Planners have an advantage in California. There are few places in the world with so many destination resorts surrounded by so many attractions. People rave about the weather, but what sets California apart is the vibe. There’s always been a laid back mojo where golfing, spa culture and healthy food are a lifestyle, and planners can capitalize on that, easily.
“Planners considering golf and spa incentives tend to find that Southern California delivers everything they’re looking for with that bonus of beautiful scenery and ideal weather,” says Ana Reilly, principal of Destination Concepts.
Ultimately, what differentiates each SoCal destination is its environment. “In San Diego, it’s a resort setting that doesn’t feel like a big city,” Reilly says. “And in L.A., often it’s that celebrity cache. Each offers a unique cultural experience.”
Reilly considers Orange County—home to Newport Beach, Anaheim, Laguna Beach and Irvine—another stellar option with posh properties like the St. Regis Monarch Beach and Montage Laguna Beach. “They’ll either have golf courses onsite or within a short transfer,” she says. “And they have the spa experience as well. So Orange County should definitely be on the radar.”
In Northern California, pairing golf and fine dining are popular for groups booking San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma.
“We put together full course buyouts and include all the tried and true awards,” says Dave Mana, managing director of Mana, Allison & Associates, a San Francisco-based DMC. “Corporate golfers are the trophy hunters of the golf world; they like to say they played the course where Ernie or Tiger played. Our courses have that cache, including Eagle Vines in Napa and Sonoma Golf Club at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.”
Like the buried riches that once drew prospectors here in droves, Northern California is a gold mine for meeting planners with a dedication to sustainable meetings second to none.
San Francisco is the cultural heart of the region, hosting groups of all types and sizes. “We have the brand appeal, the product and the easy accessibility that groups look for,” says John Reyes, executive vp, chief customer officer at San Francisco Travel. “San Francisco is exceptional when it comes to restaurants and attractions. And it’s all packaged within 49 square miles, so it’s very user friendly for groups to come and literally step out their door and experience all the city has to offer, from Chinatown to Little Italy to Fisherman’s Wharf and back downtown.”
San Francisco is great for golf with several championship offerings. Courses include TPC Harding Park, host to PGA tournaments like the Charles Schwab Cup and Presidents Cup, the Robert Trent Jones-designed Olympic Club, and the historic Presidio Golf Course.
With the economy making a comeback, Mana sees a resurgence in activities deemed too extravagant a few years ago. “We do see growth in that end of the program,” he says. “Not just golf and spa, but companies are finding it’s important for people to meet face to face. And golf especially is a conduit to good conversation and furthering business.”
Mana also sees a growing emphasis on green issues in the region. “We’re seeing sustainability through our whole lifestyle, and it’s becoming equally prevalent in meetings, addressing issues like what to do with leftover food after a meeting, or using the appropriate ingredients,” he says. “Farm to table is current in a lot of events, especially around here because fresh produce is so readily available.” Mana has brought in local growers to interact with attendees, and he takes groups to Harley Farms in nearby Half Moon Bay.
Rated one of the healthiest cities in the country, San Francisco also draws health-conscious planners.
“Besides boat tours of the bay, you can go hiking, biking, or take trips to surrounding areas,” says Stephanie Law, CMP, director of sales at Origin Event Planning.
Here’s an only-in-California phenomenon: Surf or stroll the beach in the morning and then ski later in the afternoon. A 3-hour drive from the Bay Area, Lake Tahoe is one of the premier skiing destinations in the U.S. and an easy trip for even large groups.
“We recently took a group from San Francisco up to Lake Tahoe for a couple days, which was awesome because I love to ski,” says Law. “It’s such a great and unique activity for Bay Area groups to go from the city to the slopes in one day.”
WHEN IN TOWN…
We checked into The Four Seasons San Francisco located centrally on Market Street, filled with intriguing restaurants, bars and retail stores. The 277 rooms/suites come with floor-to-ceiling windows with the best views in town, and you’re going to love the big marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. Guests here have comp’d access to The Sports Club/LA, a 127,000-sf private fitness facility located onsite.
