Focus On: California
California’s motto, “Eureka,” is a Greek word that translates to “I have found it.” While the motto itself refers to the discovery of gold in the state, the same exclamation holds true for meeting and event planners searching for a perfect combination of value, entertainment, accessibility, great weather, available goods and services, and top-notch facilities. With so much to offer, it’s tough to pin down exactly where in California you should hold your next event. Even with so many great locations to choose from, two of the larger cities—Sacramento and San Diego—hold special appeal, but don’t overlook lesser-known areas such as elegant Pasadena, high-tech San Jose or seaside Huntington Beach.
When the Beach Boys sang about a “Surfin’ Safari,” they were paying homage to the beach scene in and around Huntington Beach. Today, the city continues to proudly embrace its image as a surfing destination by referring to itself as Surf City USA. With a meeting package that includes compensation towards site inspection airfare, a 5 percent meeting rebate on applicable charges, and discounts for meeting attendees at area retailers and restaurants, Huntington Beach is giving planners a few reasons to consider the city for meetings.
Madison Fisher, communications manager for the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau, talks about the city’s uninterrupted stretch of coastline as one of its best aspects. Taking full advantage of that prime real estate are four conference resorts and hotels, including the 517-room Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, a luxury oceanfront resort with an elevated pedestrian bridge providing direct beach access; the 249-room Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, which overlooks more than eight miles of beach; the Hotel Huntington Beach, a centrally located full-service hotel with 224 rooms; and the Shorebreak Hotel, a 157-room lifestyle boutique hotel across from the pier.
Accountant executive Amy Walkowiak of HPN Global, an international site-selection and marketing consulting company, is in the planning stages of an event to be held at the Shorebreak, which she notes is “a charming boutique hotel with lots of character, and a really friendly staff. It exemplifies Huntington Beach: It’s relaxed, easy-going and hip without being pretentious. It’s also a great value as well.”
Also of note, Walkowiak says, is the downtown corridor. “It has a small, intimate feel to it. And it’s recently been renovated, with lots of unique restaurants and bars within easy walking distance. A lot of Southern California cities have gotten almost too trendy, but Huntington Beach still retains its old-time beach vibe. It’s flip-flops and T-shirts,” she says.
Still, not every event has to be held indoors in Huntington Beach. Taking advantage of the great weather means holding events outside. “There are all kinds of hidden gems that the typical planner might not know about,” says Fisher. “Central Park is a state-of-the-art sports complex, The Strand is a block on Fifth Street [between Pacific Coast Highway and Walnut] that can be booked for special events, and we can hold events in parking lots using the sand and surf as a backdrop. Really, it’s like a blank canvas just waiting for creative planners to take advantage of.”
What used to be a sleepy enclave on the outer reaches of Los Angeles County, the city of Pasadena these days is home to Make Music Pasadena, California’s largest free music festival; the Pasadena Chalk Festival, recipient of the 2010 Guinness World Record for the Largest Display of Chalk Art now in its 20th year; and the stunning Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, a 207-acre estate that showcases breathtaking flora, a research library, and Thomas Gainsborough’s masterpiece “The Blue Boy.”
A not-to-be-missed venue option is Castle Green, located just off Colorado Boulevard (the city’s main street). Built in 1898, the “castle” is a seven-story Moorish and Spanish-style building that was at one time a lavish resort for those wishing to escape the harsh eastern winters. What were once hotel rooms and suites have been transformed into one-of-a-kind apartments, but downstairs in the public rooms and gardens, events can be booked for up to 500 guests.
The Pasadena Convention Center recently underwent a $150 million expansion, and offers 55,000 square feet of exhibit space at its LEED Gold facility. “The PCC is one of the greenest convention centers in North America,” says Christine Carchia, director of sales and client services. “We also offer full-service catering, electrical and AV production services, high-speed telecommunications and ample on-site parking.” A few of the high-profile events the PCC has hosted recently include the Mary Kay Career Conference (with more than 2,000 attendees) and the In-N-Out Burger Awards Ceremony and Dinner, which drew more than 900 attendees.
For planners who need to keep their events and accommodations all in one location, The Westin Pasadena offers 350 guest rooms and a second floor of the property devoted entirely to meetings with 29 separate spaces, comprised of smaller meeting rooms (such as the bright and airy San Marino), as well as the Fountain Ballroom, which can be split into four smaller rooms. Within easy walking distance of Colorado Boulevard, it’s also a convenient location for attendees wanting to spend their evenings out on the town.
Another upscale option is the 380-room Langham Huntington Hotel, the site for Associated Luxury Hotels International’s Executive Women in Leadership conference in May, which was attended by approximately 60 women who work at the director level or above. The three-day event was held entirely on-site at the hotel. “The property has so much to offer,” says Stacy Lucherini, regional vice president for the Midwest and Canada for ALHI, and the event’s organizer. “It was beautiful, serene and had views of the nearby mountains. L.A. was close, but far enough away that you felt like you were at a secluded resort. Pasadena was also convenient in terms of direct flights either into LAX, or Burbank Airport. Plus,” she continues, “being there was like Groundhog Day; every day we woke up, and the weather in the city was absolutely beautiful.”
At first glance, the state’s capital might seem a bit stodgy, but scratch lightly beneath the surface and you’ll find a city filled with green outdoor space, a historic old town section that sees upwards of 5 million visitors a year, and a meandering river where bicyclists can ride the 33-mile American River Bike Trail along the water’s edge.
