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Dana Point and Palm Springs Offer Up Luxe and New Meetings Experiences

Photo of Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach.

Southern California took a starring role during a press familiarization trip sponsored by Visit California that traveled to Dana Point and Palm Springs in the wake of PCMA Convening Leaders in San Diego.

We tagged along for the ride and our report follows.

Dana Point

Groups meeting in Dana Point, located on the Orange County coast about an hour north of San Diego, will certainly be spoiled.

Featuring two ultra-luxe properties, a four-star Marriott and a standing as a world center for dolphin and whale watching, Dana Point even trademarked the term “dolphin and whale watching capital of the world.”

Panoramic photo of Dana Point California harbor and coastline.
Dana Point

“With Dana Point, we definitely have those beautiful properties but it’s also very easy to navigate for offsite activities,” said Heather Johnston, executive director for Visit Dana Point, adding that the destination is also conveniently close to three major airports: LAX, John Wayne Airport and Long Beach Airport. “If you’re going to be coming to California, you’re going to want to be in a beach town and enjoy that California lifestyle, and I think it’s really easy to do that in Dana Point. Groups can take a day to go kayaking or sit by the ocean and have a five-star dinner. [Dolphin- and whale-watching] is a really easy activity to book, and you can get upwards of 100 attendees on a boat.”

[Related: Visit Dana Point Taps Heather Johnston as Executive Director]

Other popular Dana Point activity options include standup paddleboard yoga and day trips out to Catalina Island. The Ocean Institute is also a great offsite option for groups that want a local sealife educational experience or even a sail on the 188-foot Spirit of Dana Point wooden tall ship.

Johnston added that the owners of all the major Dana Point resorts are currently investing significantly in their luxury properties.

Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa

All 378 rooms at this AAA Four-Diamond Marriott less than 20 steps from Doheny State Beach have benefited from a $25 million renovation in 2020. The property offers 50,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting venues with a highlight being event lawns boasting panoramic views of the Pacific. Indoor space includes a 10,000-square-foot ballroom. All lower-level rooms offer up a gas firepit that guests can cook s’mores on via a kit provided by the hotel.

Photo of woody car at Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa.
Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa. Credit: Tyler Davidson.

Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach

Photo of event space at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach.
Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach. Credit Tyler Davidson.

Groups wanting to go big on luxury will certainly find it at this sprawling 175-acre AAA Five-Diamond resort that runs all the way to the ocean from a 150-foot-high bluff—guests can hop in one of the 400-room resort’s fleet of shuttles to access the beach. Highlights here include the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Monarch Beach Golf Club and the Monarch Bay Beach Club, where guests can dine and sip cocktails timed to the sunset right off the beach. The property recently wrapped a $30 million renovation to its guest rooms and suites and is now embarking on a lobby refresh. The resort features a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and multiple luxurious outdoor spaces such as its 40,000-square-foot Botanical Lawn that can be tented for private events.

[Related: 3 Luxury Resort Trends to Watch in 2024]

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Photo of seafood tower at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Credit: Tyler Davidson.

Also on a blufftop, and only a half mile from the Waldorf Astoria, this 396-room AAA Five-Diamond stunner with 18 meeting rooms and more than 25,000 square feet of space was the first major luxury resort on the Orange County Coast when it opened in 1984. A big highlight here is the fine-dining RAYA restaurant, helmed by chef Richard Sandoval, plating sustainable Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine overlooking the Pacific. The Ritz was basically a prototype for the brand’s resort offerings and keeps pushing the envelope, including offering the services of a Beach Butler to get attendees down to the water.

Greater Palm Springs

The Greater Palm Springs portion of the fam was all about what’s new in this nine-city desert destination.

“Our region has long been celebrated for its distinctive venues, ranging from iconic Mid-Century architecture to expansive outdoor spaces,” said Carolina Viazcan, vice president of sales for Visit Greater Palm Springs. “Now, we’re excited to introduce a host of new and innovative venues like the Thompson Palm Springs, Palm Springs Surf Club and Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, each offering new spaces. From the newly branded Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort and Spa to a diverse array of hotels, Greater Palm Springs truly presents planners with an extensive selection of options for their events, complemented by easy air access, engaging activities and culinary delights.”

