West (Destination)
Destination / October 02, 2017

SoCal cities revamp and upgrade their downtown cores

by Maria Lenhart

  • L.A. Live, downtown los angeles

    L.A. Live, downtown los angeles


    L.A. Live, Downtown Los Angeles

    L.A. Live, downtown los angeles
  • Huntington Beach

    Huntington Beach


    Huntington Beach

    Huntington Beach
  • Ventura harbor village marina

    Ventura harbor village marina


    Ventura Harbor Village Marina

    Ventura harbor village marina

Possibly more than any other U.S. region, the sun-kissed land stretching from Santa Barbara to San Diego is in a constant state of reinvention. From its revitalized downtowns to its laid-back beach communities, Southern California presents a vast and diverse menu of meeting options that just keep improving all the time.

Los Angeles

Nowhere is reinvention more evident than in Downtown Los Angeles, a place no longer overshadowed by more glamorous neighbors like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. A renaissance that began a decade ago with the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and L.A. Live—a sports, entertainment and hotel complex next to the Los Angeles Convention Center—continues as a new wave of hotels and restaurants enliven the Downtown scene.

Thanks to these developments and a healthy local economy, particularly in the entertainment and tech sectors, Los Angeles is currently enjoying a banner year for citywide conventions and other meetings, according to Darren K. Green, senior vice president of sales for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

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“People are especially amazed at what’s going on Downtown,” he said. “It’s really taken off, with both new commercial and residential activity. In particular, our dining scene is amazing and rivals anyplace in the country. You can do great dine-arounds right near the convention center without even using a shuttle.”

Ranking high among new developments, the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown opened in July as part of the Wilshire Grand Center, a 73-story mixed-use complex that is the tallest U.S. building west of Chicago. The hotel features 889 rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space that includes a Sky Deck on the 73rd floor with jaw-dropping views.

Another newcomer is Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown, a hip 350-room property that recently debuted at Metropolis, a $1 billion mixed-use development with three residential towers within walking distance of L.A. Live. The hotel offers 22,000 square feet of meeting space and design features that pay homage to the 1920s era of speakeasies and the early movie industry.

Also near L.A. Live, the historic Hotel Figueroa recently emerged from a $30 million renovation that transformed its Moroccan-inspired decor into a more contemporary aesthetic, and added event spaces that include a rooftop garden. In the coming months, the Nomad and Proper hotels will be among several new boutique properties located in restored and repurposed 1920s and 1930s buildings in the Downtown area.

Downtown’s Exposition Park is poised to be the site of George Lucas’ $1.5 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. With an opening targeted for 2021, construction is expected to begin by year’s end on a five-story, spaceship-shaped building housing a wide array of art ranging from traditional paintings to digital and cinematic artworks.

To the north of Downtown, Hollywood is also a growing hub for chic hotels, including the 179-room Dream Hollywood, which debuted in July with event spaces that include a rooftop garden restaurant and pool deck with 360-degree views of Los Angeles. Just steps away from the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, the new 216-room Kimpton Everly Hotel features a pool deck, VIP suites and a glass-enclosed conservatory for events.

West of Downtown, Beverly Hills offers a glamorous lineup of group-friendly properties such as the Four Seasons, Peninsula Beverly Hills, Beverly Hilton, Beverly Wilshire and Beverly Hills Hotel in close proximity to each other. A brand-new addition is the 170-room Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, which has 6,300 square feet of meeting and event space, including a rooftop deck with panoramic views.

Russell Harris, president of Russell Harris Event Group, is among local event planners who welcome the expanding number of rooftop venues in the L.A. area.

“The pool decks and their 360-degree views of the city provide the kind of outdoor ambience that people come to Los Angeles for,” he said. “When you’re here, you don’t want to be stuck in a ballroom.”

Beach Cities

Convenient to Los Angeles International Airport, L.A.’s beach communities, among them Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey, provide numerous options for groups, often with a Pacific view. Along with surf and sand, the area offers a burgeoning number of technology start-ups, earning it the moniker Silicon Beach.

“Multimillion-dollar hotel renovations have increased our curb appeal to the L.A. market, making us a sought-after destination for high-end corporate business and the tech industry,” said Lawrence Stafford, business development manager for the Marina Del Rey CVB, which is currently offering incentives for groups booking more than 25 rooms at properties like The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey.

