These are golden times along California’s Orange County coast. The region is reaching new heights as a resort meetings destination, with a stellar lineup of new and improved waterfront properties where the only decor needed is the setting sun glowing over the Pacific horizon.
Nowhere on the Orange County coast is the resort transformation more evident than in Huntington Beach. Within the past 18 months, hotel openings, expansions and renovations have resulted in the Huntington Beach Collection, a hotel district with 1,400 rooms and 185,000 square feet of meeting and event space “all within a walkable footprint,” according to John Ehlenfeldt, executive vice president of sales for Visit Huntington Beach.
“We now have the largest collaborative density of hotels within a quarter-mile on the entire Pacific Coast,” he said. “It’s all close to downtown and our famous pier. The beauty is that you don’t need transportation—you can do a citywide event where attendees can walk between properties and don’t need to be in a convention center.”
The newest addition is a 152-suite tower at the Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, which at press time was expected to debut at the end of October. Along with added guest rooms taking its total to 437, the Hilton expansion also includes 20,000 square feet of meeting space, an event lawn and a rooftop lounge called Offshore Nine with panoramic views of the Pacific.
Last year brought the opening of the Pasea Hotel & Spa, which offers 250 ocean-view rooms, a Balinese-inspired spa, two pools, an event lawn overlooking the ocean and over 37,000 square feet of meeting space.
“Also last year, a new complex opened up by the Paseo with restaurants and high-end shopping, so there’s even more to walk to within the area,” Ehlenfeldt said.
These new developments are inspiring existing hotels to “make sure they have a stake in the game,” he added.
“The Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel increased its meeting space from 3,000 square feet to 11,000 and did a complete redo of its guest rooms with new soft goods,” he said.
Ehlenfeldt also noted that the city’s largest hotel, the 500-room Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, which has 100,000 square feet of meeting space, has embarked on a property-wide renovation that includes updated technology and furnishings.
“When it’s completed by the end of spring, everything on the water will be brand new,” he said.
Along with its resorts, Ehlenfeldt emphasized that Huntington Beach, which brands itself as “Surf City USA,” offers the iconic Southern California experience for groups.
“We have 10 miles of uninterrupted coastline with no structures built on the sand,” he said. “You can have parties on the beach with fire rings and s’mores. There are countless ways for end-of-meeting relaxation.”
For occasions and entertainment with a Pacific vibe, he recommends SeaLegs at the Beach, a new restaurant and bar that is also a venue for live concerts and special events, seating up to 1,200 people. Another favorite is Duke’s Huntington Beach, a waterfront restaurant named for surfing icon Duke Kahanamoku that offers such private dining spaces as the Board Room adorned with koa wood paneling, vintage surfboards and windows framing views of the ocean.
Perhaps the venue that best encapsulates Huntington Beach’s “Surf City USA” brand is the International Surfing Museum, which celebrates the history and lore of the sport. Groups can gather for photo ops around the world’s largest surfboard, a 42-foot long board that has carried up to 66 people on International Surfing Day.
Opportunities for teambuilding are another key attribute of meeting in Huntington Beach, Ehlenfeldt added.
“We have activities like sandcastle building, which is a fun way to get groups together,” he said. “We can arrange scavenger hunts through town where there’s problem solving combined with learning about our surfing culture along the way. CSR and sustainability activities are also big here. People can do beach cleanup or work with a conservancy that rehabilitates injured sea lions and other marine creatures.”