Northern California

Setting A Professional Standard

Journeying over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a rite of passage in Northern California—a region that sets a high bar with its amazing attractions and endless options. For groups, it’s clear that this region of the Golden State bridges the gap between possibility and achievement.

Planners will find a wide array of scenic settings for events as well as venues and hotels that hit the mark when it comes to high-tech capabilities and services in Northern California.

San Francisco & Marin County: a Sense of Place

Choose a visit to San Francisco and attendees will likely have a list of things they’d like to do even before a planner starts working on the agenda. Last year, the city welcomed 16.9 million visitors, up 2.3 percent from the previous year.

Many events can be held at the 1.2 million-square-foot Moscone Center, a convention and exhibition complex located downtown. Groups that have recently held their events at the Moscone Center include the American Diabetes Association, the California Building Industry Association and the National Association of Specialty Food Trade.

In 2012, the center wrapped up a $56 million renovation, and in November, a $500 million expansion project is expected to begin, which will increase its gross space to 1.5 million square feet by as early as 2017. The additions are expected to be gold LEED–certified and the center plans to remain fully operational during the project.

Nearly 33,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the convention center and the nearby shopping district of Union Square. The Hilton/San Francisco–Union Square continues to undergo improvements, notably to its guest rooms, part of a project expected to wrap up in 2016. And in the Financial District, Le Méridien/San Francisco recently completed a $3.5 million renovation of public and meeting spaces, including the transformation of its lobby into its signature Hub gathering space. In addition, a $9 million renovation of all guest rooms is scheduled to begin in October. In Nob Hill, the Scarlet Huntington (formerly the Huntington Hotel) opened in May following a $15 million renovation that included vibrant updates to its public and meeting spaces, and just down the street, the landmark Stanford Court is modernizing its lobby and adding a Tech Bar for guests.

Many landmark attractions double as meeting venues. At Fisherman’s Wharf, Bistro Boudin has reception space for up to 400 people and a private dining room. And as a tie-in, planners might incorporate a visit to the San Francisco Dungeon, scheduled to open this summer at the wharf. In Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum welcomes up to 2,000 people for special evening events, and attendees can roam all of its 19 galleries. The Exploratorium, the science museum now located at Pier 15, has a half-dozen spaces that can be used for events.

One of the city’s most flexible venues in terms of group capacity is AT&T Park, home to Major League Baseball’s Giants. The 41,500-seat stadium has more than a half-dozen spaces—including the field itself—that can be configured to welcome any kind of function.

Cultural options in San Francisco are plentiful. One of the newest to open is the SFJAZZ Center, a 35,000-square-foot, LEED-certified performance venue in the Hayes Valley. Another facility is the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center. And while its Veterans Building is closed until August 2015 to undergo a seismic retrofit and renovation, the center’s three other spaces welcome events of up to 3,416 people.

From San Francisco, it’s a quick trip north via bridge or ferry to Marin County, which is known for its beaches, the redwood trees of Muir Woods and hiking trails that cross through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Within the recreational area, NatureBridge at Golden Gate is a retreat site offering dorm-style accommodations and event space for up to 200 people. For an urban setting, several options await in nearby Sausalito, among them the renovated Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier this year, a property-wide renovation was completed and the historic mansion introduced the Alexandrite Suite, perfect for executive events.

In Mill Valley, Sweetwater Music Hall is open for private events and conferences for up to 300. A few miles north, in San Rafael, a new, 19,400-square-foot clubhouse at the Peacock Gap Golf Club can host up to 1,300 people. And a popular pick is the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Marin Center, with several event spaces. Nearby, the Embassy Suites/San Rafael has meeting space.

The California Association of Superior Court Investigators recently chose the Embassy Suites/San Rafael for its annual statewide training conference. “After viewing several properties in Marin County, the Embassy Suites was chosen for its location, free parking, larger conference space, the ability to provide a state rate, great rooms and amenities,” said President Cynthia Webb-Beckford. “Our conference attendees were very pleased with the staff, food services, rooms and how close the location is to both Oakland and San Francisco airports. We had a very successful conference in beautiful Marin County.”

Groups might also try Point Reyes Station, where the Fork at the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company can host private parties or welcome groups for farm tours and cooking classes.

The East Bay: Forward Thinking

An ongoing revitalization effort in Oakland has sparked interest from groups. The 64,000-square-foot Oakland Convention Center is adjacent to the Oakland Marriott City Center, which has renovated its public spaces and guest rooms. Together, the two properties offer 89,000 square feet of meeting space.

