With its perpetually sunny climate and landscape abundant with vineyards and groves of olive and orange trees, the Southern California region known as the Inland Empire offers no shortage of venues conducive for outdoor events. Adding to their appeal is that many of these venues also feature indoor options, including buildings of historic and architectural significance.
Consisting of the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, the Inland Empire is a magnet for groups looking for a relaxing contrast to the coastal urban scene, according to Annette Brown, public relations director for Visit Temecula Valley.
“We’re little more than an hour away from Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego and yet you feel like you’re a million miles away,” she said. “We offer warm afternoons and cool evenings in a setting of big, open skies.
"It’s a very inspirational place where you can clear your mind, brainstorm and bond with your colleagues," Brown added.
Home to busy Ontario International Airport and venues like the Ontario Convention Center and Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario is not only a gateway to the Inland Empire but much of Southern California, according to Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Greater Ontario CVB.
The organization also represents the adjacent city of Rancho Cucamonga.
“You can come here to enjoy our hidden gems and then easily visit famous destinations like Hollywood, Disneyland, the Pacific Ocean and Palm Springs,” he said.
When it comes to meetings, Ontario hosts everything from small retreats to large conventions for up to 40,000 delegates, according to Krouse.
Among the biggest attractions for groups is a wide choice of off-site venues, many of which highlight the heritage of the region, especially agricultural, said Sue Oxarart, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Ontario CVB.
“Dating back to the 1880s, our region has been agricultural,” she said. “The oldest business in Ontario is the Graber Olive House, which has been family-owned and operated since 1894. Their tree-ripened olives have been picked and processed at the same family home all these years.”
Graber Olive House is also one of the area’s most popular event venues, offering lawns and gardens shaded by palm and olive trees. The property, which accommodates up to 150 people, also offers tours of its historic olive processing facility and a retail shop selling olives and handcrafted ceramics.
Another bucolic venue is Cucamonga Guasti Regional Park, a 150-acre spread in the middle of Ontario with open grassy spaces, a pavilion, lakes, waterpark and group picnic shelters for large gatherings.
“This is a local favorite with plenty of sunshine and places to relax,” Oxarart said. “It’s a great location for all types of outdoor events, from concerts to picnics and barbecues.”
While not available for events, the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts offers group tours and workshops at the Maloof Residence in Rancho Cucamonga.
The National Historic Landmark was the home of master woodworker Sam Maloof and is filled with examples of his renowned furniture and architectural details. The adjoining gardens devoted to California native plants are a frequent site of sculpture exhibits.
The world of vintage aircraft takes center stage at the Cal Aero Aviation Country Club, where a 1930s-style airport hangar and adjoining runway are the setting for events for up to 300 people.
Located at Chino Airport near Ontario, the facility provides guests views of dramatic sunsets over the Chino Valley at events ranging from elegant banquets to casual barbecues. Historic airplanes such as a 1939 Lockheed Electra or 1950 Cessna can be rented for photo shoots or displays.
Best known for its numerous wineries, the region northeast of San Diego offers a diverse array of off-site options for meetings.
It also offers an increasing amount of meeting space, most notably with the recent doubling in size of the Pechanga Resort & Casino, which included a new 568-room tower and 68,000-square-foot event center. The resort now offers nearly 275,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.
“Pechanga is a real game-changer for us when it comes to meetings,” said Visit Temecula’s Brown. “The expansion has thrown open the door for a wide range of meetings. They spared no expense to create an amazing venue.”
Among the fun ways for groups to get a perspective on the region is to engage in teambuilding competitions while soaring over the valley in hot-air balloons chartered from Grape Escapes.
Participants can drop bean bags at ground targets from the flying baskets or test their logistical balloon knowledge while in flight.
For groups meeting in Temecula Valley anytime in October, the Big Horse Corn Maze offers teambuilding competitions. Participants are given time limits and clues for which turns to take as they navigate their way through the maze.
Among the region’s premier event venues is Galway Downs, an equestrian center set on 274 acres of meadows, century-old oak trees, willow groves and flowing creeks. With capacity for up to 350 people, the property also has indoor venues that include a historic carriage house and rustic barn.
Groups meeting at the Riverside Convention Center can enjoy open-air events without leaving the grounds, which include an expansive plaza and two acres of lawns and gardens.
The facility, which was recently renovated and expanded, has won accolades for its banquet cuisine sourced from the center’s own vegetable gardens and citrus grove.
Mature orange groves are the fragrant backdrop for events at the California Citrus State Historic Park.
The park’s visitor center/museum offers exhibits devoted to the early days of citrus cultivation in Southern California. In addition to a large group picnic area, the park offers the Sunkist Venue, a wood-beamed room with floor-to-ceiling windows that has space for up to 200 guests. An outdoor amphitheater with stone seating, stage and adjoining lawn areas accommodates groups of up to 300.
Among Riverside’s stand-out venues is the Riverside Art Museum, which plans to open the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry in 2020 as a showcase for the actor’s notable collection of works by Chicano artists.
The 1929 building designed by Julia Morgan, who also created Hearst Castle, offers a variety of indoor event spaces as well as an expansive open-air roof deck available for banquets and receptions.
Built in 1931 and inspired by the Alhambra palace in Spain, Benedict Castle is a Mission Revival masterpiece with a soaring atrium, hand-painted beams and intricate ironwork. Its largest venue is the palm-shaded Castilla Isabella Courtyard, which accommodates up to 220 for seated banquets.
There is also a grand ballroom seating up to 180 guests.
Inland Empire CVB Contact Information
Greater Ontario CVB
Visit Temecula Valley