Tuesday, September 19, 2023
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A Little History, a Lot of Nature

Gather at the roots of California’s origins at the state’s national parks and historic sites

By Amanda Christensen

California is abundant in access to Mother Nature and historic sites that tell the stories of the state’s rich past. Home to nine national parks from the towering granite monoliths at Yosemite National Park in the north to the sprawling ecosystems of the Mojave and Colorado deserts that compose Joshua Tree National Park in the south, the landscapes are endless—and all offer memorable settings for events and activities. And while these national parks tell the stories of the land’s evolution, there are also several historic sites sprinkled across the Golden State that embody California’s urban development as a coastal powerhouse—such as Fort Point National Historic Site in San Francisco and El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument in Los Angeles.

Head to the Sierra

Yosemite National Park is tucked into California’s Sierra Nevada and encompasses some 750,000 acres of protected parkland. Famed for its sequoia trees and looming granite cliffs, it is one of the most visited national parks in the United States with over 3 million visitors in 2022. Gather your group at the historic Evergreen Lodge, which is just a mile away and offers plenty of green space for groups to congregate outside. 

“Evergreen sits on the western border of Yosemite National Park, and it’s [this] ‘hidden gem’ fifth entrance that most people don’t talk about or know about, which is the Hetch Hetchy Entrance,” explains Teri Marshall, director of marketing and communications for Evergreen. The lodge was built nearly a century ago as housing for railroad workers forging the Hetch Hetchy Railroad, and it’s now home to 89 cabins for overnight accommodations alongside on-site activities and dining options. It’s open year-round with a temporary six-week closure in January, reopening every Presidents Day weekend. 

A barbecue at Evergreen Lodge near Yosemite National Park. May 24, 2023
A barbecue at Evergreen Lodge near Yosemite National Park CREDIT Kim Carroll/Evergreen Lodge

Private group experiences are curated by the Evergreen team, which can include on-site scavenger hunts, explorations of nearby nature trails, or guided excursions to Yosemite. The property comfortably hosts groups of 40 to 60, and its restaurant for up to 80 people boasts historic charm as the oldest part of the lodge. 

“Everything is designed to get people outside and reconnect with nature and reconnect with people,” says Marshall. “So, when we say it’s ‘meetings of a different nature,’ it’s a fun play on words but it’s [also] the truth.”

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks in Tulare County are managed together. Known for the namesake sequoia trees—most notably the General Sherman Sequoia Tree in Sequoia National Park, which stands at 102 feet in circumference and is estimated to be over 2,000 years old—the national parks bring in visitors from around the globe to see these towering marvels. For groups, the city of Visalia is 45 minutes away with lodging and 114,000 square feet of flexible meeting space at the Visalia Convention Center. 

The Sequoia Shuttle operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day and can pick up groups visiting Sequoia National Park from any of Visalia’s hotels. Round-trip tickets are $20 and include the park entrance fee. While the shuttle doesn’t go into Kings Canyon, the park can be accessed from Visalia by car via state Route 63 to state Route 180. Sequoia Sightseeing Tours and Sequoia Guides both offer group tours and guided hikes, and the national park has an in-park shuttle. 

Gather Around the History of San Francisco

For a more urban setting, San Francisco has both a national park and two national historic sites. At the southern terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge, The Presidio of San Francisco is a 1,500-acre national park along San Francisco Bay that offers rich history, activities and dining nearby, and two notable properties for groups: the Inn at the Presidio and the Lodge at the Presidio. “We’re like a city within a city,” says Terry Haney, managing director of Presidio Lodging, which oversees both properties. The inn has 22 intimate guest rooms and two boardrooms that can host up to 20 people each, and the lodge is a former military barracks with 42 guest rooms and unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There is no dedicated on-site meeting space at the lodge, but a full buyout of the property is available and small meeting sessions can be arranged in the dining room. 

The Lodge at the Presidio. May 24, 2023
The Lodge at the Presidio CREDIT The Presidio Trust

Nearby attractions include the 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops with 25 miles of trails, access to beaches, the Presidio Golf Course, and more. There is also access to Fort Point National Historic Site, which sits near the San Francisco terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge, just steps away from the Presidio. “Although it’s guns never fired shots against any aggressor, it was completed in 1861 to protect the San Francisco Bay’s important commercial and military installations around the time of the Gold Rush,” explains Julian Espinoza, public relations specialist for the national historic site. The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park is farther east along the bay and is home to a fleet of historic ships from the late 1800s and early 1900s and a maritime museum. 

The Wonders of the Southland

In the heart of downtown Los Angeles is the El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, commonly referred to as “The Birthplace of Los Angeles.” The original name of Los Angeles was El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula, which translates to “The Town of Our Lady the Queen Angels of Porciúncula,” and El Pueblo is the site where the first Native American, African, and European settlers arrived in the area. 

Just a 15-minute walk away from El Pueblo is the Conrad Los Angeles, a 305-room property that opened last July. Home to two ballrooms, several terraces, penthouse suites, views of the Walt Disney Concert Hall across the street, an on-site spa, and two culinary options, the Conrad creates an elegant and memorable venue for groups and events. Agua Viva, the outdoor restaurant, has a seasonal menu and flexibility for groups as large as 650. “When you walk out [there], it’s this beautiful wooden-beam structure that completely transforms in the evening [to] where you can see the stars, take in the beautiful sights and sounds—[it’s] great for group events,” says Stephanie Leavitt, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. 

San Laurel's terrace at Conrad Los Angeles. May 24, 2023
San Laurel’s terrace at Conrad Los Angeles CREDIT Conrad Los Angeles

Farther inland, Joshua Tree National Park is near several hotels and venues for groups in the Greater Palm Springs area. The new Acrisure Arena opened last December and offers 11,000 seats, and the Palm Springs Convention Center has 245,000 square feet of space. The Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells, provides 560 renovated guest rooms—all of which have a balcony—alongside 213,000 square feet of flexible space for events and an on-site spa, fitness center, pool, and six dining options. 

The Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells. May 24, 2023
The Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells CREDIT Renaissance Esmerelda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells

At just 35 miles from the national park, the resort makes adding a trip to Joshua Tree easy. “Joshua Tree is where two deserts meet—the Mojave and the Colorado,” explains Jacob Kendrick, director of sales and marketing for the resort. “It’s truly the unique landscape and the flora and fauna that make it a really special location.” 

Kendrick encourages groups to experience the evening and nighttime stargazing tours because Joshua Tree is an internationally recognized dark sky park. “You’re going to see constellations, star clusters, and even our nearest galaxies,” he explains. “The skies here in the valley are truly something that you can’t miss.” 

Joshua Tree National Park. May 24, 2023
Joshua Tree National Park CREDIT Adobe Stock/Dmitry

It’s clear to see the abundance of nature and history offered by these sites across California, and a visit to any one of them in between meetings is sure to leave attendees with a yearning to return.