San Diego serves up more than just coastal beauty
San Diego conjures up images of sandy beaches, sunny skies and tan Californians.
But while it does offer stunning shorelines and warm weather combined with a patently laidback vibe, San Diego is more than just an oversized beach town. It is a cosmopolitan city with a strong dose of culture. World-class museums coexist with killer waves. Casual taco stands sit beside restaurants serving haute cuisine. Both dive bars decorated with surfboards and swanky nightclubs entertain the masses. San Diego is both casual and luxurious, historic and modern—and everything in between.
The city is home to the nation’s largest urban cultural park, Balboa Park, with beautiful gardens, museums and more (see sidebar on pg. 147 for more information). It is also quickly becoming known for its brewery scene and was even named the No. 1 microbrew beer town by Men’s Journal. “Sustainable seafood and craft beer are what San Diego is known for,” says Nicole Lazar, publicist for the Hotel Solamar San Diego.
San Diego has many international neighborhoods, and is considered to be the birthplace of California, which is why the city was dubbed the Plymouth Rock of the West Coast. Plus, it is home to more Nobel Laureates than any other city in the U.S. So, while you might meet a surfer warming up in Coffee Bean after riding some waves, you could also cross paths with a brilliant scientist or talented author.
Aimee Atwood, executive assistant for ARM, Inc. brought the company’s annual three-day global sales and marketing conference to San Diego in January. Because the attendees were coming from all over the world, San Diego’s accessibility was a plus. The airport is just minutes away from downtown and city attractions, and has strong airlift throughout the country.
Atwood says that San Diego is a wonderful meetings destination—the attendees felt like they were on vacation. “We have the world-famous zoo; SeaWorld is here; you’ve got Legoland, great nightlife, Balboa Park and lots of little communities. I am very partial to San Diego—I love it,” she says.
The area’s temperate climate makes it conducive to enjoying the outdoors—almost all year long. To capitalize on the weather, Atwood hosted a few lunches outside with views of the water, which gave her meeting a special feel. “We have so much outdoor space at most of our hotels,” says Margie Sitton, senior VP of sales, San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (sandiego.org). “If you are trying to solve a problem and you sit out with your peers on a balcony—ideas emerge from that.”
Plus, San Diego has 151 conference and convention hotels ranging from oceanfront luxury resorts and urban chic hotels to rustic retreats and sprawling golf resorts. “We represent the entire county, and we have a variety of price points. Our team can find a home for anyone. There are still affordable places to go that are waterfront,” Sitton says.
All of these superlative features combine to provide this vibrant metropolis an energy all its own. “We know that we have incredible weather and natural beauty, but when we know that we have a free spirit and a [relaxed] vibe that permeates our region—how do we define that in business? Our destination infuses optimism and positivity that relates to more productivity,” Sitton says.
Get San Diego on your meetings calendar and experience all that the city has to offer.
Downtown & The Gaslamp
Views of the San Diego Bay brighten downtown, the city’s urban hub where business and recreation happily coincide. Groups meeting—or spending pre- and post-time—here will also be within walking distance of Petco Park (where the San Diego Padres play), the San Diego Convention Center, Horton Plaza shopping center and many unique neighborhoods. The Gaslamp Quarter, established in 1850 and named after the black lamps lining the streets, is the historic heart of downtown. Today, the Gaslamp is the city’s top shopping, dining and entertainment district with more than 200 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and lounges, plus art galleries and boutiques. Nearby, Little Italy is a local gem with Italian charm and sidewalk cafes. The burgeoning East Village neighborhood promises urban parks, hip shops and great restaurants.
Major Meeting Venues
The San Diego Convention Center is the largest meeting facility in town and is within walking distance of many city attractions, including the bay. The center has 615,701 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 204,114 sq. ft. of meeting space, and offers eco-friendly meetings packages—it was just named the Recycler of the Year by the city of San Diego. The SDCC is slated to undergo an expansion that will add 225,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, about 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting room space, an additional 80,000-square-foot ballroom and a five-acre rooftop space with an outdoor performance venue overlooking the San Diego Bay. According to Steven Johnson, the center’s vice president of public affairs, an environmental impact report is still in progress and the city is working on a funding package, but if all goes according to plan, the center will be open by mid-2015.
