By Santa Cruz County CVC
Flanked by San Francisco, the Silicon Valley and the bustling beach town of Monterey, the California coastal city of Santa Cruz can be easy to overlook. To do so would mean missing out.
“Santa Cruz is like San Francisco’s cool little sister, cut from the same cloth,” said Christina Glynn, communications director for the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council. “But it offers meeting and retreat attendees more of an organic experience — closer to nature — with activities like surfing and wine tasting in a nostalgic, classic beach community setting.”
The city of 60,000 is on the northern edge of the curving coastline that embraces Monterey Bay, making the bay a focal point as well as a playground. Visitors can surf, paddleboard, kayak, sail and whale-watch.
“We are the original surf city,” said Sherrie Huneke, director of sales for Chaminade Resort and Spa. “There’s a casual, cool, laid-back environment here. It’s a beautiful area that a lot of people have not had the opportunity to experience yet, and they should. It’s uniquely Santa Cruz. It’s Santa Cruz cool.”
In the redwood forests and mountains minutes from the city, there’s hiking, biking, ropes courses, winery tours, zip lines and steam-engine train rides.
“There’s such a nice variety of activities and things to do,” said Max Schultz, sales director for the Santa Cruz Dream Inn. “It’s smaller and has this nice little beach vibe. There’s something about the ions in the air; it’s a relaxing yet stimulating place to be.”
Silicon Valley retreat
With San Jose 30 miles northeast, conference and meeting business has been largely fueled by high-tech. Apple, Google, Facebook and other big-name companies have held company meetings, conferences and retreats in Santa Cruz.
When the recession hit, corporate events dropped off, but Santa Cruz is seeing a rebound from Silicon Valley.
“There’s definitely been an uptick over the previous three to five years, especially with some of the big corporations that are here,” said Lalaine Dowdell, owner of Plan Ahead Events.
Dowdell left a career as a project manager for those big corporations and started Plan Ahead Events in Santa Cruz a little more than a year ago. She plans trade shows, business expos and networking events for small to medium-size companies. One challenge Santa Cruz faces, she said, is its lack of a convention center.
“Not that it’s not possible to do a much larger event here; you can do so between [the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium] and Cocoanut Grove and larger venues,” she said.
Small city, big news
With about 2,600 hotel rooms and another 1,250 in the county, Santa Cruz is “a really small market,” Glynn said. “So when there is a renovation, it’s huge news.”
The biggest news of late is Palo Alto, Calif.-based BPR Properties’ renovation of a downtrodden Holiday Inn. Since January, the company has been turning the old hotel into the boutique-style Hotel Paradox. The 170-room hotel, with 8,000 square feet of meeting space, opened in mid-August.
“We’re bringing the Santa Cruz mountains into the hotel,” BPR general manager Tony Eichers said. “It’s a very modern space with all these outdoor touches, kind of all these little paradoxes around the hotel.”
For example, the front desk is an 18-foot, 15,000-pound reclaimed eucalyptus log — the tree had already fallen — lying on its side. Off the lobby, an 800-square-foot meeting room is enclosed on three sides by floor-to-ceiling glass walls etched with a full-color scene of a redwood forest.
The large pool deck, with cabanas, a hot tub and a fire pit, is surrounded by a cypress wood wall, so “basically, when you’re in the pool, all you can see is the redwoods surrounding our property,” Eichers said. “It’s a very fun, whimsical place.”
A 4,400-square-foot ballroom is the hotel’s largest meeting space; there’s also a 700-square-foot boardroom and a 430-square-foot conference room.
Within walking distance of downtown Santa Cruz and the city’s historic boardwalk, the hotel is “a resort experience in the middle of Santa Cruz,” Glynn said.
Location, location, location
Another Santa Cruz staple and the city’s only beachfront hotel has also had a makeover.
Long Beach, Calif.-based Ensemble Hotel Partners bought the Santa Cruz Dream Inn in 2006 and brought in boutique hotelier Joie de Vivre Hotels to manage the property on Cowell’s Beach.
The hotel’s 165 guest rooms were upgraded, and the inn’s public spaces and meeting rooms were remodeled, according to Schultz.
Three separate meeting rooms were opened up; by using air walls, the 3,500-square-foot space can be configured as two or three spaces.
The once-dark meeting rooms were also brightened. Adding floor-to-ceiling windows in the Surf and Beach rooms means views of the ocean, beach, wharf and boardwalk for meeting goers.