California: The Birthplace of Year-Round Golf, Spa Culture + Vine-to-Table Dining

Bernardus Lodge

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.”


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.”