From whale watching in Monterey Bay to the otherworldly giant redwoods of Humboldt County, Northern California’s coast offers singular escapes for groups.
Driving the swooping, curving Pacific Coast Highway from Big Sur to Mendocino puts wings on your wheels and turns your accelerator into an exhilarator—few roads can compare. Along the way, the contoured landscape of cliffs, coves and coastal plains, lush with botany and wind-swept cypress and pine, is continental in its magnificence.
Whether passing through the magical portals of the Golden Gate Bridge or taking in lighthouse views from Pigeon Point to Point Arena, the sense of place is powerful and patriotic—nowhere else does America begin and end so dramatically.
“This Land Is Your Land” was folk singer Woody Guthrie’s ode to the redwoods, and as groups will discover with the following venues and experiences, coastal Northern California is heaven on earth.
ASILOMAR CONFERENCE GROUNDS, PACIFIC GROVE
Its name formed from the Spanish words for “refuge” and the “sea,” this celebrated Monterey Peninsula landmark is a coastal sanctuary with great historical and outdoor appeal. Opened in 1913, Asilomar was designed by San Francisco architect Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame; 11 original Arts & Crafts-style buildings are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. With 313 guest rooms, the complex today can accommodate groups of up to 1,000 throughout 38 conference and meeting spaces.
Set on 107 acres of ecologically diverse beachfront land, Asilomar is rich with meetings history, from the original YWCA campers in 1913 to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters descending for an Acid Test in 1966. Alluring, too, are the activities connected to the land and sea, including self-guided walking tours and hike-and-bike trails, bird watching, surfing and sunbathing on the mile-long Asilomar State Beach.
WHALE WATCHING, MONTEREY BAY
To see a whale “spyhopping” (surfacing to get its navigational bearings) or breaching is one of nature’s great spectacles; to look a whale close up in the eye is awe-inspiring, if not life-changing.
The California coast is one of few places in the world where passing whales can be seen year-round, with scenic Monterey Bay offering a prime vantage point. Teeming with krill, anchovies and other marine life, the Monterey Submarine Canyon, the ocean’s answer to the Grand Canyon, provides an ideal feeding ground for several whale species.
Described as the “marine equivalent of going on a safari in Africa,” whale watching in Monterey Bay is a must for groups, with several local operators, including the long-running Princess Monterey Whale Watching (www.montereywhalewatching.com) and Monterey Bay Whale Watch (www.montereybaywhalewatch.com), providing narrated tours. Seeing a whale is virtually guaranteed, along with dolphins and porpoises, and the face-to-face encounter is mind-blowing.