Situated at the heart of Southern California, Orange County is home to many of the things that make people think of fun in the sunny Golden State, from Disneyland and surfing to a creative spirit and an array of outdoor pursuits.
It also boasts another plus: location, location, location. CVB representatives uniformly place Orange County’s position on the map and easy accessibility (via car or airplane) high on the list of draws for planners who are considering booking meetings here.
Logistics aside, Anaheim and nearby Buena Park, Costa Mesa and Irvine, along with the coastal communities of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Dana Point, are all beaming with sunshine as well as plenty of attractions to charm meeting attendees.
Centrally located in Southern California, the home of Disneyland has an excellent reputation as a meeting destination that “gets it” in terms of customer service, facilities and industry knowledge, according to Elaine Cali, spokeswoman for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau.
She says fabulous year-round weather, four airports (John Wayne, LAX, Long Beach and Ontario), some 55,000 hotel rooms, oodles of off-site venues and the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC), the largest on the West Coast, are Anaheim’s top attributes.
The ACC is in the process of expanding by 100,000 square feet with its adjacent Grande Plaza, an esplanade area that will feature outdoor meeting space.
Hilton Anaheim and Anaheim Marriott, both adjacent to the ACC, and Disneyland Resort’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Disneyland Hotel are popular group-friendly properties.
Many attractions in the area double as off-site event venues, including Downtown Disney and Anaheim GardenWalk, where groups have been known to seal off areas for events, and Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum.
Cali says groups also enjoy cooking classes at Patina Restaurant Group’s eateries at Downtown Disney, a day at the ballpark for a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball game, and golf tournaments at local courses such as Tustin Ranch Golf Club and Anaheim Hills Golf Course, which also sports a clubhouse that’s well-suited for a variety of events for up to 400 people.
Buena Park is conveniently located in the middle of Orange County, and according to Sara Copping, director at Visit Buena Park, it’s important to note that Buena Park’s hotels are just a 10-minute drive north of the ACC, with free shuttle service to and from Anaheim.
Group-friendly properties in Buena Park include Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center, Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, Radisson Suites Hotel, Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites, and Courtyard by Marriott.
“Buena Park truly understands that our clients are looking for good quality accommodations for their groups while staying within an affordable budget,” Copping says. “Our hotels do not have the costly additional resort and parking fees that other destinations have.”
She adds the area is appealing to planners who want a popular destination in the West, with great accessibility to everything that is Southern California.
Knott’s Berry Farm is a favored off-session attraction that groups often visit, and Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament welcomes groups to watch swordfights and an authentic jousting tournament during a four-course meal.
Location and a visitor-friendly environment are key draws in Costa Mesa as well, according to Kim Glen, spokeswoman for the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau.
“Our group houses offer complimentary shuttle to and from John Wayne Airport, you don’t need a car to get around town, there are various sites to see within the city, such as Segerstrom Center for the Arts and South Coast Plaza, and excellent dining options are all within minutes of our hotels,” she says.
Group properties include Hilton, Westin, Wyndham and Ayres Hotel and Suites properties, and the Orange County Fair and Event Center.
Glen adds that Noguchi Garden, Segerstrom Center for the Arts complex and the Camp’s Tree House, a rooftop patio that accommodates about 100 people, are sought-after off-site venues.
“Golf tournaments and cooking classes with Costa Mesa’s top chefs can be arranged,” she says, citing two popular area activities for visiting groups.
Irvine is conveniently located 45 miles south of Los Angeles and 90 miles north of San Diego in the center of Orange County, with close proximity to area theme parks, attractions and beaches.
“Not only that, but Irvine has been recognized as ‘America’s Safest Big City’ since 2005,” says Michelle Carlen, director of sales at Destination Irvine. “With diverse dining options, retail, arts and culture and the most outdoor open space in the county, Irvine offers a true Southern California experience in a comfortable environment.”
Among its group-friendly facilities are the Hyatt Regency Irvine, Irvine Marriott and Hilton Irvine; the Orange County Great Park, a multiuse epicenter for large-scale indoor and outdoor events including major music festivals and other unique corporate events; and the University of California, Irvine-based Bren Events Center, which accommodates up to 5,000 people.
