California has an awesome number of natural assets: snowy peaks fit for Olympians; alpine forests reflected in sky-blue lakes; and desert bluffs where sunsets are particularly spectacular. With so many contrasts, planners can offer attendees a different unforgettable experience with each meeting.
And because the plethora of mountain destinations throughout the state tend to make for better playgrounds, active meeting-goers or those who want to bring along their families will find themselves eagerly anticipating the next group event.
Lake Tahoe: Blue Belle
When it comes to well-attended meetings, the beauty of North America's largest alpine lake-Lake Tahoe-is both magnetic and powerful. Once groups meet here, they tend to return again and again. For example, the California League of Schools has been meeting in Lake Tahoe for 20 years.
The forested shoreline is ringed with resorts suitable for gatherings of all sizes. Located on the border between Nevada and California on the north shore of the lake, the historic Cal Neva Resort is currently closed for an extensive renovation project and expected to reopen in May 2015.
The area also offers an abundance of event venues and plenty of outdoor activities, including hiking or biking the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (which is maintained and promoted by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association), swimming and boating (including dinner cruises on the 140-passenger MS Dixie II paddlewheeler) or skiing and snowshoeing.
For beachfront gatherings, the North Tahoe Event Center at Kings Beach on the North Shore features 8,000 square feet of indoor space and 8,000 square feet of outdoor space.
Ten miles west, just outside Tahoe City, the 74-acre Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge is a woodsy paradise for groups of up to 400. Business amenities include 16 meeting rooms, a 3,200-square-foot pavilion, three decks and a separate Executive Lodge. For fun, delegates can enjoy a pool, a day spa, mountain-bike rentals, an aerial adventure park with zip lines and a small ski hill. Downtown, up to 300 can meet at the three-acre, lakefront Layton Park, which features a large event lawn and two museums.
Elegance is the name of the game at the Ritz-Carlton/Lake Tahoe, located mid-mountain at the Northstar California Resort near Truckee. Planners might consider its seasonal buyout program, which allows a single group exclusive use of all the property's facilities including a daily food and beverage credit and other perks.
Squaw Valley, famous as the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is a four-season destination for groups thanks to 180 newly redesigned, slopeside condominium suites and a total of 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 350-person garden event space at the Olympic Village Lodge/Squaw Valley Conference Center. A variety of dining and shopping options are spread throughout the Village at Squaw Valley, and attendees can ride the aerial tram to High Camp, 2,000 feet above the village, which is home to an ice/roller rink, a swimming pool, a bar and restaurant, tennis courts and a disc-golf course. The Resort at Squaw Creek, which has its own lift onto the ski hill, is another excellent meeting choice. It features IACC-compliant conference space, a spa and a championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
The 80-room Sugar Bowl Resort atop Donner Summit (near Norden) has undergone a $20 million upgrade, and improvements include the new Sport Haus Fitness & Aquatic Center, which features include two lap lanes, outdoor hot tubs, fitness facilities, a yoga studio, spa treatment rooms and athletic training space. The resort also has indoor and outdoor event space.
On the South Shore, you'll find several meeting resorts in the town of South Lake Tahoe including the all-suite Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, located at the base of Heavenly Mountain Resort. The 19-acre Aston Lakeland Village Beach & Mountain Resort has a sandy beach and a pier. Nearby, the historic Valhalla at Lake Tahoe, run by the Tahoe Tallac Association, makes a memorable venue for up to 120 people.
Just west of Lake Tahoe on Fallen Leaf Lake, the Stanford Sierra Conference Center offers riding, hiking, fishing, golf and other outdoor activities, plus meeting space for up to 180.
Yosemite & Sequoia: Nature's Best
You can hardly choose a more scenic venue than Yosemite National Park, as gorgeous today as it was in 1890, the year it was designated a national park. Within its boundaries are four very different venues for group events: the four-diamond Ahwahnee Hotel, the casual Curry Village, the Victorian-style Wawona Hotel and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. For more information, the Yosemite Complete Meeting Package provides details on meeting spaces, rates and other options.
Just two miles from the park's south entrance, in Fish Camp, the four-diamond Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is a popular pick for meetings, with silver LEED-certified indoor and outdoor space that includes an event pavilion and terrace. It also offers five restaurants, a fitness center and a range of activities. Thirteen miles away, in Oakhurst, the South Gate Brewing Company can host groups of up to 25 in its Viewing Room.
Another option on the outskirts of Yosemite is the historic Evergreen Lodge, located one mile from Yosemite's western Hetch Hetchy entrance (not far from Groveland). It has 90 private cabins, a new pool area and event space for upwards of 225 people. Northwest of Groveland, the Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort in the town of Jackson is ideally located-Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe are about one and two hours away, respectively. The property has conference space that includes a ballroom with a stage and dance floor.
