You can’t beat the setting of L.A.’s valleys
Just as the stereotypical Valley Girl of the ’80s has morphed into today’s modern woman, the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys of Los Angeles have morphed from suburban residential enclaves into sophisticated urban destinations worthy of a look by meeting planners.
The valleys have the intrigue of the entertainment industry, a wealth of history, modern corporate behemoths, copious open space, upscale ethnic neighborhoods and the cachet of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl football game held in Pasadena.
Nestled beneath the Los Angeles Basin’s mountains—the valleys afford visitors sweeping views of the region from mountains to the edge of central Los Angeles. San Fernando Valley visitors enjoy picturesque drives through the canyons to Malibu and other beach cities. San Gabriel Valley visitors get a glimpse of downtown L.A. to the west and dramatic mountains to the east. But the lure of the entertainment industry is nearly insurmountable.
“The things I like to promote about the valleys [include] the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour and the NBC Studio Tour,” says Michael Krouse, CMP, CHME, senior vice president, sales and services for LA Inc. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s also tons of golf in the San Fernando Valley and a lot of high-end shopping.”
In the most recent American Express/CFO Research Global Business & Spending Monitor, 34% of 665 senior finance executive respondents to the survey said they’re planning to increase their spending on meetings this year with new or potential clients. That bodes well for areas such as the valleys, which surround major convention markets. Their location near but separate from huge cities can make them highly attractive.
Krouse says venues in cities such as North Hollywood and Burbank that are close to downtown may benefit from larger citywide conventions whose attendees more often are turning to outlying hotels during their stay. And options are plentiful, which is good news for planners seeking flexibility.
The Griffith Observatory
Pasadena is arguably the best-known city in the San Gabriel Valley. Just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles and easily reached via the Gold Line Metro Rail from Union Station, Pasadena is a favorite location for meeting planners seeking a smaller-city feel within a major metropolis. The city is also familiar to many as the host of the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day, which add cachet to the location. The 88-year-old Rose Bowl Stadium is set to get a $152 million facelift over the next three years.
“People have a positive impression of Pasadena across the board,” says Christine Carchia, CMP, director of sales and client services for the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau. “With our hotels, shopping, dining, meeting venues and safety, it’s a terrific place to come,” she says.
Pasadena upped its meetings profile with the comprehensive expansion of the Pasadena Convention Center in 2009. The revamped facility now holds a LEED Gold certification and includes a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 28,000-square-foot conference center, 26,650-square-foot pavilion and 55,000-square-foot exhibit hall in addition to the 3,000-seat Civic Auditorium. “Clients don’t have to share the convention center…and we’re seeing a positive response to that,” Carchia says.
Convention hotels include the Hilton Pasadena, the closest to the convention center, with 296 guest rooms and 28,504 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the 380-room Langham Huntington Pasadena, Los Angeles, the only Langham in the West and boasting the most meeting space of Pasadena’s hotels with 50,000 sq. ft. The 311-room Sheraton Pasadena is close to the Paseo Colorado shopping district and has 11,000-plus sq. ft. of space, while the 350-room Westin Pasadena offers a rooftop pool along with 26,000 sq. ft. Old Pasadena’s Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town offers 314 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of space.
More function space is in the works. The new NHL-regulation-sized Pasadena Ice Skating Center is set to debut this fall with bleacher seating for 180 and additional meeting space. The historic Pasadena Playhouse has reopened after a remodel and includes indoor and outdoor spaces that can accommodate groups of 40–400. And the repertory theatre company, A Noise Within, will open a 300-seat theater in a 33,000-square-foot facility this fall as the centerpiece of a new mixed-use development.
Meeting planners also might choose to host an event at one of Pasadena’s colleges. The California Institute of Technology—where the Richter scale was created and the go-to place for earthquake analysis—can host banquets for up to 800 people. Pasadena also is home to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, which stages regular events and cooking demonstrations. There are more than 500 restaurant options in Pasadena, so groups might also enjoy a broader taste of the city. Melting Pot Food Tours is one company for groups to consider.
Architectural aficionados won’t want to miss seeing The Gamble House, a prototypical American Craftsman bungalow built by Henry and Charles Green, the originators of the Arts and Crafts style of architecture predominant in parts of the city. And the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, founded in 1919 by railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington, is ideal for small group tours. A Tea and Tour package includes a docent-led tour of the 120-acre gardens, some of the galleries and lunch in the Rose Garden Tea Room.
