Associations often come to Northern California with the intention of setting and accomplishing lofty goals. After all, this region of the Golden State still sets national standards for the latest in innovation, extraordinary food and wine, and social and environmental consciousness.
Attendees can’t help but take this energy and put it to constructive use, boldly carving new and creative paths ahead for their own group.
San Francisco & Marin County: City of Dreams
From the Golden Gate Bridge to Ghirardelli Square, cable cars to cultural centers, restaurants to food trucks, San Francisco has long been known for its vast variety of attractions, all examples of dreams someone turned into reality. Last year, the city experienced unprecedented tourism levels, welcoming more than 18 million visitors, according to the San Francisco Travel Association.
A mega hub for meetings is the 1.2 million-square-foot, gold LEED–certified Moscone Center, which started a $500 million expansion project, expected to finish in 2018. Plans include a four-story addition that will add some 300,000 square feet of new exhibit and ballroom space as well as a pedestrian bridge connecting its North and South buildings. 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. Groups that have recently taken advantage of the Moscone Center’s offerings include the American Association of Orthodontists, the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the American Library Association.
New nearby venues offer additional space for gatherings. The 37,000-square-foot Bespoke at the Westfield San Francisco Center debuted in May. Marketed as a “co-working, event and tech demo space,” the venue can host up to 1,200 people. Just down the street is the Village, with 17,000 square feet of space.
From Moscone Center, it’s less than a mile to the Union Square Shopping District, where the Parc 55 San Francisco is now a Hilton hotel and the former Westin/Market Street is now the Park Central/San Francisco. The Hilton San Francisco Union Square has renovated its tower one guest rooms; Villa Florence Hotel has undergone a makeover of its guest rooms and added seven new ones; and the W/San Francisco has renovated its guest rooms and meeting space.
In the Financial District, the Mandarin Oriental/San Francisco is now the Loews Regency San Francisco, and on Nob Hill, both the Fairmont/San Francisco and the Ritz-Carlton have updated their guest rooms. At Fisherman’s Wharf, the Hotel Zephyr Fisherman’s Wharf (formerly a Radisson) and the Pier 2620 Hotel have both been renovated, and the nearby Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf recently completed an update of its event space. To the west, in the Presidio, the Inn at the Presidio has added four guest rooms in a historic house.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, Bistro Boudin can be bought out for events. Or planners might incorporate a visit to the new San Francisco Dungeon on the wharf, a unique attraction that depicts 200 years of history through shows and rides. In Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum welcomes events, and at Pier 15, the Exploratorium offers event space.
In terms of size and capacity alone, the 41,500-seat AT&T Park is a win-win choice for planners and groups. Attendees who prefer cultural venues can head to the SFJAZZ Center or the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center. Although the center’s Veterans Building is closed until late 2015 as it undergoes a renovation, it offers four other venues.
On Treasure Island, accessed via the Bay Bridge, Winemaker Studios is a co-op of three wineries that can accommodate upwards of 1,000 for events.
North of San Francisco, scenic Marin County is just a quick trip via bridge or ferry. Within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is NatureBridge at Golden Gate. For a more urban vibe, Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa in Sausalito benefited from a property-wide renovation and expansion last year.
In Mill Valley, Sweetwater Music Hall can host private events. Also in the area are Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tamalpais State Park, both popular getaways. A few miles north, in San Rafael, is the Peacock Gap Golf Club and the Marin Center.
About 20 miles to the northwest, in Point Reyes Station, up to 125 attendees can gather at the Station House Café. The Fork at the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company also welcomes groups.
The East Bay: Upwardly Mobile
Arts, culture, sports, a burgeoning dining scene and excellent meeting venues are just a few of the attributes that continue to make Oakland a city on the rise. At the LEED-certified Oakland Convention Center, new air walls within the 15,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall East quickly turn it into a divisible space. Adjacent to the center is the Oakland Marriott City Center.
Other venues include Impact HUB Oakland, ConneXion@Jack London Park, O.co Coliseum, the Chabot Space & Science Center, the Oakland Museum of California, the Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate and Oracle Arena, home of the 2015 NBA Champions Golden State Warriors. Associations can also meet at the Paramount Theatre or the New Parkway Theater. Both are near Lakeside Park, home to event spaces including the Lake Merritt Sailboat House and the Lakeside Park Garden Center.
