February 2015

San Diego’s array of heritage stops are group magnets

by Carolyn Blackburn

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    San Diego Beer and Wine Tours, wine train tour

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    Salerno Winery, Ramona

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    San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego’s consistent warm weather and coastal setting translate to a plethora of outdoor group options, taking advantage of 70 miles of beaches and an array of parks and gardens. The city’s rich cultural tapestry, including museums and a robust theater scene, also brings with it a vast selection of unique indoor venues. Here are 10 great options for groups.

Downtown/Old Town

This year, Balboa Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The yearlong centennial festival will highlight the region’s history with regards to art, commerce, culture and technology.

“Balboa Park, with its 14 different museums, is one of the best secrets we have,” says Margie Sitton, senior vice president of sales and services for the San Diego Tourism Authority.

One of Balboa Park’s new developments in time for the centennial is the renovation and reopening of the California Building’s (www.museumofman.org/california-building) iconic tower. The building, which houses the Museum of Man, is one of the original buildings from the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. Since January, visitors have been able to head to the top and enjoy the views for the first time since 1935.

Groups can host receptions in the Grand Rotunda or in the Spanish-style outdoor courtyard. Another option is the century-old St. Francis Chapel, with seating for 88 on the main floor and 12 in the balcony. The building’s Evernham Hall can host dinners or receptions, while its Irving J. Gill Auditorium caters to meetings, presentations and lectures.

Also Downtown, the USS Midway Museum, a retired aircraft carrier located on San Diego Bay, stands as one of the city’s most popular off-site venues, hosting 300 corporate events a year.

In January, the USS Midway Museum opened a new 90-seat theater, Battle of Midway Theater, featuring a holographic film and special effects. The theater is the centerpiece of a Battle of Midway exhibit featuring historic aircraft from the conflict. The venue can host meetings when not open to the public.

“The 14-minute inspirational film, Voices at Midway, in the theater, will fit well with corporate events aboard Midway that have a teamwork, perseverance or overcoming-all-odds theme,” says Pat Pfohl, Midway sales sirector.

For groups of up to 2,500, Petco Park, the San Diego Padres baseball stadium, offers a variety of venues for groups, including the playing field, Lexus Home Plate Restaurant, hosting up to 135, Lexus Home Plate Lounge, accommodating 115, or the Palm Court Plaza, hosting 375.

For a true taste of San Diego’s downtown and Old Town, San Diego Beer and Wine Tours (www.lajollawinetours.com) offers a variety of options, including its Brewery Trolley Tour, which visits downtown and Gaslamp District breweries and takes in the culture and history of Old Town as well.

The company offers wine train tours by rail, walking tours to wineries and breweries and other customized programs for groups. There is even an option of an interactive tasting at a brewery, hotel or other venue.

“For our interactive tasting events, we will bring in our sommelier, winemaker or brew-masters, depending on the guest’s requirements,” says Shira Bliss, owner of the tour company. “We can set up pairing dinners or simply the tastings.”

La Jolla

La Jolla lures groups for it coastal setting and water-based adventures, but it also harbors an active cultural scene, including performing arts. At its heart lies the La Jolla Playhouse, founded in 1947 and currently presenting classics as well as new productions.

The playhouse offers several venues for groups with its multiple theaters, including the 492-seat Mandell Weiss Theatre, which has an upstairs deck for receptions.

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