Saturday, May 18, 2024
Home California Outside the Box

Outside the Box

Unique event venues are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression

By Kamala Kirk

“Dueling Dinos” display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
“Dueling Dinos” display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County || Courtesy of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

While hotels and convention centers tend to be the most popular locations for events and conferences, opting for a non-traditional venue comes with its own benefits. Hosting an event in a unique space sets the tone for a memorable experience by adding an element of interest and creativity for attendees.

California is home to diverse unconventional event and meeting spaces including museums, botanical gardens, historic theaters, cultural centers, and even chartered boats. Many of these venues offer engaging exhibits and immersive activities that are designed to educate and entertain, further enhancing the fun and enjoyment for attendees.

“As event planners, we encourage our clients to think outside the box,” says Erin Degl’Innocenti, co-owner and lead planner at Kabe Magnolia Events in Los Angeles. She adds that when planners choose a more unique venue such as a zoo, museum, or botanical garden, they get to build on an existing atmosphere. “Our company plans a lot of events at museums, airplane hangars, and private ranches. When we design events at these unique locations, they quickly become immersive experiences. Unconventional venues allow our clients to work with many different vendors and the freedom to bring in caterers, food trucks, mixologists, performers—anything custom for that matter. The sky’s the limit.”

Whether hosting a conference, corporate gathering, or group networking event, thinking outside the box and choosing a unique venue will provide attendees with a one-of-a-kind experience that they will remember for years to come.

Liaising While Learning

From dancing among dinosaurs to enjoying memorable moments with mammoths and mastodons, events at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in LA’s Exposition Park inspire a sense of wonder and discovery. It offers several event spaces including the Grand Foyer (home to the museum’s iconic “Dueling Dinos” display) with 40-foot ceilings, a safari-themed African Mammal Diorama Hall, and the North American Diorama Hall with the plains of central Wyoming and a herd of bison as its backdrop. Its indoor and outdoor spaces combined can accommodate upward of 2,000 attendees.

“Our museum locations are a very unique destination for history lovers who enjoy learning about climate impacts, paleontology, and the evolution of life on Earth,” says Sarah Locastro, manager of special events and filming at the museum. “The combination of historical artifacts, fossils, and immersive exhibits creates a unique atmosphere that can enhance the overall event experience.”

To the south, located on San Diego Bay, the USS Midway Museum hosts more than 200 private events and 400 military ceremonies annually aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway. It has two decks that, when combined, can accommodate up to 4,000 attendees. The Flight Deck features 50,000 square feet of space and more than 25 beautifully restored military aircraft, while the Hangar Deck has two column-free enclosed hangar bays that can be transformed to fit any event.

“An event at the USS Midway Museum will be, for most people, their first opportunity to board a former active-duty aircraft carrier and experience the legacy of one of the most famous ships to have ever served in the U.S. Navy,” says David Koontz, marketing director of the USS Midway Museum.

Nearby, with beautiful terraces, lush garden settings, and ballrooms, Balboa Park in San Diego is the perfect backdrop for corporate events and meetings. The park is spread across 1,200 acres and includes gardens, trails, and the San Diego Zoo, as well as various performing arts and international cultural organizations. Venue highlights include the Japanese Friendship Garden and Museum with beautiful botanicals and event space for up to 250 people; the San Diego Air & Space Museum, with impressive plane exhibits and space for up to 2,000 people; the San Diego Automotive Museum, with a unique collection of cars and space for up to 500 people; and the San Diego Museum of Art, featuring elegant artwork on display and on-site venues that can hold up to 800.

In San Francisco, The Midway is a 40,000-square-foot creative complex that can host anything from interactive workshops and exhibitions to conferences and musical performances. Combined, its event spaces can seat up to 673 attendees or accommodate 2,500 standing. Its largest room, Ride, features a minimal warehouse aesthetic, state-of-the-art sound system, and cutting-edge visual and lighting effects, making it ideal for large-scale presentations and performances for up to 700 seated or 1,500 standing.

Tahoe Star Charters on Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Star Charters on Lake Tahoe || Courtesy of Tahoe Star Charters

Open-Air Experiences

The historic 320-acre Santa Anita Park in Arcadia is known around the world for its thoroughbred racetrack with views of the San Gabriel Mountains. It features classic art deco architecture, three dining options, and a wide range of venue spaces that can accommodate groups of up to 10,000 people.

