Convenient to and yet a world apart from the pulsating urban hubs of Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, California’s Central Coast is where the essence of the Golden State remains intact. Here is where to find the laid-back beach towns, fragrant citrus groves, terraced vineyards and plenty of vantage points for watching the sun drop below the horizon in a blaze of glory.
For meetings, this translates into an environment conducive for rejuvenation, bonding and realizing objectives, according to Michael Wambolt, director of travel trade for Visit San Luis Obispo County.
“Preserving our open space is a priority because we know that’s what visitors are looking for when they come here,” he said. “People can do their meeting, get work done and yet feel like they are unplugged at the same time.”
The Central Coast begins in Ventura County, encompassing the beachside communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Port Hueneme, all located less than two hours from Los Angeles. For meetings, the region offers a consistently sunny climate and relative affordability along with a wide choice of waterfront venues and outdoor activities, according to Rebekah Evans, executive director of Ventura County Coast, the central marketing organization for the four cities.
“We’re a hidden gem with all the beauty of more-famous beach locations such as Malibu, but with top-end hotels that are half the price,” she said.
Formerly Ventura County West, Ventura County Coast, which works with the visitor bureaus from the four member cities, recently rebranded itself and is launching a new marketing campaign called “This Is the Whole Point.”
“Our new campaign is communicating to visitors and meeting planners about ‘the whole point’ of why you want to be here,” Evans said, adding that agri-tourism and outdoor activities are among the key attributes being emphasized.
Farm visits and enjoying such experiences as chef-prepared dinners served right in the fields are among the possibilities. Groups can arrange to tour or hold events at such places as the century-old Limoneira Ranch, where catered events for up to 3,000 people can be held amid the property’s extensive lemon groves.
Another historic venue is Camarillo Ranch, which originated as a 10,000-acre Mexican Land Grant given to the Ruiz family in 1847. Event spaces include the elegant Queen Anne-style Victorian ranch house or the 1905 Mule Barn, a classic red barn that was recently restored and outfitted with audiovisual capabilities.
Along with a wide range of beach activities, Ventura County also offers the unique opportunity to experience the Channel Islands, located just 14 miles offshore. The Channel Islands, sometimes referred to as the American Galapogos, are home to 2,000 plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
“If a group wants a bonding experience, the Channel Islands are incredible,” Evans said. “You can take a boat out there for hiking and kayaking—and can even arrange to camp there overnight.”
With many of the county’s meetings hotels featuring waterfront locations, holding an event on-property is also an attractive option. Among them are the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, which has a ballroom with panoramic harbor views, and the Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Resort in Oxnard, which has recently added new outdoor function space.
“We re-activated our beach for teambuilding and also for dinners where you can sip wine, dig your toes in the sand and watch the sun set over the Channel Islands,” said Christie Evans, director of sales and marketing for the Embassy Suites. “We also have a lawn for more formal events that overlooks the water.”