While airport hotels offer welcome respite to tired travelers and those with early-morning flights, most are about as memorable as a big-box store in a distant suburb. Or so you might think if you haven’t kept up with the transformations taking place over the past few years.
These days, new, style-forward hotels and venues are opening near California’s major airports, while existing properties are upping their game with multimillion-dollar renovations, enhanced amenities, and sleek meeting and conference space.
Proximity to the airport offers numerous advantages, planners say, not the least of which is big savings in the ground transportation costs, time and traffic headaches otherwise required to get to and from a downtown venue. Drive-in attendees can benefit, too, often with free parking and quick on-and-off freeway access.
Here’s a look at airport-adjacent hotels across the Golden State that you’ll want to keep on your radar screen.
“The San Diego experience starts as soon as you walk out of the airport,” says Margie Sitton, senior vice president of sales and services at the San Diego Tourism Authority. “You’re looking at the bay, sailboats and palm trees swaying in the breeze.” The newly renovated San Diego International Airport lies only 3 miles from downtown on the San Diego Bay. With close proximity to the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, convention center, and many waterfront properties, it’s one of the country’s most appealing transportation hubs.
The airport’s central location also means that there are nearly 15,000 rooms in hundreds of properties within a few miles of landing and takeoff, generally available by complimentary shuttle. “Our ‘airport properties’ are completely full-service with 100 percent of the convention amenities,” says Sitton. “They are hotels that just happen to have an airport across the street.”
Half a mile from the airport, the 1,053- room Sheraton San Diego Resort & Marina boasts more than 130,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, including 53 state-of-the-art meeting rooms that can accommodate groups of 20-2,000 guests. Add to that its six dining experiences, alehouse, spa, three pools, fitness center and jogging trails, and you may never want to leave.
A mile down the road are the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island and Courtyard Marriott San Diego Airport/Liberty Station, both offering stunning views of the bay, marina and downtown skyline. Groups of up to 300 can take advantage of the Hilton or Courtyard Marriott’s flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space. “We’re right on the water so it feels like a mini resort,” says Jaci Sims, director of sales and marketing at the Courtyard Marriott San Diego Airport/Liberty Station. “You can go paddleboarding or biking or walk to the Liberty Public Market.” The Courtyard Marriott’s unique location on the water and in Liberty Station—a former Naval Training Center-turned-urban village with eateries, galleries, museums, shops and housing—makes it feel light-years from the airport instead of mere minutes.
Orange County’s international airport is named after one of its most famous former residents: the iconic movie star John Wayne. While John Wayne Airport’s official address is in Santa Ana (hence its SNA airport code), it also borders the cities of Irvine, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, and sits near the intersections of a number of prominent freeways, making it a convenient location for groups that want to meet near the airport but also have easy access to the rest of Orange County—and beyond.
“Booking a meeting near John Wayne Airport puts you right in the center of Southern California,” says Junior Tauvaa, senior vice-president of sales and services for Visit Anaheim, which serves as Orange County’s main destination marketing organization. “The airport is centrally located in Orange County, with more than 3,000 hotel rooms within 5 miles and close to ‘Silicon Beach,’ home to more than 500 technology and start-up companies.”
New hotels near the airport in Irvine with space for small groups include the Homewood Suites by Hilton Irvine John Wayne Airport, AC Hotel by Marriott Irvine, Hyatt House Irvine/John Wayne Airport and the upcoming Hampton Inn & Suites Irvine-Orange County Airport, which started accepting reservations on March 18.
A number of the existing hotels with meeting and event space near the airport have undergone multimillion-dollar renovations in the last few years. They include the Embassy Suites by Hilton Irvine Orange County Airport, which underwent a revamp that included the guest suites, event space and atrium; the Hilton Irvine/Orange County Airport, where the renovation included the guest rooms, meeting space and a complete face-lift to the exterior of the building; and the Wyndham Irvine-Orange County Airport, which refurbished its lobby, guest rooms and meeting space. In Costa Mesa, the Avenue of the Arts hotel’s $20 million renovation was part of its transition to a Tribute portfolio hotel.
When the Hotel Irvine completed its big renovation project a few years ago, the hotel Above: Sheraton San Diego Resort & Marina; right: Hotel Irvine transitioned to an independent lifestyle hotel (it was formerly affiliated with Hyatt). Irvine Company’s Newport Beach property recently announced a name change to Fashion Island Hotel, from the Island Hotel, to reinforce its connection to the Fashion Island shopping and entertainment complex, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
In addition to its location near some of Orange County’s top business clusters, the airport area offers easy access to a wide variety of attractions.
