With spectacular settings ranging from alpine peaks to desert oases and coastal bluffs, California offers an amazing array of resort meeting destinations just beyond the urban hubs.
Greater Palm Springs
A new generation of stylish resorts and boutique hotels are cropping up in downtown Palm Springs and throughout the surrounding desert communities. The latest addition to downtown is the 155-room Kimpton Rowan Hotel, which opened in December with the city’s first rooftop pool. The 150-room Andaz Palm Springs, 170-room Dream Hotel and 150-room Virgin Hotels Palm Springs are all on tap for next year.
“Both the Andaz and Dream hotels will be within walking distance of the convention center, giving us a wider berth for citywides,” said Mark Crabb, vice president of convention sales and services for the Greater Palm Springs CVB. “We can offer 2,000 rooms on peak nights, with no need for people to drive.”
In nearby Palm Desert, the Hotel Paseo, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, opened last year within walking distance of the El Paseo shopping district. Set to open by the end of the year on a 35-acre site in Coachella, the 250-room Hotel Indigo will offer such features as conference space in structures designed to evoke World War II-era Quonset huts and a 10,000-square-foot Las Vegas-style party pool filled with chilled salt water and flanked by a DJ stage.
“The Indigo will be very near where the Coachella [Valley] Music and Arts Festival takes place every year and will evoke the spirit of that event, with groups able to stage their own concerts there,” Crabb said.
He also noted that the region is benefitting from improved air lift into Palm Springs International Airport, including new or expanded service to New York; Calgary, Alberta; Atlanta; and Portland, Ore.
“Our message is that we’re a lot easier to get to than many people think,” Crabb said. “We have connections to all the major hubs. Plus, you can fly into Ontario, which is served by Southwest.”
Although the region’s hotel rates vary widely according to season, Crabb said meeting planners will find good value at any time of year, providing they come midweek.
“While weekends are full from leisure business, especially during winter, we have availability for meetings during the week,” he said.
Often called the American Riviera, Santa Barbara County is celebrated for its wine region, culinary scene and coastal beauty within a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles. The county is looking better than ever these days, with new hotels and attractions as well as refreshed and rebranded older properties, according to Michelle Carlen, director of sales for Visit Santa Barbara.
Among the latter are Bacara Resort, which became a Ritz-Carlton property last fall and is slated for new enhancements in the coming months, and the former Fess Parker Hotel, which became the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort following a property-wide renovation.
The city’s newest property is the 120-room Hotel California, which opened last fall near the waterfront with a rooftop pool deck, Moroccan-inspired spa, three dining venues and a 3,000-square-foot ballroom.
“The hotel is a great addition to our lower State Street area, which we call the Funk Zone,” Carlen said. “The new MOXI museum, a science center with interactive exhibits and great event space, is right across the street.”
In addition, the five-star Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito is coming online next year on a waterfront setting with its own beach. The nearby Montecito Inn has recently added several new dining outlets, ranging from casual to fine dining, operated by Top Chef competitor Philip Franklin.
Santa Barbara’s wine and culinary scene is a major draw for groups, according to Carlen. With over 220 wineries within the county, wine-themed options abound, even within downtown Santa Barbara where the Urban Wine Trail links over three-dozen tasting rooms.
“A lot of groups will do wine and food tours here, sometimes starting out with wine and cheese tasting on the train coming up from L.A.,” she said.
Located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura County includes the beachside communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo and Port Hueneme, which are collectively marketed to meeting planners by an organization called Ventura County Coast.
In Ventura, major meetings hotels such as the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, Ventura Beach Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor Resort have recently completed renovations. In addition, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ventura Harbor is planning a 40-room expansion. In Oxnard, plans are in the works for a 200-room Hyatt property to be built in a prime harborside location.
While meeting groups of up to 350 can be accommodated, Victor Dollar, chairman of the Ventura County Lodging Association, said the ideal group size for the county is about 150.
