While within easy reach of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz and Monterey are a world away. Offering a meditative environment in a glorious natural setting, the communities around Monterey Bay are where tech companies and other organizations go to rejuvenate and find inspiration.
However, this laid-back demeanor doesn’t mean that groups won’t find state-of-the art infrastructure geared for serious business. Whether the choice is Santa Cruz, Aptos, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Monterey or Pacific Grove, a slew of recent and upcoming enhancements to venues and resort properties are giving the region more appeal than ever.
The big news in downtown Monterey is the anticipated reopening this spring of the Monterey Conference Center, which has been closed since December 2015 for a $60 million renovation. The transformed facility will be LEED certified and offer 40,000 square feet of meeting space accommodating up to 3,200 people.
“It’s the same footprint as before, but it’s being reconfigured to be more flexible,” said Mark McMinn, vice president of sales for the Monterey County CVB. “Updating the technology was a major consideration as was bringing the outdoors in. We’ve created spaces with more natural light, including rooms with glass walls and more access to the outside.”
Outdoor spaces at the conference center will include a main terrace overlooking the porte cochere and a reconfigured Jefferson Terrace, a rooftop garden that attaches to breakout space at the Portola Hotel & Spa. The hotel is also scheduled to complete a property-wide renovation this spring.
Despite the temporary closure of the conference center, meetings business is booming in Monterey County, particularly from the tech sector, according to McMinn.
“It’s not just Silicon Valley companies, but a wide spectrum that also includes agriculture tech as well as tech associations,” he said. “The groups coming in are looking to create the future for their companies and associations. They are looking for retreat places that are not ordinary, places that are comfortable, interactive and engaging.”
Monterey County is abundant with properties that are ideal for retreats, while also providing immersive experiences, he added.
“For example, Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley has the Range Rover Institute, which is great for teambuilding,” he said. “Guests can drive Range Rovers through the golf course and over the mountains. At Carmel Valley Ranch, groups can spend time with the beekeeper and in the organic garden.”
Also in Carmel Valley, Holman Ranch welcomes executive retreats at its historic hacienda-style lodge that was once a getaway for Charlie Chaplin and other stars of the silent movie era. The property also includes an estate winery, pool and landscaped grounds available for outdoor events.
In Pacific Grove, Asilomar Conference Grounds, an inspirational retreat property for over 100 years, encompasses 107 acres of protected forest and coastal dunes. The 313-room property offers 65,000 square feet of meeting space, some of it in banquet halls designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, as well as outdoor barbecue areas, a large central meadow and expansive beach.
Another option for groups is to take over one or more of the small inn-like properties nestled among the pines in Carmel village, McMinn said.
“We’re seeing planners go for three or four different properties within walking distance of each other in Carmel,” he said. “Groups of 10 or 20 can stay together and have their own dynamic and then come together for a central meeting.”