In Huntington Beach, California—“Surf City USA”—500 fire rings can’t be wrong. Since its temperatures rarely rise above 80 degrees or sink below 50 degrees, the perfect and near-predictable weather creates a great destination for groups to hold a bonfire. Five-hundred fire spots delineate across 10 miles of “uninterrupted” coastline, in fact, which differentiates Huntington from other Southern California beach towns.
“What that means is no structures are built on the beach,” explained John Ehlenfeldt, executive vice president for sales and administration at Visit Huntington Beach, adding that nearby cities feature residential developments, private homes, condos or other real estate directly on the sand. Not so in Huntington Beach.
“Here you have the Pacific Coast Highway [PCH], and then you have the sand, and then you have the ocean, so all of our oceanfront hotels, properties and restaurants are literally right on the oceanfront,” he said. “You don’t get that when you go to other neighboring cities. You get homes.”
In addition to 500 fire rings, there’s a bicycle path stretching miles along PCH, plus surfing schools and artisan food stands at the northern end of the beach, all of which accentuate the experience for groups. No one has to segue very far from any particular conference facility or any meeting hotel to begin the beach component for an itinerary. And these days, as long as the hotel or the resort is doing the catering, the property can acquire the permit for any beach event, so a planner won’t have to separately go through that process.
What’s more, new events are triggering more meetings business to come on board. In 2016, for example, the inaugural Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow was in the top four highest attended air shows in the country and received tremendous fanfare, with the Blue Angels already slotted to join the next annual installment in September.
Off the beaching path, one finds wetlands, historical downtown walking adventures, dog parks and urban vibes from the past, present and future of the surfing universe. All bodes well for groups.
“All of these things are pushing the meetings industry,” Ehlenfeldt said. “This last fiscal year, we saw double the amount of leads that we processed, compared to the previous fiscal year, which is unheard of.”
Visit Huntington Beach
5 Fantastic Off-Sites
Huntington Beach Central Park
Including the Central Library and Cultural Center, itself a common meetings venue, the park also includes an equestrian center, a cafe and a concert amphitheater, all of which regularly accommodate groups of many sizes.
LOT 579 at Pacific City
Named after the nearby lifeguard towers and opening last year, LOT 579 offers several different California-inspired gourmet eateries in a food court setting, with the whole footprint part of the same liquor license. Planners can close off the area and groups can walk over from the hotels.
Rooftop Bar at Hilton Waterfront
The highest rooftop bar in Huntington Beach will soon be available for groups. This June, the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort will complete a second tower, adding 150 guest rooms and new event spaces in addition to the ocean-view rooftop bar for events with “lofty” aspirations.
Seacliff Country Club
The only private club in Huntington Beach allowing for non-member events, Seacliff is less than a mile from the pier and can accommodate up to 250 people for a lavish conference.
SeaLegs Wine Bar
As of last year, SeaLegs Wine Bar has transformed the concession stands at Bolsa Chica State Beach into a modern feel with upmarket food and beverage options. As a result, many groups rent out the space rather than dealing with beach tents, chairs and permits.