Stingaree, San Diego.
Adjacent to the convention center, the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina is currently undergoing a $200 million transformation to become the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina. The hotel currently offers 1,362 spacious guest rooms, 160,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and a 446-slip private marina. The renovations will continue through 2014 and will include two new 40,000-square-foot high-tech ballrooms and a luxurious full-service spa. Also in the area, the new Hilton San Diego Bayfront has 1,190 guest rooms, 165,000 sq. ft. of space and a 4.3-acre San Diego Bay waterfront park for events.
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego brings 1,625 guest rooms and more than 125,000 sq. ft. of function space, as well as a full-service spa and outdoor pool, to the downtown meetings scene. Nearby, The US Grant hotel recently celebrated its 100th birthday and blends Art Deco accents with modern technological touches. Fresh from a total renovation, the hotel features 270 rooms, 33,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and event suites.
Four blocks from the convention center, the Hotel Solamar San Diego has 235 guest rooms, 8,800 sq. ft. of meeting space in six rooms and Jsix, a hip restaurant with farm-to-table cuisine. Lisa Marie Kennedy, owner of Landmark Events, has planned many meetings and events at the hotel. “Everyone is there to accommodate your guest. The location is spot on. I have a really tough time not hosting events [there],” she says.
A slew of hip hotels are also available for smaller to mid-sized meetings with built-in nightlife. Top options include the 258-room W San Diego, the 184-room Se San Diego, the 420-room Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, the 159-room Andaz San Diego (formerly the Ivy Hotel) and the 190-room Porto Vista Hotel.
With close proximity to the airport and situated along the bay, the 1,053-room Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina has 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, five restaurants, three swimming pools, tennis courts, jogging trails and a spa. The hotel was recently awarded LEED Gold-certification and has incorporated an aggressive green program, which includes measures to increase water and energy efficiency, divert waste (more than 220,000 pounds are diverted annually), introduce sustainable F&B choices, and improve indoor air quality.
Unique Venues & Activities
The Gaslamp is filled with cool event spaces and hot nightclubs that create the perfect backdrop for a soiree to remember. One such nightclub is Fluxx, which is within walking distance of the convention center and offers meetings by day and uber-chic receptions by night for up to 900 guests. The 11,000-square-foot venue has a custom lighting system, an outdoor patio with views of the city, a gourmet kitchen and an in-house mixologist.
San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina.
Another downtown hot spot, Stingaree, is a 22,000-square-foot, three-story event space that accommodates product launches, receptions and networking events for 10–2,000 attendees. It features cuisine by award-winning chef Antonio Friscia, six distinct event areas, sweeping rooftop space and state-of-the-art A/V systems.
Bice (pronounced bi-che) is a chic Italian restaurant with A/V equipment and private dining space that accommodates up to 40 (buyouts are also available). The restaurant is known for its cheese bar, and planners can host a tasting conducted by the restaurant’s cheesemonger—complete with housemade chutney and house-infused honey—in the private dining room.
Attendees often clamor to get out on the water, and there are many boat operators to accommodate them. ARM’s group enjoyed a regatta on the San Diego Bay organized by Harbor Sailboats. Harbor can arrange anything from a pleasure cruise to a full-on sailing competition with trophies.
Connected to downtown San Diego by bridge, Coronado Island is a picturesque urban isle with plenty of on-site recreation and San Diego charm. The circa-1888 Hotel del Coronado is an island fixture sitting on 28 oceanfront acres. Host to The Smart Mart on Nov. 18, the recently refurbished hotel has 679 guest rooms, 78 cottages and villas, 65,000 sq. ft. of event space, a full-service spa, and on-site shopping, dining and activities.
Mission Bay & Pacific Beach
North of downtown, the neighboring areas of Mission Bay and Pacific Beach have a more relaxed beach feel imbued with surfer culture. Year-round, locals and visitors can be seen running, biking and enjoying the area’s beaches. Mission Bay is the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, spanning 4,235 acres, of which 46% is land and 54% water. It is also home to SeaWorld San Diego, an attraction filled with rides, shows and aquatic life that also serves as an off-site meetings destination.
