We asked, you voted and we’re excited to bring to you results of our first annual ‘Best Of’ Readers’ Choice Awards. These are the suppliers who consistently go all out to make your meetings and events successful.
BEST YEAR-ROUND RESORT
EDITOR'S PICK: Northstar-at-Tahoe
Name your season: In summer there’s golf, mountain biking, hiking and pine-scented mountain air. In winter, Northstar is a skier’s paradise with a base-area village that generates more après-ski energy than anyplace else at Tahoe.
A diversity of dining and retail, plus free and efficient shuttle service, means guests can get by quite nicely without cars.Accommodations are diverse, too, ranging from stylish ski-in, ski-out condos to economically priced units with plenty of sprawl space for families.
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, connected to the village with its own dedicated lift, is the latest addition to a master-planned resort that really, really works. (Northstar-at-Tahoe, 800.466.6784)
BEST LIGHT-HEARTED PLACE TO MEET
EDITOR'S PICK: Campo di Bocce
A restaurant themed around an Italian bowling game? Campo di Bocce is the kind of place that immediately produces smiles: Four indoor and four outdoor courts attract locals and couples on dates as well as corporate groups looking for a different kind of teambuilding or celebration venue.
Snag a private dining room or patio space and pair a game or two with a hearty Italian meal. You won’t get any closer to Italy without a plane ticket. And yes, they provide lessons. (Campo di Bocce, 925.249.9800)
BEST FIRST IMPRESSION
EDITOR'S PICK: Estate Room, Palm Event Center, Pleasanton
Romantic? Ah, yes. Sexy? You betcha. If the folks at Palm Event Center in Pleasanton put a microphone at the entrance of the Estate Room when it’s dressed for a private event, they’d record a nonstop sound track of "oohs" and "aahs."
A regal trestletable and hundreds of votives set flickering around the room bestow a fairy-tale ambience that forever will be remembered by guests who enjoy a special occasion here. (Palm Event Center in the Vineyard, 925.426.8666)
BEST REINVENTED PROPERTY
EDITOR'S PICK: Inn Marin, Novato
When the Marshall family took over a dilapidated motel hard by the side of Highway 101 back in 1999, "you wouldn’t have wanted to put your worst enemy here," General Manager Robert Marshall recalls. They almost demolished it and put up a nationally branded property instead.
But the complex that was to become Inn Marin had good architectural bones, and the Marshalls had a concept and a vision. Twelve years later, the chicly renovated, 68-room property is a recognized leader in the green lodging field, exuding a breath of fresh air in a world of cookie-cutter sameness. (Inn Marin, 415.883.5952)
READERS' CHOICE WINNERS
BEST OUTDOOR VENUE
Half Moon Bay Golf Links
Consistently acclaimed as one of the nation’s top golf resorts, this 350-acre property wows guests with ocean views and next-door proximity to the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Two 18-hole championship golf courses attract scores of corporate and charity tournaments yearly.
But as planners who gravitate to the Links know, you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy social events, from receptions and fundraisers to corporate banquets, staged in the elegant clubhouse. The resort teams with next-door Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and other hotels to create themed events for groups of up to 400. (Half Moon Bay Golf Links, 650.712.2217)
BEST CONVENTION/EXHIBIT CENTER
The Moscone Center, San Francisco
The Moscone Center has received kudos over the years for its gung-ho "green" practices, which include kitchen composting and "all-compostable" serve ware.
This summer, the facility, which serves more than 1 million attendees and exhibitors a year, went a step further, placing compost bins in the lobbies and corridors of Moscone West. If deemed a success, the practice will spread to the center’s other "front of the house" locations, says Naina Ayya, communications manager. (Moscone Center, 415.974.4000)
BEST CONFERENCE CENTER
Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa, Santa Rosa
To navigate a changing economy and stimulate long-term business, a conference center needs to prove its ability to deliver for groups large and small.This recently renovated, 155-room hotel in Santa Rosa goes above and beyond with a planning staff that helped earn it the honor of being named the No. 1 Hyatt hotel for meeting planners in terms of guest satisfaction.
