by Linda Hayes | May 01, 2017

Geographically and culturally diverse, Northern California appeals to meeting-minded associations that value a sense of place as much as boardrooms and ballrooms. In this region, there’s a focus on seasonal appeal, which means attendees will benefit from an even more satisfying local experience.

Convention and visitors bureaus might pitch whale watching during peak migration periods, for example, while restaurants and farmers’ markets will showcase what’s being harvested nearby. And attendees can’t help but notice the optimism that radiates from communities built on creative endeavors and innovation, a powerful motivation for groups with great expectations.

San Francisco & Marin County: Spreading the Love

In honor of this year’s Summer of Love 50th Anniversary Celebration, San Francisco is paying tribute to the historic cultural movement with a full schedule of events all around the city. Attendees can feel part of it all again, what with the commemorative posters along Market Street, special museum exhibits, street fairs, concerts and even tours on the hippie-style Magic Bus, all fodder for filling an agenda with unique experiences.

One of the city’s busiest convention venues is the 1.2 million-square-foot, gold LEED–certified Moscone Center, which is undergoing a $500 million expansion project, expected to finish in late 2018. Upon completion, it will feature more than 500,000 gross square feet of contiguous exhibit and meetings space, including expanded lobbies in the North and South buildings that will add some 60,000 square feet of space and floor-to-ceiling windows, two new floors of column-free space and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom. Currently one of the venue’s biggest assets is its $4.5 million wireless system, which can provide high-speed service to as many as 60,000 electronic devices at once.

While two-thirds of the convention center is closed for construction until September 8, Moscone West will remain open and operational. During that time, and through 2018, San Francisco Travel and 44 participating hotels are offering the “Pick Two” promotion.

“San Francisco has been booming, and open dates can be hard to find,” said San Francisco Travel President and CEO Joe D’Alessandro. “‘Pick Two’ helps planners find dates and save money on self-contained meetings in San Francisco that might otherwise be hard to find or unavailable,” he said. “The participating hotels are highly desirable and range from luxury to landmark.”

Hundreds of groups each year continue to head to San Francisco for meetings including, more recently, the American Medical Informatics Association, the Association of American Law Schools and the Council for Advancement & Support of Information.

Also ongoing is the “SFMeetCulture” initiative, which connects meeting planners with San Francisco’s most architecturally significant art and culture venues. “Our museums, galleries, performance spaces, architecture and landmark sites are a major part of what makes San Francisco such a unique and irresistible destination,” said D’Alessandro. “These venues provide meeting attendees with unique, personalized and local experiences that no other city can offer.”

Top cultural choices include the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which offers ample exhibition space, terraces, a theater and 15,000 square feet of free public galleries, and the Asian Art Museum, which currently offers event space for up to 350 but has plans for a new, 12,000-square-foot exhibition pavilion and repurposed community spaces. At Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum can host events, while in the Veterans Building, the year-old Wilsey Center for Opera offers 12,000 square feet of new space for events, including a 299-seat theater.

Major League Baseball’s AT&T Park offers more than a dozen event spaces. And at the ever-popular Fisherman’s Wharf, several restaurants offer private dining and entertainment spaces or planners can charter cruises for bay excursions. The Aquarium of the Bay also welcomes group events.

The Hilton/San Francisco-Union Square, the largest hotel in the Bay Area, has completed a $26 million renovation of the guest rooms in Tower Two, which concludes its eight-year $130 million upgrade. The adjacent Tilden Hotel opened in October in a renovated historic building with 118 guest rooms and more than 3,000 square feet of meeting space. Down the street, Hotel Nikko completed a $60 million redesign in March in commemoration of its 30th anniversary; the project updated 405 of its 533 guest rooms as well as improved its lobby, public areas, ballroom and meeting spaces and technology. The Alise (formerly Hotel Grace) has been modernized with an interactive lobby.

In the Nob Hill neighborhood, five local hotels and a public auditorium recently teamed up to form the Nob Hill Connection. The Ritz-Carlton/San Francisco, the Stanford Court, the Scarlet Huntington, the Fairmont/San Francisco, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco and the Masonic work together to offer groups a combined 170,000-plus square feet of event space.

On the Embarcadero, the Hyatt Regency/San Francisco completed a thorough transformation in the fall. Enhancements were made to its porte cochere and lobby (with new design elements that used repurposed materials) and its 45 guest suites were redesigned. Additionally, its Regency Club Lounge is newly refurbished.