While here, check out the delightfully authentic Mexican restaurant Tropisueno, next to the Four Seasons and directly across the street from the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
We like Rye too, an upscale lounge with some seriously talented mixologists working the bar. Ingredients are laid out in the open like a scientific lab experiment, ranging from fresh berries to mint. For dessert, go to Gelateria Naia in Little Italy for the best gelato in all of San Francisco. We walked by 10 different gelato places to get to it and it was worth the wait. Try the mixture of freshly made rosemary and Earl Gray.
Another must is Wine Jar in Japantown. Service is friendly and not wine snobby. Wine Jar encourages its patrons to order food from local restaurants and pair it with their wine, right inside the bar! The Vin Club is good too in Little Italy, with over 20 wines by the glass, including wine crafted by owner, Dario Zucconi.
For bike tours, call Bay City Bikes. We started at Fisherman’s Wharf and four hours later ended our tour in Sausalito, after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Tons of awesome group photo ops here, from seals on the Wharf to the view from the Bridge. The experience of biking over the Golden Gate Bridge is unforgettable.
At the northern tip of the Bay Area in Sausalito, Cavallo Point Lodge represents the pinnacle of forward-thinking meeting planning. In the shadow of Golden Gate Bridge, the former military base was built on land still owned by the National Park Service. Today, the lodge offers 142 rooms and 11,000 sf of indoor meeting space in leafy splendor.
“We do all sorts of corporate retreats, executive meetings, group offsites, and some user conferences,” says Zeena Fakoury, director of sales. The lodge is LEED Gold certified, the only historical hotel in the U.S. with that distinction.
Besides offering traditional massages and facials, the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point takes wellness to another level, offering a broad range of services from an on-staff herbalist, hypnotherapist and acupuncturist, to daily yoga classes and wellness education. “Our spa is anything but conventional,” says Fakoury. “We have a true healing and alternative medicine aspect to the lodge.” For activities, the marina allows easy access for group sailing and kayaking.
Possibly the most popular attraction is Cavallo Point’s cooking school. “Over 70 percent of our groups go through the cooking school; it’s very popular,” says Fakoury. “It’s designed as a teaching kitchen with cameras and screens, and chefs can do anything the group wants, from an hour demonstration or tasting to a more elaborate 3-4 hour hands-on dinner event.”
NAPA + SONOMA
“Our spas in San Francisco are definitely top notch, but people love going to Napa Valley and combining spa and wine tasting,” says Law, citing the mineral hot springs and mud baths unique to the area. “We did a conference for 100 attendees at Solage Calistoga in Napa. They had meetings in the morning, and in the afternoon went off in groups for golf, spa and wine tasting.”
While Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa provides groups with those same activities, they’re also dedicated to giving back. Their annual Operation PJ, now in its fifth year, collects pajamas for disadvantaged kids in the area, last year distributing 3,000 pairs of pajamas.
In another unique partnership, Starwood Hotels & Resorts created its own Magnolia Grove wine label with Chateau St. Jean winery in Sonoma. Brian Abel, vp of food and beverage for Starwood, describes the Magnolia Grove Chardonnay as “capturing ripe stone fruit and pineapple flavors with tropical and sweet vanilla aromas,” and the Cabernet Sauvignon as having “bright fruit and soft tannins, with flavors of cedar, black fruit and black cherry.” Abel adds: “The new wine label allows Starwood to provide a high-quality wine experience at a significant savings for groups.”
In the heart of Silicon Valley at the southern end of the Bay Area, San Jose seems built for meetings. The downtown has a campus-like setting with multiple high-end meetings hotels surrounding the San Jose Convention Center.
“We’re very strategically located near a lot of corporate offices and area attractions,” says Dave Costain, COO at San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We get 300+ days of sun a year. It’s great weather for golf and wine tasting, and we have around 18 golf courses in the area, including world-class PGA courses like Cinnabar Hills, Los Lagos and Coyote Creek.”
Costain adds that wine tasting is a little-known gem in the area, overshadowed by its big-name neighbors to the north. “There’s probably 75 to 100 wineries in the Santa Cruz mountain appellation, with wineries 5-10 minutes from downtown,” he says. This includes Ridge Vineyards, one of the oldest and best wineries in California, and Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos. Many of the wineries have event space and offer special tastings for groups.