"Meeting planners can be assured that we’re going to take care of them and anticipate their needs," says Gary Collins, director of sales and marketing. "My team is very good at getting an idea of what their vision is and running with it to create both onsite and offsite events and activities that give them the whole wine country experience." (Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa, 707.284.1234)
Hornblower Cruises & Events
"A vessel for any season and any reason" might well be the motto of this San Francisco-based company specializing in floating events. The Hornblower fleet, which includes nine vessels on San Francisco Bay and two based in Old Sacramento, routinely books groups as small as two dozen and as large as 2,200 for dinner cruises, holiday parties, wedding events and other special occasions.
"We’ve booked every kind of event under the sun," says spokeswoman Tegan Firth. "What’s so great about having an event with us is that people remember it. You forget hotel ballrooms, but you’ll always remember sipping a cocktail while cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge." (Hornblower Cruises & Events, 415.983.8208)
BEST NEW HOTEL WITH MEETING SPACE
Bardessono Hotel and Spa, Yountville
The green features that earned this Napa Valley newcomer Platinum-level LEED status are impressive, but it’s the contemporary aesthetic and soothing, open-air ambience that make this 62-room sanctuary stand out amid considerable competition from its high-end neighbors.
Restrained in design but over-the-top indulgent in terms of amenities (spa butler, anyone?) Bardessono specializes in customized corporate retreats and intimate gathering staged either indoors or in outdoor settings that immerse guests in the natural environment.
The hotel has its own fine-dining restaurant on site, but guests appreciate walking-distance proximity to Yountville’s famous Michelin-starred eateries. (Bardessono Hotel and Spa, 707.204.6000)
BEST BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Orchard Garden, San Francisco
San Francisco’s first LEED-certified hotel, built from the ground up and opened in 2007, is as quietly stylish as it is committed to environmental sustainability. Gathering space at the 86-room property is limited, but planners can breath easy knowing they won’t personally have to attend to the myriad details involved in putting on a green meeting.
"It makes their job easier knowing that we’ve thought it out for them," says Damien Keller, director of sales. "They’re buying a product from a company that has already done the work, so they don’t have to worry about it." (Orchard Garden Hotel, 888.717.2881)
BEST AUDIO-VISUAL PROVIDER
American Audio Visual Center, San Francisco/Scottsdale
Impressed with the audiovisual presentations at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, the Marriott properties in Sacramento or The Intercontinental Clement Monterey? A tip of the hat to American Audio Visual Center, which partners with Northern California hotels to provide in-house audiovisual and multimedia services.
"We hold the trademark on ‘Extreme Customer Service,’ and it really is everything. It’s our cornerstone," says Duane Tornquist, chief marketing officer. American AVC boasts a national staging team and its own production company. (American Audio Visual Center, 650.866.3017)
Orange Photography, San Francisco
If you’ve organized or attended a big event in the Bay Area, be it an ISES or MPI gala or a high-profile fundraiser, chances are you’ve encountered a photographer from this San Francisco collective.
"One of the things that makes Orange stand out is that we are very conscientious about how we run our business," says co-founder Gene X Hwang.
"We were the first photography studio in San Francisco to get our green business certification, and ever since we started the business we’ve had a Social Photography program that gives back to nonprofits. These are values we hold dearly, and I think it reflects in our people and our work. Our clients appreciate that." (Orange Photography, 415.255.7478)
BEST DESTINATION MARKETING ORGANIZATION (CVB)
San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau
"We’re all about serving our customers through customized, personal attention and tremendous follow up with details from beginning to end," says Anne LeClair, president and CEO of the San Mateo/Silicon Valley CVB.