“The area in and around the airport is seeing a huge amount of growth,” says Tauvaa, “with more trendy dining concepts, nightlife entertainment options as well as premier shopping with the Irvine Spectrum, Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza all within close proximity.”
Los Angeles International Airport is the largest and busiest airport in California and serves as a major gateway not just to destinations in the United States, but internationally.
“Proximity to Los Angeles International Airport is the ultimate advantage to booking an airport property as you are just minutes away after deplaning,” says Darren K. Green, senior vice president of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. “Planners will also find room rates are usually lower at LA airport properties due to their size, the sheer volume of rooms in the area and historically lower demand.”
The number of rooms available near LAX continues to grow. A dual-branded Hilton property—the H Hotel Los Angeles, a Curio Collection by Hilton, and the Homewood Suites LAX—opened in a former office building near LAX last September. Together the property features a total of 280 guest rooms and a space for small groups. And last July, Choice Hotel International’s Cambria Hotel Los Angeles-LAX opened just 2 miles south of LAX with 152 guest rooms, a bistro called Social Circle and event space for groups of up to 100.
A number of the hotels near LAX recently underwent extensive renovations and redesigns, adding new offerings for groups in the process.
“Our LAX properties especially cater to the needs of business travelers, offering special design touches and amenities that deliver superb comfort and encourage interaction,” says Green. “As an example, included in the Hyatt Regency LAX’s redesign is the all-new Hyatt Regency Conference Center.”
The Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has new meeting and event spaces that accommodate groups of all sizes. “Our new self-contained Hyatt Regency Conference Center and Penthouse 280 space is perfect for small to medium-sized groups, our 14,000-square-foot ballroom is for larger groups, and our outdoor event lawns are ideal for social functions and receptions of all kinds,” says Libby Zarrahy, director of marketing for the Hyatt Regency LAX.
Hotels recently wrapping up extensive renovations also include the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, which completed a $44 million transformation that included its 984 guest rooms and 20 suites, public space, club lounge and 55,000 square feet of event space, and the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, which completed the second phase of a multimilliondollar renovation project that included the 802 guest rooms and suites, lobby and 50,000 square feet of event space.
Also transformed is The Proud Bird, which reopened last year as a stand-alone food bazaar and events center with an aviation theme and views of the runways. Groups of up to 1,200 can choose from six renovated event spaces. Another unique event space for groups is MotoArt Studios, located just south of LAX in El Segundo. The Studio offers more than 17,000 square feet of space for groups of up to 600.
Groups holding meetings and events in the area will find that it is not only convenient to LAX, but to a number of top Los Angeles attractions. “You’re a hop away from our idyllic coastal destinations such as Marina del Rey and Venice Beach,” says Green. “Looking ahead, these properties will offer convenient accessibility to the state-of-the-art Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, when it opens in 2020.”
“People love the convenience of SFO [San Francisco International Airport], but if they hear ‘airport hotel,’ they picture an area packed with cement,” says Anne LeClair, president and CEO of the Burlingame-based San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Noting that virtually all the dozens of hotels near SFO—even those in South San Francisco—are actually in San Mateo County, LeClair counters that preconceived notion with some on-site facts that never fail to surprise planners considering a meeting at a property within shuttle distance of the terminals.
“One thing they don’t expect is that most of our airport hotels are on or near the water,” she says. “Many have added ‘bay’ or ‘waterfront’ to their names to communicate that you can at least see these gorgeous waterways from the hotel. Many have outdoor as well as indoor space and have put in patios and fire pits, again capitalizing on the view. Some are very upscale, tech-savvy and culinary on trend, offering small plates, farm-to-fork and anything else that a client might want. Once planners come in and see the area, they say, ‘Oh, we had no idea.’”
Most hotels near SFO have free shuttles to and from the airport, and many also provide free transportation to downtown San Francisco, downtown Burlingame and nearby BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations. “That’s a big selling point for a group,” LeClair says.
She cites San Francisco Embassy Suites, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, Aloft San Francisco Airport, Pullman San Francisco Bay and Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport as among full-service properties standing ready to host meetings and events. Last fall, they were joined by a new-build property, the AC Hotel San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront. A Grand Hyatt under construction at the airport gate will make its debut in July 2019.
The AC Hotel, a European-inspired brand from Marriott, is a 187-room property in a design class all its own, says Jenay Peters, director of sales. As she describes it: “Breaking away from the standard airport hotel, this six-story glass building is constructed around a spacious courtyard that features modern art, lush trees, and outdoor seating. The guest rooms and meeting rooms feature modern European design, and many have gorgeous waterfront views.”
Eight thousand square feet of flexible meeting space with natural lighting can accommodate everything from meetings for two people all the way up to events for 250, she adds, noting that the hotel is proving popular for corporate and social events that require “a sophisticated, refined touch.”
