Ahh. It’s the first sound one hears—or utters—upon arriving in Greater Palm Springs. A delighted sigh of relaxation and pleasure to be in the perennial sunshine, natural beauty and oh-so-cool vibe of the nine desert cities of the Coachella Valley. “It’s just so relaxing here, like an unending vacation,” says Wayne Kawamoto, executive director of Western Turbine Users, Inc., which has been meeting in Palm Springs since 1995.
As “bleisure” travel, with participants wanting to combine business and pleasure, increases in popularity, so, too, does the popularity of this sun-kissed paradise. Meeting attendance was up 9 percent in 2017, according to the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. To meet the demand, new hotels with function space are opening at a record pace.
Located about two hours east of Los Angeles, Greater Palm Springs’ sunny skies, sweeping views framed by rolling mountains and resort lifestyle have been an inspiration to movie stars, business moguls, architects, designers and all who enjoy the good life for decades.
Entertainment legends like Frank Sinatra and Elvis put Palm Springs on the world stage in the 1950s and ‘60s, partying in stylish resorts and vacation homes designed by the best and brightest architects of the day.
Today, the retro coolness of those glory days is back. “But with a modern twist,” says Mark Crabb, chief sales officer for the Greater Palm Springs CVB. “The Hollywood cool of past stars and new celebrity residents like Leonardo DiCaprio, who recently bought and refurbished Dinah Shore’s iconic midcentury house, give the desert a unique vibe.”
The cool factor is just one of many unique elements delegates can expect to enjoy. “Planners think it’s going to be a desert—but it’s an oasis,” exclaims Crabb. “It’s so mountainous! The views and the scenic beauty—I had no idea.” These are the frequent comments, Crabb says, that are heard from planners visiting the area for the first time.
What else is unique? “Only here can attendees say they’ve stood on the San Andreas Fault and been to a true oasis with mineral water bubbling from the ground,” says Crabb. The sheer number of activities insures “something for everyone,” agrees James Canfield, executive director of the Palm Springs Convention Center and Bureau of Tourism, “from hiking and desert tours with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours and Events to midcentury architecture drive-by tours, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, golf, tennis, museums, art galleries, shopping and dining.”
Air access is easier than ever. Seats to Palm Springs International Airport have grown by 37 percent since 2012 and new flights are regularly added.
Anchored by the Palm Springs Convention Center and 40 meeting hotels and resorts, here’s a look at some of the convention facilities, off-site venues and hotels and resorts planners will find throughout the Coachella Valley.
The Palm Springs Convention Center and Environs
Once a group experiences the Palm Springs Convention Center they tend to return. “In some years we have 70 percent repeat business,” says Canfield. The Convention Center’s sleek modern design, which houses 112,000 square feet of event space and 175,000 square feet of combined meeting and event space, reflects the area’s modernism vibe. The attached 410-room resort-style Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, with an additional 25,940 square feet of function space, makes the center ideal for gatherings that include exhibits and trade shows.
Adding to the convenience, four additional prime meeting hotels are within walking distance: the Hilton Palm Springs, with 18,000 square feet of event space; Hotel Zoso, with 22,000 square feet of function space; the new Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs, with 16,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space; and the Hyatt Palm Springs, with 12,250 square feet of event space. All are an easy stroll from downtown Palm Springs’ exciting restaurants, shops and nightlife.
“I tell planners that meeting in Palm Springs is an all-under-one-roof experience. The roof is a sunny blue sky and a star-filled night,” Canfield enthuses.
The combined convention center and Renaissance Hotel is a major reason Kawamoto’s group has booked Palm Springs eight times and will be returning in 2021 and 2024. “It’s very convenient. We use the entire convention center for our exhibitors and hold our meetings at the Renaissance,” Kawamoto explains. He also uses the Hilton for attendees, and overflow at the Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott Palm Springs.
Service is another reason groups are loyal. “The Palm Springs Convention Center is an absolute dream to work with,” says Rosemary Krieger, president of Dolphin Promotions. “We have been putting on the Palm Springs Modernism Show there for coming up on 19 years. They are very organized and their staff is very hands-on. With all of the centers that I work with across the country, the PSCC stands out in front of the pack!”
Kawamoto also loves that his attendees can walk to downtown and enjoy the diversity of restaurants, most of which are small, individually owned and have sidewalk seating. “When you’ve been in meetings all day, it’s nice to dine outside,” he says. Attendee favorites include Peabody’s Café with all-American casual fare; Johannes Restaurant for cosmopolitan Austrian-Asian fusion cuisine; Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge with a menu featuring a fusion of comfort food and ethnic influences; Lulu California Bistro serving modern American and The Tropicale, featuring an eclectic menu in a festive midcentury setting.