There’s no denying the influence state politics have in shaping the character of the city, and for some planners that’s an important draw.Greg Golik is the operations director for the Coalition for Adequate School Housing. He was tasked with coordinating its 33rd Annual Conference, an event that drew 1,000 attendees from all over the state. “Because CASH is heavily reliant on legislative partners, Sacramento is the perfect place for this event. Local politicians can come directly from their offices, and at the end of the conference, there’s a meeting at the capitol for our attendees. Additionally, Sacramento International Airport is within very close proximity to downtown, and there’s an ease of renting a car or grabbing a taxi into the city. “We also hold a lot of our general sessions at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, which is right across the street from the convention center,” he adds.
The 503-room Hyatt (as well as the recently renovated Sheraton Grand Sacramento, also with 503 rooms) is likewise a favored property for Lyndie Boulton, member of the managing committee that oversees the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium’s annual conference, a trade show that draws 12,500 attendees from all over the world. Grape growers, winery owners, executives, experts and students attend the event that features 650 trade-show booths. “We hold the majority of the event at the convention center,” explains Boulton, “with the Hyatt and Sheraton acting as our designated hotels. Still, with that many attendees, we also utilize 18 overflow hotels. “This event is so huge that most restaurants, taxi drivers and other allied workers know when it’s going on,” she says. “In fact, it’s not unusual for restaurants to run out of wine while we’re there.”
In addition to the Sacramento Convention Center Complex, there are dozens of special venues to consider in and around the city. The California Automobile Museum has the Alhambra Events Area, a 6,400-sq.-ft. space that can seat up to 500. Tango by the River located in Old Sacramento, is a dance studio that features 1,500 square feet of hardwood floors and 12-foot windows that overlook the historic district. And Tequila Museo Mayahuel is a gallery/exhibition space and restaurant that celebrates the influences of agave and tequila on the visual and culinary arts.
What city combines a strong military presence, a world-class zoo, a revitalized downtown corridor, and near-perfect year-round weather? If you answered San Diego, then you’re at least somewhat familiar with this Southern California city, the eighth largest in the country. But the laid-back vibe of San Diego has changed during the past few years, and the city is growing up and morphing into a destination filled with high-end dining establishments, luxury hotel accommodations and chic nightclubs.
“We’re reintroducing San Diego to visitors,” says Margie Sitton of the San Diego CVB. “Everyone knows the zoo and beaches, but there are so many reasons to come here beyond the obvious. For example, we’ve recently been named a top travel destination for our craft beer scene, with brewery tasting rooms, brewpubs and tours of breweries available
“We also have Balboa Park, the largest set of museums west of the Mississippi. The park makes a gorgeous setting for events, and you can almost always count on having good weather, so being outside isn’t an issue,” she adds.
At the San Diego Convention Center, 2011 saw 74 out-of-town conventions and trade shows, with more than 500,000 individuals in attendance. Lianne Pereira, CMP, CMM, director of events for 1st Global, coordinates educational and motivational events. San Diego was the location of a recent event held at the convention center, a venue that’s scheduled to undergo an expansion that would add 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, additional meeting and ballroom space, and a five-acre rooftop venue overlooking the bay
“One of the reasons I selected San Diego is that it has universal appeal,” explains Pereira. “It’s socially diverse, there are many entertainment options (from the zoo to the harbor to the beaches), and there are trendy, upscale restaurants serving cutting-edge cuisine from creative chefs.
“Also, large groups can easily be accommodated there, and the convention center is an awesome choice for that,” Pereira adds. “The convenience of it being within walking distance of the Gaslamp Quarter can’t be overlooked. It’s not the least expensive city, but you feel the value you’re receiving is above what you’ve spent.”
Accommodations in and around the convention center are numerous, but for larger groups several of note are the 1,362-room San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, which is undergoing a $200 million upgrade; the 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, which recently hosted the 22nd Annual Arts and Science of Health Promotion Conference; and the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, with 1,053 rooms.
Do you know the way to San Jose? That question might get a bit old to residents of the city, but in truth a lot of people don’t actually know where the city is—located midway between Northern California and the Central Coast.
Planners wanting to take advantage of everything a convention center has to offer will find a more-than-adequate option in the nation’s 10th-largest city. The San Jose Convention Center will host groups as varied as the California Library Association, the San Jose Firefighter Burn Foundation, and members of the Face and Body Spa Conference and Expo. Banquet seating and kitchen facilities allow for groups up to 5,000, and Parkside Hall, which is less than a half mile from the convention center, can host banquets for up to 2,800 people and contains 30,000 square feet of space.
For something a bit more outside the box, though, consider coordinating a customized, narrated bus tour of San Jose and Silicon Valley. During a five-and-a-half-hour tour, attendees will learn all about an area that contains the largest concentration of technological companies (approximately 6,500), as well as visit landmark Silicon Valley headquarters (including Google, LinkedIn and eBay). The tour also includes a stop at the original Apple company store, a shop that doesn’t sell any computers, iPhones or iPads; instead, it’s the only place in the world that sells official Apple logo products.
If you really want to tap into the techie side of things, you’d do well to turn to The Computer History Museum, conveniently located at the intersection of three major highways and about 15 minutes from San Jose Airport.
David Laws was chairman for the IC@50, an event that celebrated the 50th birthday of integrated circuits, which drew more than 1,000 attendees to the museum over a period of three days. On-site were hosted cocktail parties, as well as presentations in the 370-seat Hahn auditorium. “The selling points of the museum are that it’s a sparkling, high-tech venue,” notes Laws. “It’s well-situated in Silicon Valley, has ample parking, it’s located near several local hotels, and it’s an easy drive from the airport.
“Additionally, the exhibit halls were open to our attendees, and docents were brought in to help explain them in greater detail. Because it’s a facility that’s specifically designed to bring technology to life for the average computer user, that’s a lot more interesting than your average hotel ballroom.”