Hotel Via is scheduled to open in South Beach July 1 with 159 guest rooms, a rooftop bar, versatile meeting spaces and a state-of-the-art gym. And this summer, a Virgin Hotel is expected to open in the South of Market neighborhood; plans include 196 guest suites, a rooftop bar and several dining and beverage options. Yotel is expected to open its first West Coast Hotel this year in the historic Grant Building just blocks from the Civic Center. Plans include 203 guest cabins, meeting space and a rooftop lounge. Nearby, the 131-room Proper Hotel is set to open this summer with three restaurants and an additional indoor/outdoor rooftop restaurant and bar with panoramic views.

Looking further into the future, the Waldorf Astoria/San Francisco is expected to open in 2020 or 2021, while the Langham Place/San Francisco is aiming for a 2019 or 2020 opening. Both will be located near the multibillion-dollar Transbay Transit Center, a development on track to open in December.

North of San Francisco via ferry or the Golden Gate Bridge, scenic Marin County beckons groups with both meeting options and opportunities to enjoy nature. At Muir Woods National Monument, attendees can walk amid the ancient, giant redwood trees, and miles of hiking trails crisscross the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The hillside Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa in Sausalito wrapped up a complete renovation of its meeting space in March. Another top choice is Cavallo Point: the Lodge at the Golden Gate, which has meeting space for up to 300 people.

The East Bay: Expanding Options

Combined with an unpretentious vibe, the innovation, quality and variety found in Oakland—from a flourishing food and beverage scene to sports and cultural attractions—continues to lure groups at a growing pace.

“Oakland has so many rich offerings, and we are proud to report that the city welcomed an unprecedented number of visitors in (recent years),” said Visit Oakland President and CEO Mark Everton. “We look forward to encouraging even more people to experience Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods, unique cultural attractions, delicious restaurants and one-of-a-kind shopping boutiques.”

Meeting central is the LEED-certified Oakland Convention Center, with 64,000 square feet of space. Adjacent is the Oakland Marriott City Center, with its own special-event space. Other notable meeting venues include the O.co Coliseum (more formally known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum), Oracle Arena, the Chabot Space & Science Center and the recently transformed Oakland Museum of California,which offers indoor-outdoor event space.

Tapping into Oakland’s reputation for flavor, groups can choose from the Oakland Urban Wine Trail, with nine stops for tours and tastings, and the Oakland Ale Trail, which will feature a total of 13 establishments open to the public by the end of 2017.

Other popular activities include exploring the Oakland Estuary or San Francisco Bay with California Canoe & Kayak and visiting the restaurants and shops in Jack London Square. The Z Hotel Jack London Square (formerly the Inn at Jack London Square) recently completed a remodel and features a new, three-story glass exterior, lobby and entrance. The hotel is within walking distance of the convention center.

North of Oakland, in Berkeley, groups can meet at the University of California; venues include the Moorish-style International House and Julia Morgan Hall at the UC Botanical Garden.

The 1,400-seat UC Theatre opened in the downtown Arts District last year and welcomes special functions. Other nearby, event-friendly venues include the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse and Revival Bar + Kitchen.

Extracurricular options cover all interests, from boating and bird watching to hiking and Frisbee golf. For still others, a repast at Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse might be on attendees’ bucket list or an afternoon of relaxation at the renovated Claremont Club & Spa (now a Fairmont property) and its year-old Limewood Bar & Restaurant.

The landmark Hotel Durant (both it and the Claremont were recently inducted into the Historic Hotels of America) reopened in mid-April following a renovation as the Graduate/Berkeley, part of the Graduate Hotels brand. It is located two blocks from the university campus and welcomes groups with a boardroom and event space.

San Mateo County: Highly Accommodating

At the entrance to San Francisco International Airport, a gold LEED–certified Grand Hyatt is expected to open in mid-2019 near the international terminal. Plans include 350 guest rooms and 17,500 square feet of meeting space.

Less than four miles north of the airport, in South San Francisco, the green South San Francisco Conference Center has 20,500 square feet of divisible meeting space. Closer to San Francisco, the Cow Palace in Daly City can be configured to seat up to 16,500 and offers two 48,000-square-foot exhibition halls.

Just south of the airport, in Burlingame, the newly renovated Hyatt Regency/San Francisco Airport is now able to accommodate groups of up to 2,200 with 69,285 square feet of flexible function space, including two new ballrooms. A renovation of the DoubleTree by Hilton/San Francisco Airport has updated its East Tower guest rooms. In neighboring San Mateo, the 48-acre San Mateo County Event Center welcomes groups with 195,000 square feet of space.

Farther south, in Palo Alto, both the Sheraton and Crowne Plaza completed guest-room renovations in 2015. In East Palo Alto, the Four Seasons/Silicon Valley recently debuted a redesigned lobby, which now offers two function/dining spaces for up to eight people each.