[Related Podcast: Exciting New Meetings Developments in Greater Palm Springs, With Carolina Viazcan]

Photo of Palm Springs with snow capped mountains in the background.
Greater Palm Springs

[Related: 6 Signature Event Venues in Greater Palm Springs]

The Palm Springs Surf Club

Photo of pool at Palm Springs Surf Club.
Palm Springs Surf Club

Just opened January 1, this 21-acre desert oasis features a state-of-the-art wave pool that can accommodate all levels of surfers along with a lazy river and plenty of cabanas for lounging and watching the action. The complex currently offers 1,900 square feet of indoor space, two restaurants and three bars, and is building a two-story event space that is scheduled for a summer opening. The venue has already played host to a Rip Curl USA event. Groups can take teambuilding to new heights with up to 12 surfers at a time riding waves up to seven feet tall for a curated event with every wipe-out potentially broadcast on its two towering video screens.

Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort & Spa

Emerging in late 2023 from the former Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, the world’s first Tommy Bahama resort provides a laid-back-lifestyle option befitting the Caribbean-island vibe of the casual wear brand. Offering 215 guest rooms and 35,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 6,000-square-foot ballroom, the property hosted its first group—its management company, CoralTree Hospitality—in late January. The property’s main dining room, Grapefruit Basil, is gaining notoriety with locals craving a casual yet elevated dining experience. And, of course, attendees wanting to gear up Tommy Bahama-style can shop to their hearts’ content at the retail store right in the lobby.

Photo of olive grove meeting space at Miramonte Resort & Spa.
Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort & Spa. Credit: Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort & Spa.

[Related: Discover the Massive Meetings Property Renovations in Greater Palm Springs]

Thompson Palm Springs

The big news in downtown Palm Springs is the emergence of Thompson Palm Springs, a 168-room urban lifestyle resort right on the city’s main drag that is guaranteed to be an events magnet and venue for the most glamorous events in town. After opening this summer, the hotel will be the 20th Thompson hotel, a brand launched by Hyatt in New York City in 2013. Carrying the tagline “Culture Lives Here,” Palm Springs’ newest entrant will be a design-forward talk of the town, with its pool deck overlooking Palm Canyon Drive expected to be a prime special events spot. The resort will contain approximately 8,000 square feet of meeting and event space and more than 35,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The property’s signature restaurant, Lola Rose, will serve Middle Eastern cuisine. Owned by the Hall Group, another F&B highlight of the property will be the onsite HALL Napa Valley Tasting Room. One interesting space primed for meetings and events is the four-story, adults-only hotel tower that offers 42 guest rooms, its own pool and can be bought out.

Rendering of pool deck at Thompson Palm Springs.
Rendering of pool deck at Thompson Palm Springs

Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza/Spa at Séc-he

Our fam trip ended with a relaxing visit to the new Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza and Spa at Séc-he, located on tribal land right in downtown Palm Springs. Opened in April 2023, the cultural plaza and world-class spa is owned and operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which also operate three casino properties in the Coachella Valley. The award-winning spa is fed by the same waters—sacred to the tribe—that gave Palm Springs its name and notoriety. The water made its way from the mountains to the springs via a percolation process that takes 12,000 years, during which it collects and cooks minerals that are a tonic for aching joints and healing skin.

Photo of pool at Spa at Séc-he.
Spa at Séc-he. Credit: Spa at Séc-he.

[Related: Why Wellness Is Becoming a Key Component of Meetings Agendas]

Highlights of the 73,000-square-foot spa include:

  • 22 private mineral baths
  • A cryotherapy chamber
  • Two float-pod suites
  • Two halotherapy salt caves
  • A fitness area
  • A tranquility garden
  • A menthol dry sauna
  • A eucalyptus steam room
  • An outdoor mineral pool with four Jacuzzis
  • An onsite cafe


Visit Dana Point
Visit Greater Palm Springs

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.