Los Angeles delivers glitz and glam to meetings
Gone are the days when downtown Los Angeles rolled up the sidewalks at 5 p.m. Today, visitors are far more likely to find an evening shift to red carpets that beckon visitors to bustling restaurants, lounges and clubs.
Los Angeles seems to bring out the celebrity wannabe in everyone, and opportunities are ample for meeting-goers to sample that glam vibe.
The city also has a natural advantage in luring meetings and conventions to the West Coast: a mild climate with more than 300 sunny days a year, which inspires planners to stage outdoor events during their stay. Many organizers say the weather is a major draw for the region. An outdoor cocktail reception in February can sound pretty attractive to an East Coast resident, and even in January attendees might take a long lunch to stick their toes in the sand just once. But indoor venues, including the new Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles or the event space atop the Grammy Museum, also offer spectacular views of the city skyline. And you don’t need to be a Hollywood A-lister to enjoy some of the finest amenities the city has to offer.
The new, vibrant L.A. spirit is embodied in the downtown campus anchored by L.A. Live, Staples Center and the convention center. The promise that new hotels, restaurants and entertainment options would reenergize the city and bring groups back downtown was once met with doubt by sophisticated urbanites. But now it appears to be bearing fruit.
“Four-million people came through L.A. Live last year, while the convention center had three million. That says a lot,” says Michael Krouse, senior vice president of sales and client services for LA Inc., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Krouse says Los Angeles expects to see a 38% increase in hotel rooms booked for conventions this fiscal year, while self-contained hotel meetings are expected to increase by as much as 30%.
Conventions such as the American Heart Association’s Stroke Conference and special events like the Grammys, ESPYs and Emmys have brought their own excitement and glamour to downtown’s convention center, Staples Center arena and adjacent L.A. Live. That makes downtown the place to be—where meeting attendees can rub elbows with the Hollywood elite in the evening and conduct serious business in elegant settings during the day.
“It was always our goal with creating L.A. Live to be a one-stop shopping destination,” says Michael Roth, vice president of communications for L.A. Live and the Staples Center. Roth says last year’s X Games used the Grammy Museum, Nokia Theater and Club, and Nokia Plaza, as well as surrounding public streets. “It was the busiest the destination has been to date,” he says.
The Grammys at Staples Center and Oscars at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood recently framed the NBA’s all-star weekend in Los Angeles, highlighting the central city’s new vibe. The resurgent downtown has brought locals, tourists and residents back to the city center. Even Fido and Fluffy are welcome downtown these days, with doggy daycare and pet-friendly cafes tucked into downtown neighborhoods alongside grocery stores and major retailers. The 100-block Fashion District and the Jewelry District also are temptingly nearby.
Repeat visitors can find something new in ethnic neighborhoods that include Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Armenian. The city’s diversity, with residents from 140 countries who speak more than 200 languages, is a draw for international visitors (a segment that increased 21% in 2010 vs. 2009) and domestic groups alike.
The makeover isn’t done yet. Denver-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, which built both Staples Center and L.A. Live, has announced plans to build an NFL stadium adjacent to the convention center. While Farmers Insurance has already secured naming rights, the project has other hurdles to overcome before it’s shovel-ready. But the plans are another indication of the cachet Los Angeles has. If it does come about, it will add another meeting venue connected to the Los Angeles Convention Center, making L.A. an even more compelling destination for events.
The new downtown campus of the Los Angeles Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live, along with the 878-room JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live and 123-room Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, make downtown Los Angeles a walkable destination again—and that’s music to the ears of meeting planners. The LEED-certified convention center is the city’s largest venue, with 720,000 sq. ft. of event space, 64 meeting rooms and a theater. The 20,000-seat Staples Center hosts sports events and concerts, but planners can also book any of 10 smaller spaces, such as the exclusive Lexus Club or San Manuel Room for private dining for up to 450 guests. “Some groups use the basketball court or ice-skating rink,” Roth says.
JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live rooftop.
New and upgraded hotels with a wide variety of meeting and event space make planners’ jobs even easier. The JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles at L.A. Live reaped some of the rewards of being the new kids on the block during the Grammys and NBA All-Star weekend. The Ritz-Carlton hosted both sponsors and performers who came for the recent Grammys and took up more than 100 of its 123 guest rooms. The NBA took over both hotels for a week, according to Brigid Finley, director of public relations for The Ritz-Carlton.
The JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton share more than a high-rise tower: They also share much of the 170,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space in the tower, allowing for maximum flexibility for planners who want to book downtown.
“Those who need to do business at the Staples Center and convention center have a place to stay instead of going to the Westside,” Finley says.
Proximity to L.A. Live gives the new hotels a certain cachet. What could be better than having a plethora of world-class dining and entertainment options just a few steps from the front door of your hotel? The choices are varied: The Farm of Beverly Hills, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Katsuya, ESPN Zone or Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill will get you started.
