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Newport Beach Offers Glamour And More

By Kathy A. McDonald

If the only glimpse you’ve gotten of Newport Beach is through the glitzy lens of The Real Housewives of Orange County, you may not realize how much substance and style the affluent Orange County city offers meeting planners.

The substance comes from the city’s compact, easy-to-navigate geography, its variety of meeting-friendly venues and a breezy, scenic oceanfront location that sports ideal weather most of the year. As for style, Newport Beach is home to the largest pleasure boat harbor in the world, and this nautical culture provides a deep layer of event possibilities. And, yes, there is glitz, too-yachts, top-tier restaurants and Fashion Island, the famed outdoor shopping plaza.

(Photo Credit: That Girl Productions)

“We’re a smaller, boutique destination for meetings,” says Michelle Donahue, senior vice president of sales for Visit Newport Beach. “It’s a nice condensed, neat little city, manicured and beautiful, and an ideal fit for meetings from 50 to 500.” Although Newport Beach doesn’t have a convention center, its high-end hotels cater to corporate and group business, serving meeting needs of any size and various budgets. The prominent hotels in the central part of Newport Beach include the Island Hotel Newport Beach, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, the Fairmont Newport Beach, Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa and the waterfront Balboa Bay Resort. Just a few miles south on the Pacific Coast Highway is the luxurious and secluded 504-acre Resort at Pelican Hill, with 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Beth Hoffman, director of global accounts at ConferenceDirect, appreciates that Newport Beach’s hotels are constantly updating and refreshing, providing a competitive advantage for the upscale city. “As a resort-style destination in Southern California, Newport Beach has both charm and the water experience, combined with the sophistication of any major city,” she says. Another advantage is the city’s proximity to two major airports. John Wayne Airport (SNA) is only 10 minutes away; Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) approximately an hour. Hoffman recently booked a 20-person executive board meeting for an Irvine-based firm; half the delegates flew into LAX from Singapore to attend the event at the Hyatt Regency. And with Newport Beach midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s accessible by a scenic drive, too.

(Photo Credit: Balboa Bay Resort)

Temperate weather means that gatherings can take full advantage of outdoor space. The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach’s updated landscaping optimizes this outdoor/indoor flow. “Moving between breakouts to general sessions becomes a really relaxing Southern California stroll around the property,” says Daniel Kuperschmid, general manager of the 403-room, 23-acre hotel, which has 26,000 square feet of function space. The Oasis Court is an outdoor venue for 300 with tropical landscaping and excellent lighting for evening occasions. At a June event, a dine-around held in the garden space featured a deconstructed Cobb salad on butcher paper as part of a farm-to-table-style buffet. With lanterns hanging in the trees, the vibe was “pretty mystical,” Kuperschmid says.

(Photo Credit: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach)

If mystical isn’t the vibe you’re after, the Hyatt’s nine-hole golf course provides a sporty alternative. During a six-day brainstorming meeting, a Northwest-based firm held one evening reception at the top of the golf course. Activities included night golf illuminated by glow sticks.

Newport’s harbor offers a wide range of year-round activities, from a ferry ride to Balboa Island or an electric Duffy boat that cruises the calm waters to a yacht party that never leaves the dock. “The harbor is a blank canvas for meeting and event planners,” says Kevin Lorton, vice president and general manager for Hornblower Cruises & Events in Los Angeles and Orange County. The company has a fleet of vessels on call (capacity tops out at 450) and “each boat has its own story to tell,” says Lorton. Event planners can choose the boat style, size and character to fit the occasion, including sleek contemporary Monte Carlo-style yachts and the historic Wild Goose, legendary actor John Wayne’s former yacht.

(Photo Credit: Island Hotel Newport Beach)

Landlubbers can rest easy, however-with the harbor waters punctuated by barely a ripple, seasickness is never an issue. A boat can be an off-site facility for a lunch session, but sunset cruises are the most popular choice, and can easily be customized. A medical company hosted a Western-themed event on the Wild Goose, complete with western décor, music and menu, and a John Wayne look-alike who came along for the ride. The Duke’s movies even played on the boat’s multiple video screens.

(Photo Credit: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach)

Candace Bisconte, a partner at ACCESS Destination Services, personalized a corporate group’s cruising event by docking at The Cannery for a midday sushi-making demonstration and lunch for 40 on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. “The great mix of activities that are centered on the water is one reason so many planners enjoy Newport Beach,” she says. Donahue agrees. “Because of the water, a meeting here feels like experiencing the good life,” he says. “And we’re also surprisingly affordable.” Plus, you never know when you’ll spot one of those real housewives!