New to town is Impact HUB Oakland, which is a cooperative workspace with meeting spaces of up to 3,300 square feet. And just over a year old is ConneXion@Jack London Park, which has space for up to 250. Other options include the Coliseum, home to both pro football and baseball teams, which is able to seat up to 63,000 people, and the adjacent 19,500-seat Oracle Arena. The Chabot Space & Science Center has space for up to 1,200 attendees. The newly transformed Oakland Museum of California offers meeting space for up to 2,000 people, and the Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate welcomes events of up to 4,500. Groups can also meet at the 3,040-seat Paramount Theatre. Notable on the waterfront are two adjacent meeting hotels: the Oakland Executive Inn & Suites and the recently renovated Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel (formerly part of the Executive Inn), which offer 4,000 square feet of meeting space.

In the hills of nearby Berkeley, the landmark Claremont Hotel Club & Spa is undergoing a multimillion-dollar upgrade, after which it will become a Fairmont Hotels & Resorts property. Eco-conscious planners will note that Berkeley is home to several green-certified meeting hotels, including the DoubleTree by Hilton/Berkeley Marina, the renovated Hotel Shattuck Plaza and the recently remodeled Bancroft Hotel.

Downtown Berkeley is two years into a five-year revitalization project that has already generated praise. Venues in this part of town include the Marsh Arts Center (formerly the Gaia Arts Center), which can host events of up to 300, and the platinum LEED–certified David Brower Center, which has reception space for up to 200 as well as four smaller spaces and a 180-seat theater.

Many groups gravitate to the University of California–Berkeley, a hub that inspires thought leadership. Campus options include the Lawrence Hall of Science, with space for up to 500 people; the UC Botanical Garden, with four dedicated spaces; the Anna Head Alumnae Hall, which can accommodate up to 379; and the 63,186-seat California Memorial Stadium, which reopened in 2012 after a $321 million renovation. For fast-paced action, groups can head to Golden Gate Fields, a horse-racing facility with reception space for up to 2,000 people.

South of Berkeley, in Alameda, groups can meet aboard the USS Hornet, a World War II aircraft carrier that now serves as a museum and event venue for up to 3,000 guests.

The east side of San Francisco Bay is also home to the Tri-Valley, which includes Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and Danville. The region boasts more than 100 meeting venues. In Livermore, the Bella Rosa Conference Center at Garré Winery can accommodate up to 370. Just down the road, Wente Vineyards has terraced lawn space for events of up to 1,000 people.

San Mateo County: Well-Rounded Attributes

San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, is home to more than 30 convention hotels. Large public meeting facilities include the Cow Palace in Daly City with more than 300,000 square feet of flexible space—it hosts everything from the annual Grand National Rodeo to dog shows, expos and sports events—and the South San Francisco Conference Center in South San Francisco, known for its technological excellence and offering 20,600 square feet of meeting space.

In nearby Millbrae, the Westin/San Francisco Airport has just completed a major renovation to its ballroom, guest rooms, public spaces and restaurant. Farther south, in Burlingame, the Holiday Inn Express/SFO South wrapped up a guest-room renovation this spring, and the DoubleTree by Hilton/SFO has added new features including a new bar and restaurant concept. To the west, in Pacifica, the Pacifica Beach Hotel has also been updated.

In San Mateo, the 48-acre San Mateo County Event Center features 195,000 square feet of space for trade shows and concerts. Also in town is the Marriott/San Mateo–San Francisco Airport.

Farther down the peninsula, the coastal town of Half Moon Bay has the Ritz-Carlton/Half Moon Bay, which hosted the World Ocean Summit earlier this year. It has also recently hosted events for the National Association of Sign Supply Distributors, the Association of Union Constructions, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the California Hedge Fund Association.

Silicon Valley: the Know-How You Need

A former farm town, San Jose has grown into the bustling hub of Silicon Valley. At the city’s core is the San Jose Convention Center, which recently completed a $130 million expansion and renovation and offers 550,000 square feet of convention space and “free wickedly fast Wi-Fi.”

Last year, the Airports Council International-North America held its 13th annual conference and exhibition at the center with more than 1,700 attendees and 200 exhibitors. “We loved San Jose and the convention center,” said Deirdre Clemmons, vice-president of meetings, education and partnerships. “The conference went off really well. Whenever we can host all our attendees in one place it makes a big difference, and the newly renovated and expanded convention center opens up a world of new opportunities. Attendees raved about the food; it definitely wasn’t your standard banquet chicken!”  

Adjacent to the convention center is the South Hall, which houses 80,000 square feet of event space. Nearby is the City National Civic, which was recently upgraded and can seat up to 3,036 people; the 2,677-seat Center for the Performing Arts; Parkside Hall, with 30,000 square feet of event space; and the 132,000-square-foot Tech Museum of Innovation, which welcomes events of up to 2,500. The SAP Center (formerly the HP Pavilion) can seat up to 20,000, and an 18,000-seat stadium for the local Major League Soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes, is under construction and is expected to open at the beginning of the 2015 season.