After the meeting, Carlen says groups enjoy visiting the Irvine Museum, the University of California, Irvine’s Beall Center for Art + Technology and the Irvine Spectrum Center, an outdoor retail and entertainment center with 100 shops and boutiques, restaurants and entertainment options including the Irvine Improv Comedy Club.
“Groups can also enjoy activities including golf, wine-tasting and cooking classes, or team-building activities ranging from outdoor activities like ropes courses at Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center or scavenger hunts at Irvine Spectrum Center,” she says.
Coastal Orange County
The Orange County coast’s group-friendly seaside communities boast charm, some of Southern California’s greatest resorts, gorgeous scenery and, of course, a favorable central Orange County locale.
Newport Beach is an upscale beach community that’s easily accessible and easily navigable for meeting attendees once they arrive, says Tom Bennett, senior vice president of sales at Visit Newport Beach.
“Beautiful year-round weather allows groups to enjoy outside venues offered by all Newport Beach hotels,” he says.
Among them are the Hyatt Regency, which completed a $2 million lobby renovation in 2011, Marriott Hotel & Spa, Marriott Bayview and Fairmont properties, as well as the boutique Balboa Bay Club & Resort.
Bennett points out other top group options.
“The Newport Beach Vineyards & Winery has a beautiful wine cave for group events and outdoor meeting space,” Bennett says. “The Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina offers a mile of beachfront meeting space and many team-building activities.”
Bennett says there are many activities for groups to choose from here, including visiting the Orange County Museum of Art, boating and dining at Newport Harbor, hiking, kayaking and bird watching along the Newport Beach back bay, and shopping and dining at Fashion Island and Corona Del Mar.
Huntington Beach is centrally located and easily accessible from anywhere in the country thanks to three major airports servicing the area, according to Madison Fisher, spokeswoman for Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau.
“Groups looking for a true Southern California experience have a very specific visual in mind, and that is Huntington Beach,” she says. “This is the all-American beach city where you will actually see surfers running down Main Street with their surfboards, anxious to hit the waves, and board shorts and flip flops have become somewhat of a uniform.”
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort and Shorebreak Hotel, a Joie De Vivre property, are Huntington Beach’s best meetings-friendly options.
Among its unique attractions are the International Surfing Museum and the Surf Hall of Fame, considered the Grauman’s Chinese Theater of surfing, and Central Park, which Fisher says accommodates outdoor concerts and sports-driven team-building events.
“With a state-of-the-art sports complex complete with softball, indoor soccer, batting cages and a disc golf course, the sports complex is a turnkey location for group sports activities,” she says.
Another great option for groups is the ability to close a stretch of 5th Street for private events during certain times of the year.
“This area has been used for an outdoor ice rink, movie premiers, concerts, sidewalk chalk art show and even morning yoga,” Fisher says. “For a planner looking to step outside the box, this is a great alternative to make the street their playground with the amazing backdrop of the iconic Huntington Beach pier.”
Laguna Beach is a historical, quaint and walkable artist’s village where meeting attendees will enjoy beautiful beaches, exceptional dining, art galleries and oceanfront accommodations, according to Ashley Johnson, spokeswoman at the Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau.
“This environment of creativity, culture and natural beauty not only facilitates ‘getting down to business’ but provides a memorable and lasting experience for all in attendance,” she says, adding that due to its locale, higher attendance can usually be expected for meetings. “Attendees seem to like the vast and unique options for team-building activities, including artistic endeavors and physical challenges from beach volleyball to kayaking and tidepooling.”
Among the destination’s group-friendly properties are Hotel Laguna, Inn at Laguna Beach, Montage Laguna Beach and Surf and Sand Resort.
Unique to the area, in keeping with its artist colony spirit, is Sawdust Studio Art Classes, a year-round program of art workshops that provide the opportunity to create a unique art piece, to wear or to share, in just one session. Scheduled classes are available, as are private lessons or custom group classes, according to Johnson.
“Attendees can choose from jewelry, fused glass, oil painting, pottery and more,” she says.
In nearby Dana Point are The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa and Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Doheny Beach-Dana Point, three more standout Orange County properties.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus West.