One venue everyone easily associates with Silicon Valley is the Tech Museum in San Jose. With 130,000 sf of space, the museum accommodates groups up to 350 pax.
“After hours, groups can rent different rooms in the building for receptions or seated dinners,” says Maureen Langan, director of special events at the museum. “Besides hosting dignitaries such as Presidents Clinton and Bush, groups can do tours and hold high-tech scavenger hunts.” The museum features many interactive exhibits in areas of bio-tech, innovation and space exploration.
An 80-minute drive south from San Jose, the Monterey Peninsula includes the coastal towns of Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove and the Carmel Valley. Famous for its stunning coastal beauty, the area is also considered a mecca for golfers with over 20 courses, including fabled Pebble Beach. And like Napa Valley, there are a number of high-end boutique hotels ideally suited for small groups, such as the 57-room Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley.
“We get full buyouts for executive groups, board of directors, sales incentives, strategy sessions and retreats,” says Sue Dreyer, director of sales/marketing. Dreyer adds that the resort works with a number of golf courses in the area for modified shotgun events, with reduced fees at several courses for Bernardus guests.
Also in Monterey Bay, the 379-room Portola Hotel & Spa is wonderfully located close to everything. The 4-diamond LEED-certified property is just a short walk to both Cannery Row and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“Our biggest appeal with groups is how our location puts everything at their fingertips,” says Janine Chicourrat, GM. That access also includes 18 golf courses within close proximity, including Pebble Beach just 15 minutes away.
“We’ll have unique events like an incentive dinner at the aquarium where groups experience it without the masses,” says Chicourrat. At the property’s Peter B’s BrewPub, the brewmaster collaborates with chefs to customize menus for up to 124 and then discusses the pairings. At Jacks Restaurant, 120 can imbibe on Chef Jason’s sustainable cuisine through creations like fresh Point Reyes oysters, grilled Harris Ranch filet mignon with poached prawns, and potato-crusted Pacific sole.
Bob Humphrey, Frito Lay’s Northern California senior account manager, has hosted 110 of his top-producing Save Mart/Lucky customers and spouses at Portola for the past four years.
“Everything works for us here since the property has such a great location and there’s always something going on,” he says. “Attendees choose from wine tours, spa and golf, with the course changing each year. But they’re typically big on the spa.” The newly renovated 6,000-sf Spa on the Plaza offers 10 treatment rooms, including a couple’s suite with soaking tub for two.
Portola serves up 55,000 sf of indoor and 60,000 sf of outdoor function space onsite. There’s also 58,000 sf at the adjacent Monterey Conference Center—the largest conference facility on the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Planners tell us they like that the conference center isn’t so big that they lose track of their attendees,” says Chicourrat. “They also love that their attendees can walk everywhere and not really need transportation while they’re here.”
South of Monterey along California’s central coast, Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is the ideal group getaway for channeling your inner cowpoke. The ranch has a stable of 100 horses for exploring its 10,000 acre spread in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, along with western steak barbeques, country dancing and winemaker dinners and winery tours. Groups can also enjoy two 18-hole golf courses, fly fishing at a private lake and a variety of several adventure-based teambuilding programs.
In North Lake Tahoe, the 4-diamond Resort at Squaw Creek has an on-staff ski ambassador, who takes small groups on tours of Squaw Valley, revealing secret spots and hard-to-find powder. During summer, the resort offers an on-property fly fishing center.
“It’s one of the busiest in the country, and an outstanding opportunity for teambuilding,” says Matt Roth, director of sales. “We have stocked ponds on the grounds here, which creates the perfect learning environment. For the more advanced, we operate guided trips on local rivers. Groups love our classes.”
Golf is another popular summer draw at the resort, with an 18-hole championship course set at the base of Squaw Valley and surrounded by six Sierra peaks.
“People living across the U.S. don’t have the beautiful beaches and great weather we have in L.A.,” says Michael Krouse, senior vp of meetings and sales with LA Inc.
