Southern California: Book Eco/Urban Meetings From San Diego to Los Angeles

In our March/April 2013 issue, explored three regions in California and learned what’s new for meetings and incentives in the Golden State. The following covers Southern California. 

See the other sections: Northern California and Central California.


Welcome to the land of dreams and year-round sunshine. Once you leave the open countryside of the central coast and descend into the San Fernando Valley, you’re head long into greater Los Angeles and back to a 24/7 city environment.

The metropolis is commanding a lot of attention from conference planners these days, thanks to a revitalized downtown home to myriad cultural attractions and activities. Highlights include the entertainment district L.A. LIVE and performance venues like the Conga Room and Nokia Theater (with skyboxes available for concerts). Take over part or all of venues such as the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Grammy Museum for dinners or receptions, which can easily add an arts educational component to your event with presentations and private tours.

For the ultimate in LA cool, the nearby Standard Downtown LA, with 207 rooms and 6,300 sf of meeting space, is all hot pink and lavender lounge chairs, black-felt pool tables and installations by cutting-edge artists. Rub elbows with the young and hip on the 12th floor rooftop pool and lounge bar, or buy it out, and enjoy views of neighboring skyscrapers and sprawling city lights while lounging in waterbed pods to the beat of the resident DJ.

Groups that prefer to be closer to outdoor activities while still remaining in the greater metro area can head east to the Inland Empire and the city of Riverside. Adjacent to the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, groups have easy access to ski resorts such as Big Bear and Snow Summit, as well as Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake for boating and fishing derbies in the summer.

Riverside is also home to one of the most unique properties in California—the stunning Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. The 239-room mission-style hotel features 14,600 sf of meeting space, complemented with elaborate turrets and towers, fabulous mosaics, flying buttresses, catacombs and a signature Italianate dome. It is a national historic treasure and the anchor of Riverside’s burgeoning downtown. But the hotel is far more than a museum piece, with grand and luxurious rooms in dark woods and soft browns featuring modern high-tech amenities.

Drive 45 minutes south from Riverside and you’ll find yourself amid the vineyards of Temecula Valley. Small compared to other wine regions in the state, Temecula is still terrifically popular as SoCal’s only viticultural area, and has seen tremendous growth in both the quality of its wines and the luxury level of its meetings properties.

One shining example is Temecula Creek Inn, a JC Resort, with 130 rooms and 15,000 sf of meeting space, including an enchanting 180-year-old stone house on property, ideal for incorporating into unique outdoor events. Rooms are classic contemporary with Native American design motifs, and they include balconies and patios that open onto the resort’s 27-hole golf course and views of the San Jacinto mountains.

Besides golf tournaments, “Groups at the resort can participate in wine blending and wine pairing exercises,” says Sara Baumann, spokesperson Temecula Creek Inn. “Other activities include salsa and margarita making glowball on the golf course, and bocce ball. And the sales team can customize activities for any type and size of group.”


In Anaheim, we all remember when we thought this city in the heart of Southern California was the “happiest place on earth,” otherwise known as Disneyland Park. The iconic theme park offers numerous options for meetings and events at one of its three grand hotels, and at sites throughout the park, from Adventureland to Frontierland and the Old West. It’s also part of Anaheim’s growing attraction as a major meetings and convention destination.

“Anaheim is centrally located and has the tourism and meetings infrastructure to handle anything,” says Elaine Cali, CTA, vp of communications for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “But within 30 minutes you can be in the nearby Santa Ana mountains and go hiking and mountain biking and enjoy the natural beauty. And you can also experience the OC coast and its 42 miles of beaches.”

Of course, no meeting in Southern California would be complete without a visit to the beach. And no place exemplifies the image of the laid-back SoCal lifestyle better than Huntington Beach, or Surf City USA. The Orange County city is home to some of the best and most popular beaches in the state, an iconic pier and surfing museum, and hosts international surfing competitions that draw thousands of visitors. Not surprisingly, meetings here revolve around the beach and its various seaside activities, from volleyball tournaments to surfing lessons and sandcastle competitions.

