Silicon Beach is the name given to the tech corridor that spreads across Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey and Playa Vista. Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo! have established outposts here. Meanwhile, there are more than 1,000 tech startups in LA, according to RepresentLA, which maps tech companies in the area. Also in the mix are homegrown online enterprises such as Snapchat and The Honest Company, the Santa Monica-based eco-sensitive household products company that was launched by actress Jessica Alba.
The year-round sunlight and superlative weather of LA’s beach communities mesh well with the youthful, energetic and optimistic tech industry. “The reason why companies have migrated here really becomes about lifestyle,” says Gianni Wurzi, co-founder of Venice’s One Roof Co-working, a co-working space and networking enterprise for women entrepreneurs. Wurzi says the sector prides itself on innovation and its members share an ambition: “We want to be inspired.” Silicon Beach’s long list of amenities, including walkable neighborhoods, scores of yoga studios, accessible surf breaks, bike lanes on major commuter arteries, artisan cocktail bars and farm-to-table restaurants, provides that inspiration.
The tech community’s affinity for the locale is clear. The trade press lists job openings by distance to the beach. Example: BuiltInLA.com says Venice’s Snapchat is a mere 50 feet from the surf. And consider that one of the most coveted memberships is the invite-only Silicon Beach Surfers. The private club has more than 400 members, from tech, media, entertainment and finance, who share a passion for surfing, which can lead to offshore networking and business opportunities.
Planners need to know that professionals in this industry expect their events and meetings to be just as stimulating as their environment and as innovative as their businesses.
Venues Reinvent Themselves for the New Market
Silicon Beach’s existing hospitality properties are undergoing transformations to meet the sensibilities of their new client base. Enclosed, chandelier-lit ballrooms and windowless hotel meeting rooms don’t cut it for these innovators. Groups from the tech sector prefer scenic spaces like pool decks, rooftops, residential-style hotel suites and rooms with easy indoor/outdoor flow. “They like to be outside and don’t even want to see our inside spaces,” says Maureen Leary, director of sales, The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. Instead of a sit-down dinner in a ballroom, this youthful workforce craves a “unique experience,” Leary says, “such as dinner under the stars with views of the marina.”
Laura Kinsman, director of catering and conference services at Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, agrees. “Overall,” she says, “tech-industry people do not like our traditional space, they prefer our untraditional meeting spaces.” In 2012, the hotel remodeled and merged three small meeting rooms into The Bungalow—an ocean-view lounge with a boho-chic-meets-surfer residential look. (Nightlife impresario Brent Bolthouse was behind the concept.) The stylish makeover, including Adirondack chairs, vintage couches and a chill lounge scene, was an instant hit with the Silicon Beach crowd. During the day, the Bungalow’s State Room becomes a private dining room and boardroom for 16; still, its décor evokes Maui more than meeting room.
In 2015, the Fairmont went on to remake its 32 garden bungalow guest rooms, which range from studio-sized residences to Bungalow One, a 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom unit that’s often utilized for private meetings. The clean lines and fresh color palette, from interior designer Michael Berman, offer an aesthetic aligned with that of tech executives.
Other properties are adapting to its new cool-seeking clientele with similar makeovers. The 164-room Marina del Rey Hotel reopened in 2014 after a $25 million renovation. Light-filled meeting rooms have floorto- ceiling windows that overlook the Marina’s main channel, which is dotted with pleasure boats, sea lions and stand-up paddleboarders. TeleSign, Fullscreen, ActiVision and Google/ YouTube have all booked corporate events at the revitalized venue; it also hosted the fourth annual Silicon Beach Fest in June.
At the Viceroy Santa Monica, by-the-hour poolside cabana packages are offered as an off-site alternative to in-house meetings. Developed with the Silicon Beach crowd in mind, up to 12 guests can fit comfortably in one of the hotel’s fashionable white-on-white, sailcloth draped cabanas. Meeting packages include libations like sangria or pisco punch carafes plus the necessities of sunscreen, towels, pool use, free Wi-Fi and ample power outlets.
Although there’s no major convention center in the area, conferences make do with hotel takeovers. The annual American Film Market, which draws more than 8,000 attendees, occupies the 347-room Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and other oceanfront properties. Hotel rooms are transformed into offices; conference rooms into high-definition minitheaters.
