It's no secret that San Diego is an earthly paradise; with 267-plus sunny days, average temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, and 70 miles of pristine coastline, this Southern California border city attracts nearly 35 million visitors each year.
Now word is spreading that San Diego is more than just sunshine and ocean views. The city is the only one in the United States to be named a “World Smart City” by National Geographic Channel, and the San Diego/ Tijuana region was recognized by National Geographic Traveler magazine as one of only 20 “Best of the World” destinations for 2016. In addition to its beaches, San Diego also boasts world-famous cultural attractions like the San Diego Zoo, over 40 museums, and top-rated restaurants specializing in “Cali-Baja” cuisine, a creative regional blend of local produce, fresh fish and the gastronomic influence of Baja Mexico.
All of this makes San Diego a slam dunk for meeting planners looking for their next destination. “We have seven unique meeting regions just minutes from San Diego International Airport,” says Candice Eley, director of communications at the San Diego Tourism Authority. “Whether you are looking for a place to relax, innovate, energize or disconnect from convention activities, San Diego offers the perfect setting.” With over 500 hotel and resort properties across San Diego, the challenge isn’t choosing the destination for your next corporate retreat—it’s choosing where to stay once you get here.
Mission Bay Park, the largest man-made aquatic park in the world, is located just seven minutes from San Diego’s airport. It’s here that visitors can experience quintessential San Diego: water sports like kite surfing, paddleboarding and sailing; bonfires on the beach; and strolling or biking down Mission Beach’s colorful boardwalk. Tucked away on its own 44-acre island in the heart of Mission Bay, Paradise Point Resort & Spa features tropical gardens, tranquil lagoons, a milelong private sandy beach, and bungalowstyle rooms that recently underwent a $23 million renovation. The resort also includes over 80,000 square feet of meeting and event space, making it one of the 10 largest conference hotels in San Diego. “Most of our meeting space is right on the water,” says Lindsey Amador, director of sales and marketing. This includes the new Sunset Pavilion, a flexible 15,000-square-foot space (capacity: 1,450 guests) and the outdoor Paradise Terrace (capacity: 600 guests). The events team can help coordinate team-building events such as beach clean-ups, beach Olympics, boxcar races, and build-a-bike programs that benefit homeless shelters and local schools.
Groups also have the option of the Bahia Resort Hotel and Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, sister properties located in Mission Bay. With 20,000 square feet of flexible event space that can accommodate up to 1,200 guests, the Bahia encourages groups to maximize their time outside and in the water. “From our ballroom, groups can flow out to the pond area that’s surrounded by lush gardens, or dine with their toes in the sand on our private beach,” says Beth Webster Roberson, director of sales. The Polynesian-themed Catamaran offers casual elegance with palm trees, koi ponds, waterfalls, exotic birds, and 14 meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 700 guests. The sister properties also own two sternwheeler vessels that can be used for meetings, complete with high-tech A/V capabilities, or as unique dining experiences where guests can cruise into the bay.
For groups looking for a unique productivity space, The Point is the new go-to venue for California-style off-site meetings. The 14,000-square-foot complex offers a hip, high-tech workspace with open views of Mission Bay and access to a wide variety of water sports through its partnership with Mission Sports Center, so guests can make a seamless transition between indoor work and outdoor activities.
Science on the Sea
Just up the shore from Mission Bay is La Jolla, a Mediterranean-style village with breathtaking ocean views, fine dining, world-class arts and culture, high-end retail shopping, and luxurious and historic hotels and resorts. It is also one of the world’s premiere science and research hubs. The charming village is home to the prestigious University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Built by famed architect Louis I. Kahn, the Salk Institute is available for private events of up to 300 people. The formidable concrete masterpiece, inspired by ancient Roman structures, is designed to meet the sky and allow sunshine into all of its research facilities, even those built underground.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the outreach arm of the Scripps Institution, has what Ioana Vladescu, director of special events and group sales, calls “a $20 million view of La Jolla Shores.” The 30,000-square-foot property features six distinct event spaces, including four open-air courtyards, that can accommodate up to 1,500 guests. The central Galleria space features multistory windows with stunning ocean views (capacity: 375 guests) and the Preuss Tide Pool Plaza features panoramic ocean views and the aquarium’s tide pool exhibit (capacity: 500 guests). Groups wanting to learn more about Scripps’ research initiatives can take advantage of the aquarium’s “Dive Deeper” offerings. Scientists can present a lecture on conservation initiatives, such as the institution’s renowned seahorse and seadragon breeding programs. “We can also provide groups with aquarium guides who offer expert information on the marine life,” adds Vladescu.
Luxury property La Valencia Hotel can help coordinate group excursions to these La Jolla destinations. Perched high above the La Jolla Cove cliffs, La Valencia has been charming visitors with its elegant and intimate design since 1926. Its four on-site event spaces include the Verandah Ballroom, an opulent space with a marble foyer, crystal chandeliers and oceanfront outdoor terrace (capacity: 250 guests); and Galeria, a charming old-world room with wood paneling, French doors and classic bar (capacity: 40 guests). “Our perfect group size is 75-100 guests,” says Jeff Graham, director of sales and marketing. “It’s more intimate and detailed, and you are our top priority.” In April, the hotel opens SPA La V, featuring six oceanfacing treatment rooms and a private garden.
The other luxury La Jolla property, The Lodge at Torrey Pines, was designed with meetings as a focus. “All our meeting space has windows and outdoor access,” says Director of Sales Stephanie Walker. “The Craftsmanstyle architecture features 17.5 miles of cherry wood, fireplaces, and windows that are designed to bring the outdoors in. This feeling continues into the event spaces and creates a unique setting for meetings.” The AAA Five Diamond hotel features 13,000 square feet of indoor event space and an additional 10,000-square-foot Arroyo Terrace that overlooks the 18th green of the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course (capacity: 600 people). A special feature of The Lodge is its off-site venue, Evans Garage, which is shared with sister properties Bahia and Catamaran. An off-site private antique car museum, the speakeasy-style venue is only open to guests of the three properties (capacity: 250 guests).
New Offerings for Groups
An anticipated addition to San Diego’s extensive property list was the recent opening of the luxury hotel, Pendry San Diego. Situated in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, the Pendry features a collection of six restaurants and bars, spa, fitness center, and 35,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space for groups of up to 600. In March 2017, the Andaz San Diego completed a $4 million renovation of its event space. The newly created “The Gallery” social space adds to its existing 18,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and is decorated with original local artwork. November 2017 saw the opening of the Hotel Republic San Diego, a property in Marriott International’s repertoire of Autograph Collection Hotels. The 19-story, 258-room hotel offers an ambience of casual sophistication and 16,000 square feet of flexible event and meeting space. And in January 2018, the Kona Kai Resort & Spa on San Diego’s Shelter Island completed an expansion that resulted in 55,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor event space, including courtyards, gardens and a private beach. With multiple other constructions currently in development, the timing has never been better for a trip to paradise.