“Everything can be customized here,” says John Ehlenfeldt, CMP, vice president of sales/marketing, Surf City USA – Huntington Beach Marketing & Visitors Bureau. “We’re the only beach community in Southern California that has fire pits on the beach, so the hotel can provide s’more kits to groups. We also have a CSR component with our rehabilitation center for injured marine animals, whether seals or pelicans, that groups can get involved in and that engages their attendees with issues indigenous to the area.”

Stay tuned for our upcoming May/June 2013 issue for a full “On Location” story of the Anaheim Convention Center and Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa.


The last stop on a tour south ends in San Diego County, a soft landing in rolling hills, charming beach towns, friendly cities and year-round summery weather. It’s also the perfect climate for golf at the many fabulous resorts found throughout the area, such as the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course at 5-diamond Grand del Mar in northern San Diego.

Set like a Tuscan villa in a 4,100-acre canyon preserve, the 249-room resort combines old-world Mediterranean elegance with modern luxury in a design nod to Addison Mizner’s hotels of Palm Beach in the 1920s. The lush courtyards and breezy corridors, grand staircases and marble colonnades all speak to an era of elegance when socializing was a grand art. Total meeting space is 10,000 sf.

“Being an independently owned property, we can tailor-make any type of activity for a group,” says Kenan Simmons, director of marketing. “We have golf, spa, tennis and team-building programs here at the resort. And if you want to do something offsite, we can arrange kayaking in La Jolla cove, sailing charters on America’s Cup racing yachts, or programs with the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld.”

Whether city or countryside, north or south, the options for meetings and group activities in California are endless. But no matter what you choose or where you stay in the Golden State, one of the favorite activities is still the simplest—watching the sun fall into the Pacific or the western hills at the end of a long, productive and fun-filled day.

Last fall, In October, the 49-suite Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in North San Diego reopened after a $30 million renovation, adding upgrades to guest rooms, restaurants, meeting space and fitness facilities. First opened in 1989, the 45-acre hacienda resort has earned numerous awards for its expansive tennis program and casita-style villas surrounded by verdant gardens.

The 1,000-sf accommodations have a new color palette of vibrant blues and rich browns with rustic furnishings and romantic lighting. Nineteen units feature jacuzzis and some of them have fireplaces, and all include a spacious patio or balcony overlooking beautiful vistas of the many olive groves and surrounding canyons.

The main welcome spot for groups is the Clubhouse with two restaurants, a wine cave, spa facilities and 12,000 sf of meeting space. The 65-seat Veladora restaurant is a rustic hideaway serving locally-sourced “coastal ranch” dishes. Menu choices include a 55-day, dry-aged New York strip and lamb osso bucco ragu with penne rigate. The focal point in the restaurant is an art piece called “Imploration” by Damien Hirst, completely made of real butterfly wings. And for meetings, the attached Sunrise Room and Valedora combined host 99 attendees.

The Western-themed, 47-seat Pony Room has high vaulted ceilings and a wraparound bar that serves the only sparkling wine on tap in Southern California. In addition to a wide selection of locally brewed craft beers and 100 tequilas, the bar serves signature cocktails like the “Made Pony” with organic strawberries, agave nectar and handpressed lime juice. Menu highlights include mini stuffed sweet peppers, candied garlic chicken wings with sweet soy sauce, and Maine lobster flatbread with 26 wild mushrooms.

Executive chef Eric Bauer and master sommelier Jason Knack added six beehives for honey and an olive grove for fresh olive oil. There’s also a beautiful new brick wine cave for 15 seated; 40 reception.

For a truly unique setting, the 5,000-sf Hacienda Cottage is a 3-bedroom home that can also be used as a function space for events and retreats around a private backyard pool and entertainment area for 180 attendees.

Lastly, for recreation and teambuilding, the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa includes two pools, a new yoga pavilion, 18 resurfaced tennis courts and a croquet lawn that can be used for receptions.