by Melanie Wynne | August 01, 2016

The Greater Los Angeles area can deliver visiting attendees any number of adventures. More than just Pacific swells, palm trees and paparazzi, the City of Angels is a microcosm of the world, and with so many professional and entertaining resources, it's the perfect place for a group gathering.

Association planners will benefit from geographic and ethnic diversity, stunning settings and a meetings infrastructure that is run like a tight ship (but a ship staffed by people who epitomize the congenial Southern California lifestyle). By any measure, from the desert to the sea, the Greater L.A. area continues to impress in a thousand ways.

 Downtown Los Angeles: New Pulse of the City

In the past, L.A. has been called a city without a center, but a decade of development in Downtown Los Angeles (or DTLA, for short) has turned this area into a beating urban heart. In June, two exciting attractions with event space opened in DTLA: OUE Skyspace LA in the U.S. Bank Tower, which now boasts California's tallest open-air observation deck (nearly 1,000 feet above the street) as well as a fully enclosed, 45-foot-long glass slide affixed to the side of the building and gathering space for up to 500 people; and a few blocks away, The Bloc, a revamped, pedestrian-friendly mall complex with its own subway entrance and the site of the revitalized Sheraton Grand/Los Angeles, whose 35,000 square feet of meeting space includes a new outdoor area with a lounge.

Many downtown cultural venues continue to be popular for events. The Museum of Contemporary Art/Grand Avenue has space for up to 500 people and the Frank Gehry-designed Geffen Contemporary has 40,000 square feet of exhibition space. The Central Library has indoor and outdoor spaces, the largest of which can accommodate up to 500. Groups with a focus on the performing arts can make impressive debuts using any of the four Music Center venues: the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum.

The hub for many conventions, however, is the gold LEED-certified Los Angeles Convention Center, which has 720,000 square feet of exhibit space and 147,000 square feet of meeting space. This year it has already hosted major functions such as the American Heart Association's International Stroke Conference, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' Conference & Bookfair and the 30th anniversary celebration of WonderCon.

Conveniently located near the convention center is L.A. Live, a 4 million-square-foot event and entertainment area whose notable spaces are the Staples Center, a sports and concert arena that can be configured to seat up to 20,000; the 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater; the outdoor Microsoft Square, with 40,000 square feet of event space; the 106,000-square-foot Event Deck; and the Grammy Museum, with five spaces for special functions. The L.A. Live campus is also home to two major meeting hotels: the Ritz-Carlton/Los Angeles and adjacent JW Marriott/Los Angeles-L.A. Live, which is planning a $500 million expansion that will add 755 guest rooms and 170,000 square feet of meeting space in a separate high-rise building connected by a bridge across Olympic Boulevard; the project is expected to begin early next year and be ready in 2018.

Near L.A. Live, several new hotels and mixed-use complexes are in the works. These include the 6.3-acre Metropolis development between the financial and entertainment districts, whose plans include a 350-room Hotel Indigo expected to open by 2017 and the Wilshire Grand Center, a 73-story skyscraper set to open in spring 2017 and house the 900-room InterContinental/Downtown Los Angeles, with 66,540 square feet of event space.

Meanwhile, Latin America's largest boutique-hotel chain, Esplendor, is introducing two downtown properties later this year: the 347-room Dazzler Clark and the 183-room Esplendor Trinity Hotel. And last fall, Level DTLA opened with furnished, extended-stay apartments, three meeting rooms and outdoor event space. Anticipated openings set for 2017 include the 148-room Proper Hotel Downtown (formerly the Case Hotel) and the 250-room NoMad/Los Angeles, offering 1,000 square feet of meeting space. At Pershing Square, the 1923 Millennium Biltmore Hotel refurbished its 683 guest rooms last year.

Other notable event venues that are just minutes from the city center include the Natural History Museum, just south of downtown in Exposition Park, with five spaces that can host groups; and the streamlined California Science Center, home to a 477-seat IMAX Theater and the space shuttle Endeavour. A few blocks away, the Moorish-style Shrine Auditorium can seat up to 6,300, while its grand, two-floor Expo Hall offers 54,000 square feet of space. Northwest of downtown, Dodger Stadium offers several special-event spaces, including the field itself, which can be used for functions of up to 2,000.

