easy access to the airport. No need to rent a car if you’re meeting at a South Bay hotel. The airport itself is situated only a mile from the nearest beaches. Manhattan Beach is just a 10-minute taxi or shuttle ride away, and Santa Monica can be reached in 20 minutes by surface streets. Yet those who simply have to have their taste of the celebrity lifestyle in Hollywood or Beverly Hills can get there easily for an evening from hotels that provide regional transportation for guests.         

The best part of this Los Angeles beach environment is that the large, meetings-friendly hotels provide multiple options for self-contained meetings at a price point that’s attractive in the current economic climate. Krouse says many companies still avoid resort destinations to avoid the appearance of impropriety. In L.A., they needn’t worry. “At LAX, they can still go to the beach, meet at an airport hotel and have that resort experience,” he says. “In this economy, what an amazing value that is.”   

Adding to the attraction is the fact that many of the meetings hotels in the coastal cities are right on the beach, the marina or the harbor. The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey sits at the edge of the marina, where Hornblower Cruises & Events can pull right up to the dock to board a group for a team-building session on the water. The Marina del Rey Marriott is nearby. “It’s a value to a customer who wants the feel of being by the water but not at a resort for perception reasons,” Krouse says. Another perk: At the two hotels, guests can enjoy a patio reception either near, or at, the water’s edge without having to travel to an off-site venue. That saves on transportation costs and logistics.     

The South Bay cities of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches are favorites of locals for volleyball, surfing and just plain beach fun. Santa Monica gets its share of attention for its pier, but its wide, sandy beaches draw locals from all parts of the L.A. Basin to its shore, and groups like the citywide American Film Market transform the city during annual conventions.          

These towns have their share of upscale, full-service hotels appropriate for meetings, but offer the more laid-back ambience people expect to find in sunny Southern California. It’s easy to walk most of the beach towns and poke around in kitschy or trendy local shops, while serious shoppers take a shuttle in Redondo Beach to South Bay Galleria or Del Amo Fashion Center—the area’s largest shopping malls.           

Deborah Shepard, director of sales and marketing at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina and chair of the visitors’ committee for the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, says some people are sold on the area when they see the convenience and the size of the community. “It’s something that fits their image,” she says. That’s particularly true for companies like surfboard or sport-shoe makers and other retailers that cater to the surf and beach lifestyles.           

So get on board with the beach side of Los Angeles, listen to jazz at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach or build sand castles with the stars in Santa Monica. And if you must have that touch of celebrity seeking, book a celebrity bus tour to Malibu, walk the beaches where well-known residents live and relax, and see the homes of the rich and famous. Then hop on that 22-mile Strand and enjoy a leisurely stroll or bike ride close to your hotel. The boardwalks and piers you encounter will bring flashbacks of films you’ve seen; the meeting venues do let you hear the waves; and you can often walk to the beach after your last session of the day. When it’s all over, there’s no rental car to return or hours-long trek back to the airport for the flight home because you’re just minutes away from the trip and back to reality.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is just 8 square miles and 8 miles from LAX, but its reputation as a celebrity magnet adds to its cachet for visitors.           

Groups skew toward the entertainment industry, which makes up a big chunk of business in the city, but pharmaceutical, insurance and financial meetings are starting to come back, too, according to Alison Best, vice president of sales and services for the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (santamonica.com). “We position ourselves as a nonresort beach city (where) it’s okay to do business at the beach,” she says.         

“We still push our sustainability message, too,” she says. Part of that sustainability message comes from the local farmers’ markets. And while you may not be able to cart produce back home in your carry-on, it’s easy to find at area restaurants. The CVB folks say Wednesday is a great night to eat out in Santa Monica, because chefs shop the farmers market in the morning and use the ingredients in dinner menus.          

Next year, you will be able to cart some tasty items home when the Santa Monica Place Market opens. Similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, it will feature artisan cheeses and breads, oils and other gourmet items equally suited for gifts or for a picnic basket.           

There’s no dearth of lodging in Santa Monica, with four meetings hotels such as Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel (loewshotels.com), The Georgian Hotel (georgian hotel.com), theSheraton Delfina (sheratondelfina.com), Le Merigot: A JW Marriott Hotel & Spa (marriott.com), the Ambrose (ambrosehotel.com), the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows (fairmont.com) and The Huntley Santa Monica Beach Hotel  (thehuntleyhotel.com) among the options. The 164-room Ocean Avenue Hotel (santamonica.com) is scheduled to open in summer 2011. The proximity of hotels to one another makes it easy to accommodate citywide events like the American Film Market that brings 8,000 people to town, Best says.           

The newly opened Santa Monica Place (santamonicaplace.com), an open-air mall, turned its entire rooftop into restaurants and event space that is available for buyouts. It connects to the Third Street Promenade and has city, mountain and ocean views. “It gives us more dining and (function) space than we’ve ever had,” Best says. It may rival Santa Monica Pier for its picturesque charm, but the Pier is still a major draw. The attraction offers 400,000 sq. ft. of function space, buyouts, an amusement park, a Ferris wheel and a turn-of-the century carousel building for events.          

A new Museumof Flying (museumofflying.com) is scheduled to open by year’s end, featuring the history of Douglas Aircraft and a California Aviation Hall of Fame.

Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey(visitmarinadelrey.com) sits between LAX and Santa Monica. Krouse says planners often overlook it, but shouldn’t, because it offers resort-style lodging and restaurants at the marina at reasonable prices. As the largest man-made harbor in the U.S. (it can berth 5,300 boats), there are ample opportunities for events on the water, including kayaking and cruising. And both the Marina del Rey Marriott (marriott.com) and The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey (ritzcarlton.com) have ample meeting space for productive events with a California flair. New on the scene is Jamaica Bay Inn (jamaicabayinn.com), which reopened this past fall with a relaxed, West Indies-style decor and ambience. The resort features 111 guest rooms and three distinct spaces for groups.        