Marketed as five regions, the dynamic metropolis delivers distinctive lifestyle experiences sprawling across 500 square miles. “It’s about positioning the product or experience they want here,” says Krouse. “Since you can concentrate on activities or spread them out with a sampling of the five, we become a great buy.”
And then there’s the celebrity aspect. “If groups visit during the awards season, it’s about getting them to a red carpet event or into a ceremony. There are things here that you just can’t do anywhere else,” Krouse says.
Dabney Bixel, president of Bixel & Company, A Global Events Partner, feels that aspect can make a planner a hero. “Groups can make a movie at one of our studios, line up celebrity chefs for a cooking competition and have a Dancing With The Stars event with members of the actual cast,” she says. Bixel adds that attendees love it when they’re being pampered at a spa where they spot a star or teeing off behind a high profile foursome.
When Donald Trump purchased Ocean Trails Golf Course on the luxurious Palos Verdes Peninsula 20 minutes south of Los Angeles Int’l Airport, he enlisted Tom Fazio to orchestrate a massive $264 million course overhaul. His rebranded 18-hole Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles has been dubbed the “Pebble Beach of Southern California.”
“Because of our entertainment industry, L.A. has some of the most wonderful golf courses and spas in California,” says Bixel. She likes Terranea Resort for incentive groups because it’s only three miles to Trump National. The resort also has its own 9-hole layout.
Dramatically poised on 102 acres at the edge of the Pacific, the 582-room classic Mediterranean-styled retreat accommodates with more than 135,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space. Half of its 50,000-sf spa is outdoors, with ocean view terraces, hot tubs and an exclusive spa pool.
Green to the core, the 164-room Shore Hotel is geared to environmentally conscious incentive groups appreciating a chic beachfront address. The Santa Monica LEED Silver property that’s 20 miles west of Downtown L.A. delivers eco-friendly accommodations with stunning Pacific views. Interiors extend beachy elements with an airy, open floor plan, glass walls opening to ocean views and native vegetation planted throughout.
The luxury boutique hotel’s Green Concierge program promotes responsible travel via eco-activities like sustainable shopping, dining and transportation options.
“Our prime location on Ocean Avenue lets incentive groups take our eco-philosophy even further with walking or biking to so much that’s going on close to the hotel,” says Marta Hagen, director of sales/marketing.
The property works with Tikkun Holistic Spa located three blocks away. For offsite functions, groups gather at the famous Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade. Hagen coordinates incentive group tee times with the Malibu Country Club, Penmar in Venice, and both the Rancho Park and Westchester courses located within six miles of the property.
About 30 minutes from John Wayne Airport, the 378-room Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa is perched above Dana Point’s Lantern Bay Park. The recently renovated property offers the new 14,000-sf holistic Spa at Laguna Cliffs, which plays an integral role for both meeting and incentive groups.
“We’re discovering that more planners are pushing wellness within their overall corporate agenda,” says Jim Samuels, GM. “So we’ll arrange stretching exercises in meeting rooms, chair massages at check-in and yoga on our lawns overlooking the Pacific.”
Golf tournaments, meanwhile, can be arranged at five local courses including Monarch Beach, Talega and Aliso. And the harbor provides excellent opportunity for dinearounds, deep sea fishing charters, sailing regattas, seasonal whale watching, coastal yacht cruises and high speed catamaran treks to Catalina Island.
“There’s such added value here since so many great activities are within walking distance,” says Samuels.
The 50,000 sf of function space is highlighted by the 15,000-sf Vue Lawn overlooking the harbor. The spa welcomes more intimate receptions for 120 or dinners for 25 on a private patio.
With Palladian-style architecture inspired from Northern Italy, The Resort at Pelican Hill creates an environment unique unto itself. The 504-acre, 5-diamond resort is located between the exclusive Laguna Beach and Newport Beach communities. There are 128 two-, three- and four-bedroom villas, and 204 luxurious bungalow rooms and suites with private terraces.
“We’ve taken the ‘hotel within a hotel’ concept to a ‘resort within a resort’ level with our villa enclave that’s part of a private gated community,” says Frank Ashmore, director of sales. Groups of 100 can do Tuscan-themed progressive dinner parties or olive oil and wine tasting receptions in an Italian Street Fiesta with strolling musicians, stilt walkers and Venetian-masked entertainers.