Greater Hollywood: Famous & Fun Features

Attendees will need little guidance in Hollywood, where the sidewalks are strewn with stars, the soaring Dolby Theatre is just as glamorous as it looks during the Oscars broadcast and the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman's Chinese) is still regularly used for movie premieres. Associations can throw their own red-carpet affairs at either theater, as well as at the nearby Hollywood & Highland Center, where restaurants, bowling and a nightclub are just some of the options.

Hip neighborhood hotels include the Loews/Hollywood, which recently wrapped up a $25 million renovation and can host soirées as large as 1,500. More hotels are on the way. In September, the West Coast will get its first Dream property: the 179-room Dream/Hollywood, which will offer an 11,000-square-foot rooftop. A 200-room Thompson Hotel is expected to debut in 2017 with meeting space.

In Griffith Park, one of the largest urban green spaces in the nation, Griffith Observatory has event space for up to 1,800 and attendees may recognize its observation deck, made famous by the 1955 movie "Rebel Without a Cause." Another park option available to groups is the 5,900-seat Greek Theater.

In West Hollywood, the hot and hip continue to flock to the Sunset Strip, hub of the area's more popular meeting hotels, too. This summer, the James/West Hollywood is scheduled to make its debut with 286 guest rooms, a private rooftop lounge, a restaurant, pool and 10,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor meeting space. Kimpton's 105-room Hotel LaPeer is expected to open near the border of Beverly Hills in December. And in 2018, Marriott's Edition brand will hit the West Coast with the opening of the 190-room Edition/West Hollywood. Plans include two rooftop pools.

For off-site venues, the colorful and cutting-edge Pacific Design Center welcomes events of up to 2,500. A few blocks east, the E.P. & L.P. restaurant can accommodate up to 500 guests.

Along the nearby Miracle Mile, attendees can explore the bubbling La Brea Tar Pits-still being excavated-and then head to an after-hours event at its Page Museum. The adjacent Los Angeles County Museum of Art also serves as a grand setting for gatherings of up to 1,500. And one of the newest additions to this cultural district is the Petersen Automotive Museum, which reopened last December after an extensive remodel; its four floors of space have hosted parties, weddings and product launches with as many as 700 attendees.

The Westside: Glamour & Sophistication

Few areas of Los Angeles can pull off sophistication and glamour like Beverly Hills, and its major hotels are no exception. In hotel news, the former L'Ermitage Beverly Hills was rebranded as a Viceroy property this spring after a 10-month renovation. The 170-room Waldorf Astoria/Beverly Hills is expected to debut in 2017 as the luxury brand's first L.A. property.

The Wallis Annenberg Center houses two theaters as well as an event terrace, gardens and a lobby with an indoor-outdoor bar. The center's maximum capacity for events is 900. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences welcomes groups, while the pedestrian-only mall Two Rodeo Drive can host receptions of up to 500.

In nearby Century City, the InterContinental/Los Angeles-Century City has 16,650 square feet of meeting space, including the 1,534-square-foot Grand Chateau Ballroom, which opened in November. The neighborhood's other major hotel, the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, closed in March to undergo a $2.5 billion, two-year makeover.

Westwood is home to the University of California/Los Angeles, which offers an array of event spaces, including two conference complexes. A third complex, the gold LEED-certified Luskin Conference Center, opens this month with 254 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of flexible space.

A half-mile from the new conference center, the W/Los Angeles-West Beverly Hills completed a $25 million renovation last year and offers six event spaces. Up in the hills, the Skirball Cultural Center features 60,000 square feet of event space, including two courtyards, two auditoriums, an amphitheater and a conference center.

Farther south is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), one of the world's busiest hubs. The Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel has completed the second phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation project and Choice Hotels' upscale Cambria/El Segundo-LAX is scheduled to open south of the airport this fall with 152 guest rooms.

