Cool California Green Meetings from Surf Lessons to Kung Fu Role Playing

California Green Meetings

In California during the 1960s, there were a lot of people making noise about saving the whales, exploring the outdoors, eating healthy food and working together as a community toward a common goal. Looks like they were onto something. The word “sustainability” wasn’t common then, but we can attribute the birth of the megatrend in the U.S. to those free-spirited West Coast thinkers.

According to Trevor Hanks, CEO of 360 Destination Group, there continues to be an upsurge in demand for eco-friendly programs.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in requests for experiential and green types of activities that really give people good experiences in the outdoors, and not necessarily so much of the other more passive activities that we offer,” says Hanks. “We’re seeing a lot more of people wanting to get out on the ocean and couple it with anything from a beach cleanup to surf classes.”

Popular events include environmental guides explaining coastal ecology on nature hikes and accredited oceanographers escorting groups during whale/dolphin-watching cruises. And attendees are eager to learn how California is managing coastal build-out.

“We’re also seeing, certainly in our wine tours, an interest in doubling up tours at organic farms,” says Hanks. “We’re doing a lot of those organic tours, coupling them with wine tastings or wine lunches. You get a little of both and that’s been very popular.”

Hanks also likes Newport Beach’s large marinas because they’re well-suited for upscale, al fresco F&B events. Visit Newport Beach calls them “Docking & Dining” events.

“Newport Beach’s harbor is a dynamic attraction for meeting planners,” says spokesperson Cristen Stapp. “They can choose to set a meeting or after-meeting event onboard a yacht or in a scenic waterfront venue. Newport Harbor really offers a unique West Coast foodie experience with all of the lovely waterfront restaurants.”

Surf culture is making inroads into the corporate group market for two reasons. First, CSR-minded organizations like Surfrider Foundation are doing an incredible job educating companies about ocean sustainability through cool fundraising and volunteer events. Second, nothing in California gets an executive out of his or her head better than hanging ten on a breaking chest-high roller.

Grab some of that surf vibe at the edgy 119-room Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach. The 100-pax High Rooftop Lounge at this Joie de Vivre Hotel overlooks the boardwalk, and it’s ranked by everyone as one of L.A.’s top five roof bars. This is also the only corporate hotel we know that offers an “Ink & Stay” group tattoo package (bottle of tequila included), which we’re not advocating, but they can also hook you up with group surf lessons, bike rentals, etc.

Definitely check out Erwin’s Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails for their shrimp ’n grits with bacon lardon and brown butter jus, and caramel bacon burger with herb chevre from the nearby Drake Family Farm.


With so much focus on outdoor experiences for large groups, Huntington Beach CVB is diving into the meetings market with its Beach Boys and Hotel California appeal.

“We’re fairly new into the meetings arena,” says Bob Wentworth, vp of marketing. “About a year ago we brought onboard a director of sales and so we’re really gearing up in that area. There’s a lot of basic services that we provide that are similar to a lot of bureaus—sales campaigns for our properties, launching partnerships and working with planners to find out what it is they want to accomplish, what the profile of that group is, and trying to find the best match.”

Huntington Beach is HQ of the U.S. surfing circuit so there’s already a strong community commitment to the environment. The bureau publishes a sustainability guide for the community because the city’s most important resources are its natural resources.

But can they handle large groups?

“We just wrapped up the U.S. Open of Surfing, which is the largest surfing competition in the world,” confirms Wentworth. “We have in excess of 750,000 people over a 9-day period.”

For conference planners, Wentworth points out the 517-room Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort with 72,000 sf of indoor function space and three oceanview ballrooms—the largest ballroom space between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Just north, the 1.6 million-sf Anaheim Convention Center is the largest convention center on the West Coast, with 55,000 hotel rooms in the county—7,000 of which are within walking distance of the convention center.

“We are in the midst of creating a new outdoor venue space adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center called the Grand Plaza,” says Elaine Cali, CTA, spokesperson for Anaheim/Orange County VCB. “That adds 100,000 sf of unique and flexible event and meeting space amid all of the lush landscaping, palm trees, iconic fountains and lots of warm, local sunshine.”


Last year, tech giant Siemens named San Francisco the #1 Greenest City in North America. The big news this year, the 1.2 million-sf Moscone Center capped a $56 million renovation with upgrades designed to LEED Gold specifications. Part of the spend included a $4.5 million WiFi system serving up to 60,000 devices at once.

“Our first step was to ask our customers what changes they’d like to see—the point of this whole project was to meet their needs,” says Joe D’Alessandro, president/CEO of San Francisco Travel. “Those suggestions were our guideposts every step of the way.”

D’Alessandro and his team are actively promoting the Siemens award and Moscone upgrades, along with the low cost convenient accessibility around the Center and throughout the city.

“San Francisco is a compact 49 square miles of everything, including unique venues to hold events, and we have a global reputation for award-winning restaurants and dining,” says Michael Thomas, executive associate, convention sales. He adds that there are 22,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of Moscone.

Plus, San Francisco boasts one of the largest urban parks in the world, Golden Gate Park. The 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the second-most visited of the 396 parks under the National Park Service, and the Trust for Public Land Park Score rates San Francisco’s urban park system the best in the nation.

Gordon Thompson, DMCP/CMP, is co-owner of San Francisco-based Cappa & Graham DMC. He says his company offers a large menu of educational group activities that celebrate the outdoors.

“We have kayaking and sailing and we have an environmental tour up in Marin county where we can do everything from cooking classes to scavenger hunts,” says Thompson.

He adds that creativity and inventiveness are key in his market, citing a planner with a group of 300 who approached him with an RFP for something fun and sustainable in October.

“So, we’re going to theme that around the Pumpkin Festival down in Half Moon Bay,” he says. “We’re going to have square dancing, chili cook-offs and some other competitive things like maybe a pumpkin toss.”

Cappa & Graham is big on the gamification/city tour trend. The DMC recently brought in video pros who assigned to each team a various corporate goal relative to customer service and business development. Then each group visited sites in San Francisco to film 2-minute videos promoting their specific business objective.

“There was one group where three of them are wearing white hotel bathrobes, and they go rescue a female member of their team who’s held hostage by three guys all dressed in black,” says Thompson. “The guys in black represent an old processing system. The female hostage represents the customer and the guys in white represent the company’s new processing system—with the song “Kung Fu Fighting” in the background. It was hysterical.”