Monterey at a Glance
Location: On California’s central coast, 100 miles south of San Francisco, 300 miles north of Los Angeles
Access: CA 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), U.S. Route 101 (Scenic Highway 101), Monterey Regional Airport
Hotel rooms: 11,800
Monterey County Convention and
Monterey Conference Center Complex
Built: 1977; reopened in 2018 after $60 million renovation
Exhibit Space: 40,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: Breakout rooms, courtyard, mezzanine, foyer
Portola Hotel and Spa
Meeting Space: 40,000 square feet
Meeting Space: 16,500 square feet
Guestrooms: 105 suites
Meeting Space: 1,777 square feet
Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa
Guestrooms: 550, including 27 suites
Meeting Space: 40,000 square feet
The names of a few of Monterey County’s 12 cities roll off the tongue like breakers along the central California coast: Big Sur; Carmel-by-the-Sea; Monterey; Pebble Beach; Salinas; Pacific Grove; and the Salinas Valley, “Salad Bowl of the World.” Its history is lush with conquistadores, adobe missions and creative souls seeking clearer perspective from its magnificent cliffs and ever-changing ocean. Nobel Prize winner and Salinas native John Steinbeck lured hordes of curious readers to Monterey through the settings of novels such as “Cannery Row.”
“Monterey County is the greatest meeting of land and sea that inspires and invigorates attendees both inside and outside of our meeting space,” said Mark McMinn, vice president of business development at the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our region continues to grow in its meeting venue offerings, from large facilities to unique smaller venues.”
Ever since California’s constitution was written here in 1847, brilliant minds inspired by sunny seaside surroundings have convened in Monterey and its environs to meet or retreat. With average annual temperatures in the mild 60s, the county is a Pacific playground that lures the winter-weary and heat-stressed to find relief in its desert mountains, wide valleys and luminous seascapes.
In addition to year-round whale watching, visitors can choose from 21 public and private golf courses playable every season or browse 100 art galleries, many of those in artsy Carmel-by-the-Sea. In total, 175 vineyards and 60-plus winery tasting rooms offer samplings of 32 varietals of world-renowned California wines. And each year, 300-plus special events — golf, culinary, automotive, and music, such as the Monterey Jazz Festival — take place.
Aware of its fragile topography, Monterey County embraces sustainability with a vengeance. For example, after every meeting or event there, the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium sends the host company a sustainability report telling it how much the aquarium was able to keep out of the waste stream thanks to the event.
On Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium is a massive marine center with 35,000-plus sea creatures — floating neon jellyfish, clownlike sea otters and schools of silver sardines — that fill 34 galleries. With fascinating event spaces, the aquarium can accommodate from 10 attendees to 3,000. An underwater diver can interact with guests and answer questions.
“Because we’re a nonprofit education and conservation organization, all [facility rental] funds from an event go back into the aquarium to fund animal rescue, especially otters,” said John Abrahamson, the aquarium’s director of events and catering. “We host only corporate events and take sustainability to heart.”
Tucked behind an adobe wall reminiscent of its 1800s beginnings, the Barns at Cooper Molera provides a rustic, historic event venue for 600, with indoor and outdoor seating.
“Clients tell us that they feel transported to an earlier era,” said Cheryl Cox, one of four owners. “Yet just outside is the heartbeat of downtown Monterey.”
With outdoor and indoor spaces for 10 to 500, Folktale Winery and Vineyards offers team building via a chef-led Chopped Team Challenge, an interactive cooking demo or wine blending.
An amazing resource for kayak, bike and hiking tours, Adventures by the Sea offers customized team building. A scavenger hunt helps attendees learn about Monterey’s history and attractions, and Bike Build for Charity donates bicycles to the Boys and Girls Club.
“We take bikes to a meeting, where teams have to put them together,” said instructor Dan Healy. “Whichever bike looks and drives the best wins.”
Major Meeting Spaces
Reopened downtown last year after a $60 million renovation, the Monterey Conference Center hosts conventions, trade shows and exhibitions for up to 3,200 attendees in 40,000 square feet of flexible space. For larger groups, another 45,000 square feet can be added to double its capacity by implementing two hotel properties that connect to the center — the AAA Four Diamond Portola Hotel and Spa, Monterey’s first LEED-certified hotel, and the Monterey Marriott, with a 10th-floor ballroom overlooking Monterey Bay.
Across the street, the Spanish-style adobe Pacific Hotel adds meeting space for 70. All these properties are within easy walking distance of Monterey’s attractions.
On Del Monte Golf Course, a landmark opened in Pebble Beach in 1897, the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa caters to meetings with three dozen breakout rooms, terraces, foyers and courtyards, many with luscious course views.
Near Carmel, Carmel Valley Ranch is a 500-acre, luxury resort with 181 guest studios and suites, all redesigned since June, along with upgraded, expansive meeting and event spaces, and spa and golf clubhouse renovations in a resortwide “reimagination.” Artisans-in-residence facilitate a number of its myriad amenities, which include two interactive culinary spaces and an apiary program where participants “suit up” and take teamwork tips from honeybees.
“For activity-focused meetings, we offer classic diversions such as golf or more unique ones like hatchet throwing,” said Matt Bailey, managing director at Carmel Valley Ranch. “I don’t know many other places that have such a wide variety of things to do.”
After the Meeting
Once a busy sardine canning area, Fisherman’s Wharf was an active fish market until the 1960s. Now, Monterey’s historic waterfront Cannery Row rocks with shops, seafood restaurants, museums, tour companies, bars and nightlife.
A culinary jewel, Monterey County knows its way around a kitchen. Hooking up with Trip Advisor’s top-rated tour in Carmel, Carmel Food Tours, gives participants a sipping and tasting peek behind the scenes.
The county is full of diverse ways to commune with nature.
Along the Big Sur Coastline and Highway 1, the famous 17-Mile Drive is all spectacular coastal scenery, epic forests, wildlife — elephant seals, whales and sea otters — and pristine beaches. Memorable ways to travel the winding seaside road are by electric bicycle with a preloaded GPS from Mad Dogs and Englishmen Bike Shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea or classic car from Monterey Touring Vehicles. Its 36-auto roster includes a 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom III and a 1961 Volkswagen 23-Window Microbus.
“Off-duty” attendees and spouses can hit the links and even take lessons at Pebble Beach, one of the country’s most venerated public golf courses, set amid beaches, bays and cliffs. Or drop in to Point Lobos State Reserve for snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking or hiking in this treasure of a marine mammal gathering spot.
For sustainable relaxation, meeting-goers can visit Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, a destination spa with garden-to-treatment philosophy.