With a retreat-like setting in the heart of Mission Bay, the Paradise Point Resort & Spa recently underwent a total renovation, which modernized its guest rooms and meeting space. The waterfront hotel sits on 44 acres fronting Mission Bay and offers 462 bungalow-style guest rooms, 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a dedicated conference center and plenty of on-site recreational amenities from bikes—for riding around the resort and Mission Bay trails—to tennis and volleyball courts.
Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina.
ARM’s Atwood brought the company’s 275-person sales conference to the hotel in January. “We loved the Paradise Point. It is close to downtown, yet it feels remote, and it has a tropical feel—and it’s right on the San Diego Bay,” she says. “We were a success because of their staff. I would plan every single event there if I could.”
Located on a 14-acre peninsula, the Bahia Resort Hotel is another top option with 314 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The resort has a hydrotherapy pool and video arcade and offers a plethora of recreational options such as sailing, waterskiing and surfing. Also in the area, The Catamaran Resort & Spa, offers 313 guest rooms, more than 20,000 sq. ft. of space, a full-service spa and a business center.
Mission Valley & Old Town
East of Mission Bay, Mission Valley and Old Town serve up history alongside unique venues. Old Town is where San Diego was founded. It was the first permanent settlement of Spanish settlers and where the first mission was established. Today, Old Town is filled with historic buildings and is a go-to spot for Mexican food. Its festive atmosphere is enriched by mariachi bands and colorful architecture.
Mission Valley has a handful of meeting hotels located in and around its famed Hotel Circle. Town and Country Resort & Convention Center is a top spot for meetings with more than 1,000 guest rooms and 200,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, including the new 41,000-square-foot Grand Hall and Plaza Pavilion. The nearby Sheraton Mission Valley San Diego Hotel offers 260 rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
In nearby El Cajon, the Sycuan Resort offers 100 guest rooms, two golf courses, 11 tennis courts and a full-service spa.
La Jolla & North County
San Diego’s North County complements downtown and its surroundings with a relaxed environment and quaint towns. The area has rolling hills alongside expansive beaches and is perfect for a more retreat-like setting. North County has many luxurious full-service hotels that are ideal for working out tough business decisions and focusing on the task at hand.
For a quintessential San Diego experience, head to La Jolla Shores and book a lesson at Surf Diva. This friendly surf school was started in San Diego by two sisters and has become the top spot for learning to ride the waves. (They have since expanded the school to Los Angeles and Costa Rica.) The school offers both group and individual lessons with safety and fun in mind—first-timers might even get up on a wave before their lesson is over.
Located near the University of California, San Diego, the Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa has an IACC-certified conference center, 210 guest rooms and the feel of a rustic luxury ranch. Its nearby sister property, L’Auberge Del Mar, features a soothing beach-inspired decor, 120 guest rooms, 16,545 sq. ft. of meeting space, outdoor event space with ocean views and fire pits, a full-service spa and the lauded Kitchen 1540 restaurant.
In the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, The Grand Del Mar is styled like a Mediterranean estate and has 249 guest rooms, 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, an 18-hole golf course and a 21,000-square-foot spa. The Five-Diamond Lodge at Torrey Pines is another luxurious spot in the area for gatherings, with 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 170 guest rooms and a location near the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Rancho Bernardo Inn is also a beautiful retreat option with 287 guest rooms and 26,000 sq. ft. of conference space including the 10,140-square-foot Aragon Ballroom and 30,000 sq. ft. of outdoor meeting venues.
Just outside of San Diego in Temecula, the Four-Diamond Pala Casino Spa & Resort encompasses a Las Vegas-style casino, a 507-room hotel, 10 restaurants, 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and a 10,000-square-foot, full-service spa and salon that features 14 treatment rooms.
The San Diego International Airport, which is minutes from downtown, is served by numerous major carriers such as American, Continental, Delta, Southwest, United and Virgin America and provides direct connections to many U.S. cities. The airport will undergo enhancements to Terminal 2 in 2013.