Of interest to planners are the area’s team-building activities, which include industrial arts classes at the Crucible, Segway Off Road tours of the Oakland Hills and paddleboarding in the Oakland Estuary or the San Francisco Bay. Attendees can also pass the time at the Jack London Square, Chinatown or the trendy shops and galleries of Uptown. Just south, in Alameda, groups of up to 3,000 can meet aboard the USS Hornet. And in the Oakland hills, the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation and now operates as part of the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection.
Berkeley offers event venues ranging from grand ballrooms and conference-ready hotels to theater spaces and private dining rooms. Associations that have held meetings in the area include the American Public Gardens Association and the California Association for Adult Day Services. For eco-conscious planners, several green-certified meeting hotels include the DoubleTree by Hilton/Berkeley Marina, the Hotel Shattuck Plaza and the remodeled Bancroft Hotel.
Three years into a five-year revitalization project, downtown Berkeley offers a number of venues including the Marsh Arts Center and the David Brower Center. The Berkeley Art Museum is scheduled to reopen in early 2016 in a new building downtown with spaces for exhibitions, films and screenings. Closer to the waterfront, Golden Gate Fields offers reception space for up to 1,500 or banquet space for up to 1,000.
The birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, the University of California/Berkeley is an inspiring choice for groups looking to broaden their horizons. Campus venues include the Lawrence Hall of Science, the UC Botanical Garden, the Anna Head Alumnae Hall and the California Memorial Stadium.
To the southeast, the Tri-Valley offers more than 100 meeting venues. One of the newest is the year-old Bella Rosa Event Center at the Garré Winery in Livermore. Just down the road, Wente Vineyards also offers event space.
San Mateo County: Versatile & Vibrant
San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, is home to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), but the county isn’t just a place for arrivals and departures. Groups who stay to meet here will benefit from some of the Bay Area’s larger venues and its cultural offerings.
In Daly City, the Cow Palace recently welcomed the National Association of College Admission Counseling, HempCon and the Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show. Nearby, in Brisbane, the DoubleTree by Hilton/San Francisco Airport North completed a renovation of its guest rooms, lobby, lounge and restaurant this spring.
In South San Francisco, the South San Francisco Conference Center offers 20,600 square feet of meeting space. Attendees coming from downtown San Francisco, Oakland or Alameda can take the ferry to South San Francisco’s Oyster Point Marina terminal. Overlooking the marina is the Inn at Oyster Point, with a refreshed boardroom for up to 12 (bigger groups—up to 200—can host events next door at Dominic’s at Oyster Point). Also local is the CitiGarden Hotel, being rebranded as the Park Point Hotel. A renovation of its ballroom and guest rooms is in the works.
In Millbrae, the Westin/San Francisco Airport completed a $14.5 million renovation last summer. Farther south, in Burlingame, hotels that have benefited from recent updates include the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, the Crowne Plaza/SFO, the Bay Landing Hotel and the Embassy Suites/SFO.
For a picturesque recreational outing, groups can head to Devil’s Slide Coast, which stretches south from Pacifica and features 47 miles of trails. In San Mateo, the San Mateo County Event Center and the San Mateo Marriott San Francisco Airport both welcome groups.
Farther down the peninsula, in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay, the Ritz-Carlton/Half Moon Bay has renovated and upgraded technology in the guest rooms and one-bedroom suites and has enhanced its Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge. Three outdoor event areas, a full-service spa and an oceanfront restaurant round out offerings for groups.
The Silicon Valley: an eye for Innovation
San Jose, a bustling hub of the Silicon Valley, is enjoying a renaissance of its downtown. Groups in town for meetings will find attractions that double as event sites and more than 4,000 hotel rooms are available citywide. Meeting central is the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, which completed a $130 million expansion and renovation in late 2013. It is connected to the San Jose Marriott, which completed a $2 million renovation of its meeting space last fall. Also nearby is the Fairmont/San Jose, which recently upgraded its breakout rooms and renovated the 20th floor boardroom and luxury suites.
SPIE, the International Society for Optics & Photonics, continues to hold its annual Advanced Lithography Exhibition at the convention center, most recently drawing 2,300 attendees. Randy Cross, the organization’s director of event services and venues, said there are several reasons why the event has been held in town since the 1990s. “We’ve been with Team San Jose a long time because they make a strong effort to understand your business and get to know you as a client,” Cross said. “That, coupled with a newly expanded convention center and a good supply of surrounding hotel rooms in walking distance, makes for an attractive destination package. We’ve found that the vast majority of attendees can fly right into San Jose. As a high-tech center, it’s a great area for us.”
