Meeting planners don’t have to host their events in California’s bustling urban centers. Instead, they can consider these California suburbs that offer many of the urban amenities available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, but in a more intimate and engaging environment.
The home of the Free Speech Movement back in the 1960s, Berkeley is a funky, laid-back town about 15 minutes from both San Francisco and Oakland by BART train.
“We are only 18 square miles. We are tiny but mighty,” said Nikole Halaka, director of sales for Visit Berkeley. “Our downtown is very urban, and we have great restaurants and a great art scene: performing arts, live music options and theater.”
Berkeley is also walkable, and the University of California Berkeley brings in people from all around the world.
The largest convention hotel is the DoubleTree by Hilton Berkeley, which is close to Berkeley Marina and features 380 guest rooms and 18,000 square feet of meeting space. Two higher-end boutique hotels — Graduate Berkeley and Hotel Shattuck Plaza Berkeley — also catch a lot of the area’s convention and meeting business. The university can also host large events on campus and has a beautiful 10,000-square-foot ballroom, which is one of the largest ballrooms in the East Bay Area. One of Berkeley’s most unusual off-site venues is the Berkeley City Club, a historic hotel and club built in 1929 and designed by Julia Morgan, a female architect who also designed Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
In their free time, meeting attendees can take a walking food tour of North Shattuck and the Gourmet Ghetto, the so-called cradle of California cuisine or farm-to-table dining. The tour takes guests to different iconic spots in the neighborhood for bites of food and a taste of history. UC Berkeley also has a ropes course for team-building activities and offers tours of the historic public university.
Redding is an outdoor oasis surrounded by lakes, rivers and 50 waterfalls. The area isn’t as well known as some parts of California, but it is just as scenic and thrilling, playing host to some of the state’s lesser-known state and national parks. Lassen Volcanic National Park is about 40 minutes east of Redding and is home to an active volcano. It features geothermal wonders similar to those of Yellowstone National Park, without the geysers and with a fraction of the visitors, said T.J. Holmes, communications coordinator for the Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is also close by and offers easy access to four beautiful waterfalls.
Meeting planners like Redding because it has 55,000 square feet of meeting space, 2,800 hotel rooms and 300 restaurants to choose from. Its top two meeting hotels — the Red Lion Hotel Redding and the Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center Redding — are next to each other, making it easy for larger conferences to be centrally located. The hotels are close to all of Redding’s main attractions, including Shasta Lake, the largest man-made lake in California; the Sundial Bridge; and downtown Redding.
Conferencegoers love to include a two-hour catamaran cruise across Shasta Lake to the entrance of Lake Shasta Caverns. The cavern tour, which is only accessible by boat, is the area’s top attraction for meeting planners, Holmes said.
In the bustling heart of California’s Orange County, Irvine is just 45 miles south of Los Angeles and 90 miles north of San Diego. It also offers easy access to Anaheim, home of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks.
Irvine boasts 21 hotels with more than 4,700 sleeping rooms and 190,000 square feet of meeting space. The city can host meetings of up to 1,200 people. Its largest meeting hotels are the Hotel Irvine, the Irvine Marriott and the Wyndham Irvine-OC Airport. It also has some unique meeting venues, such as the Marconi Automotive Museum, Orange County Great Park and the Oak Creek Golf Club.
Irvine’s claim to fame is that it is a leading technology and life science hub with more than 16,000 acres of preserved natural habitats and wildlands, with 54 miles of trails for hiking and biking.
“We’re a great destination for meeting planners to come out and experience the area, and have their friends or family join them for a longer extended period of time,” said Wendy Haase, senior director for Destination Irvine.
The city is a master-planned community, so it doesn’t have a downtown area. Instead, it has two retail and entertainment districts: the Irvine Spectrum Center on the south end of the city and the Diamond Jamboree. Because it has a large Asian population, Irvine is known for its variety of cuisines that originated in Asia’s Pacific Rim.
The birthplace of surf culture, Dana Point is a beautiful beach town about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It also is where the whale migration comes closest to the west coast of North America and a pod of 5,000 dolphins reside.
Three major resort hotels make Dana Point an excellent spot for meetings and conferences: the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa, and the Monarch Beach Resort. With nearly 2,000 hotel rooms and 256,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces, Dana Point has something for everyone, including 72 holes of golf within 10 miles of the town.
Visit Dana Point works with meeting groups to set up itineraries for when their attendees have some downtime; they include high-end shopping trips to Costa Mesa, whale-watching and sports-fishing adventures, surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons and a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano, which was built in the 1700s.
“That is the most cultural iconic place we have here,” said Jonny Westom, executive director for Visit Dana Point. “The other part of the culture is the nostalgia of surf culture. That resonates through the clothing people wear, the shoes they have on their feet, the way they speak and the way they provide customer service.”
The Surf Heritage and Culture Center is another great off-site venue that has been called the Smithsonian of California surf culture.
Carlsbad wants meeting planners to know that it is not San Diego.
“Some people still see it more as part of San Diego and not a destination in its own right,” said Tamara McGiboney, director of group sales for Visit Carlsbad. But the community has everything the larger city has to offer, including great resorts, nice beaches, diverse restaurants, golf courses and theme parks.
Visitors to Carlsbad can play golf, spend time in Oceanside Harbor, take dinner or whale-watching cruises, visit the San Diego Safari Park or just enjoy seven miles of beaches. LegoLand, one of the most famous attractions in Carlsbad, offers VIP experiences for convention visitors, and many of the large U.S. golf manufacturers that have offices in Carlsbad — Titleist, Callaway and Taylor Made — will work with event planners to set up special experiences for their attendees.
There are 29 hotels with more than 3,500 sleeping rooms in the area, and between them, they have about 370,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The Omni La Costa Resort and Spa is one of the largest golf and meeting resorts in Southern California, with more than 600 guest rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space. The Westin Carlsbad Resort and Spa has 75,000 square feet of meeting space and 377 guest rooms.
Visit Carlsbad loves groups of up to 150 people. “Small meetings are the heart of our business,” McGiboney said.