Santa Monica to Malibu: Better Beach Connections

Breezy Santa Monica weaves together a small bedroom community with an upscale business district and a shimmering coastline. Its icon is the Santa Monica Pier, where Pacific Park and its 3,600-square-foot Seaside Pavilion can host events of up to 2,000. Other area venues include the 5-acre Annenberg Community Beach House, with space for up to 400; The Victorian, an 1892 mansion that is able to host up to 1,500 in its outdoor space; and the Aero Theatre, which can seat up to 425. At the Santa Monica Airport, the Museum of Flying can host events of up to 850, and the historic Barker Hangar has some 97,000 square feet of space when combined with adjacent outdoor areas.

In a move toward a more car-free L.A., the 6.6 mile, $1.5 billion Metro Expo Line extension opened in May, connecting downtown Los Angeles and downtown Santa Monica. The light rail ride takes 47 minutes. Two hotels are scheduled to open at its terminus this fall: a 143-room, gold LEED-certified Hampton Inn & Suites and a 136-room Courtyard by Marriott.

The light-rail extension is another strong enticement for meeting planners considering the city, noted Ernest Wooden, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. "This extension makes it easier, and more convenient, for attendees to escape to Santa Monica, with nearby access to gems such as Venice and Marina del Rey, and relish Southern California's signature beach vibe," he said.

That beach vibe is embodied by laid-back Venice, where The Kinney just opened with 68 guest rooms and the 119-room Hotel Erwin offers three event spaces including the High Rooftop Lounge, which can host up to 95 guests.

Waterfront Marina del Rey is already a preferred destination with boat enthusiasts, but this summer, Malibu Wine Sailing has introduced excursions from the marina aboard a 60-foot yacht that pairs vintages with locally sourced small bites during the journey up the coast. Hotel options include the West Indies-inspired Jamaica Bay Inn, with waterfront meeting space for up to 150 people; the Marina del Rey Hotel, whose 9,700 square feet of meeting space includes an event lawn and a ballroom for up to 300; the Marina del Rey Marriott, which welcomes special events of up to 700; and the Ritz-Carlton/Marina del Rey, with newly renovated guest rooms and meeting space for up to 900.

About 20 miles up the coast from Santa Monica is the celebrity-studded beach community of Malibu, where Pepperdine University's Villa Graziadio Executive Center offers 45,000 square feet of space. Highly anticipated is the opening of the 18-room Nobu Ryokan Malibu later this year on the site of the former Casa Malibu.

Just over the Santa Monica Mountains in Westlake Village, the 17-acre Westlake Village Inn is now Cachet Hotels Group property. Nearby, the Four Seasons/Westlake Village is noted for its various wellness programs for groups.

The South Bay, Port Cities & Catalina: Well-rounded Retreats

The South Bay is another area of Los Angeles that is laid back yet knows how to put on an event that will attract the masses. Manhattan Beach, just five miles south of LAX, has hosted recent events such as the 2016 South Bay Business Leaders Summit and the California Association of Dental Assisting Teachers Conference. Both were held at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. In Rancho Palos Verdes, the 102-acre Terranea Resort overlooks the rugged Palos Verdes Peninsula and completed a $9 million refresh last summer.

Farther down the coast, San Pedro is home to the bustling Port of Los Angeles, where the docked USS Iowa offers eight event spaces, and Brouwerij West, a new craft brewery, offers 26,000 square feet of flexible space within a 72-year-old warehouse. The Downtown Harbor & Town Square welcomes group events, as does the historic, 1,500-seat Warner Grand Theatre, the 1,500-square-foot Grand Annex and Wilmington Waterfront Park.

Long Beach features several notable venues including the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, with more than 400,000 square feet of space, including the 46,000-square-foot Pacific Ballroom; the platinum LEED-certified Aquarium of the Pacific, which can host events for as many as 1,500 attendees; and the historic ocean liner the Queen Mary, with guest rooms and 80,000 square feet of meeting space.