Adjacent to the convention center, the South Hall offers 80,000 square feet of space. Other options nearby include the recently upgraded City National Civic, the Center for the Performing Arts, Parkside Hall, the Tech Museum of Innovation and the SAP Center. Extracurricular attractions appealing to groups include the new, 18,000-seat Avaya Stadium, home to the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer; the new AFK Gamer Lounge, with space for groups of up to 400; the RockBar Theater, a catered event space for up to 1,000; and the GlassHouse, with 12,000 square feet of venue space for up to 1,200 guests.
Mineta San Jose International Airport, just three miles from downtown, boasts one of the nation’s greenest (the new Terminal B is silver LEED-certified) and most tech-friendly airports. Virgin America, Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta and Alaska Airlines have all increased service to the airport.
Just west of the airport is Santa Clara, where the expanded Santa Clara Convention Center features 302,000 square feet of space and a connection to a Hyatt Regency, which has its own event space. Several venues allow attendees to enjoy their free time without having to venture far from the boardroom. Good examples include the Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club and the nearby California’s Great America theme park. Smaller sites include the Triton Museum of Art and David’s Restaurant. Levi’s Stadium, the new home field of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, opened a year ago to rave reviews and will host Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. Also on-site is Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak & Pub, which can host groups of up to 200 people.
Fifteen miles away, Palo Alto may be known as the “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley,” but it also offers a vibrant cultural scene. New hotels include the Nest Palo Alto, which opened this spring, and the Clement Palo Alto, scheduled to open in the fall. In Stanford, Stanford University welcomes groups with several venues for events.
To the south of San Jose, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is Rosewood CordeValle in San Martin. The 1,700-acre resort offers golf (it will welcome the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open), tennis, a spa and meeting space.
The North Bay: Pleasantly Playful
Entertaining experiences are easy to find in Vallejo, and groups can take the ferry to and from San Francisco for day trips. Popular destinations include the 135-acre Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and the adjacent Solano County Fairgrounds. Also in town is the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the USA World Classics Event Center, a reproduction of a 1930s town with banquet and reception space for up to 300 people.
In Benicia, just southeast, is the Benicia Historical Museum. In Richmond, attendees can meet at the Craneway Pavilion, which oversees the adjacent Craneway Skyway & Conference Center.
Napa & Sonoma Counties: Culture, Comfort & Cuisine
Napa and Sonoma counties’ reputation as two of the finest wine-producing regions in the world is enhanced by many fine restaurants and wine-tasting experiences and, to complete any stay, new and upgraded hotels and resorts.
At the southern end of the Napa Valley, the city of Napa continues to cater to group events with a growing number of trendy hotels and dining experiences, including the Oxbow Public Market, an ideal place to introduce visiting attendees to the county’s bounty. Groups can also take advantage of the vintage Napa Valley Wine Train, which can be rented for events and parties. Other possibilities for excursions include cruises along the Napa River, a Napa Walking Tour, hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail or biking the River Trail.
For conventions, the downtown Napa Valley Expo (home to the annual Napa Town & Country Fair) has more than 31,000 square feet of function space in four buildings. Other venues include the Napa Valley Opera House and the Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park.
In hotel news, the Andaz/Napa has reopened after a full renovation. North of downtown, the Silverado Resort & Spa debuted improvements last August, which included renovations to its 12,000-square-foot conference center, guest-room updates and a redesign of the PGA Championship North Course.
In Yountville, nine miles north of Napa, the Vintage Inn has completed a renovation of its 80 guest rooms. It and its sister hotel, the Villagio Inn & Spa, are part of the 23-acre Vintage Estate, which includes the V Marketplace collection of restaurants, shops and wine-tasting event space. Other accommodations include Bardessono and the North Block Hotel, which has partnered with Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, to offer a unique space for events. Yountville is also a mecca for foodies and wine aficionados, home to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery, Michael Chiarello’s Bottega and more than 300 wineries. For active guests, there are cycling and hiking options, and Napa Valley Aloft offers hot air balloon rides.
Heading north to St. Helena, the Whitehall Lane Winery has four event spaces and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone also welcomes groups. In nearby Rutherford, HALL Wines has introduced Appellation Exploration, a winery tour and tasting experience with food pairings.
Farther north, in Calistoga, is a new retreat property called the Brannan Cottage Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It can host groups of up to 12 and can arrange excursions to the local hot springs, interactive wine experiences and active team-building experiences. The Solage Calistoga has meeting facilities for up to 250 people.