Nearby, the Grand Hyatt under construction on a 4.7-acre site at the entrance to SFO promises four-star luxury, LEED Gold certification and direct access to the AirTrain light-rail system serving airport terminals. It’s part of a long-term plan to boost SFO into the ranks of top gateway airports globally.
“Our goal is to create a world-class airport, and doing that requires all the amenities that travelers would expect to find in a global gateway,” says Doug Yakel, airport spokesman. “We’ve invested a lot in terminal renovations and in elevating features and amenities, but the airport wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of a high-quality hotel on airport property.”
The 351-room hotel with 15,000 square feet of meeting space will be the only four-star facility within a 10-mile radius of the airport, he adds, and meetings and events will play a significant role in its marketing strategy. “We think the meeting facilities, combined with the fact that it’s accessible by light rail, will make it very attractive for people who fly in and out of SFO to want to conduct their meetings right there on-site.”
It’s not just San Francisco’s blue-collar sibling anymore; Oakland has emerged as a creative Bay Area hub with a stylish identity all its own. Its location, just minutes from San Francisco, a quick hop from Napa/Sonoma wine country and convenient to destinations up and down the coast, adds to its growing cachet for travelers flying in and out of Oakland International Airport (OAK), which is served by 13 domestic and international carriers.
Mark Everton, CEO of Visit Oakland, notes that about 90 percent of the city’s 5,000 hotel rooms are located along the 10-mile corridor between the airport and downtown. Many offer free shuttles to and from airport terminals, he adds, noting that much airporthotel business is fueled by Southwest Airlines, which counts OAK as its biggest hub on the West Coast.
Another plus: OAK has also emerged as a hub for international carriers offering budgetpriced flights to a growing roster of destinations around the world.
“We have an inordinate amount of carriers providing nonstop flights, and airport hotels have geared themselves around that,” Everton says, adding that the past few years have seen significant investment in renovations and upgrades.
Everton calls out the Hilton Oakland Airport and Radisson Oakland Airport in particular as two recently renovated, full-service properties rolling out the red carpet for meeting guests.
The 360-room Hilton, gleaming from $10 million in renovations completed early last year, stands out for its 12-acre, resort-like setting and prime location just outside the airport’s main gate and a mile and a half from the Oracle Arena and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Free shuttles whisk guests to and from airport terminals and the nearest airport BART station, 2 miles away
For guests and meeting planners alike, General Manager Michael Rios says, the hotel surprises by delivering “an unexpected, tranquil, resort-like setting that evokes a warm and relaxed vibe.” The hotel’s Earhart Tavern restaurant and sports bar features handcrafted drinks and local beers. And the 16,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space is well suited, Rios says, for “inspired meetings, intimate gatherings and memorable occasions.”
“Organizing a small meeting for 50 or less is easy with 16 meeting rooms that can accom - modate theater, banquet, classroom and board - room configurations,” he says. “And our 5,200 square-foot Grand Ballroom can host up to 500 attendees.” Plus, he adds, natural lighting in the prefunction and patio breakout spaces is a perfect fit for mid-day gatherings.
From a meetings standpoint, San Jose is among the easiest California cities for fly-in attendees to navigate. Jose Mineta International Airport (SJC) is, after all, just 3 miles from compact and walkable downtown San Jose with its convention center, associated hotels and scores of restaurants.
Still, not every group needs or wants to be downtown, especially in Silicon Valley, where meetings tend to be short, highly focused, inand-out affairs. With 505 guest rooms and 48,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the DoubleTree by Hilton San Jose, largest convention hotel in the region, fits the bill.
“We’re just half a mile from the airport, so we have lots of advantages,” says Randee Inman, the hotel’s marketing manager. “Many people travel - ing for large meetings and conventions just want to focus on business, they don’t want to have to deal with renting a car, figuring out where to eat, anything like that. We have a number of restau - rants within our hotel and others within walking distance, and we provide free shuttle service from the airport. So for people who don’t want to worry about anything, it’s perfect.”
Inman adds that a recently completed, multi - million dollar renovation of the hotel’s meeting space has added to the property’s appeal. “We have a lot of Silicon Valley tech clients,” she says, “but also groups from all over the United States and around the world—especially for con - ventions catering to a specific interest. For exam - ple, we have a very large convention for Tahitian dance for which people fly in from all over the globe. We’re not just known for business conven - tions anymore.”
Among its notable amenities, adds Inman, are the largest guest rooms in Silicon Valley, 450 square feet or larger, each with a balcony; two 10,000 square-foot ballrooms; and many foyers and public spaces flooded with natural light.