Following a $4.5 million renovation, the San Jose Airport Hotel was recently rebranded the Four Points by Sheraton/San Jose Airport. A second renovation, scheduled for completion this fall, will include a redesign of the hotel’s 195 guest rooms and lobby and a technology upgrade. A few miles south of the airport, the award-winning Hotel Valencia has renovated its guest rooms.

In Santa Clara, the expanded Santa Clara Convention Center features 302,000 square feet of space. It’s connected to a Hyatt Regency that offers its own 60,000 square feet of meeting space. The Technology Services Industry Association has held its Technology Services World Best Practices Conference in Santa Clara since 2008 and is booked there through 2015. Fun settings include the Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club, with space for up to 1,000, and the nearby California’s Great America theme park.

Smaller venues include the Triton Museum of Art, which welcomes groups of up to 250, and David’s Banquet & Conference Center, which can accommodate meetings of up to 500 people.

In August, Levi’s Stadium will open in Santa Clara as the new home field of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Features include 68,500 seats and more than 110,000 square feet of event space.

Fifteen miles away, in Palo Alto, the 86-room Epiphany Hotel opened this spring with four rooftop hospitality suites with meeting and living areas. And in nearby Stanford, Stanford University welcomes groups with several venues including Stanford Law School.

The North Bay: Fun & Functional

Entertaining experiences are easy to find in Vallejo. A popular pick is Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, an amusement park that offers special group rates and event-planning services. The adjacent Solano County Fairgrounds has eight event spaces and can accommodate up to 6,500 guests. Also in town is the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, which welcomes events.

East, in Benicia, the Benicia Historical Museum can accommodate up to 300 indoors and up to 200 outdoors. In Richmond, attendees can gather at the industrial, warehouse-like Craneway Pavilion, with 45,000 square feet of space. The facility also oversees the adjacent 40,000-square-foot Crane Skyway & Convention Center.

Napa & Sonoma Counties: Tastefully Accommodating

A gentle climate and a plethora of vineyards make Napa and Sonoma counties appealing destinations year-round. The burgeoning city of Napa offers the Napa Valley Wine Train, a three-hour tasting and dining excursion that is celebrating its 25th year and runs from Napa to the town of St. Helena and back. The entire train may also be rented for group events and parties, with optional gourmet food and wine offerings. Just southwest of downtown, the Michael Mondavi Family Estate Taste Gallery welcomes groups.

For conventions, the downtown Napa Valley Expo features more than 31,000 square feet of showroom space, located in four buildings. The Napa Valley Opera House has a 450-seat main theater and a smaller theater for up to 140. At the Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park, a new 3,000-square-foot pavilion can host up to 250 guests. Just south, the Meritage Resort & Spa has completed a multimillion-dollar renovation.

In Yountville, nine miles north, the North Block Hotel has partnered with Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, an art, design and collective wine-tasting gallery housed in a historic building, to offer a unique space for corporate meetings and special events. Additionally, Bardessono boasts that it is the only platinum LEED–certified hotel in California.

Heading north to St. Helena, the Whitehall Lane Winery has four event spaces, two of them newly remodeled for meetings and banquets. Other Yountville choices include the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Farther north, in Calistoga, the Solage Calistoga recently added interactive group programs, including a Meet the Maker experience with local vintners. In Sonoma County, Sonoma offers meeting hotels that include the 10-acre Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa. Attractions in the area include the Sonoma Raceway, which welcomes group events, as does the Viansa Vineyard & Marketplace.

In Rohnert Park, the Hospitality Center at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center, offers event space. Also at the center is the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn & Commons, with outdoor space that can host up to 3,000. And the multipurpose Spreckels Performing Arts Center provides two theaters and several event rooms.

In Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds has six event buildings, an amphitheater and a five-acre lawn. The Courtyard by Marriott in town wrapped up renovations this spring. Fifteen miles north, in Healdsburg, the gold LEED–certified h2hotel has 36 eco-friendly guest rooms and meeting space for up to 41 people. On the coast, near the town of Jenner, the recently renovated Timber Cove Inn offers 2,000 square feet of meeting space and 49 guest rooms.

From Redding to Eureka: Active Exploration

About 200 miles north of San Francisco is Redding, a city at the base of the Cascade foothills. In town, near the Sacramento River, the Redding Civic Auditorium offers space for up to 2,022 people. Another choice is the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

South of town, in Anderson, the Gaia Hotel & Spa wrapped up a $1.5 million upgrade last year. And 60 miles north of Redding, in Mount Shasta, groups with golfers might opt for the Mount Shasta Resort, which has an 18-hole course. The main meeting venues in Eureka include the waterfront Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center and the adjacent Adorni Center.

Bounty & Beauty

From sleek city skylines to rolling hills draped with grapevines, Northern California appeals to associations in search of diversity. Add innovative high-tech endeavors and spirited adventures to the mix, and the potential for great meetings is unmatched.