Golfers swing through lessons and clinics at the resort’s golf academy, and then hone their skills on a pair of Tom Fazio-designed ocean view courses. Staff will coordinate rounds for as few as 13 or tournaments for up to 144.
“The fact that we have the academy and our exclusive forecaddie service elevates our golf to a level above most you’ll find in Southern California,” says Ashmore.
In January, Anaheim was awarded the Eco City Award as the greenest city in Orange County by the U.S. Green Building Council. The award was presented based on evaluations of the city’s innovative green and sustainable programs.
For example, the LEED-certified Anaheim Convention Center opened a 2,000-sf rooftop garden. Located above the Arena Box Office, the fragrant aroma of lavender and rosemary will fill the air year-round, and the garden will supply the onsite caterer, Aramark, with a variety of herbs and spices for functions and conventions. Yes, artisanal convention center cuisine is for real, and this is where you’ll find it.
Another effort to keep the city in the forefront of sustainability, the 1,500-room Hilton Anaheim was recently recognized as the largest hotel in Southern California to receive the Green Seal Bronze certification for environmental stewardship.
Now a part of an elite group of honorees, the Hilton met and exceeded the requirements for the award with a raft of new initiatives. These include the launch of a hotelwide recycling program, updated lighting, and the replacement of all in-room electrical products with new energy efficient ones, from TV/DVDs to hairdryers. Hilton is also targeting waste minimization through the donation of leftover food to gov’t approved local shelters.
For lip smacking sustainable local food and live country music, THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon is a brand new, 20,000-sf food and entertainment complex. For private group events, there’s a state-of-the-art, 18-seat classroom kitchen and a 50-seat private dining room complete with its own wine cellar. For larger groups, ask about the 200-seat banquet and meeting facility with cool views of Disneyland Resort, Angel Stadium, Honda Center and the city of Anaheim.
In the other half of the complex, the saloon is fun for 2-Step, West Coast Swing and country line-dancing lessons.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
With 93 golf courses tucked into every conceivable nook and cranny within a 40-mile radius of downtown, San Diego is blessed with more playable days than any other U.S. destination. Basically, you have two destinations in one here. From northern San Diego around La Jolla up to Carlsbad, there’s a formidable group of spa/golf resorts such as L’Auberge Del Mar and the newly renovated La Costa Resort & Spa. In the heart of town, the Gaslamp District, Embarcadero and Coronado Island are a meeting/incentive wonderland of possibilities.
“Here, it all wraps up to being a destination that puts a smile on visitors’ faces,” says Margie Sitton, senior vp of sales for San Diego CVB. “As soon as you land, you’re literally at your destination. You have blue skies, palms blowing with the sea breeze and a fresh mood. There are just so many options for planners.”
Sitton reports that occupancy in San Diego’s luxury golf and spa resorts is up six percent over 2010. “We’re finding that incentives are getting away from the sensitivity of using resorts,” she says. “They see the value of rewarding top performers.”
But the trend is going beyond golf and spa with the addition of community involvement components. Groups are painting school classrooms, assisting charity organizations and working with homeless shelters by providing goodie bags. “If golf and spa don’t relate to an attendee, they have an alternative,” says Sitton.
On a private 15-acre peninsula, the elegant 439-room Loews Coronado Bay is a sparkling waterfront hideaway 15 minutes from San Diego Convention Center and trendy Gaslamp District. It’s convenient to all that this sunny city offers but groups appreciate that they can simply stay put and indulge in the 439-room resort’s Sea Spa, private marina and Silver Strand State Beach.
“Where we impact the bottom line is that planners don’t have to transport attendees to signature Southern California activities,” says John Annicchiarico, director of sales/marketing. “Groups can literally walk from their guestrooms to the dock for a dinner cruise or sunset sail.” The property features 65,000 sf of recently renovated meeting space, plus 15,000 sf of outdoor courtyards and waterview terraces.
Then there are the gondolas straight out of Venice. Loews recently launched Voga Voyage, a unique spa experience with serenading gondoliers maneuvering authentic Venetian watercraft outfitted with professional massage beds through the local canals.