In Sonoma County, the town of Sonoma is surrounded by rolling hills and more than 400 award-winning wineries. Popular meeting hotels include the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa and the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, which offers 30 remodeled signature Mission Suites and a new premier Winemaker Suite. And at the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn, the 2,000-square-foot Krug Event Center can accommodate up to 120 people.
Unique team-building attractions in the area include taking a spin around the Sonoma Raceway in a race car. The raceway welcomes private group events, as does the Viansa Winery & Marketplace, which has a half-dozen event sites. Sonoma Food Tour offers a downtown walk to six locally owned and operated eateries that offer tastings along the way.
Ten miles north, in Kenwood, the Kenwood Restaurant & Bar offers a new “Perfect Meeting” package, which offers an epicurean experience involving Sonoma food and wine. And the new La Rochelle Winery is offering the “Ultimate California Pinot Noir Experience” and a five-hour “Become Your Own Personal Sommelier” experience.
In Rohnert Park, the Hospitality Center at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center has indoor space for up to 194, a courtyard for up to 125 and a restaurant. Also at the center is the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn & Commons, designed with 1,400 seats but offers an outdoor space that can host up to 3,000. Another option is the multipurpose Spreckels Performing Arts Center.
In Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds offers several event spaces. At the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, the new Sculpture Garden & Art Walk opened in June; the center is home to nearly a dozen venues, from conference rooms to a 43,200-square-foot pavilion. Another cultural site is the downtown Sonoma County Museum, with 4,600 square feet of new gallery space and outdoor sculpture gardens. North of the city is Safari West, an African wildlife preserve that offers trekking tours, overnight stays in luxury tents and three meeting areas, the largest of which can accommodate up to 95 people.
The eclectic destination of Healdsburg is a good match for small to mid-sized groups. Options for meetings include the h2hotel, with 36 guest rooms and event space for up to 41; and the recently renovated Best Western Dry Creek Inn, with space for up to 205.
On the coast, near the city of Jenner, the Timber Cove Inn began a renovation in February but remains open with 2,000 square feet of meeting space and 49 guest rooms. Twelve miles south, in Bodega Bay, is the five-room Bay Hill Mansion, which is now available for retreats.
Mendocino: Coastal Destinations
The coast of Northern California doesn’t get more scenic than it does in and around Mendocino, where attendees can explore everything from ancient forests to arts-and-crafts communities.
Five miles south, in Little House, the Heritage House Resort is under new management (Hampshire Hotels Management LLC). As part of a multimillion-dollar renovation, accommodations have been fully updated and a new restaurant and lounge have opened. Future chapters of the property-wide revitalization are slated to include a full-service spa and fitness center.
A new destination retreat called the Inn at Newport Ranch is scheduled to open this summer just north of Fort Bragg on a 2,000-acre coastal cattle ranch. Plans include accommodations for up to 20 people, a dining space for up to 50 people, tented space for up to 99 and outdoor activities.
From Redding to Eureka: Wonders Await
The small city of Redding, located about 200 miles north of San Francisco, is the hub of a wonderland known as the Shasta Cascade region. Many meeting-goers will arrive by car but an increasing number use the Redding Municipal Airport, whose main terminal building recently benefited from a three-year $9.3 million expansion. In addition, United Express has begun offering service in and out of the city.
In town, the Redding Civic Auditorium can host upwards of 2,000. Steps away is the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which also offers event sites.
South of town, in Anderson, is the recently upgraded Gaia Hotel & Spa, which offers eco-friendly features. Sixty miles north of Redding, in Mount Shasta, groups with golfers might opt for the Mount Shasta Resort.
The “Redwood Empire” can’t help but inspire visiting attendees—the region’s coastal redwoods draw droves of tourists each year—and the base for many is Eureka. It’s 45 miles south to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile scenic drive off Highway 101 lined by the magnificent trees. The road skirts Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the largest remaining old-growth forest in the world.
When it’s time to get down to business, Eureka’s main venues include the Eureka Municipal Auditorium, with space for up to 2,300 people; the waterfront Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center, with classrooms and conference rooms for up to 115; and the adjacent Adorni Center, with a gym that can accommodate up to 630 people.
Planners with a purpose that includes getting the most out of their attendees will find the means for motivation at every turn in Northern California. But, perhaps more importantly, the region’s vast offerings include venues backed by standards that members appreciate: eco-responsibility, giving back and conservation, to name a few. Events held there, then, are as mindful as they are motivating.