With the rich marine ecosystem of the Channel Islands just offshore, scientific organizations are a major draw for meetings in the county, according to Dollar. Another big draw is the array of outdoor activities, including a coastal bike path, hiking in the nearby mountains, whale watching and kayaking. In addition, Ventura County offers a number of wineries, craft breweries and ranches that are available for events.
In downtown Monterey the big news this year is the reopening of the Monterey Conference Center, following a two-year, $60 million renovation that turned the 40-year-old facility into a modern LEED-certified venue with over 40,000 square feet of meeting space.
According to Mark McMinn, vice president of sales for the Monterey County CVB, planners will find a brand-new conference center with greater flexibility, updated technology and additional breakout space.
“Now we have the ability to do more than one meeting at time, with a group on one level and another on the second level,” he said.
The downtown facility is adjacent to the Portola Hotel & Spa, which recently completed a $10 million renovation, and connected to the Monterey Marriott. In combination with the conference center, these properties offer 85,000 square feet of meeting space, 19,150 square feet of exhibit space and 700 guest rooms.
Meanwhile, The Sanctuary Beach Resort on Monterey Bay recently debuted The Spa at Sanctuary.
Monterey also has a new downtown off-site venue, the Barns at Cooper Molera, a historic site adjacent to the Cooper-Molera Adobe. The restored 19th century barns can host catered events for up to 600 people.
Another significant development is the reopening in July of storm-damaged Highway One south of Big Sur, where a mudslide had blocked southern access to Big Sur and such resorts as Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn for over a year.
While small in size, Santa Cruz County packs a wide variety of experiences for meetings, according to Laura Manriquez, director of sales and marketing for Visit Santa Cruz.
“The Santa Cruz culture is all about creativity,” she said. “Plus, our 29 miles of coastline and 14 state parks make us ideal for teambuilding.”
Downtown has been a recent magnet for hotel growth, including a new 151-room Courtyard by Marriott with a full-service spa, restaurant, outdoor pool with ocean views and 3,400 square feet of meeting space. Also new are the 82-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Santa Cruz and 106-room Hyatt Place Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz provides a number of properties that draw sophisticated conferences from nearby Silicon Valley. Among popular options is the 156-room Chaminade Resort & Spa, a 300-acre property with IACC-approved meeting facilities. Another is Seascape Beach Resort in Aptos, which offers 285 suites, 17,000 square feet of meeting space and a championship golf course.
Destinations around Lake Tahoe are brimming with new offerings for groups, according to Jason Neary, director of conference sales for the North Lake Tahoe CVB.
“We attract a full gamut of meetings because of our diversity of properties, with a range of price points,” he said. “We do a lot of corporate business out of the Bay Area, along with state and national associations. Of course, the real attraction is the natural beauty of the lake and mountains. It’s an amazing spot.”
Among major projects underway are Boulder Bay Resort in Crystal Bay, which will include a 275-room hotel, expansive health and wellness center and 20,000 square feet of meeting space, and Tahoe City Lodge, a luxury boutique property with a rooftop bar overlooking the lake.
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, which is located in the Northstar California ski resort, is offering lake access for the first time. Its new Lake Club features multilevel dining areas with panoramic lake views, an expansive lawn extending to the water’s edge and access to an array of water sports.
Groups meeting on the south shore of Lake Tahoe near the California/Nevada border will also find new and enhanced choices. Last summer saw the unveiling of the Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, a 154-room luxury lakefront property adjacent to the Edgewood at Tahoe golf course. The hotel features 7,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and a lakefront events lawn.
At the south entrance of Yosemite National Park in Fish Camp, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite recently completed a renovation of the 240 rooms in the main lodge and the 53 Cottage Rooms, all of which have fireplaces. The Lodge, which offers 15,000 square feet of meeting space, also has a new wellness retreat program offered jointly by the resort’s Ascent Spa and Balanced Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to health and well-being.
This article is part of our 2018 Meetings Today California Destination Supplement.
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