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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

California Classics

The Golden State’s beautiful weather and varied topography make it a great place to find unique meeting and event spaces. From museums and botanic gardens to a historic zoo, Beaux Arts civic building and a seaside conference center, facilities around the state give attendees something to look forward to.

Here are five distinctive sites to consider for a California event.

California Surf Museum


Groups can hang ten at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. Founded in 1986, the museum explains how surfing and wave-riding began, from boogie-boarding to surfing and body surfing, offering a timeline of different surfboard styles, beginning with the Hawaiian years through the evolution of the short board.

One of the most famous exhibits at the museum is Bethany Hamilton’s surfboard, a large chunk gone, where a shark bit it. Hamilton lost her left arm when the tiger shark attacked. The surfer didn’t let the experience stop her from getting back out on the water and surfing again.

The Science of Surfing exhibit begins in May, telling visitors everything they ever wanted to know about surfing, from what creates waves to different surf breaks. Groups wanting to host events at the museum can reserve the little patio, which can accommodate 20 guests, or the exhibit hall, which can comfortably host 100 guests for a stand-up reception. If groups want to bring in tables, chairs and catered meals, the space can host small banquets of up to 75 guests.

The museum has a small prep kitchen. Attendees can peruse the museum exhibits as part of their event. Events are only allowed after 5 p.m. because the museum is open seven days a week.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara

At 97, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in the country that focuses solely on native plants. Located in Mission Canyon, it is a unique space with beautiful ocean and mountain views. The garden, which covers 78 acres, was first envisioned by the Carnegie Institution, which suggested a cooperative agreement with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to administer a botanical garden reaching from the sea to the crest of the mountains. In 1926, a local philanthropist purchased 13 acres in Mission Canyon with the request that it be developed into a botanic garden as a memorial to her father, Henry Blaksley.

Since that time, the gardens have grown to include 11 garden ecosystems, including a section that features plants from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, a meadow full of wildflowers and groves of redwood trees and manzanitas. The visitor center can host weddings, receptions, picnics and cocktail parties of up to 80 guests. The Island View deck at the Conservation Center overlooks a sprawling lawn with views of the Channel Islands. The area is covered in vegetation native to the Channel Islands. The site also has a large conference room for around 40 people, as well as space in the historic Blaksley Library.

Asilomar Conference Grounds

Pacific Grove

Asilomar Conference Grounds sits on 107 acres of protected California state park beachfront between Monterey Peninsula’s seaside, Salinas Valley’s hillside vineyards and Big Sur’s redwood groves. The 100-year-old center has 313 guest rooms in 30 buildings with various layouts and sizes to accommodate groups. It has more than 40,000 square feet of meeting and conference space that can host large groups and banquets up to 650 people. Indoor and outdoor areas can be used to customize group venues, including the beachfront and a large central meadow.

Groups meeting at Asilomar eat their meals together in the Crocker Dining Hall. The facility offers wellness experiences through recreational, culinary and educational programs, including coastal walks along miles of trails, beach scavenger hunts and other team building, guided group hikes, biking, beach volleyball, sunbathing, surfing, swimming and other water activities.

Asilomar has a heated swimming pool, pool tables and several self-guided walks, including the Coast Trail, Dunes Preserve, Forest Walk and Julia Morgan Architecture Walk. Julia Morgan designed many of the original buildings on the Asilomar property between 1913 and 1928 but is also famous for being Hearst Castle’s architect. Asilomar State Beach is known for restoring its dune ecosystem and is a marine-protected area.

Nearby activities include a butterfly sanctuary, wine tours, Carmel Valley agriculture tours, wine tastings, kayaking tours and the Monterey Bay Marine Research Facility.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo


Fresno Chaffee Zoo opened to the public in 1929 as the Roeding Park Zoo, which didn’t begin to grow and expand until the late 1940s. Since then, it has added new enclosures, exhibits and facilities for hosting events of all kinds. Meeting planners who want to get outside the traditional ballroom could host an event in one of the zoo’s out-of-the-ordinary venues, like the Winged Wonders Show amphitheater with tiered bench seating and a decorative backdrop or Event Garden, a spacious lawn area for parties of up to 800 guests with space for a band, or DJ and a dance floor.

The zoo’s newest exhibit, African Adventure, has four venues. The Simba Room, with its African artifacts and cozy fireplace, overlooks the lion exhibit and works well for smaller groups. Canopy Grove is an outdoor space surrounded by some of the zoo’s most popular African animals, such as giraffes and rhinos; it can accommodate 75 to 800 guests. Kopje Lodge is equipped with lighting and sound. It overlooks the savanna and is perfect for a banquet for up to 300. Sea Lion Cove and the Jungle Bungalow work well for groups of 50 guests.

Special add-on activities are available, including small animal encounters, giraffe feeding or a visit to Stingray Bay, where guests can touch stingrays, docile sharks and horseshoe crabs. Evening events can add a personal Sea Lion Cove presentation or a Winged Wonders Bird Show to their zoo adventure.

Pasadena Civic Auditorium


Home to the Daytime Emmy Awards, NAACP Image Awards and “America’s Got Talent”, Pasadena Civic Auditorium wasn’t always a famous spot to film television shows. The auditorium was built in the 1920s in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style with beautiful interior and exterior tile work as part of Pasadena’s Beaux Arts civic center. In the 1940s, the auditorium became a popular place for broadcasters to do live remotes featuring big band and swing artists, including Les Brown, Jimmy Dorsey and Stan Kenton. After World War II, the facility attracted radio broadcasters and evangelists, while still serving as a concert venue. Over the years, the likes of Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, The Doors, Guy Lombardo, Deep Purple and Eric Clapton graced its stage.

Now, meeting groups can take advantage of this storied building. The main floor of the auditorium has 1,880 fixed seats with 98 installable orchestra pit seats. The loge seats 560 and the upper balcony seats 459. The Gold Room, on the second floor, is perfect for smaller meetings, receptions or dinners of up to 300 guests. The room has hosted many a gala and has also been a location for various television shows, including “Scandal.”

The 17,000-square-foot exhibition hall, which is behind the auditorium stage, was recently restored after serving as home to conventions, dances and an ice rink.