A circular journey through the Bay Area
As the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast, San Francisco Bay laps a thousand-mile shoreline, mingling freshwater from northern California rivers and saltwater from the Pacific Ocean. It creates a biological diversity found nowhere else in California and, not coincidentally, a stunning setting for equally diverse communities.
Anchored by its namesake city, the Bay Area also encompasses several other large cities, such as Oakland and San Jose, plus smaller urban and rural areas. They’re tethered by iconic bridges, ferries, railroads, highways and high-speed commuter rail—and served by three international airports. It’s easy to get there, and easy to get around.
For meeting professionals, the diversity extends also to a wealth of venue options for conferences, trade shows and conventions, in destinations as individual as the meeting groups. Here’s an overview of the possible choices.
A perennial favorite of travelers, San Francisco enjoys an enviable cachet. According to Leonard Hoops, executive vice president and chief customer officer for the San Francisco Convention & Visitiors Bureau, when attendees get that first e-mail or registration packet, and find that the location is San Francisco, the first thing they say is, “San Francisco—great!” And the facts back up this assertion: research has shown that attendance spikes when the city is chosen as the meetings destination. For example, Hoops says, the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, in its first time in San Francisco, set an all-time attendance record, with a 50% increase in international attendees.
And why not? The food and wine scene is legendary (“You can’t get a bad meal in this town,” says Emeril Lagasse, who obviously knows how to dine well). The views of the bay and ocean are spectacular. And the possibilities for attractions and entertainment are unlimited.
MAJOR MEETINGS VENUES
Regardless of your event size—whether small, mid-size, large or citywide—San Francisco has the space you need. Moscone Center is the major meetings venue, with its three buildings (North, South and West), for a total of 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 256,225 sq. ft. of meeting space and nearly 123,000 sq. ft. of pre-function lobbies.
The economy has had an impact on visitor numbers and spending, but the city is still exploring the possibility of a significant expansion and renovation of the facility, Hoops says. One scenario is adding an East building that would include 180,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 100,000-square-foot underground convention structure and a parking facility. Another is expanding the center by widening the underground connection between Moscone North and Moscone South. Their feasibility is still to be determined, but the East expansion would be contiguous to the existing convention center (a much-requested feature by convention clients) and would be partially financed by
Reacting to the current economic climate also, the CVB is “casting a wider net” for groups to fill open dates at Moscone. Some, like the California Travel Industry Association, historically have not met in San Francisco due to perceived cost challenges, but are meeting here this June. Others are groups with short-term meetings, such as Drupal Association’s Annual Conference, which is bringing 2,500 attendees this month.
With the opening of the sleek InterContinental San Francisco in 2008, Moscone offers a wide variety of meetings hotels within walking distance or a short cab ride—many within steps of fashionable Union Square. They’re ideal for larger conferences tied into the convention center or, especially with a number of new renovations and upgrades, work well also for self-contained events. Among them are the InterContinental, with 550 guest rooms and 43,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; The Westin St. Francis, which recently completed a $40-million renovation and is located right on Union Square, with 1,195 guest rooms and 56,000 sq. ft.; and Parc55, featuring 1,010 guest rooms and 21,000 sq. ft. of function space.
Speaking of hotels, some labor issues have made headlines this past year. But, “At the end of the day, the greater issue is more perception than reality,” Hoops says. “Delegates aren’t having to cross picket lines, and meetings haven’t been disrupted.” Plus, he says, San Francisco hasn’t been singled out in this regard, as Unite Here is planning to align many cities, to create a national front.
A new entry on the meetings scene is the Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF. Located near AT&T ballpark, in one of the city’s newer neighborhoods (and on the UCSF teaching and research campus), this day-use facility has 12,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. It also features a large parking lot, convenient for drive-market conferences.
UNIQUE VENUES AND ACTIVITIES
Drawing meeting attendees as well as cultural travelers to the city is a stellar collection of new museums. Joining stalwarts such as SFMOMA and the Asian Art Musuem are the Contemporary Jewish Museum, close to Moscone; the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, near the Golden Gate Bridge; the de Young and the even- newer California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. In addition to their world-class exhibits, they offer function space for group events.
An intriguing, hip option—right in Moscone’s neighborhood—is Supperclub, a restaurant and performance venue with a dramatic ambience (think all-red bar and lounge hung with dozens of glittering disco balls, a two-level, all-white main dining room, and a black, mirrored private dining room for up to 70 guests). The entire venue, which can accommodate more than 400 guests, can be bought out for corporate events. Another is Infusion Lounge, in Union Square, an Asian-inspired ultra lounge. Along with the lounge, its 6,000 sq. ft. include a private VIP room and a fully equipped dance floor.
