• Balboa Park: An Event Planner's Bonanza

      San Diego’s cultural oasis offers nearly infinite venues—indoors and out. San Diego’s cultural oasis offers nearly infinite venues—indoors and out.  

    FROM THE Winter 2014 ISSUE
  • Balboa Park: An Event Planner's Bonanza

      San Diego’s cultural oasis offers nearly infinite venues—indoors and out. San Diego’s cultural oasis offers nearly infinite venues—indoors and out.  

    FROM THE Winter 2014 ISSUE

DINNER WITH DINOSAURS. Cocktails by a koi pond. Flight simulators with a colleague as copilot. San Diego’s Balboa Park, home to 15 museums as well as several performing arts venues, 65 miles of hiking trails, the world-famous San Diego Zoo and the acclaimed Old Globe Theatre, has a wider range of event options packed into its 1,200 lush acres than you can find in most midsized cities. That makes planning a day, or two, of varied activities a cinch.

"We’ve had groups host meetings in our theater space during the morning," says Melissa Pfeiffer, special events manager at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) "and then enjoy boxed lunches alfresco. There are so many beautiful places for guests to explore in the park beyond the venues themselves." As Balboa Park revs up for its 2015 Centennial Celebration, a year of extraordinary events and world-class exhibits, there has never been a better time to make the nation’s largest urban cultural park your next event destination.

Enjoying San Diego’s Natural Beauty
Every year, scores of groups take advantage of San Diego’s ideal climate and enjoy events in the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court & Garden, which sits outside the San Diego Museum of Art and features exquisite 19th- and 20th-century sculptures. Another option is the Japanese Friendship Garden’s sublimely landscaped 2.5 acres. In 2015, groups at the Friendship Garden will have an additional 9 acres to roam, as well as the use of a brand-new multiuse pavilion.

The Prado at Balboa Park also offers flexible indoor/outdoor staging. The restaurant is located in the historic House of Hospitality, which showcases the park’s classic Spanish architecture and is set in the gorgeous Casa del Rey Moro Gardens. Finally, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s El Mirador Rooftop terrace is "one of Balboa Park’s hidden gems," says Rachel De Quesada, CMP, the museum’s director of special events. "We describe it as ‘urban chic.’ From here, you can see it all: the ocean, Coronado Bridge, downtown and mountains." Groups can also rent any or all spaces in the museum. Software company Intuit recently hosted a holiday party for 1,200 guests, which involved food, bar and entertainment stations throughout the museum, including a Cirque show in the four-story Sefton Grand Atrium.

From Photography to Scavenger Hunts and Everything in Between
Balboa Park also provides groups with exclusive access to its world-renowned art collections. The San Diego Museum of Art hosts intimate dinners and receptions in the John M. and Sally B. Thornton Rotunda, an elegant vaulted space. At MOPA, groups of up to

175 can enjoy discussions in the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theater, with its twinkling star ceiling, before moving to an elegant dinner in the galleries. "Our spaces allow clients different layers for events," says Pfeiffer. "Each event component offers a different experience."

There’s lots in Balboa Park to satisfy adventure-seeking groups, too. They can participate in scavenger hunts at the San Diego Hall of Champions or take control of flight simulators at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Docents are available to take groups on tours of the museum’s plane restoration department. "Our docents are retired pilots or engineers," says Melissa Paris, the museum’s director of events. "It’s one thing to see the planes, but these guys can really bring them to life." The museum can host seated dinners for up to 700 or receptions for 1,500; Alaska Airlines and Boeing are among the companies that have hosted groups here.

With so many diverse offerings, it can be hard to choose just one venue. Luckily, "you don’t need to go through just one organization," says Marcy Melley, senior catering sales manager at the Prado. "Venues here partner with each other all the time." In fact, a meeting planner might include a half-dozen or more venues in a daylong gathering. Software company Esri, based in Redlands, hosts an annual park-wide convention for 8,000 people that uses the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Historical Society, MOPA, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, House of Hospitality, Prado restaurant, Botanical Building and Lily Pond and May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden.

There isn’t lodging in the park itself, but if you want to spread activities over several days, the Balboa Park website contains detailed information about nearby hotel and transportation options for corporate groups. You’ll also find the latest news on the upcoming centennial programming.

Napa Valley’s Meritage Resort & Spa recently debuted a new program designed to help groups gathering at the resort achieve more “Mindful Meetings.” The program, offered in partnership with Bare Health, can be custom tailored for groups and includes the following wellness-focused activities: meditation, yoga in the vineyard, sound healing, and the creation of juices, smoothies and morning elixirs at the resort’s brand-new Food & Wine Center.


After continually hearing that meeting planners were looking to infuse more health, wellness and sustainability into their agendas, Hilton Hotels & Resorts created Meet with Purpose in 2015. As it has evolved, the turnkey program—and its focus on Mindful Eating, Mindful Meeting and Mindful Being—has been increasingly customized to reflect each hotel and each meeting.


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