Meeting attendees and convention delegates can also throw a party of their own at L.A. Live, selecting between the 59,000-square-foot Club Nokia, the cozier Conga Room for Latin jazz or a full-blown awards show at Nokia Theatre, which has 235,000 sq. ft. of space on three levels.
The Music Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and several art museums are just a quick shuttle or Metro ride away. The California Science Center can stage special events amid its exhibits, including the new Ecosystems, and incorporate the city’s popular food truck culture.
Other downtown hotels have also spruced up their look and offer enticing spaces for elegant or casual events.
The Luxe City Center Hotel opened last fall after a $10-million remake that converted the hotel from a Holiday Inn into a high-end boutique property across the street from L.A. Live. It offers 164 guest rooms, 16 suites and 3,000 sq. ft. of elegant meeting space.
The historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles’ 683 guest rooms include newly updated executive level rooms. The property provides 70,000 sq. ft. of function space, including a ballroom that once hosted the Oscars.
Across the street, the 188-room Hilton Checker Los Angeles has a scenic rooftop deck (Checkers Uptown) and a cozy 3,300 sq. ft. of meeting space. In nearby Little Tokyo, the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens (formerly the New Otani Hotel and Gardens) has 434 rooms, Asian-inspired suites and 9,000 sq. ft. of space, as well as an Asian-fusion restaurant.
In the financial district and close to the convention center, the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown is a favorite place for an early evening rendezvous in its sunken bar and two-story lobby. The hotel has 469 guest rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also available is the Wilshire Grand Los Angeles, with 900 rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of space. It is mere steps from the 7th Street & Metro subway station, as well as major area retailers.
Other downtown options include the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza with 453 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the iconic Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, Los Angeles—often seen in films—which has completed a facelift to its 1,354 rooms and 110,000 sq. ft. of space.
Shoppers might choose the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel for its proximity to the Jewelry District, as well as its 485 guest rooms and 26,000 sq. ft. of event space. Sports buffs may want to select the newly renovated 72 rooms of the Hotel at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which also has 6,900 sq. ft. of space, extensive athletic facilities and a spa. Those who want to see and be seen might enjoy the chic Standard Downtown L.A., with 207 rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. of whimsically named space.
Downtown’s resurgence doesn’t mean other areas lose out. In fact, just the opposite is happening, according to L.A. Inc.’s Krouse. “The [city] improvements have an incredible domino affect for the rest of the city too,” he says.
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Next year, the U.S. Travel Association will stage International Pow Wow in Los Angeles, showcasing the city’s new sparkle to an ever-growing international audience of tour operators and trade show organizers who will fan out across the region to get a taste of L.A.
The name Hollywood conjures up images of fame, fortune and glamour—and groups can at least enjoy the glamour. Today’s Hollywood glitters with more than movie stars. The music industry has its own cadre of performers who can be found along Sunset Strip and at area clubs, and sports figures aren’t far behind. The Hollywood Walk of Fame turned 50 last year and this year solidified the growing link between sports and entertainment by adding a star for Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers.
The Hollywood & Highland retail, dining and entertainment complex is a popular spot and home to the Kodak Theater, where the Oscars reign. Across the street, the Hollywood Museum boasts an eclectic display of entertainment industry memorabilia.
Planners might host a cocktail hour at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Spare Room—a modern-day gaming parlor and cocktail lounge featuring vintage bowling lanes for the trendy set. New restaurants available to groups include the interactive Hard Rock Cafe Los Angeles and the first Rolling Stone Restaurant. Awards presentations, product launches or fundraisers are welcome at the 1940s-era Art Deco Hollywood Palladium, which is located on Sunset Boulevard and has a 4,000-person capacity and modern production facilities.
Hollywood Boulevard is rife with nightclubs whose hipness and trendiness can change as quickly as starlets change clothes. The current crop of cool clubs includes the Public Gastropub, Voyeur, Beacher’s Madhouse vaudeville-style show and Drai’s at the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences.
Meeting-goers who don’t spot a celebrity can always count on the city’s most famous landmark—the Hollywood sign—to be in the same place high on Cahuenga Peak, above the city and readily visible from the Hollywood & Highland complex. The icon is so important that the city last year purchased the parcel it sits on and added the acreage to Griffith Park. The deal was spearheaded in part by Aileen Getty (of the Getty Museum family) and Hugh Hefner, whose Playboy Mansion is a favorite spot for posh events.
Hollywood hotels range from uber trendy and historic to modern and classic. New this year is the luxury W Hollywood Hotel & Residences at Hollywood and Vine. On track for LEED Silver-certification, it offers a comfortable 13,000 sq. ft. of function space that was sold out for recent citywide events. On Sunset Strip near the House of Blues, another option is the Andaz West Hollywood, an iconic landmark overlooking the heart of Hollywood that offers 10,000 sq. ft. of space for groups.