On the Embarcadero waterfront are two truly one-of-a-kind shows, the long-running Teatro ZinZanni, a cabaret self-described as “love, chaos and dinner.” Group events, with preferred seating, can be arranged. Debuting this month is Peter Pan, an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic, in The Threesixty Theatre, a 1,350-seat theater-in-the-round tent featuring an interior with 15,000 sq. ft. of high-resolution video, so that when Peter and Wendy fly into Neverland, the audience does, too.
Just north over the Golden Gate Bridge is Marin County, an upscale collection of small towns and cities, plus bucolic dairy farms and ranches, that are tucked among vast acres of parkland and seashore (in fact, more than 70% of the county remains open space—which residents strongly prefer). Southern Marin has a clutch of meetings-worthy properties, and as an added benefit, they are easily accessible to San Francisco via shuttle, car or ferry.
Practically under the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito is Cavallo Point Lodge, a former military base now restored and transformed into a hotel, with 142 historic and new accommodations, a spa and 29,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Remodeled with sustainability in mind, the hotel was recently LEED-Gold certified, quite a feat for a property whose history goes back to the early 1900s.
Acqua Hotel, in Mill Valley and fringing the shoreline of Richardson Bay (a meandering finger of San Francisco Bay), is a Joie de Vivre property with serene lines and ambience. Its 49 guest rooms are complemented by 1,600 sq. ft. of meeting space, with views of the water and the walking path that rings the area.
Only a half-hour ferry ride to San Francisco is The Lodge at Tiburon, a Larkspur Hotel in downtown Tiburon, a small peninsula with a charming, walkable downtown and ferry access also to Angel Island State Park, which features numerous outdoor recreation possibilities.
San Francisco’s East Bay is a large, amorphous landmass that encompasses two counties, including the city of Oakland, with the fourth largest deep-water port in the U.S., the city (and university town) of Berkeley, and an increasingly well-known wine country. They’re linked from San Francisco by the Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and numerous highways.
Big, brawny and diverse—an estimated 100 languages are spoken here—Oakland has long been a magnet for groups looking for second-tier-city prices and availability. It has a business-centric downtown core; a bustling container shipping industry; the newly restored and reinvented Jack London Square on the estuary, with restaurants, entertainment and shops; scenic hills (and hillside estates); and vibrant, multicultural neighborhoods.
Managed by the Oakland Marriott City Center, with some services provided by the CVB, the Oakland Convention Center serves as the major venue here, with 64,000 sq. ft. of function space, plus the Marriott’s 25,000 sq. ft., for a contiguous total of 89,000 sq. ft. (the Marriott also provides 483 guest rooms). It’s a convenient 10 minutes from the Oakland Airport—a Southwest Airlines hub. The recently renovated Waterfront Hotel, now a Joie de Vivre boutique property, is a hotspot at Jack London Square, partially because of its popular Miss Pearl’s Jam House restaurant. Actually, the whole city has become an outpost of gourmet dining, with chefs like Jeremy Umland, of the popular Ozumo, escaping the high costs of the restaurant business in San Francisco.
Adjacent to Oakland is the city (and, as some may be tempted to say, the country) of Berkeley, noted for its university, its somewhat anti-establishment vibe, its fascinating, walkable downtown and its reputation as the birthplace of California cuisine, with Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse as the on-going epicenter. With a plethora of restaurants, you can dine in as many cuisines as there are languages spoken here.
New to Berkeley is the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, a multimillion-dollar reincarnation of the 1910 landmark hotel, with 199 guest rooms and 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting rooms and banquet space. On the Berkeley Marina is the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, an IACC-certified hotel and conference center with 378 guest rooms and 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Geographically speaking, the Tri-Valley region is part of the East Bay, although in recent years it has been working to establish its own identity as a wine country destination. And, with 45 wineries, golf, and increasingly, fine dining, it’s succeeding. While it doesn’t have a bay waterfront—it’s east of the Caldecott Tunnel from Berkeley—its valleys benefit from their proximity to the bay, which tempers the climate with the warm days and cool nights that make good grape-growing terroir.
The Tri-Valley designation encompasses a picturesque group of small cities and towns: Danville (a new addition), Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore and San Ramon. With a number of meetings properties, at various price points, they’re an affordable wine country choice, and easily accessible to San Francisco via BART. Among the hotels are the Marriott Pleasanton, with 242 guest rooms and 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the Hilton Pleasanton at The Club (hilton.com), which offers access to the trendy ClubSport along with its 292 rooms and 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also in Pleasanton is the Alameda County Fairgrounds, a 270-acre park-like facility with 10 buildings for events, ideal for trade and consumer shows, conventions, team-building and more.