During free time, attendees can squeeze in some shopping at One Colorado, Paseo Colorado or Old Pasadena for everything from trendy fashions to unique collectibles, or they can stop by the new 300 Pasadena state-of-the-art bowling lanes for spirited fun and networking.
Patio at Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center
GREATER SAN GABRIEL VALLEY
The San Gabriel Valley runs along the eastern edge of the Los Angeles basin, roughly between the Pasadena (SR 110), Foothill (I-210), Santa Monica (I-10) and San Gabriel River (I-605) freeways. Named for the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, the valley is one of the most ethnically diverse in the region. Asian, Pacific Islander, Spanish and Mexican influences predominate and vibrant Chinese communities draw a steady stream of visitors.
Meetings mainstays are set on extensive grounds that provide numerous indoor and outdoor event locations. They include the Pacific Palms Hotel & Conference Center in City of Industry, Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center in Pomona at the L.A. County Fairgrounds and Kellogg West Conference Center & Lodge on the grounds of Cal Poly Pomona.
The Pacific Palms Hotel & Conference Center has 298 guest rooms, 45,000 sq. ft. of function space and two golf courses on a 650-acre hilltop. “I tell people we’re at the intersection of Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire,” says Mark Podolski, director of sales and marketing.
Podolski says the hotel’s IACC certification is important to groups that are still perception-sensitive, and is particularly well-suited to training and regional management meetings. Pacific Palms has a high space-to-rooms ratio, enabling the facility to work with groups that need a lot of meeting space but fewer guest rooms. “That’s a real positive for us,” he says.
The complex has been in the news of late as the hotel’s owners strive to lure an NFL team to a proposed stadium near the hotel. Another proposal for downtown Los Angeles is being spearheaded by Denver-based AEG, L.A. Live’s management company. Pacific Palms hosts regular meetings with businesses and individuals interested in the project at its NFL project room. “The goal is to become the entertainment destination for visitors and residents,” Podolski says.
Ideally located in a park-like setting near the 10, 210 and 57 freeways, the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center is also near the Ontario Airport on the 543-acre Fairplex Exposition Complex, home of the Los Angeles County Fair.
The hotel has 247 suites and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that’s often used by association, corporate and SMERF groups. This fall, a new 85,000-square-foot conference center will open adjacent to the hotel. The hotel also has access to 300,000 sq. ft. of facilities at the fairgrounds, complete with props suitable for team-building events.
Tim McGill, director of sales and marketing, says management is pursuing LEED Silver-certification, as well as IACC affiliation.
The Kellogg West Conference Center & Hotel on the Cal Poly Pomona university campus has 85 guest rooms and 12,380 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. The IACC-certified center primarily draws corporate and government business, according to Sales and Marketing Manager Laura Elliott. She says the center’s nonprofit status and location on campus make it particularly attractive to groups that prefer not to use mainstream hotels. “The [rental] money goes back to the school, so that makes us unique,” she says. Another plus: The school’s students in the hospitality management program staff the center.
Other meetings-friendly hotels in the San Gabriel Valley include the Hilton Los Angeles/San Gabriel with 222 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Embassy Suites Arcadia-Pasadena Hotel with 190 rooms and 7,658 sq. ft.; DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Monrovia Pasadena Area with 171 rooms and 6,000-plus sq. ft.; the Courtyard Los Angeles Pasadena/Monrovia with 152 rooms and 5,062 sq. ft.; and the Courtyard by Marriott Los Angeles Baldwin Park with 195 rooms and 10,600 sq. ft. The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Claremont has 190 rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. and is near the Claremont Colleges.
Non-hotel venue options include the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale and the Santa Anita Park racetrack, the latter of which can host groups of 15–400 in private indoor facilities and up to 3,000 for an infield picnic. A new 315-acre Sportsplex is in the works in West Covina that will include a Big League Dreams Sports Park.
Those wishing to explore the local Chinese culture should check out San Gabriel Square, a 219,000-square-foot Asian mall set on nearly 12 acres in that city.
