Like a stiff cocktail alongside a double espresso, being on or near the water is both relaxing and revitalizing. In California, the options for waterfront meetings are as diverse as the state itself. Each of these seven venues offers a different way to experience the restorative power of gathering on the ocean, bay, or lake.
Argonaut Hotel » San Francisco
The Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf is surrounded by maritime history with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A former Kimpton property that’s now under the Noble House flag, the 252-room boutique hotel is housed within a 1907 cannery that radiates vintage architectural charm. The hotel is part of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The national historical park’s visitor center is inside the hotel, although it is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Across the street are the Maritime Museum in the 1939 Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building and Hyde Street Pier. The latter showcases a fleet of historic vessels, including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha. Right next door to the Argonaut, the Blue Mermaid restaurant serves up some of the best clam chowder and cioppino in town.
“Just being on the waterfront means that Pier 38, Ghirardelli Square, the cable-car turnaround—all of those iconic San Francisco sites are right there,” says Amy Cacho, regional director of sales and marketing for Noble House, Northern California. “There’s no need to shuttle people around to get a good San Francisco experience.” Nearby team-building experiences include custom-tailored classes at the Cartoon Art Museum, a “fondue fun” or pizza-making workshop at the Cheese School of San Francisco, and private tours of historic ships.
Besides the Argonaut’s eight indoor meeting spaces, including a ballroom that can accommodate up to 380 guests, a large courtyard area at the Blue Mermaid is also event-friendly. The hotel has hosted a wide range of organizations and groups, including tech companies, nonprofits, firms with product launches, and institutions hosting educational seminars.
Descanso Beach Club » Santa Catalina Island
You can’t get to Santa Catalina Island, which is off the Southern California coast, without getting out on or over the water (in a plane or helicopter). Most visitors travel to the largest of the Channel Islands via a ferry ride from San Pedro, Long Beach, Dana Point, or Newport Beach.
There are many places to meet on this hilly 22-by-8-mile island with a permanent population of about 4,100 (most of whom live in the town of Avalon). Touring the historic sites, like the 1929 Catalina Casino, is a must-do. But sooner or later, almost every visitor to the island, including meeting attendees, spends a few hours at Descanso Beach Club.
“It’s exactly what you think of when you imagine a beach vacation—cabanas, beach lounge chair rentals, restaurants, outdoor seating, big grassy areas,” says Corey Schuchardt, marketing and social media coordinator for the Catalina Island Co. “It’s a private beach and one of the only places that allows alcohol, so you can sip your drink with your toes in the sand. Plus, there are three wonderful hotels—Hotel Atwater, Pavilion Hotel, and Mt Ada—welcoming corporate meeting groups within a 10-minute walk.”
Catherine’s Terrace, the beach club’s oceanfront restaurant, boasts a cozy indoor space with a fireplace and window wall that looks out onto a spacious canopied balcony with beautiful views of Avalon Bay. The large outside area, which includes a gazebo, is perfect for a cocktail party or event reception, Schuchardt says. The space is 1,900 square feet, which can be split in half with an air wall. A ballroom, with a capacity of 200, is situated on the second floor, allowing for still more spectacular views.
“We have welcomed all types of meetings, events, and companies to Santa Catalina Island,” Schuchardt says. “Some opt for a group lunch or beach party, and some stay for a few nights and have a combination of meetings, activities, and themed meals. Just about every type of industry has gathered here—medical, legal, manufacturing, technology, food/beverage, hospitality, and more.”
Hotel del Coronado » Coronado
If there is one resort hotel that epitomizes Southern California, it is the 902-room Hotel del Coronado, San Diego’s legendary beach hotel that’s just off San Diego Bay. The Del, as the red-roofed Victorian property that dates to 1888 is known, sits on 28 oceanfront acres and offers every imaginable amenity.
Now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, The Del is currently in the last stages of a four-year, $400 million master-plan redevelopment that should be completed by the end of the year. “The makeover has included culinary concepts, guest rooms, enhanced and new meeting spaces, a brand-new entry experience with refurbished lobby and front porch, and more,” says hotel spokesperson Dorie Pagnano.
With 96,000 square feet of event space, gatherings here can be large. Pagnano points to a health care company that recently held an event for nearly 600 people; the all-day affair included curated cocktails, beach games, and a beachside grill. When a technology company hosted a meeting for 500, its activities included guided bike tours, yoga, boot camp, and spin classes on the beach, plus a beach cleanup that yielded 113 pounds of trash.
The hotel’s new Southpointe Event Center, which is set to open in fall 2022, will feature a 15,000-square-foot, clear-span ballroom, 10,000 square feet of pre-function and breakout space, and the 14,040-square-foot Southpointe Lawn.