At the southern end of Los Angeles County, Long Beach is ramping up its meetings appeal with innovative new event spaces at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. These include The Cove, a former street underpass transformed into a party area with LED-lit chandeliers and aquatic decor, and Top of the Lot, a garage rooftop with city views that is a blank canvas for large gatherings.  

Describing Long Beach as “an urban beachside community,” Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach CVB, points to a wealth of things to see within a walkable area.

 “We have 120 restaurants within an eight-block radius of the convention center,” he said. “We have all the offerings of a big city, but we also have the waterfront and things like a five-mile bike trail. And when a convention group comes here, they own the city.”

The next big thing for Long Beach is expected to be Queen Mary Island, a $250 million entertainment complex that, if approved, will include a hotel, amphitheater, shops and an activity center offering ziplining, trampolines and simulated skydiving.

North of Los Angeles, the four beachside communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Port Hueneme are marketed by Ventura County Coast, which emphasizes the region’s relative affordability as well as its wide choice of outdoor activities and waterfront venues. Among them is the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, which recently completed a property-wide renovation that included its Top of the Harbor Grand Ballroom, which provides panoramic views of the Pacific and coastal hills.

Also recently renovated, the Ventura Beach Marriott offers over 11,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space within a short walk from the water. In Oxnard, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Resort added new outdoor event space and introduced teambuilding activities on the beach.

A hub for dining, shopping and outdoor activities, Ventura Harbor Village is the departure point for cruises offered by Island Packers to the Channel Islands, a rich environment for orcas, blue whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. Local farms and ranches also offer options, including the century-old Limoneira Ranch, where groups can enjoy catered events set in the property’s lemon groves.

In Santa Barbara, a new beachside option for meetings next year will be the luxury Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito, with 122 guest rooms, 48 suites and 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space that includes a screening room.

Orange County

This fall, Orange County’s largest city achieved a milestone with the completion of the latest expansion to the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC). The new 200,000-square-foot ACC North building makes the facility, now offering 1.8 million square feet, the largest convention center on the West Coast.

“The addition of ACC North is giving us the opportunity to bring in more diverse events that might not have considered Anaheim,” said Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim, adding that the Oncology Nursing Society and the International Society for Technology in Education are among groups that have booked the new space.

Anaheim, which already offers the Hilton Anaheim and Anaheim Marriott just steps from the center, is also ramping up hotel inventory in the vicinity. Among several new properties expected to break ground in the coming months are a 634-room hotel next to the convention center, a 466-room JW Marriott adjacent to Anaheim GardenWalk and a 700-room hotel in the Disneyland Resort.

Big developments are also underway in nearby Irvine, which offers over 3,700 sleeping rooms and such venues as Marconi Automotive Museum and Bren Events Center. Set for completion in 2018, the 194-acre Sports Park is bringing new event venues to the city’s Orange County Great Park, including a 12,000-seat amphitheater, spectator ice sports arena and 2,500-seat soccer stadium. The Marriott Irvine Spectrum, a 271-room property with 13,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, is slated to open near the Great Park in December.

There’s a lot happening in Orange County’s coastal cities as well. In Huntington Beach, the Pasea Hotel & Spa debuted last year with 34,000 square feet of meeting space and, at press time, the adjacent Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, was set to unveil a new 152-room, all-suite tower in September. Underway in Newport Beach, the Lido House, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, will open in 2018 with 130 guest rooms, 4,000 square feet of meeting space and a salt-water pool with private cabanas.

San Diego

In San Diego, which boasts a lively and thriving downtown that is home to the historic Gaslamp entertainment district, Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center, even more new enhancements are on the way.

“San Diego is undergoing a real growth spurt at the moment, both in terms of new hotels and renovations,” said Margie Sitton, senior vice president of sales for the San Diego Tourism Authority. “It’s not just in the downtown area, but in the neighborhoods as well.”

Several new hotels are on tap for 2018, including a 400-room InterContinental located on downtown’s Embarcadero and featuring a rooftop bar and 23,000 square feet of meeting space with city and bay views. Others are the Barracks Hotel, a redevelopment of former military barracks in ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station, and Carte Hotel & Suites San Diego, a 240-room high-rise in Little Italy with meeting space and a full-service athletic club.

In North San Diego County, the Pala Casino Spa & Resort is breaking ground on a $170 million renovation that will include a new 349-room tower, multi-pool complex, expanded spa and remodel of its current hotel and casino. When complete in May 2019, the resort will offer 854 hotel rooms. 

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