A short walk from the convention center, the Hyatt Centric The Pike (formerly Hyatt the Pike) has undergone a streamlined remodel and offers five event rooms. The Courtyard/Downtown refreshed its guest rooms and public spaces last year, while the Hilton/Long Beach finished a top-to-bottom remodel. And the Holiday Inn/Long Beach Airport has newly improved meeting space and updated guest rooms.

Across the ocean from either Long Beach or San Pedro is Santa Catalina Island and its resort-like charms. Its largest community, Avalon, is home to the iconic Catalina Casino, able to host groups in its 1,184-seat Avalon Theater; the Catalina Visitors Country Club, with space for up to 200; and the Descanso Beach Club, with event areas that include the year-old, glass-fronted Catherine's Terrace with 1,900 square feet of space and views of Descanso Bay.

The Valleys & Inland empire: Landmark Spaces

One of the region's top meeting venues is located in Pasadena: the Pasadena Convention Center, which welcomes groups with 125,000 square feet of space, including its 17,000-square-foot Exhibition Hall, which was renovated a year ago, and the 2,997-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium. A few miles away, the historic Rose Bowl Stadium finished a $183 million, multi-phase renovation in early July. It can seat up to 90,000.

Other notable Pasadena venues include the California Institute of Technology and the elegant Langham Huntington Hotel. The year-old dusitD2 Hotel Constance Pasadena recently opened a 60-seat California-Asian restaurant, and a conference space for up to 40 people and a rooftop pool are expected to debut by the end of the year. In San Marino, the Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens is available for special events of up to 1,000. Other green spaces are the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia and Descanso Gardens in leafy La Cañada Flintridge.

A convenient option for many attendees meeting in the valley areas is Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, and less than a mile away is the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport. In nearby Glendale, the Civic Auditorium has event space for up to 1,100 and a renovated kitchen, and the Hilton Los Angeles North/Glendale & Executive Meeting Center can host up to 850.

Universal City is home to Universal CityWalk and the adjacent Universal Studios theme park, both of which welcome groups. After five years in the making, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened this spring, and this summer saw the debut of a horror-maze attraction based on the AMC series "The Walking Dead." In nearby North Hollywood, the Garland Hotel has 13 event spaces for up to 650 people.

Groups can meet in Santa Clarita at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at the College of the Canyons. Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor in nearby Valencia both offer special group rates, or golfers can tee off at the Valencia Country Club. The Hyatt Regency/Valencia has meeting space for up to 450 people.

Named for its location on the Santa Ana River, the largest city in the Inland Empire is Riverside, where the recently refurbished Riverside Convention Center offers more than 66,000 square feet of space. Other popular venues include the Riverside Municipal Auditorium and the Life Arts Center, each with more than 15,000 square feet of space; the 1,600-seat Fox Performing Arts Center; and the 1903 Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, which offers 20,000 square feet of event space and recently launched an artist-in-residence program. To the northeast, San Bernardino is home to the 120-acre National Orange Show Events Center.

Groups meeting in the Inland Empire are served by an airport in Ontario. A few minutes away, the Ontario Convention Center has 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, and the Scandia Family Fun Center offers picnic facilities for visiting groups. Six miles farther west is Pomona, where event venues include the 543-acre Fairplex Exposition Complex, which has 300,000 square feet of space, and a newly renovated Sheraton with its own 11,000 square feet of meeting space.

San Bernardino Mountains: Wide-open Opportunities

Cool breezes, lush forests, open spaces and calm lakes lure groups to the San Bernardino Mountains. The resort town of Lake Arrowhead surrounds the deep waters of its namesake reservoir. On its southern shores, the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa (part of the Marriott Autograph Collection) provides event space that includes a ballroom for up to 450 people. Down the road, the 12-acre Arrowhead Ranch Camp can host gatherings of up to 300 people, while to the west, the Alpine Camp & Conference Center can accommodate events of up to 285. On the north side of the lake, the IACC-certified UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center can host up to 200.

In woodsy Big Bear Lake, the Convention Center at Big Bear Lake can accommodate up to 1,400 people indoors and as many as 2,500 outdoors. Popular resorts include the Lodge at Big Bear Lake (formerly the Northwoods Resort) and the Wolf Creek Resort.