The largest of the wineries, Wente Vineyards can accommodate up to 150 guests indoors and up to 1,000 outdoors on the Terrace Lawn. It also features an 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed golf course. Other venues include the 20,000-square-foot Palm Event Center in the Vineyard, set on 120 acres and offering a variety of spaces for 40 to 700 guests, and Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery, which can accommodate up to 550 guests in their 9,000-square-foot event room. Both have opened over the past few years, expanding the area’s attraction for group business.
A new addition also is the renovated Shannon Community Center, in Dublin, which features 19,700 sq. ft. meeting and function space for 400 theater-style and 300 classroom-style.
SOUTH BAY/SAN MATEO COUNTY
San Mateo County, in San Francisco’s South Bay, is well-known for its upscale bedroom communities and convenience to downtown San Francisco. But the county actually has a much broader reach than commuter rail and highways. First, this 741-square-mile area is bordered east and west by the Bay and the Pacific Ocean, creating two different coastlines. It’s also home to Palo Alto (and Stanford University), an integral part of Silicon Valley. (In fact, representing this major city is responsible for the CVB’s recent name change to San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau). And last, but not least, it’s the gateway for San Francisco International Airport.
The inland cities offer a range of dedicated meetings venues, from the light-filled South San Francisco Convention Center, with 20,600 sq. ft. of function space, to the San Mateo County Event Center, which has more than 200,000 sq. ft. of indoor space and a plethora of outdoor space.
The county’s hotels also offer a variety of options, many with renovations or upgrades just completed or on the books. Among them are the Crowne Plaza Cabana Palo Alto, with completion of a major renovation of the overall hotel, including all sleeping rooms, expected this month; and the Garden Court Hotel – Palo Alto, with a multimillion-dollar renovation of its guest rooms and meeting space.
The Pacific coast is equally well represented, with The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay’s $2.4-million soft goods renovation, transformation of the former library into a wine room, a facelift of the spa and the renovation of the Grand Ballroom, among other improvements. In 2009 the Beach House Hotel opened a luxurious massage room and renovated both the pool and outdoor Jacuzzi.
The third-largest city in California—and the 10th largest in the country—San Jose has a lot to offer meetings groups, with easy access to airlift (Mineta San Jose Airport is minutes from downtown), numerous meetings hotels, a bustling restaurant and entertainment scene and, of course, the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. For planners on a budget, or even those just seeking convenience, the city features 5,000 hotel rooms downtown within walking distance of the convention center and cultural facilities or within a short light-rail ride. (The rail stops in front of the convention center, so no cars or shuttle transportation are needed.)
In spite of the economic challenges, 2009 was a very good year, according to Dan Fenton, CEO of Team San Jose, a community-driven partnership that acts as the CVB and works with local hoteliers, organized labor, arts and business leaders as a one-stop-shop for planners. Not only was 2009 the largest revenue-generating year for the city from the Team San Jose-managed properties, he says, but also, for the second year in a row, a customer service survey indicated that 97% would return in the future.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
The flagship of the city’s meeting facilities, the convention center showcases 430,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space, with 143,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space, an additional 31 meeting rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of pre-function space. It’s also on the way to being certified as a green business, with numerous recycling and energy conservation programs in place—including composting, one of the few centers on the West Coast to offer this service. The city’s cultural facilities, all under the Team San Jose umbrella, include the Center for the Performing Arts, California and Montgomery theaters, Parkside Hall and the Civic Auditorium, offering numerous configurations for your events.
Meetings hotels include the Hilton San Jose & Towers, which is adjacent to the convention center and recently completed an $11-million renovation; it features 354 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Another sizeable property is The Fairmont San Jose, which has 805 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space.
Smaller in size than its neighbor San Jose, Santa Clara nevertheless packs a meetings punch. Home to such high-tech luminaries as Intel, Applied Materials and Sun Microsystems, it draws groups to its 302,000-square-foot convention center. A new 22,400-square-foot ballroom opened last year, expanding the city’s options for larger groups.
Santa Clara has more than 3,800 hotel rooms citywide. Among its full-service properties are the Santa Clara Marriott, which offers 759 guest rooms and 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara, featuring 501 newly renovated guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. By the way, under a new incentive program, if you hold your qualifying meeting at the Hyatt between now and September 30, 2010, you’ll receive up to a 10% rebate off your master bill.
Fun off-sites can be found at California’s Great America, a huge theme park with thrills, chills and excitement for your attendees of all ages. The Intel Museum is another option, offering hands-on opportunities to learn about Silicon Valley and its history. Or, if you’ve got a more active group, try Strike Cupertino, in nearby Cupertino, where your group can suit up in logo-ed T-shirts and bowl, dine and enjoy a little friendly, team-building rivalry.
For more information about properties, venues and attractions in Northern California, visit smartmeetings.com/showcases/northern-california.