New and Newer!
As the valley’s popularity skyrockets, driven by the new modernism vibe and world fame from events like Modernism Week; the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, or Coachella, for short, and its sister country festival, Stagecoach, hoteliers are rising to the challenge. More than a dozen new hotels have opened or will be opening soon.
The epicenter of the hotel boom is Downtown Palm Springs. Anchored by the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, the ongoing Downtown Revitalization Project is transforming Palm Canyon Drive into a pedestrian paradise of new hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.
Rising seven stylish stories, The Rowan is crowned by the only rooftop pool in the Coachella Valley, with a rooftop event room and outdoor terrace available for events. Another option is the 2,500-square-foot Arlo presidential suite, which runs the length of the top floor with floor-to-ceiling views and two wrap-around balconies. Planners can be assured of great service, with General Manager Abe Liao striving to make The Rowan “the best hotel in Downtown Palm Springs, with amazing rooms, amazing views, high quality amenities, and powerhouse services.”
Next door, the West Coast’s first Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar & Grill, a new indooroutdoor-café-cocktails-retail concept, and Starbuck’s Reserve are examples of the down - town’s crowd-pleasers. A few blocks away, the 170-room Dream Hotel Palm Springs, with 10,000 square feet of function space, and the 150-room Andaz Palm Springs, also with meeting space, are scheduled to open in 2019. Sir Richard Branson is expected to add his ultra-cool vibe to meetings, with the anticipat - ed 2022 opening of the Virgin Palm Springs hotel including “numerous meeting spaces.”
In 2020, the expected completion of the new Palm Springs Downtown Park, a tree-filled space near the Palm Springs Art Museum and The Rowan, will bring an amphitheater for events into the downtown mix.
Planners are liking it all. “Meetings are up nearly 27 percent over 2017,” says Canfield. “We’re experiencing the strongest booking pace I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been here 10 years.”
Elsewhere in the valley, for small groups that enjoy using their free time to peruse art gal - leries and upscale boutiques, the Hotel Paseo, A Marriott Autograph Collection (Palm Desert’s first new-build hotel in 30 years) opened in March. It’s steps from El Paseo, nicknamed the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert,” and has chic meeting space for up to 770.
In La Quinta, home to PGA West golf, two luxury boutique properties, the 140- room Montage La Quinta and 200-room Pendry La Quinta, are set to open in 2020 at SilverRock Resort.
Now that the city of Coachella is on the world stage, it’s getting its first luxe resort, with ample event space. The 35-acre Hotel Indigo is expected to open in fall 2019. It will include 250 total guest rooms, 51 of which will be casitas; an 11-acre grassy area that will welcome meetings and corporate events; addi - tional conference space; and a 10,000-squarefoot saltwater pool with a built-in catwalk for shows as well as a DJ stage. It promises to be a creative choice for conferences, team-building, and product launches.
Many of the desert’s top attractions welcome private events, giving groups a wonderful way to combine business and pleasure. Following are just a few.
With 86,000 square feet of interior space, 60,000 square feet of outside space, and spec - tacular views of the mountains and planes taking off in the distance, the Palm Springs Air Museum is one of the valley’s largest and most scenic event spaces. The vintage planes make a dramatic backdrop. But if your group isn’t into planes—no problem. “We can easily remove the planes to give planners a pristine space to decorate as they wish,” explains Heather Gage, Palm Springs Air Museum events manager, noting that “one group turned a hangar into the streets of London.” Fortune 500 companies are frequent users. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos staged part of his annual MARS conference here in 2017.
Animal encounters and “wining and din - ing at the caliber of a luxury resort” make The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens a favorite for some 200 groups a year, says Jared Landfried, events and promotions manager. Event spaces include the 5-acre West African trading vil - lage-themed Village WaTuTu, which can seat up to 1,500 guests, and also has the 50-capac - ity District Commissioner’s House, with a glass wall facing onto the zoo’s famous Amur leopard habitat. Groups of up to 500 frequently choose the natural beauty of the Palm Garden Patio, while the Giraffe Platform gives up to 200 cocktailgoers the thrill of overlooking the herd of giraffe.
Groups can buy out all, or part, of the third floor level as well as two meeting rooms on the second floor of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, with breathtaking valley views at 8,516 feet above the desert, says Greg Purdy, vice president of marketing and public affairs. The third floor includes Peaks Restaurant, Pines Café and the sprawling view deck. With 50 miles of hiking trails, groups also use the mountain for team-building, he adds.
Inspiring events in the beautiful desert hills in the heart of the San Andreas Fault zone can be arranged with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours & Events at the private Metate Ranch preserve. It features two outdoor event venues and a recreated Cahuilla Indian village. Red Jeep’s professional planners arrange it all from catering to lighting to entertainment, and if groups wish, themes such as “Arabian Nights.”