“Santa Anita Park is an iconic meetings and events destination that provides breathtaking views and world-class service,” says Sanjay Ahuja, senior director of event sales at Santa Anita Park. “Offering 1 million square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space, it is the premier destination for your next event.”

he Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino || Courtesy of Foolishly Rushing In Wedding Photography & Videography

Situated on 207 acres in San Marino, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens offers 30 distinct venues including beautiful spaces like the outdoor Richards Courtyard or the indoor/outdoor Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court, which can host 250 attendees cocktail-style and features a distinctive 36-foot glass dome and plenty of plant life. “The Huntington is uniquely poised to engage and educate guests through once-in-a-lifetime events,” says Kimberly Feeney, director of special events at The Huntington. “Whether it’s an evening soiree at the historic Beaux Arts Mansion, a serene cocktail reception in the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, or a special event in our blooming Rose Garden, The Huntington has so much to offer.” Note that some premium garden spaces require a Society of Fellows or Corporate Partners membership, but plenty are available to all.

Jeannie Savage, owner of Details Details Wedding & Events in Los Angeles, previously worked with The Huntington on a corporate event in partnership with Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” “One of the most coveted venues in Southern California, The Huntington is rich in history, providing exclusive event opportunities and private access to spectacular artwork among marvelous architectural details,” Savage says. “The picturesque space is already a beautiful canvas ready to be customized with any corporate branding.”

USS Midway Flight Deck in San Diego;
USS Midway Flight Deck in San Diego || Courtesy of USS Midway Museum

With stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and versatile spaces, The Presidio in San Francisco is the ultimate location for hosting various events. The 3,000-square-foot historic Presidio Log Cabin can accommodate up to 160 people; the Golden Gate Club has multiple event rooms ranging in size from 300 to 2,736 square feet; and the Presidio Officers’ Club includes the 2,955-square-foot Ortega Ballroom with panoramic views, Moraga Hall for standing receptions, and the open-air Hardie Courtyard for small gatherings and receptions. “Corporate clients are thrilled with the sheer variety of unique venues, hotels, and restaurants, all located in a beautiful, national park setting,” says Yvonne Serra, associate director of hospitality sales and marketing at the Presidio Trust. “It makes it easy to plan for smaller C-suite retreats as well as a special experience for the whole company.”

The Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco || Courtesy of Wedgewood Wedding and Events

Lake & Desert Culture

Chartering a private cruise on Lake Tahoe offers an intimate experience with unforgettable views of sites and attractions such as Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and more with optional narration from the ship’s captain. The Tahoe Star of Tahoe Star Charters is a historic 54-foot luxury yacht that was custom built for Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah’s Entertainment—which was later renamed to Caesars Entertainment—and is available for private charters. It fits up to 40 attendees and features plush seating, elegant decor, and state-of-the-art entertainment systems. Gourmet catering is available as an add-on.

“Hosting group events aboard a charter boat on Lake Tahoe is a unique experience for everyone involved,” says Zach Shearer, captain and owner of Tahoe Star Charters. “There are not many places that beat the beauty of South Lake Tahoe. Many guests that come aboard the Tahoe Star have never been to Lake Tahoe, and it is our main goal to make the experience one to remember. We customize and personalize each charter to the requests of our guests to ensure that they have the most memorable experience possible.”

Out in the desert, the Palm Springs Cultural Center has meeting and reception space that groups can rent for meetings, presentations, and screenings. Its large theater—the historic Camelot Theatre—can seat 495 people, has the largest screen in Coachella Valley, and is fully equipped for live concerts, stage plays, and speaker series. The smaller theater seats 125 and is set for live productions with complete sets and a backstage, while the midsize theater has a capacity of 170 and is the only one without a stage, but has space for speakers and panels up front. Additional amenities include concessions, a cafe, bars, and an upstairs music lounge. “We also have ongoing shows, theater performances, film screenings, and other programs that groups can attend, either as part of the audience or as a buyout for their group,” says Michael Green, CEO and executive director at Palm Springs Cultural Center. “All three of our theater spaces can be used for multimedia programs, lectures, panel discussions, speakers, and prerecorded or live-streaming presentations.”

The Power of Flight

An aviation-themed food hall and event space near Los Angeles International Airport, The Proud Bird has six banquet rooms with contemporary decor to accommodate corporate meetings and elegant social affairs of up to 1,200 people. Guests can also stroll and tour the interactive aviation exhibits and airplane park.

The Proud Bird near LAX || Courtesy of The Proud Bird

“The Proud Bird is the ideal location to host events with impressive views of the Los Angeles International Airport runways that will engage and excite your guests to create a memorable experience,” says Susan Quinonez, general
manager of The Proud Bird.