"Our team believes that anyone can be good on the front end, but to be exceptional, a CVB needs to follow through with all of the details after a planner books a meeting. From the moment a contract is signed, we go into high gear, offering an array of services to the planner and maximizing our creativity and relationships with area businesses … Our goal is to have each meeting planner come back in a regular basis. The supreme compliment in our book is that so many planners come back on their own time for a personal vacation." (San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800.288.4748)
Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, Emeryville
This veteran Bay Area caterer has fed a who’s who, including U.S. presidents and Oprah Winfrey. "Paula LeDuc Fine Catering lives by its mission statement," says account executive Natasha Merritt: "Create, celebrate and experience the extraordinary."
At a recent fundraiser for the Stanford Cancer Center, the caterer riffed on a playful theme: children’s games. In the "Dungeons and Dragons" room, a cloaked server torched s’mores. Miniature Barbie dolls clothed in cupcake prom dresses adorned with edible baubles generated media buzz. (Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, 510.547.7825)
BEST MEETING PLANNING/DMC
PRA Destination Management, San Francisco
PRA Destination Management’s staff is all about operations. "If you have a coach that’s supposed to be there at 1 o’clock, we will be there at 12:45 on the dot with signs and staff," says Zorianna Horn, national sales manager.
Horn and her colleagues stay on top of the newest venues and team-building trends, posting updates on their web site and ensuring their clients’ visit is memorable and seamless. (PRA Destination Management, 415.397.6300)
BEST RESTAURANT WITH PRIVATE DINING
Scala's Bistro, San Francisco
With two private dining rooms, a Union Square location and celebrity chef Jennifer Biesty (of Bravo TV’s "Top Chef" fame), Scala’s Bistro is the über classy, go-to spot for groups of 100 or fewer.
The menu boasts a mouth-watering mix of country French and regional Italian-style fare, along with a sumptuous dessert cart. The bistro, adjacent to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, also boasts an in-house audiovisual staff. (Scala’s Bistro, 415.395.8555)
BEST HOTEL WITH MEETING SPACE (LESS THAN 200 ROOMS)
Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz
With its state-of-the-art technology and 12,000 square feet of meeting space, Chaminade Resort & Spa is ideal for business-except for one thing. "With our surroundings and a full view on the bay, it can sometimes be distracting," says General Manager Norbert Relecker.
He admits that’s a good problem to have, and is equally proud of his employees. "That has been the comment from our guests over and over: how supporting, how welcoming, how service-oriented our staff is." (Chaminade Resort & Spa, 831.475.5600)
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
As captivating for its architectural and environmental statements as for the wondrous exhibits inside, the Academy of Sciences gained immediate cachet as an event venue when it opened in 2008 on the site of the original Academy, which was damaged beyond repair in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
From high-profile extravaganzas to intimate cocktail parties and receptions, the Golden Gate Park institution accommodates groups in venues ranging from the airy entry Piazza to the acclaimed Steinhart Aquarium and the stately African Hall. Dinner by the dioramas, anyone? (California Academy of Sciences, 415.379-5497)
BEST DESTINATION RESORT
Silverado Resort, Napa Valley
Combine the cachet of Napa Valley wine country with a 140-year-old estate, a landmark hotel, two golf courses, a 15,000-square-foot conference center, an expansive spa and two signature restaurants, and what you’ve got is a destination resort your guests won’t want to leave, even for a minute.
At once elegant and outdoorsy, Silverado consistently receives accolades as a place to work, unwind and soak up the ambience of America’s premier wine region. Dolce Hotels and Resorts recently assumed management of the 1,200-acre, 439-suite property owned by golfing great Johnny Miller, California entrepreneur Roger Kent and Dallas business executive Tim Wall. (Silverado Resort & Spa, 707.257.0200)
BEST HOTEL WITH MEETING SPACE (MORE THAN 200 ROOMS)
Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, Santa Rosa
With just 250 guest rooms spread over 13 redwood-studded acres on a Santa Rosa hillside, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country feels more like a resort than a standard hotel. Planners cite location, indoor-outdoor event spaces, off-site catering options at nearby wineries and all-inclusive meeting packages as reasons for choosing this particular venue.