California's towering redwoods add a feeling of grandeur to meetings held at the Wuksachi Lodge inside Sequoia National Park, south of Yosemite. Though meeting space is intimate, the property also features a 90-seat restaurant that can be used for functions.
Mammoth Lakes: Mountain Magic
Slopes for all abilities, glorious summer hiking, fishing and festivals have made Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains a popular year-round destination. Plus new regular flights from Denver and Las Vegas into Mammoth-Yosemite Airport have made it easier than ever to get there.
Mammoth Mountain has several venues that can host special events. Canyon Lodge has 10,270 square feet of flexible space and outdoor decks. McCoy Station, located mid-mountain, has 15,000 square feet of indoor space and 2,094 square feet of deck space. And the Top of the Sierra restaurant, perched at 11,053 feet and accessed by gondola, is an impressive site for functions of up to several hundred. Mammoth's largest meeting hotel is also up at the resort: the Mammoth Mountain Inn features the 6,000-square-foot Mountainside Conference Center and two boardrooms.
Down in town, the Village Lodge offers accommodations that range from studios to three-bedroom condos, a 3,700-square-foot conference center and a plaza for outdoor events of up to several hundred people. Nearby, the Westin Monache Resort is also popular for meetings. The Sierra Nevada Resort recently added a 2,500-square-foot day spa as part of its recent makeover. Guests can enjoy remodeled rooms and suites, townhouse chalets and cocktails at Duke's Bar, named in honor of former frequent guest John Wayne.
Speaking of watering holes, the West Coast's highest-elevation brewery is the Mammoth Brewing Company, which recently opened a new tasting room and summer beer garden. The venue, which offers 13 beers on tap and house-made root beer, can be used for events. An entirely new space is Mammoth Rock 'N' Bowl, which offers 12 lanes, three golf simulators and a large selection of games. And its two new restaurants, Brasserie and Bar, are a drastic departure from bowling alley fare.
Bishop & Death Valley: Western Ways
For a Western-style gathering, the city of Bishop in the valley south of Mammoth has the feel of a modern ranching outpost. Even though its population is 3,800, Bishop is accustomed to hosting big events. Each Memorial Day weekend, the Mule Days Celebration attracts 30,000 visitors from around the world to the Tri-County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds offer a variety of facilities including a 6,000-square-foot building, a 14,000-square-foot auditorium, a 1,369-seat arena and patio space for up to 130. In their spare time, attendees can browse Bishop's western-wear shops, eat at the legendary Schat's Bakkery or head out to the 18-hole golf course.
Picture-perfect desert scenery defines Death Valley National Park, 120 miles south of Bishop. It's home to the lowest patch of earth on the planet and two meeting resorts: the Spanish-style Inn at Furnace Creek (open mid-October through mid-May) and the more informal Ranch at Furnace Creek, built around an 18-hole golf course. The two offer a combined 3,800 square feet of event space, a barbecue area and the Stargazers Deck, ideal for pre- and post-meeting soirees. Other amenities include spring-fed swimming pools and a private airstrip for light aircraft.
Southwest of Death Valley, Ridgecrest is part of the Upper Mojave Desert, where delegates can explore beautifully preserved Native American petroglyphs, intriguing ghost towns and the film locations for "Star Trek" and "Planet of the Apes." Other diversions include antiquing in Old Town Ridgecrest and sampling local beer at the Indian Wells Brewery in nearby Armistead. The SpringHill Suites is the largest meeting hotel, with nearly 4,000 square feet of event space. Off site, the Kerr McGee Community Center can accommodate up to 500, and the Desert Empire Fairgrounds has venues ranging from a 24-person boardroom to flexible exhibit halls for up to 2,285.
San Bernardino's Peaks: Alpine Ambiance
The alpine splendor of Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains is only 100 miles east of Los Angeles. The fresh-air, forests, mountain vistas and outdoor activities (perhaps bald-eagle watching, mountain-bike riding along the year-old Skyline Trail or boating on Big Bear Lake) will keep attendees in their best frame of mind.
Within the town of Big Bear, the Convention Center at Big Bear Lake can host up to 1,400 people indoors and up to 2,500 when combined with its outdoor space. The largest meeting hotel is the Northwoods Resort, with 9,000 square feet of space. The Wolf Creek Resort is also a favorite, with an on-site winery and event facilities for up to 200.