Down the coast, in Half Moon Bay, the Oceano Hotel & Spa has added a 4,000-square foot, coastal barn-themed event space for up to 250 called the Gate House. French doors open to a patio with ocean views and a stone fireplace.

Interesting off-site venues include Long Branch Saloon & Farms, with roping demonstrations, gold panning and Old West-style meeting space; clambakes at Sam’s Chowder House, which has six event spaces; waterside beer-garden events at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company; and anything from formal dinners to picnics at La Nebbia Winery.

The Silicon Valley: Smartly Positioned

Silicon Valley may be best known as a technology hub, but spirited San Jose is making headway with groups interested in history, outdoor recreation and diverse culinary choices as well. It’s also an especially convenient destination for those convening downtown, with Mineta San Jose International Airport just three miles away and public transportation options such as light rail, Caltrain and a free downtown shuttle.

The 425,000-square-foot San Jose McEnery Convention Center is a hub for all kinds of events. In April, the center drew thousands of people during the three-day Silicon Valley Comic Con. Next door is South Hall, with 80,000 square feet of column-free space. Large options nearby also include City National Civic, Center for the Performing Arts, Parkside Hall, the Tech Museum of Innovation and Avaya Stadium, home to the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.

There are more than 4,000 hotel rooms in San Jose. A notable choice is Hotel Valencia Santana Row, which offers renovated guest rooms.

In Santa Clara, groups can meet in the same venue that hosted Super Bowl 50—Levi’s Stadium, which boasts more than 400,000 square feet of special-event space. Also in town is the Santa Clara Convention Center, which has 302,000 square feet of space and is connected to a Hyatt Regency that offers its own 60,000 square feet of meeting space. Nearby, at California’s Great America theme park, the 18,000-square-foot Great America Pavilion can host up to 2,000 for events.

Just north, in Milpitas, a Virgin Hotel is expected to open in 2019 in The Fields, a mixed-use development; hotel plans include 200 guest rooms, meeting spaces, a rooftop bar and a live music venue.

Napa & Sonoma Counties: Scenic & Satisfying

It’s an easy, hour’s drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Napa Valley, home to wineries, restaurants, scenery and distinctive venues.

The valley boasts more than 150 lodging properties, from luxury resorts to intimate bed and breakfasts. It also offers more than 200,000 square feet of meeting space, including options such as barrel rooms, wine caves and vineyards.

The town of Napa continues to transform but currently meets the needs of those of high taste with more than 65 restaurants and 27 tasting cellars. The Culinary Institute of America at Copia opened last year with meeting spaces for up to 250 people, team-building experiences like cooking classes and interactive wine tastings, and a restaurant.

Jazzing things up, the new Blue Note Napa presents national and international artists, along with Bay Area and regional favorites; groups of up to 150 can enjoy the music as well as fine wines, craft brews, cuisine and classic cocktails. Upstairs, the historic Napa Valley Opera House can host up to 500. Later this year, the Stone Brewing Tap Room will open in a renovated, 10,000-square-foot stone building with an upstairs dining room. In March, the Tannery Bend Beerworks made its debut with a 1,500-square-foot space that can seat up to 39 people.

The 183-room Archer Hotel is scheduled to open this year with 15,000 square feet of event space. It will be part of First Street Napa, a new mixed-use development that’s home to more than 40 shops and restaurants.

Five miles southwest of downtown, at the Carneros Resort & Spa (formerly the Carneros Inn), a phased renovation is underway; already complete is the 4,400-square-foot Arbor, one of several event spaces, as well as improvements to its family pool. The redesign of all guest cottages and suites has begun.

North of downtown, the Senza Hotel is completing a renovation of its eight-room Parker Mansion. And the Stags’ Leap Winery has completed a full renovation of its 1892 Manor House, which features a new tasting space. Groups might opt for the “Winemaker’s Apothecary Garden Experience,” a tour of the property followed by a seated sensory tasting of aromatic elements selected from the garden. Just up the road, Pine Ridge Vineyards recently opened Cellar 47, a new tasting alcove located in the caves of the Stags Leap District.

In nearby Yountville, the 23-acre Vintage Estate—comprising the Vintage Inn, the V Marketplace and the Villagio Inn & Spa—is completing a renovation of the lobbies, hotel rooms, spa and meeting space. And in Rutherford, Auberge du Soleil unveiled eight new guest rooms and suites last year and has enhanced its landscaping.

Continuing up to St. Helena, Las Alcobas, a new Luxury Collection Hotel, opened in late March with 68 guest rooms; event space for up to 200; Acacia House, a signature Chris Cosentino restaurant; a spa; and a swimming pool.

