No longer California’s best-kept secret, the Central Coast has a high-profile these days as a destination encapsulating the best of the Golden State. Its Mediterranean climate, celebrated culinary offerings, array of outdoor fun on land and sea, along with growing air accessibility, are proving a strong draw for meetings from far and near. 

Ventura County

The southern gateway to the Central Coast, Ventura County includes the beachside communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Port Hueneme, which are collectively marketed by an organization called Ventura County Coast. 

 “We encompass four cities and 60 hotels, all of which work very well together,” explained Victor Dollar, spokesman for the organization and chairman of the Ventura County Lodging Association. “We also partner with the local visitors bureaus; it’s a collaborative effort that makes the most of marketing dollars. If a planner contacts us, we can send out leads throughout the area and help them find the hotel that best suits their needs.”

What planners will find in all of the cities is an expanded and refreshed selection of hotels and meeting spaces, according to Dollar. 

In Ventura, major meetings hotels such as the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach & Convention Center, Ventura Beach Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton have either completed or are wrapping up renovations. In addition, the Holiday Inn Express is planning a 40-room expansion. In Oxnard, approvals are in the final stages for a 200-room Hyatt House to be built in a prime harbor-side location.

While meeting groups of up to 350 can be accommodated, Dollar said the ideal group size for the county is about 150. The county attracts a wide range of groups, including scientific organizations drawn to the rich marine ecosystem of the Channel Islands just offshore. 

“Of course, we get a lot of business from nearby Los Angeles and Orange County, but we’re also seeing a number of groups coming in from Las Vegas, Arizona and Dallas,” he said. “A big factor is our comfortable year-round climate—when it’s triple-digits in those places, we’re in the 70s or 80s.”

Another big draw is the array of outdoor activities, including a coastal bike path, hiking in the nearby mountains, whale watching and kayaking, Dollar said. 

“We also offer a number of farms and ranches that are great for events, as well as many wineries,” he said. 

A growing craft beer scene, which includes the Surf Brewery, Poseidon Brewing Company, Topa Topa Brewing Company and Ventura Coast Brewing Company in Ventura, as well as Red Tandem Brewery in Oxnard, is also providing options for groups.

“These craft breweries are tremendously popular with groups,” Dollar said. “Along with a tour and tasting, you can bring in food trucks for a fun and casual event.”

Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County is living up to its moniker “American Riviera” more than ever these days, according to Michelle Carlen, director of sales for Visit Santa Barbara.

“Santa Barbara is in the midst of an exciting time, with new hotel development and rebranding putting us front and center as a place to rediscover for meetings and events,” she said. “We’re ideal for groups of under 1,000 attendees, including board meetings, advisory groups and small to medium conferences.”

In particular, Santa Barbara is a growing magnet for high-end resort meetings, home to such properties as Bacara Resort, which was recently acquired by Ritz-Carlton and is scheduled for major enhancements, and the classic Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, which celebrated its 90th anniversary this year. Just opened in September is the Hotel Californian, a stylish property featuring Spanish Colonial/Moorish design with a modern twist and event space that includes a rooftop pool deck with mountain and ocean views. In addition, the five-star Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito is coming online next year.

Linking points within downtown Santa Barbara is a recently updated city-operated shuttle system that runs through the city’s main shopping areas with stops at such places as Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Zoo. The city’s newest attraction and off-site venue is MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, which offers interactive science exhibits that include a giant walk-in guitar and build-your-own racecars and a rooftop event space with a telescope called the Sky Garden. 

“What we emphasize to planners is that we’re a retreat and getaway destination—we’re close enough to L.A., but you really feel you’ve gone somewhere else,” Carlen said. “You can provide a wide variety of experiences very easily, whether it’s Segway tours along the waterfront, a sunset cruise, hang gliding, horseback riding on the beach and much more.”  

With over 220 wineries within the county, wine-themed options for groups abound, even within downtown Santa Barbara where the Urban Wine Trail links over three-dozen tasting rooms.