Given the area’s Hollywood history, a soirée at the former home of an A-lister is sure to be an attendee-pleaser. Among the Palm Springs celebrity homes available for private events are the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway and Frank Sinatra’s original Movie Colony home, with a piano-shaped pool. Both are architectural midcentury modern gems and accommodate around 180 and 150 people, respectively. Add the Marion Davies Estate, now called Villa de Martini and newly revamped to its 1960s Hollywood Regency glory. It can accommodate up to 500 people outside and 300 inside.
For high-octane parties and team-building, the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal welcomes groups with track events, conference rooms and in-house catering.
Resorts with Meeting Space
A hallmark of the valley for planners is the collection of luxurious resorts boasting acres of manicured gardens, breathtaking views, championship golf courses, spas and memorable meeting space for groups of up to 3,000 people.
The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert has wowed groups for 31 years with its sky-high atrium lobby, lakes that delegates can cross on motorized boats from inside the lobby to various areas of the resort, and views overlooking its two championship golf courses. The resort is currently undergoing a head-to-toe “reinvention” that’s being done in phases so guests aren’t disrupted. All 884 rooms and suites will be gutted and recreated in a contemporary style. Completion is expected in 2019.
Groups will find 234,896 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space spread across 28 meeting rooms, suitable for meetings of up to 3,000 people. With California’s largest hotel spa—at 38,000 square feet with 47 treatment rooms—state-of-the-art tennis facilities and numerous restaurants, the JW is a perfect fit for groups wanting that bleisure experience. The 600-square-foot Sanctuary Spa Suite, an exclusive spa within the spa, is ideal for small spa parties, and includes butler service, a luxe lounge, treatment rooms and an outdoor courtyard with a whirlpool.
If golf is a priority, the La Quinta Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, has five championship courses, including the legendary Stadium Course. Tucked at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains in La Quinta, the resort offers a Spanish Mediterranean villagestyle ambiance with 777 casitas and villas with up to three bedrooms (perfect for a hospitality suite or high level breakouts), and 41 pools scattered across 45 flower-filled acres. Three ballrooms, the largest measuring nearly 17,000 square feet with a guest capacity of 1,800, and plentiful outdoor settings offer a total of 190,000 square feet of event choices for groups of up to 2,000, and include the original recently redesigned 1926 lobby. The PGA West Greg Norman Clubhouse is also available for small gatherings of up to 120. The spa features a Yoga & Mindfulness program, a stress-reliever with groups, says Chris George, director of marketing.
Sweeping valley views from atop a mountain ridge combine with the expected luxury and service at The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. What’s unexpected is the design—an open, contemporary style that reflects the desert’s new modernism cool. It’s a break with tradition that’s become a hit with groups seeking the desert vibe, says Colin Maxwell, marketing and communications manager. Receptions are extra memorable on one of the property’s two event lawns overlooking the valley, part of the overall 15,000 square feet of outdoor space. Inside features nearly 16,000 square feet of function space, including the main ballroom for up to 800 guests. Small private dinners can be arranged at The Edge Steakhouse, a glassenclosed restaurant on the edge of the mountain, with dramatic views. The multilevel spa, featuring a Jose Eber Salon, and stargazing add to group enjoyment.
When families are along—and golfers— The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage makes a great choice. Spread over 36 acres, it features two championship golf courses, one by Pete Dye and another by Gary Player; 512 rooms and suites in 16 two-story buildings; three pools, including the family pool with a 75-foot waterslide; tennis; a spa and The Westin Mission Hills Golf Academy. Wildlife is abundant and the resort takes a caring approach. Daycare ser - vices are available through the The Westin Family Kids Club.
The resort is not only dog-friendly, but you can also adopt a dog right in the lobby. To date, more than 100 canines have found forever homes. For business, 115,000 square feet of function space includes up to 30 breakout rooms and three separate ballrooms and junior ballrooms, the largest accommodating up to 2,070 people.
With 88,000 square feet of event space, including four event lawns, and the standalone Indian Wells Conference Center, the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Indian Wells is ideal for meetings with smaller exhibits and trade shows. Groups will find luxury combines well with family fun here, with seven pools and playful water features like the DesertPipe, a virtually endless water slide and the Hyatt kids club, Camp Hyatt. Well-heeled attendees may want to book one of the 43 villas that are in addition to 530 rooms and suites. Arrange play and tourna - ments at the adjacent 36-hole championship Indian Wells Golf Club. In between meetings or perhaps for informal networking, groups might want to visit the adults-only Oasis Pool. With 16 expansive, fully loaded cabanas under a canopy of palm trees, it’s arguably the best pool in the desert.