"Guests appreciate the refreshing feeling of being above and away from it all, even in the midst of wine country’s biggest city," notes Heidi Miersemann, CMP, director of sales and marketing. And did we mention that Sonoma wine country is right out the door? (Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, 707.569.5502)
BEST VINEYARD (WITH EVENT SPACE)
Thomas Fogarty Winery, Woodside
"Do not use maps or GPS to find us," the winery website warns. "Our mountain roads don’t always compute." Indeed, getting to this mountaintop aerie via serpentine Skyline Boulevard is part of the adventure leading to one of California’s most dramatic winery settings.
A popular venue for weddings, Thomas Fogarty also capitalizes on its above-the-fray setting to host corporate groups and private functions. The standout venue is a covered pavilion with glass-enclosed terrace that brings the outdoors in year-round and saves planners from having to have a Plan B in case of inclement weather. (Thomas Fogarty Winery, 650.851.6777)
BEST BUDGET-FRIENDLY VENUE
Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton
What can’t this shady, 270-acre park accommodate? Not much. From weddings to roller derby, car shows to corporate picnics, RV shows to fly-fishing expos, equestrian competitions to golf, the Alameda County Fairgrounds, centered on the nation’s oldest one-mile horse racing track (built in 1858) is an all-purpose venue with deep roots in the region.
Ten buildings and dozens of outdoor venues offer possibilities for events of every stripe and size, while a professional staff provides guidance throughout the planning process. (Alameda County Fairgrounds, 925.426.7600)
BEST TRANSPORTATION SERVICE PROVIDER
Pure Luxury Transportation
Whether the event calls for a limo to deliver guests in black-tie style, a van for touring wine country or a full-size motorcoach for transporting conference and convention attendees, Pure Luxury delivers with style.
The company’s diverse fleet, courteous service, spotless vehicles and commitment to green initiatives have made it a favorite with Bay Area meeting and event professionals. A member of Green Ride Global, Pure Luxury is committed to a comprehensive environmental policy of cutting emissions, greening the supply chain and reducing waste. (Pure Luxury Transportation, 800.626.5466)
BEST EVENT DECOR/RENTAL SERVICE
Blueprint Studios, San Francisco
The Contemporary Jewish Museum hosted several events in 2008 to celebrate its new building, and Blueprint Studios was the primary décor vendor. Museum Marketing Director Jen Morris continues to sing the firm’s praises to event planners renting out the museum’s reception and meeting space.
"They’re creative. They’re professional. They have a great inventory of product," she says. Blueprint specializes in prop and furniture rental, event and floral design and custom fabrication. (Blueprint Studios, 415.922.9004)
Spiral Hand Floral + Event Design
Spiral Hand Floral + Event Design specialized in weddings when it started up five years ago. Now, half the work comes from the corporate sector. Spiral Hand’s design aesthetic: Less is more. Floral designs are sculptural yet simplistic, elegant and eye-catching.
"What I like about their work is that it’s very architecturally visual," says Bev Shelby, executive sales manager of Global Gourmet Catering. "And they’re just really great to work with." (Spiral Hand, 415.552.3032)
BEST GREEN MEETING/EVENT VENUE
Hornblower Hybrid Yacht
Guests love the educational component that comes along with an event held aboard the greenest vessel cruising Bay Area waters. Drawing partial power from solar panels and wind turbines, the 64-foot Hornblower Hybrid is an environmental showpiece that just happens to accommodate up to 110 people for cocktails and dining, or 149 for charter service to Alcatraz, Angel Island and other destinations.
Hornblower introduced the Hybrid in December 2008 to catch a wave of interest in alternative energy technologies. "We immediately recognized the huge potential for special events because green is such a hot topic," says company spokeswoman Tegan Firth. Interpretive displays throughout the vessel help visitors understand how the boat works. (Hornblower Cruises & Events, 415.438.8301)