Mar Monte Hotel » Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is known for its sandy beaches, seaside promenades, and Mediterranean/Spanish Revival architecture featuring red roofs, white walls, and arched porticos. One beloved landmark that captures all these elements is the beachfront Mar Monte Hotel, a 200-room property that originally opened in 1931 as Vista Mar Monte. Now, after a multimillion-dollar reimagination and operating under the Unbound Collection by Hyatt, the property has boosted its reputation as the self-described “Gateway to the American Riviera.”
The recently opened Costa Kitchen & Bar features a seafood-driven, Mediterranean-influenced menu, while 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space offers full oceanfront views of the Pacific for up to 220 guests.
Tori McLaughlin, director of sales and marketing, says that business is booming. “We’re seeing a lot of groups coming here to reconnect after two years apart and as team members have changed,” she says. Mar Monte is offering a menu of activities designed to strengthen team bonds—healing sound baths, yoga on the beach, and beach Olympics—and working with the Santa Barbara Sailing Center on experiences that include corporate sailing regattas. Designed as a “miniature America’s Cup,” the regatta is a three-hour experience where teams board their designated yacht and, with direction from a certified captain, rotate through the different aspects of handling the vessel, then race rival teams in three 40-minute races. It’s the kind of exhilarating experience you can only have on the water.
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego » La Jolla
The blue Pacific Ocean and salty breezes are as much a draw as the world-class art collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s newly expanded campus in La Jolla (there is also a campus in downtown San Diego). Following a four-year renovation, the coastal landmark has quadrupled its gallery space and is showcasing an art park/sculpture garden geared toward enhancing the museum’s connection to the coast. There’s also a new venue rental program, a new catering partner, and a 120-seat, indoor-outdoor restaurant run by locally owned Urban Kitchen Group.
On the meetings and events front, seven venues, most with floor-to-ceiling windows framing the San Diego coastline, accommodate anywhere from 60 people seated to 400 standing. “It has been so exciting to see all the different types of clients and events that are choosing to celebrate in our spaces,” says April Erin Farrell, director of rentals and retail at the museum. Events have included weddings, an after-party hosted by a high-end fashion brand, corporate dinners, and fundraisers for the arts.
“All but one of our event spaces,” Farrell notes, “are positioned to highlight the incredible art of the Pacific Coast landscape and embody our motto of ‘Art With a View.’”
Sacramento State Aquatic Center » Gold River
Located on beautiful Lake Natoma in Gold River, the Sacramento State Aquatic Center is a National Boating Instruction Safety Center that offers classes, facility reservations, team building, and equipment rentals. It’s a good place for learning water sports or for training. One of the leading rowing facilities in North America, the center has hosted many Olympic preparation camps and other high-profile events, both national and international.
While it’s managed by Associated Students Inc., a student-led organization at California State University, Sacramento, the center is open to the public. “Because of how smooth and stable the water is, it’s a top destination for regattas,” says Leena Riggs, director of marketing and partnerships for Visit Rancho Cordova. The center is also popular with groups for sailing, kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing (lessons and rentals available), swimming, and hanging out on sandy beaches. Four upstairs meeting rooms in the main building can accommodate 25 people each, or be combined, along with an outdoor deck, for a capacity of 110.
If you have attendees who like to dive into a challenge, the center hosts three-hour Water Enrichment team-building activities for corporate groups of 10 to 200 (Sam’s Club employees recently participated and loved it, Riggs says). Activities include canoe tug-of-war, sailboat transfer challenges, kayak relays, and team raft building. For out-of-towners, plenty of lodging is available in nearby Rancho Cordova, including the Sacramento Marriott Rancho Cordova, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hyatt Place Sacramento/Rancho Cordova, and DoubleTree Suites Sacramento/Rancho Cordova.
The Stanford Inn by the Sea » Mendocino
You don’t come to this semi-remote, 41-room vegan resort that sits on a beautifully landscaped hillside overlooking the rugged Mendocino coast for just one day. Located 150 miles north of San Francisco, The Stanford Inn by the Sea, which was founded in 1980, attracts companies that include Eddie Bauer, Börn Shoes, Gilead Sciences, and Partners for Growth for multiday creative retreats. One meeting room offers space for 20, while another can accommodate groups up to 40.
Sid Garza-Hillman, the inn’s wellness program director, certified nutritionist, and events director, says that when some attendees arrive, “they think that a wellness retreat is some kind of hippie thing, but then they have life-changing experiences.”
Those experiences might take place during the mushroom foraging activities, yoga classes, or cooking workshops that Garza-Hillman coordinates. He also hosts a “biointensive” gardening class that focuses on maximizing calories that can be obtained from what you can grow on a minimal amount of land. Inspiration might also strike while enjoying the Big River tidal estuary on a Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too! outrigger canoe. Handcrafted from repurposed redwood barns and available only in Mendocino, the boats are narrow, stable, and efficient with an intuitive foot-controlled rudder for easy steering. Other water activities include kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and guided tours aboard the nine-person Solar Wind Tribrid.