In California, the suburbs are the place to be — and to meet.
Meeting planners hosting events in the Golden State are always attracted to the state’s most populous cities because of their tourist attractions, waterfront locations and full-service meeting hotels and spaces. But there are many smaller towns within driving distance of these larger cities that have distinctive offerings for visitors and meeting planners.
Here are a few California exurbs of San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles that are close enough to enjoy what those cities have to offer but are easier on the budget.
Temecula is about an hour’s drive from Orange County, Palm Springs and San Diego and is a stone’s throw from nearly 50 wineries, many with both lodging and event spaces.
Group wine tours are available by bicycle, horseback or traditional San Francisco cable car. Groups interested in teambuilding should participate in Bottaia Winery’s wine-blending lab, where attendees don disposable lab coats and mix their own special private-label wines to take home. The Temecula Valley has plenty of lodging options, from traditional branded hotels with meeting space to villas, casitas and bungalows that overlook the vineyards. The Pechanga Resort Casino and the Temecula Creek Inn, which overlooks a 27-hole golf course, are wonderful local options for groups. Planners can book a reception by the pool at Bottaia Winery or the Cove, Pechanga’s pool complex and restaurant. The Galway Downs Equestrian Center hosts meetings and events on hundreds of acres in wine country. In their free time, meeting attendees can participate in Yoga in the Pines, tour a lavender farm where they can learn how oils are extracted from the plant, or visit the Oil Plantation and learn about the production of olive oil.
Burbank is in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, tucked behind the famous Hollywood sign. Considered the media capital of the world, Burbank is home to Warner Brothers Studios, Universal Studios Hollywood, Disney Studios, the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Netflix Animation and the CW, among others. It is also next door to the Los Angeles Zoo. With 600 shops and restaurants downtown, Burbank is a popular destination in its own right, but it is also close enough to Los Angeles for visitors to make the city their base as they explore the region.
Groups wanting to host events in the area can stay at any of the city’s 18 hotels, including the Courtyard by Marriott Los Angeles Burbank Airport, which has 46,000 square feet of event space, and the Holiday Inn Burbank-Media Center, which has 30,000 square feet of event space.
Add a bit of movie fun to a conference by hosting a reception or event on the back lots at Warner Brothers Studios, or plan a picnic on the lawn at Calamigos Los Angeles, a ranch that sits on 75 acres in Griffith Park. Calamigos also has indoor ballrooms and several other event spaces. The Castaway restaurant has amazing views of the Los Angeles skyline from its nine indoor and outdoor dining spaces, which can accommodate 50 to 550 people for a banquet and up to 1,000 people for a reception.
About 53 miles from Los Angeles, Oxnard is one of the best kept secrets on the Pacific coast. Unlike L.A., Oxnard is not crowded. It has seven miles of white sand beaches and is the closest access point to the biologically diverse Channel Islands National Park. One of the largest sea caves in the world is off the shore of Oxnard, and the city has one-third of California’s kelp forests, which makes it popular for scuba diving, sailing, parasailing, kayaking and other watersports.
Visitors to the area like to tour the Mullen Automotive Museum, which was founded by a billionaire with a love of fancy French cars. It also is a premier destination for weddings and events. Oxnard Levity Live/Copper Blues, a comedy club and music venue that hosts big-name acts like Adam Sandler and David Spade, also rents space for groups of up to 350 people. The Scarlett Belle, a paddle-wheel riverboat, takes groups of up to 150 guests on dinner cruises around the Channel Islands Harbor or can be rented out for corporate events like casino nights, dance parties or Mandalay Bay cruises. The Oxnard Performing Arts Center can host larger groups in its 12,464 square feet of event space and 2,147 square feet of meeting space that can hold groups of 45 to 700 theater style.
The Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Resort has 250 guest rooms and 13,150 square feet of event space right on the beach.
Known for its hippie past, Berkeley is a laid-back university town that considers itself a major food mecca. The city, a 15-minute BART ride from downtown San Francisco, has about 350 restaurants within its 18 square miles.
Thousands of visitors flock to the area every year to tour the University of California Berkeley campus, but the city is also known for the free speech movement that got its start on Telegraph Avenue in the 1960s. Meeting groups can stay at the DoubleTree Berkeley Marina Hotel, right on the water, which has great views of San Francisco and 22,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces; Hotel Shattuck Plaza downtown, which is right next to the BART station and offers 8,000 square feet of meeting space; or the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club, an opulent hotel with 7,500 square feet of meeting space that is reminiscent of Morgan’s most famous architectural wonder, Hearst Castle.
The new 329-room Marriott Residence Inn Berkeley opens in September 2021 with 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
A popular off-site venue got its start as a movie house in 1917. The newly renovated UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall is now a 1,350-seat, three-tiered concert hall that is available for private events. During their free time, groups should stroll through the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, which has the largest collection of plants and flowers in North America, or visit Tilden Regional Park, which has a botanical garden, a lake and plenty of natural areas to explore.
A hidden gem in the Bay Area, Benicia is a waterfront town that is an easy drive from San Francisco, Napa Valley, San Jose and Silicon Valley. The city’s historic downtown is full of locally owned boutique shops and restaurants. Founded in 1847, Benicia is rumored to have sparked the California gold rush. Someone inadvertently let slip at a Benicia tavern that gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill, and the rest is history. The town became a major way station for gold seekers on their way to the Sierras.
The city also served as California’s capital from 1853 to 1854 before it was permanently moved to Sacramento. Groups can tour Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, to see the old capitol or spend some quality outdoor time in Benicia State Recreation Area, which offers 563 acres of pristine natural areas for hiking and biking. The Best Western Plus Heritage Inn and the Holiday Inn Express are the largest hotels in the city, but three smaller boutique hotels offer themed rooms and a more intimate lodging experience for smaller groups.
Meeting spaces are available at the Benicia Yacht Club or the Bella Siena Restaurant. The Benicia Historical Museum, which is in the city’s historic arsenal building, has both indoor and outdoor event spaces that can accommodate up to 300 people. The historic Clock Tower, which was also part of the former arsenal, can hold 536 people for a banquet.