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California’s Suburban Sites

Some of California’s best destinations for smaller meetings are just outside its bigger cities.

California is home to several of the most recognizable cities in the country — from Los Angeles and San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco — that pull in visitors from all over the world. Meeting planners wanting to have easy access to these large urban neighbors but with a more boutique experience should explore these five California suburbs.


About 40 minutes up the coast from San Diego, Carlsbad works closely with its larger neighbor when it comes to group planning. Carlsbad representatives take advantage of the instant recognition they get when mentioning their destination’s proximity to San Diego but emphasize that Carlsbad is its own destination, with plenty of amenities to accommodate meeting groups.

The city is a hub of golf manufacturing, with local companies making drivers, balls and other golf paraphernalia. It is also known for its colorful Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, which bloom in April and May. Legoland California is another big draw to the area, especially for families with children or anyone who loves playing with the classic toys.

The city has 4,400 hotel rooms and more than 300,000 square feet of event space. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa is the largest hotel with 600 rooms and 110,000 square feet of event space spread over 45 rooms. The Costa Del Sol Ballroom is 18,000 square feet and can host 1,400 for a banquet or 1,700 for a reception. The Park Hyatt Aviara Resort has 78,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Additional venues include Cape Rey, a Hilton Resort that sits directly across from the ocean and features unobstructed views; Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa; Carlsbad by the Sea Resort; and the Grand Pacific Palisades Resort and Hotel.


Petaluma is a historic destination that is easily accessible from San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Groups visiting the city can take the SMART train to Santa Rosa or catch a ferry to San Francisco. A river runs through its walkable downtown, which is full of historic architecture, artisans and award-winning restaurants. Visitors can easily visit the coast and the redwoods, but for fun closer to home, The Floathouse gives meeting attendees an opportunity to get out on the river in pedal and paddle kayaks, standup paddleboards, water bikes, Oarboards canoes and rowboats.

The Courtyard by Marriott Petaluma, Hotel Petaluma and Sheraton Sonoma Wine Country Petaluma offer traditional meeting venues. The Sheraton, which is the largest hotel in the area, offers 16,082 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom that seats up to 550.

Petaluma, which has 700 hotel rooms, is most known for its unconventional meeting spaces, including Brooks Note Winery and Tasting Room, which can host 150. It has an on-site prep kitchen, projection screen and state-of-the-art sound system.

McEvoy Ranch, a 550-acre olive farm, has several unique venues, including a Victorian house, pavilion, and outdoor spaces for events of up to 100 guests. Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary has a loft that can host smaller groups of 30, and the Yard, which can host events of 50 to 200. Star Wars fans will enjoy Rancho Obi-Wan, which claims to have the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the world and has event space for up to 120 guests.

Santa Monica

The end point of Route 66, Santa Monica is famous for its pier, its pristine beaches and its proximity to Los Angeles.

Santa Monica Beach is 3.5 miles long and offers year-round beach activities, paved walkways, restaurants and shops. Groups visiting the city will want to spend time walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean or trying their hand at surfing. The historic Santa Monica Pier features Pacific Park, an amusement park with an over-water Ferris wheel that offers mind-blowing views of the ocean, beach and surrounding area, as well as a five-story rollercoaster and the Pacific Plunge tower ride. The pier also has restaurants, souvenir shops and an arcade with more than 200 games.

Santa Monica features over 120,000 square feet of meeting space, including Shutters on the Beach, with 198 sleeping rooms and reception capacity of 400, and Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, which sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific and has 297 rooms, 62 suites and a reception capacity of 900.

Hotel Casa Del Mar, originally built in 1926, is a beach club hotel adjacent to Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, a popular upscale shopping and dining area. Also nearby are the gardens, walking paths and ocean panoramas of cliff-top Palisades Park. The hotel has 129 guest rooms and a full-service spa. For meetings, the hotel’s Colonnade Ballroom can host 360 for a banquet. Colonnade Terrace can seat 60 at rounds or 75 for a reception.

San Mateo

Just 15 minutes south of San Francisco and home to San Francisco International Airport, San Mateo is one of 18 cities that make up the Bay Area on the San Francisco Peninsula. The area is known for its pristine beaches and beautiful redwood forest.

San Mateo has three full-service hotels: Hilton Garden Inn San Mateo, with 156 guest rooms and enough meeting space to host 110 for a banquet or 140 theatre style; Holiday Inn and Suites San Mateo-San Francisco SFO, with 172 guest rooms and 2,204 square feet of meeting space that can host 70 for a banquet; and San Mateo Marriott San Francisco Airport, with 476 guest rooms and 32,265 square feet of meeting space.

San Mateo County Event Center is one of the largest event venues on the peninsula, with 195,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space on 48 acres. It can host large trade shows, meetings, festivals and sporting events and can accommodate 6,000 for a banquet. Par 3 at Poplar Creek is a golf course restaurant that can seat 100, and its event space, located at the end of a fairway, can host dinners for up to 250. An outdoor terrace can host 100 for a reception.

For fun, groups can visit Hiller Aviation Museum or Filoli, a former country estate with a 54,000-square-foot Georgian revival-style mansion and 16 acres of English Renaissance gardens.

Davis and YOLO County

Davis and Yolo County are a 20-minute drive away from Sacramento, making them a great destination to handle overflow for events in the area. The largest concentration of meeting spaces in the city are on the UC Davis campus, including the University of California Davis Conference Center, ARC Ballroom and Memorial Union. But the city has an abundance of unconventional venues, including wineries and farms.

Great Bear Vineyards is a boutique winery that also produces olive and lavender oil. The property has several locations where groups can host events for up to 150, including the Great Barn, a winery terrace and three gardens. The Hive Tasting Room and Kitchen is about 20 minutes north of Davis in Woodland. It offers a honey-tasting room and a small amount of outdoor meeting space adjacent to the beehives and honey warehouse. The property has a small indoor auditorium for events.

River Fox Train is a steam locomotive that runs tourist excursions along the Sacramento River. The train station has a large open space for a variety of events, and groups can book smaller events on the train, either while it is stationary or while it is moving.

Cache Creek Casino Resort is a destination in the area, with 659 hotel rooms, a large gaming area, 11 restaurants, full-service spa, an 18-hole golf course and a 1,375-seat event center. It has a large ballroom that can seat 210 for a banquet and two smaller rooms for breakout sessions.

Hotel Winters is the only four-star, full-service hotel in the area that can host groups of up to 300.