Few regions are blessed with as many world-class options for meetings as Southern California. Its major urban hubs of Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim are first-tier convention destinations constantly staying on top of a competitive game with ever-improving venues, entertainment and visitor attractions. At the same time, the region’s beach communities, resorts and hip neighborhoods are huge draws for everything from executive retreats to corporate incentives.

Greater Los Angeles

Not only has 2018 been a record year for conventions in downtown Los Angeles, but the number of smaller-hotel-based meetings is also at an all-time high, according to Darren Green, senior vice president of sales for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

“We’ve had a huge influx of new boutique and luxury lifestyle hotels, which is really widening the choice for meetings, not only downtown but in places like West Hollywood and the beach cities,” he said. “Along with more accommodations, these hotels are bringing extraordinary culinary experiences and rooftop venues that give people the outdoor experience they want when they come here.”

Downtown L.A.’s renaissance continues, most recently with the 250-room NoMad Hotel that opened in a restored 1923 building with a rooftop pool deck available for events. The 148-room Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel, also located in a historic building and offering rooftop event space, is expected to open by the end of the year.  

The 889-room InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown opened last year with 100,000 square feet of meeting space in the Wilshire Grand Center, a 73-story mixed-use complex that is the tallest U.S. building west of Chicago. Another newcomer is Hotel Indigo Los Angeles, a hip 350-room property that is part of Metropolis, a $1 billion mixed-use development with three residential towers within walking distance of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

One of the hottest spots for boutique hotel development is West Hollywood, where the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce recently issued a Creative Meetings & Events guide that highlights its array of group-friendly choices, many with stunning rooftop event space. Among these are Andaz West Hollywood, The London and the new Kimpton La Peer Hotel.

A lot is happening on the west side of L.A. as well, including the debut of the 170-room Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and the 394-room Fairmont Century Plaza, which is set to open next summer in Century City.

A growing hub for tech start-ups, L.A.’s beach cities, among them Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, are popular draws for corporate groups. A dual-branded Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn is set to open late next year in Marina del Rey, where the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels have recently completed renovations.  

“We’re getting a lot of high-end corporate business, with planners telling us we’re a good value, with rates lower than in nearby places like Santa Monica or Beverly Hills,” said Janet Zaldua, CEO of the Marina del Rey CVB. “Groups get a sense of being in a safe and walkable community while still being close to the major attractions.”

At the southern end of Los Angeles County, Long Beach unveiled 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.  

Awaiting approval, the proposed Queen Mary Island is a $250 million entertainment complex that would include a hotel, amphitheater, shops and an activity center offering ziplining, trampolines and simulated skydiving.

Orange County

Anaheim is another California destination on a roll, with Visit Anaheim reporting a steady increase in tourism over the past five years, growing by 31 percent. To meet demand, the city is awash in new infrastructure developments, including a recent 200,000-square-foot expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center, making it the largest convention facility on the West Coast. Additions to the 1.8 million-square-foot center include new column-free exhibition space and a 10,000-square-foot balcony where attendees can view fireworks displays at the Disneyland Resort.  

A raft of new hotels is underway, including the 613-room Anaheim Westin Resort, which will include 42,000 square feet of meeting space when it opens adjacent to the convention center in 2020. Also on tap for the area is a 466-room JW Marriott expected to open in late 2019 or early 2020.

Disneyland Resort announced plans for its first new hotel in 20 years, a 700-room luxury property expected to open at the west end of the Downtown Disney district in 2021.

Several large mixed-use projects have recently been approved for Anaheim, including the Platinum Center, which is to offer a 26-story hotel, dining, retail, residences and urban park space next to Angel Stadium. In Garden Grove, SCG America is planning a development that will include up to three hotels and 39,000 square feet of meeting space.

New developments in nearby Irvine include the 194-acre Sports Park, which has added new amenities 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 in December.

On the Orange County Coast, Huntington Beach boasts a newly expanded hotel district it markets to planners as the HB Collection. It encompasses 1,400 rooms and 185,000 square feet of meeting and event space along a quarter-mile strip facing the Pacific Ocean.

According to John Ehlenfeldt, executive vice president of sales for Visit Huntington Beach, the city now offers the largest collaborative density of meetings-oriented hotels on the Pacific Coast.

“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,” he said. “We can now seamlessly host groups as large as 1,000 on peak nights.”

The HB Collection includes the Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel Huntington Beach, which added a 153-suite tower late last year, taking its total to 437. The expansion also brought 20,000 square feet of meeting space, an event lawn and the Offshore 9 Rooftop Lounge with panoramic views of the Pacific.