The Standard Hollywood emulates its downtown sister hotel, this time with a poolside cafe and blue Astroturf pool deck. It’s ideal for small or informal groups that would be comfortable in its 1,900 sq. ft. of event space. Anchoring the Hollywood & Highland complex is the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. Catered by Wolfgang Puck, it has 50,000 sq. ft. of space and is convenient to the Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The revamped Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is the grand old dame, dating back to 1927. Its Tropicana poolside bar is sometimes as much in demand as the hottest club on Sunset Strip, and it offers 23,000 sq. ft. of sophisticated space—including the iconic Blossom Room, host of the first Academy Awards ceremony.
For a city spanning just 415 acres, Universal City packs a major punch in the tourist and meetings markets. Universal Studios Hollywood, with its theme park and Citywalk entertaining, dining, shopping and nightlife complex, is among the most popular attractions in Southern California. It’s also a meeting planner’s dream, where sound stages, backlots, theme-park areas and theaters set the background for first-class events in the same settings used by movie and television crews.
Downtown’s resurgence has carried over to this gem of an area roughly five miles north of downtown. “We’re seeing an increase in smaller events coming back,” says Kim Weedmark, vice president of special events and conventions sales for Universal Studios Hollywood. “We’re also seeing more international groups, corporate meetings and employee-recognition events.”
It may sound cliche, but Universal Studios Hollywood presents a turnkey opportunity for planners to be as creative as they’d like in the park, on the backlot or at special group venues. “It’s a true Hollywood experience—a working movie studio and built-in entertainment,” Weedmark says. “It takes the bored out of boardroom, with...a Hollywood feel.”
Ballroom at Sheraton Universal Hotel.
A favorite venue for planners is the 9,600-square-foot Globe Theatre. The venue can seat up to 550 for an event or meal, complete with red-carpet entry, catering and a new HD system that offers planners state-of-the-art technology built into the rental price. “That’s obviously a huge incentive for those meeting planners looking for value in a turnkey, ballroom-style venue,” Weedmark says.
Large conventions can enjoy a progressive dinner using food stations throughout the theme park, while enjoying rides and other attractions. King Kong—whose presence is hard to ignore—made his debut as a 3-D attraction last year, which focused extra attention on the park. The award-winning International Cafe is another spot seemingly made for groups, though almost any part of the park can be turned into a themed event—with the props built in.
To get hands-on with the entertainment industry, you can tap the services of NBC Universal Studio Special Events, which takes groups inside Universal’s production lot. Unique team-building activities include Make Your Own Movie, during which attendees take on various movie roles.
Smaller groups might head to casual local eateries such as Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs and Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers, or schedule private parties at Wolfgang Puck L.A. Bistro or Samba’s Brazilian Steakhouse at Citywalk next door.
The closest hotel to the Universal Studios Hollywood is the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, within walking distance of the front gate. It has 482 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also nearby is the Sheraton Universal Hotel, which features a Green Room Lounge design that takes you back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It has 451 rooms and more than 32,000 sq. ft. of space.
Just a mile away, Beverly Garland Holiday Inn near Universal Studios has an in-house theater and an 1,800-square-foot screening room for groups, along with 12,000 sq. ft. of other function space. The hotel runs a shuttle to Universal Studios.
Sandi Cain, a regular contributor to Smart Meetings, is a freelance journalist who covers the meetings, hospitality and tourism industries.
- Karl Strauss Brewery: California craft brewery; Universal City
- LA Market by Kerry Simon: modern American with California flair; downtown
- Rivera: Latin cuisine, with indoor and outdoor space; downtown San Antonio Winery; Gourmet Italian; downtown
Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant: Japanese, 21 floors up in the Financial District; downtown
- Los Angeles International Airport, the sixth-busiest in the world, is served by 15 domestic and 50 international carriers. It offers Flyaway bus service direct to Union Station in downtown and a shuttle to the Metro Green Line.
- LA/Ontario International Airport is a less-crowded alternative to the Los Angeles International Airport, located about 35 miles from downtown L.A. Its primary carriers are Southwest Airlines, United Airlines/United Express, Delta Air Lines, US Airways and American Airlines.
- Bob Hope Airport in Burbank provides service by seven carriers. In addition to car-rental companies, hotel shuttles and taxis, an airport shuttle can take you to the nearby Amtrak station for connections to downtown.
Long Beach Airport handles six carriers, including JetBlue Airways, Alaska/Horizon and Allegiant, to 19 destination cities. There are five car-rental facilities across from the terminal, and shuttles, vans and cabs are available to drive to downtown L.A., 23 miles away.
- A show at the remodeled Pantages Theater, which dates back to 1930 and once housed the Oscars.
- A tour of the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live, featuring an assortment of musical artifacts, behind-the-scenes Grammy moments and interactive exhibits.
- The Globe Theater at Universal Studios.
- Grand Central Market, downtown, which has been offering fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and treats since 1917.
- California Science Center, downtown, for special events and food-truck catering or tours of a new exhibit, Ecosystems.