With its more than 280 days of sunshine and consistently warm and temperate weather, California is a great place to host outdoor events and meetings. Here are a handful of great outdoor venues that are sure to please even the pickiest of planners.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Along with being a research facility for the University of California at San Diego, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a unique outdoor/indoor venue with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The aquarium takes the university’s research on ocean and earth science and translates it into fun exhibits that resonate with people of all ages. It is renowned for its sea horse and sea dragon exhibit, and visitors get a true California experience when they interact with the outdoor tidal pool exhibit that features sea stars, sea cucumbers and hermit crabs.
Meeting planners take over the aquarium for their events, meaning they can host a dinner inside next to one of the exhibits but host cocktails on the Tide Pool Plaza. Its Ocean Discovery or Shark Discovery programs offer guests an opportunity to observe, touch and ask questions about the ocean.
“People can interact with animals,” said Ioanna Vladescu, director of special events and group sales for Birch Aquarium. “They have the opportunity to engage and explore so much more.”
Volunteer docents can interact with guests or give tours of the different exhibits. Smaller groups can explore interactive exhibits and meet amazing animals face-to-face, including an octopus, a loggerhead sea turtle, leopard sharks, jellyfish and sea horses. They can also watch a 20-minute dive show in the 70,000-gallon kelp tank that features sharks and more than 200 other marine animals.
“We are working right now to provide behind-the-scene tour opportunities,” Vladescu said. “We’re excited about that. We also have scientific lectures or presentations based on subject matter the group might be interested in.”
Benziger Family Winery
The Benziger Family Winery is nestled in the heart of California wine country. Unlike many wineries in the Sonoma Valley, Benziger doesn’t host weddings. Its event business is centered around corporate and social functions. Along with its wine cave, which can seat up to 130 people for lunches and dinners, the winery has a barn, with sliding doors on the side leading to a beautiful outdoor terrace. The barn can seat 100, but the Oak Terrace, named for the giant oak tree rising up from the middle of it, can seat 250.
The winery uses biodynamic farming practices, meaning it doesn’t use pesticides.
“Everything we take out of the earth, we put back into the earth,” said Jennifer Good, corporate event sales manager for the winery. Because of that, groups that hold events at the winery are invited to take a biodynamic tour of the area before their meal or activity. The tour takes guests around the vineyard and winemaking facilities, telling them about the area, the wine and the reasons behind the winery’s philosophy.
The winery offers group team-building activities, including wine-blending competitions, where groups learn about how to make and blend wine. The groups are then split into teams to make their own wine, make a label and present their creation to the other participants.
South Coast Botanic Garden
Palos Verdes Peninsula
Meeting planners that are hosting events at the South Coast Botanic Garden have their choice of exotic outdoor locations. Meetings can be hosted in a jungle setting, among the garden’s tropical palm collection, in Alpine Lane or in the rose garden.
“It depends on the scenic backdrop you like and the size of your group,” said Lisa Wysocki, manager of special events and filming for the South Coast Botanic Garden. The gardens can host up to 1,000 people at a time. Events held indoors can also take advantage of the many beautiful outdoor spaces at the venue. One popular spot is the koi pond patio. It has plenty of shade, making it easier for meeting presenters to use computer presentations.
“If you are meeting outdoors, you have to be mindful of the weather and environment,” said Wysocki.
The upper meadow is a great spot for a company picnic or barbecue. It offers an acre of open space for food, games, activities, obstacle courses and team-building exercises. Many groups take tours of the garden or get out into nature on their own. Others hire yoga instructors to work with meeting attendees in the garden’s many outdoor spaces.
Many conference planners like to hold their meetings indoors and then use the outdoor spaces for scavenger hunts or brainstorming sessions. The South Coast Botanic Garden is located just south of the Los Angeles airport and north of Long Beach.
The Raymond 1886 started its life as the caretaker’s cottage for a grand hotel that burned to the ground in 1895. The owner of the hotel, Walter Raymond, rebounded, building an even grander hotel in its place, but he ended up losing it during the Great Depression. He and his family moved into the caretaker’s cottage, and the hotel was knocked down to pave the way for residential development.
The current owners of the Raymond 1886 turned the Craftsman-style home into a unique handcrafted-cocktail bar and restaurant with three outdoor patios that double as event space. The main dining patio used to be an open-air patio surrounded by bougainvillea. Now, it is partially enclosed with dropdown shades and can be used for cocktail parties or dinner engagements 90% of the year. The south patio features a fireplace, and the wisteria patio is a small, romantic nook covered with wisteria. The Raymond can host events of up to 70 people, more if the event planners rent out the entire facility.
The Raymond hosts corporate dinners, luncheons and spirit dinners, meals that are paired with a specific wine or cocktail. Guests come for the history and ambiance, but stay for the food and cocktails. The culinary program fits the building; it is rustic, warm and contemporary. The food is American but done with a twist.
La Casa del Camino
La Casa del Camino was built in 1929 as a 37-room boutique hotel in Laguna Beach. It is now a historical landmark about 30 steps from the water. Meeting planners love to use the hotel’s existing restaurants and meeting spaces for the meeting portions of their events, and then adjourn to the Rooftop Lounge for cocktail parties or sit-down meals. The rooftop has amazing panoramic views of the ocean.
“That is what brings the uniqueness in,” said Melissa Anderson, catering manager for La Casa del Camino. “It is not your standard stuffy ballroom. We are right in the heart of Laguna Beach, so there is more to do afterwards. If you want to go to more bars or go dancing, it is all within walking distance.”
Overall, the hotel has 6,200 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space and can host corporate events of up to 120 people. Even the indoor meeting rooms bring the outdoors in, with big windows and lots of light.