Greater Palm Springs: A Networking Oasis

Palm Springs has long been the desert getaway of choice for Hollywood celebrities who needed to stay within 100 miles of L.A. Still a popular playground for city dwellers (and glitterati), it's never lost its midcentury modern style or poolside allure. The 261,000-square-foot Palm Springs Convention Center is the city's largest event facility. Adjacent to the convention center, a 410-room Renaissance Hotel offers its own meeting space. In 2014, the convention center welcomed the California Special Districts Association Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase, which proved to be a good fit.

"It was a terrific location for our exhibitor showcase," said Megan Hemming, the group's professional development director. "We held several food-and-beverage functions in our exhibit hall to help drive traffic. The food and beverage in the convention center is some of the best quality and pricing we've experienced in any convention center; I actually had attendees compliment me on the taste and freshness."

Several new and improved properties downtown have expanded choices for groups. After a $25 million renovation, the Horizon Hotel reopened in July 2015 as L'Horizon Resort & Spa. The 67-room Avalon Hotel & Bungalows (formerly the Viceroy/Palm Springs) opened in August 2015 with an updated spa and new restaurant. The Palm Mountain Resort & Spa finished an extensive renovation in December. In February, the 32-room Arrive Palm Springs opened with the 80-seat Reservoir restaurant and a pool. And the swanky Riviera Palm Springs is now a Starwood Tribute brand, with a multimillion-dollar upgrade scheduled to finish in August.

Four new hotels are gearing up for their debut over the next couple of years. The 155-room Kimpton/Palm Springs is expected to open late this year, while sbe's Hyde Resort & Residences Coachella Valley is on track to open in early 2017. The 150-room Andaz/Palm Springs and 150-room Virgin Hotel is scheduled to open in 2018. Officials are planning a multimillion-dollar upgrade of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway's mountain station, home to two event spaces, two eateries and a lounge.

East of the airport, which has expanded the number of direct flights, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Golf Resort Palm Springs (formerly the Desert Princess) in Cathedral City has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. In Palm Desert, the largest meeting hotel is the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, with space for more than 3,000 people. In the El Paseo Shopping District, construction has begun on the 152-room Hotel Paseo, expected to open in fall 2017. In Rancho Mirage, the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

In neighboring Indian Wells, the Miramonte Resort & Spa has completed renovations of its guest rooms, lobby and lounge and has added fire pits and bocce ball courts. Larger groups can look to the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa. Lindsay Poss, manager of meetings and events for the California Society of Association Executives, chose the Renaissance for her group's annual Elevate Conference in 2014 and highly recommends the Palm Springs area as a destination for groups.

"The Greater Palm Springs CVB was extremely supportive and involved during the selection, site visit and planning process," Poss said. "With their attention to detail and responsiveness, they made us feel like we were the only meeting being held in the desert that week." Poss went on to say that many of her attendees enjoyed pre- and post-event stays in the area to take advantage of the spring weather.

In La Quinta, the 24-room, French Manor-style Chateau at Lake La Quinta opened in October with a restaurant and bar and an entertainment patio with a fire pit and a pool. For less intimate gatherings, there's the La Quinta Resort & Club, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. It offers 620 guest rooms and 98 villas, 41 swimming pools and 53 hot spas, 90 holes of golf and more than 190,000 square feet of event space. In early 2017, the SilverRock Resort plans to break ground on a $420 million project that will add a five-star, 140-room hotel and a four-star, 200-room hotel, both of which will share a 71,000-square-foot conference center and an event lawn. The property is known for its Arnold Palmer Classic Course.

"That's So L.A."

Though Greater Los Angeles has its stereotypical side, its diversity means it's just one of many experiences available to visiting attendees. All kinds of cuisine, outdoor recreational options and cultural gateways can expose groups to the city's more unique sides, and local hospitality professionals can steer planners toward a slew of inspiring agendas. Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, Los Angeles can truly be something different-and exciting-for everyone.