The restaurant scene in Marina del Rey is almost as robust as in Santa Monica, with ample night-life accompaniment. The landmark Tony P’s Dockside Grill is famous these days for its beer-pairing dinners. Those who want to get out on the water can do so aboard Hornblower Cruises & Events (hornblower.com) yachts that offer lunch, dinner or cocktail cruises as well as seminars at sea.           

At the other end of the spectrum is the nearby kitschy city of Venice Beach(venicebeach.com), known for its eclectic mix of retro and trendy culture. The boardwalk is a draw for skateboarders, jugglers, Rollerbladers and body-builders, along with a string of tattoo parlors and other unique shops. It’s a great day trip that will make the folks from other regions shake their heads in disbelief.

LAX/Century Boulevard

The LAX corridor, primarily along Century Boulevard, isn’t your typical strip of mid-sized airport hotels. Here the major meetings hotels line the street like soldiers: tall, regal and inviting. In recent years, the hotels have worked together to make staying at the airport more attractive for meeting attendees and business travelers alike. The hotels have gone upscale with resort-style pools and spas and popular dining spots within the hotels that are worthy of group events.           

Properties like the Los Angeles Airport Marriott (marriott.com), Hilton Los Angeles Airport (hilton.com), Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport (fourpointslax.com) and The Westin Los Angeles Airport (starwoodhotels.com) make an attractive package for meetings of any size. And parking fees are never an issue, since most attendees won’t need a car.

Manhattan Beach

Just three miles from LAX, Manhattan Beach (manhattanbeachchamber.net) is one of the largest beach cities in the county and long-time home to many volleyball tournaments. It boasts 150 volleyball courts along with a historic fishing pier and charming restaurants. Get your yoga fix at Soultree Center or munch your way through lunch at the Tuesday Farmers’ Market.           

Business hotels include the Manhattan Beach Marriott (marriott.com), Hawthorn Suites (hawthornsuites-lax.com), Residence Inn (marriott.com) and the boutique hotel Shade (shadehotel.com), a 38-room luxury property that’s the first boutique in the city. “Planners book it because it’s a treat to be near the water without (incurring) high costs,” says JoLise Vought, director of events. “You don’t need a car, and it’s three blocks from the ocean.”

Hermosa Beach

Named one of the top 10 beaches by the Travel Channel, Hermosa Beach (hbchamber.net) personifies the California beach culture. Though just 1.3 square miles in size, it carries a big impact as a pedestrian-friendly, fun beach with good music, good food and good nightlife.           

The Beach House Hotel (beach-house.com) is mere steps from the sand and in easy proximity to the main drag of Pier Avenue and The Lighthouse Cafe, a bastion of the music scene since the 1940s that still draws crowds for jazz, blues, reggae and rock. Pier Avenue is lined with unique shops that make it fun to browse during your breaks.

Redondo Beach

The largest of the beach cities south of the airport, Redondo Beach (redondo.org) was the first port in Los Angeles County. Just 7 miles from LAX, it draws groups that prefer an intimate coastal destination that attendees can enjoy on foot. Shepard says group business is picking up, but, interestingly, transient business drives some group business. Since some companies stopped using negotiated hotel rates during the downturn, leisure guests who stay at the Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina Hotel (cpredondobeachotel.com) sometimes stop by to inquire about group rates.          

“We have more places on the water than most beach cities—the marina, the ocean and the pier—everything is rolled into one,” she says. Redondo has small shops at Riviera Village, and the Crowne Plaza runs a shuttle to the giant Del Amo Fashion Center nearby four times a day—an amenity popular with international guests, Shepard says. Restaurants include the familiar, like Bluewater Grill and Cheesecake Factory, along with local favorites like Delzano’s By The Sea, Zazou and Baleen.

San Pedro & The Peninsula

San Pedro is the gateway to the Port of Los Angeles, where Harbor World Cruise Center improvements are ongoing. The center hosts eight major cruise lines. But the city often is overlooked.           

Redevelopment was a long time coming, but now the fruits of the labor are beginning to appear. The San Pedro Waterfront and Promenade is anchored at one end by the new Fanfare Fountain of Gateway Plaza, featuring water shows synchronized to music and lights. And the Doubletree Hotel San Pedro (hilton.com) is nearly at water’s edge, overlooking the marina. The Cabrillo Way Marina will have 700 new boat slips as of next June, which is sure to bring more water-based activities to the area. Attendees might use some spare time visiting the recently renovated Cabrillo Marine Aquarium or the Point Fermin Lighthouse, one of the area’s most historic landmarks.          

The largest meetings hotel in San Pedro is the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel (ichotelsgroup.com) with 244 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. “San Pedro does well with government meetings and is a good value for small corporate meetings,” LA INC.’s Krouse says.           

Near San Pedro on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Terranea Resort (terranea.com) perches on 102 oceanfront acres above the surf. The 582-room resort also has 82 villas and casitas, a 25,000-square-foot spa and 60,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space, along with sweeping lawns overlooking the ocean and Catalina Island. A golf course adjoins the resort. “It’s a well-kept secret that needs to be talked about,” Krouse says. “It has incredible outdoor space and indoor meeting space for a resort, and offers another great value to planners.”

 

Sandi Cain, a regular contributor to Smart Meetings, is a freelance journalist who covers the meetings, hospitality and tourism industries.

For more information about venues, properties and attractions in L.A.’s beach communities and nearby LAX, visit smartmeetings.com/business-destinations/southern-california.