At the northern end of the valley, Calistoga is known for the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, a resort with geothermal mineral pools. In March, it completed a renovation of its spa and bath house. And Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts plans to open a luxury resort in town in early 2019; plans include 85 guest rooms, an event barn and another dozen meeting spaces, a fully operational winery and six-acre vineyard, food and beverage offerings and a spa.

To the west, the rolling hills of Sonoma Valley are home to more than 400 wineries. Many groups base themselves in Sonoma and gather or stroll Sonoma Plaza, with more than 30 eateries, 25 tasting rooms and three main hotels. Groups might opt for a hot-air balloon ride or a spin around the Sonoma Raceway in a racecar.

To the west, in Rohnert Park, the Graton Resort & Casino has benefited from a $175 million, 324,000-square-foot expansion. Additions include a brand-new hotel with 200 guest rooms, a 10,000-square-foot spa, some 20,000 square feet of event and convention space, restaurants and an outdoor pool area featuring cabanas and valet service.

Santa Rosa, the county’s largest city, enjoys a thriving beer scene. Just north of town, Sonoma County Airport is a popular alternative to the San Francisco and Oakland airports. Up Highway 101 in Geyserville, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery can host events of up to 300.

From Sacramento to Stockton: Beyond the Basics

California’s capital, Sacramento, hits all the marks when it comes to hosting meetings: historic attraction, natural beauty, farm-to-fork culinary options, nightlife, abundant shopping and fun team-building adventures. Groups can combine business with excursions to Old Sacramento and any of the more than two-dozen museums.

Just 10 miles from Sacramento International Airport is the Sacramento Convention Center. Features include 137,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 24,000-square-foot ballroom, 31 meeting rooms and more. Headquarter hotels are just steps away offering more than 2,000 first-class hotel rooms. Groups that have recently gathered in the area include the California Association of Realtors, the California Peace Officers Association and the California Educational Technology Professionals Association.

There are other significant event venues in town such as Cal Expo and Sleep Train Arena. And the NBA’s Kings now play at the new, LEED-certified Golden 1 Center downtown; it opened in September and can seat up to 19,000. Near the Golden 1 Center, the Sawyer, a Kimpton hotel, is scheduled to this summer.

Lake Tahoe: Seasonally Inclined

After record-breaking snowfall this winter, Lake Tahoe is primed for summertime. Groups looking can head to the largest alpine lake in North America or myriad restaurants, resorts and venues on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake welcome events. And, of course, bookings for next winter at more than 20 surrounding ski resorts (Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and Heavenly, to name a few) should be on planners’ radar as well. Groups that have met in the area of late include the California Veterinary Medical Association and the California Special Districts Association.

In South Lake Tahoe, the 167-room Hotel Becket, a Joie de Vivre property, has opened across from Heavenly Village. Completely renovated, it now offers 1,000 square feet of meeting space.

On the lake’s northern shores, the Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge in Tahoe City sits on 74 secluded acres. Planners can arrange team-bonding experiences at its Aerial Adventure Park, where attendees will navigate more than 50 suspended platforms and bridges amongst the pine forest. And moving forward is the Tahoe City Lodge, a project approved earlier this year; plans include 118 accommodations, a rooftop deck and a restaurant.

Six miles south, at the Homewood Mountain Resort in the community of Homewood, a $500 million destination resort is in the works, and plans include a new boutique hotel and 15,000 square feet of retail space. The resort currently offers a half-dozen event venues.

In Crystal Bay, divided by the California-Nevada state line, a project called Boulder Bay is expected to break ground later this year that will replace the Tahoe Biltmore with residential condos, stores, a 275-room hotel and a casino.

From Redding to Eureka: Naturally Attractive

About 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, Redding is the hub city of Shasta Cascade region. The city is easily accessed via Redding Municipal Airport, which finished a $9.3 million expansion in late 2015. Popular attractions in town include Wildcard Brewing Co.’s Tied House and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. For meetings, the Redding Civic Auditorium can host upwards of 2,000 people or the Turtle Bay Exploration Park has event sites for up to 1,000.

While the region’s coastal redwoods draw droves of tourists each year, the Victorian seaport city of Eureka is worth a visit as well. About 45 miles south of the 31-mile Avenue of the Giants, Eureka offers everything from water sports to parks to museums. Principal conference venues include the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, with space for up to 2,300; the waterfront Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center; and the Adorni Center, with a gym that can accommodate up to 630.

Northern Highlights

Heartfelt celebrations in San Francisco, breathtaking scenery along the coast and mouthwatering gustatory excursions throughout wine regions and farmland communities combine to make Northern California one of the nation’s most well-rounded regions for meetings. Planners can count on supportive infrastructure, and attendees can look forward to new and unique experiences.