In Lake Arrowhead, 25 miles west, the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa has become southern California's first Marriott Autograph Collection property after a recent $5.5 million renovation. The lakefront resort provides indoor-outdoor meeting space and a private beach and marina. New wellness offerings include yoga classes and chair massages, and after meetings, guests can enjoy stargazing sessions, Iron Chef competitions, mixology classes and zip line tours.
The IACC-certified UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center also welcomes organizations with up to 200 people. Camp-like retreats for up to 300 can be held at the 12-acre Arrowhead Ranch, and the Alpine Camp & Conference Center has event space for up to 285.
Greater Palm Springs: Sunny & Sophisticated
Beautiful desert vistas, extraordinary meeting facilities and a cocktail lifestyle have made greater Palm Springs, which sprawls across the Coachella Valley two hours east of Los Angeles, a prime meeting ground for hundreds of groups, from the California Grocers Association and the California Bankers Association to the National Sporting Goods Association.
The city of Palm Springs is the anchor of the valley, boasting its largest event facility, the 261,000-square-foot Palm Springs Convention Center. Nearby meeting hotels include the Renaissance/Palm Springs, the Hilton/Palm Springs and two miles north is the Riviera Palm Springs Resort & Spa.
Two new hotels are expected to open in 2015. The 200-room Dolce/Palm Springs, under construction behind the convention center, plans to offer a rooftop terrace, a film screening room, a recording room, a spa, pools and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. And on North Canyon Drive, the 190-room Hotel Palomar will be part of Museum Market Plaza, a redevelopment project to feature restaurants, shops and a large public square suitable for concerts, festivals and private events. Hotel amenities will include a rooftop bar and pool and more than 24,000 square feet of meeting space.
It's easy to combine sightseeing with meet-and-greet functions at many of Palm Springs' attractions. Private soirees can be arranged at the homes of late Hollywood stars and musicians including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. A new event gem is the Frederick Loewe Estate in the Little Tuscany neighborhood. The 5,000-square-foot, glass-walled, mid-century modern dream house features a tennis court, a grotto-style pool with waterfalls and views over Palm Springs. Additional venues include the Palm Springs Air Museum, which can host up to 3,000, and the Palm Springs Art Museum, with space for up to 500 and a 433-seat theater. For hilltop thrills, there's no place like the top-at the summit of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where a restaurant offers private banquet rooms for up to 136, or the entire restaurant can accommodate up to 275.
Of course, you don't have to meet just in Palm Springs to have the desert-resort experience. One of the newest darlings of the meeting scene is the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, which opened in May on a hillside bluff. Groups can hold meetings amid 16,000 square feet of indoor space and 25,000 square feet of outdoor space, including two expansive lawns with sweeping views. The 25,000-square-foot spa is also a crowd-pleaser.
In Desert Hot Springs, the Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort is undergoing a massive makeover. By 2015, its room count will jump from 52 to 110, and a new spa and fitness center are expected to be in place. Its meeting venues include the Garden House for up to 30 and the 600-square-foot Lakeside Room. The property will remain open during the renovation.
For large conventions, the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert boasts the valley's largest resort meeting facilities, with 240,000 square feet of total event space, two championship golf courses, tennis facilities and one of the desert's largest spas at 30,000 square feet. Delegates often enjoy taking a boat from the lobby's indoor river out around the golf course to their rooms. Nearby are the trendy shops and restaurants of El Paseo, nicknamed the Rodeo Drive of the desert, and the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, which can be booked for special events of up to 700. Another choice in town is the 1,127-seat McCallum Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Neighboring Indian Wells is home to the newly expanded Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which hosts the annual BNP Paribas Open. Features include 40,000 square feet of event space and two stadiums. Nearby, the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa hosts many of the tennis pros, so groups will find sumptuous private villas, penthouse suites and convention space.
For golfers, meetings don't get any better than at the famed La Quinta Resort & Club at PGA West in La Quinta, which is finalizing a massive renovation. The 45-acre resort is home to five award-winning public golf courses and four private courses, in addition to 190,000 square feet of meeting space.
Events of all kinds can be held in Indio, home to the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Sites include the Empire Polo Club, which has 93,000 square feet of indoor space in four venues and 200 acres of gardens and lawns, and the Riverside County Fairgrounds, which includes a 33,080-square-foot auditorium and a 3,100-seat grandstand.
Setting Your Sights High (or Low)
From high-altitude lakes to golf resorts near the lowest point on the planet, California offers a range of natural attractions that is hard to beat. Whether your group prefers sunny desert scenery or the pine-scented mountains-or both-year-round activities and plentiful meeting facilities set the scene for inspirational gatherings.