Four Season Westlake Village
GREATER SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
The San Fernando Valley is about a 20-minute drive from Hollywood, with Universal Studios Hollywood perched at its edge. Corporate meetings predominate here, but the link to the entertainment industry is never far away.
The Valley is home to the Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Studios (where hit shows including the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Conan and Mike & Molly are filmed) and has numerous other locations that look familiar for a reason. The city of Tarzana was actually named for the movie Tarzan. Studio City was named for, well, its movie studios. And Sherman Oaks was the place where Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were filmed. Even the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana, built in 1797, has a celebrity link: Bob Hope is buried in its cemetery.
Some meetings-friendly venues have their own claim to fame. The Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel in Glendale, once a fishing lodge for celebrities such as Clark Gable, today has 190 guest rooms, 4,500 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and an event center next door. The Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, which has 267 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, is known for car shows and a cadre of entertainment personalities who gather there.
A lesser-known venue well equipped to play on the film connection is Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall, once owned by cowboy star Gene Autry and the place where classics such as Gunsmoke were filmed. When not checking out memorabilia at an on-site museum, you can stage your own Old West event in production facilities that range from 11,200–22,000 sq. ft.
Clustered near Hollywood, the cities of Burbank, Glendale and North Hollywood offer a plethora of meetings venues. The Beverly Garland is in North Hollywood and in demand for regional meetings in part because of its proximity to the Bob Hope Airport, according to General Manager Bert Seneca. With 255 guest rooms, 12,000-plus sq. ft. of meeting space and a complimentary shuttle to Universal Studios theme park and the adjacent Citywalk for entertainment and dining, it easily serves as a hub for off-site adventures. Both Universal Studios and Warner Bros. rent out studio backlots for private events for thousands of people and Krouse calls their tours a “good look at working Hollywood.”
In Burbank, the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport, across the street from the Bob Hope Airport, has 488 rooms and 46,000 sq. ft. of space. Burbank’s Castaway restaurant nearby has impressive city and mountain views that make it attractive for off-site dinners.
Neighboring Glendale offers the IACC-certified Hilton Los Angeles North/Glendale Hotel & Executive Meeting Center with 351 rooms and 15,000 sq. ft. of space in its executive conference center. Nearby is the 272-suite Embassy Suites Los Angeles-Glendale with 5,000 sq. ft. of space near the Glendale Galleria. The new 1,700-seat Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge opened in January just northwest of Burbank. Large enough for full-scale Broadway productions, it’s also worth considering for business presentations.
Outside of the valley, small groups might choose the Hilton Garden Inn Valencia at Six Flags, which has 152 guest rooms and about 2,500 sq. ft. of meeting space near the well-known amusement park.
The Warner Center complex dominates the landscape in Woodland Hills. Meetings options include both the 326-room Hilton Woodland Hills/Los Angeles with 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and the 474-room Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills with 25,000 sq. ft. of space. Shopping, entertainment and dining complete the mix.
In Sherman Oaks, near the Galleria that started the Valley Girl craze of the ’80s, the Courtyard Los Angeles Sherman Oaks offers 213 rooms and 15,050 sq. ft. of space for groups.
Farther west, the Hyatt Westlake Plaza in Thousand Oaks has 262 guest rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. of space while the Renaissance Agoura Hills Hotel has 280 rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. and is near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
At the edge of Los Angeles County in Westlake Village, the 270-room Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village shares a campus with the California Health & Longevity Institute. In all, it has 45,000 sq. ft. of function space. General Manager Michael Newcombe says most of the hotel’s groups come strictly for business. For those groups, Newcombe says the hotel offers wellness breaks, morning runs or other activities that leverage the institute to help attendees stay on top of their game.
Groups that do include off-site trips often choose the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, which is perched on a hill in Simi Valley, just outside L.A. County. It can accommodate up to 1,500 for special events in several venues that include the Air Force One Pavilion. “There’s nothing like having dinner beneath the wing of Air Force One,” Seneca says.
The sheer variety of options in the valleys of Los Angeles works in favor of meeting planners seeking to stay fresh while accomplishing important business goals. “Our location offers the opportunity to be very unique and create memories, too,” Newcombe says.
Huntington Library Botanical Gardens
The valleys are accessible via numerous airports: the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Bernardino International Airport (SBD), Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport (BUR), L.A./Ontario International Airport (ONT) and John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County.