Planners can also utilize the spa for post-function treatments, fitness classes, wellness workshops, chair massages and “spa samplers” during breakout sessions. The 4-diamond resort will arrange tee times for group golfers, with the 18-hole Coronado Golf Course five minutes away.
“We’re happy to see that incentive clients cutting back on organized activities are once again incorporating spa and formal activities into their programs,” says Annicchiarico. “They’re also doing more teambuilding events than in previous years.”
GRAND DEL MAR
The Grand Del Mar Resort & Spa is the first and only Forbes 5-star resort in San Diego. In 2012, it became the only California property to merit three 5-star awards for Lodging, Spa and Dining. Nestled within the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve near the pristine coastal communities of La Jolla and Del Mar, the 249-room resort captures the elegance and comfort of an opulent old world Mediterranean estate.
“Once we arrived, we felt like we were in Italy,” says Gay A. Grizzell, corporate meeting planner with the insurance company Dearborn National. “There’s such an international feeling, but you know you’re in California. Our groups enjoyed that.”
Typically operating the company’s incentives at different locations, Grizzell was so wowed that she bucked tradition and brought everyone to the Del Mar simultaneously.
The 21,000-sf spa is designed with 11 treatment rooms and cozy relaxation areas with fireplaces. “We’ll have incentive groups come for yoga classes, pilates, spinning events and holistic sessions,” says Lisa Ray, national sales manager. “They can follow with a treatment and then stay for a private lunch.”
Another upside, the Tom Fazio-designed Grand Golf Club is reserved exclusively for guests and club members. “The fact that golf is on-property was among our deciding factors since we didn’t have to transfer people,” says Grizzell.
The Grand Golf Performance Academy offers the latest interpretive tools for groups such as SAM PuttLab, K-Vest 3-D technology and online digital video analysis.
“Our staff will video golfers, put a top PGA touring pro on a split screen with them and then compare it point by point,” says Ray. “Then they can take the tape home for reference.”
The 20,000-sf of flexible function space includes a 10,000-sf ballroom and 8,200-sf event lawn overlooking the course. The 3,300-sf Capella Chapel seats 240 for dinner.
A playground for the rich and famous, Newport Beach epitomizes the quintessential Southern California lifestyle. Conveniently located 45 minutes south of Los Angeles, the opulent seaside community is often referred to as “The Hamptons of Hollywood.”
Reality television shows like “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and the wildly popular “The O.C.” are filmed along this serene California coastline.
For group dining, the Michelin-rated Tamarind of London opened its first U.S. venue in Newport’s Crystal Cove Promenade last November, serving upscale Indian cuisine. The open kitchen dining room seats 72 attendees, or rent out the 40-pax bar for a night of Ginger Sutras—a sexy concoction of Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka, Jaggery, fresh ginger and lime.
Executive chef Shachi Mehra’s signature dishes include spice-crusted seared scallops with fennel and smoked tomato chutney.
For oceanfront dining, take the gang to 21 Oceanfront Restaurant with views of waves crashing on the beach. Try the signature “21” Tomahawk, a 21-oz grass-fed bone-in ribeye dry aged for 21 days. Seven dining areas seat 250 pax.
In Northern San Diego, the 215-room Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa opens in July with 25,000 sf of meeting space just steps to the ocean. The oceanview event lawn hosts 450 attendees seated for gorgeous lunch and dinners. The 5,600-sf Ocean Crest Spa features seven treatment rooms, and the oceanview Chandler’s Restaurant & Lounge offers a private Wine Room.
The 310-room Sheraton Delfina Santa Monica will unveil a comprehensive renovation to all of its guestrooms in April. It’s owned by the Viceroy Hotel Group so you can expect a certain amount of fashionable, yet restrained glamour. There is over 10,000 sf of meeting space, and the Delfina Ballroom and Lucina Suite offer beautiful views of the California coastline.
Located at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, the 305-room W Hollywood became the first hotel in California to earn LEED Silver certification. “The idea of blending a modern lifestyle with a sustainable, green footprint truly resonates with today’s forward-thinking meeting planner,” says Jim McPartlin, GM.