What the area does lack in conference facilities, it more than makes up for with ocean views. Hotel Casa del Mar’s Palm Terrace has the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific as its backdrop for receptions and breakouts. Santa Monica’s Shore Hotel faces the ocean and its Green Room and Patio Terrace can be combined for an indoor/ outdoor standing reception for 120. Hotel Erwin’s rooftop lounge has all of Venice and the Santa Monica Bay in view and is in demand for end-of-day gatherings.
Another highly sought-out property is Santa Monica’s Annenberg Community Beach House. Located on the Pacific Coast Highway and set on five acres of beachfront property, this is a public facility that was once part of an estate that belonged to film star Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. Rental pricing fluctuates seasonally; food and beverage is an add-on cost and only obtainable through approved vendors. And because it’s a public facility, there are restrictions, such as no hard alcohol or smoking.
A multipart venue, capacities vary. The Marion Davies Guest House is 3,590 square feet and can be leased in part or in its entirety for groups from 20 to 100. The Event House has three rooms: the Garden Terrace (capacity: 130), the Terrace Lounge (30) and Club Room (20-30); it can be booked separately or as a whole. The glass-walled contemporary Sand and Sea Room and an adjacent deck, overlooking the tiled marble pool, hosts 70 and is ideal for outdoor luncheons and cocktail receptions. “We’re booked solid year-round,” says Liz Dugan, event sales and marketing for the property, noting that weekday meetings are popular with tech companies who “absolutely wait to the last minute to book” and are often accommodated.
Trend Alert: Alternative Spaces
If you’re closed out of the Annenberg, don’t despair. Mobile apps and websites now help connect planners with novel settings: resources like The Venue Report, Event Up, Storefront (short-term retail space rentals) and even Airbnb profile and provide contacts for independent and unconventional event spaces. The search for alternative sites means “we’ve turned into a venue matchmaker,” says Matthew Landes, founder and CEO of the Cocktail Academy. The Arts District firm provides bars, bartenders, artisan cocktails and event planning services across town, as well as consulting to bars and restaurants on implementing worldclass cocktail programs. Landes helps find and book garages, photo studios and loft-like industrial spaces. Catering to this sector, a business can’t “just execute in your niche,” he says.
Also in vogue: venues that don’t have four walls, where physical activity can be part of the experience. For breaks, team-building and, yes, inspiration, the beach, marina and Pacific Ocean offer sporty, physical options. Sunset yacht cruises, paddleboarding, yoga on the sand and group bike rides are all readily available.
Viceroy Santa Monica partnered with the Kickstarter-funded Priority Bicycles to develop the EXPLORE bike rental program. The bike concierge can suggest routes and stops for “meetings by bike.” Itineraries might include TOMS Flagship store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice for coffee, Lululemon for yoga and Pressed Juicery for a juice tasting.
Silicon Beach has also embraced communal spaces. Shared office spaces—booked by the day, week or month—are a notable spin-off of the tech industry. Some serve as incubators for new businesses and most offer conference rooms and other meeting/ event spaces for a fee to community members. At the airport-adjacent LAX Coworking, established by the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce in 2014, the chamber provides an open-seating communal space and rents a conference room (for up to 14) and boardroom (capacity: 40) to local entrepreneurs.
Several co-working enterprises can also be found in Santa Monica; among them are BizHaus, Expert Dojo and WeWork. In Venice, One Roof Co-working offers female entrepreneurs both a shared working space and “curated connections,” says co-founder Wurzi. “Physical space in the digital age is really important,” she says. “You can’t put a creative person in a white box and say ‘go.’” At night, the One Roof Co-working can be rented as an event space for up to 60 attendees.
Silicon Beach is also looking for fresh food and beverage offerings. “It’s definitely a younger, hipper kind of crowd who tend to have a sophisticated palate, enjoy good organic food and are concerned about quality, sourcing and processing,” says Mark Gold, the executive chef at SALT, the Marina del Rey Hotel’s new restaurant and bar. Gone are generic banquet menus. “For winter, I’m thinking beautiful squash confit from Windrose Farms, roasted Brussels sprouts with salmon and striped bass,” he says.
Presentation is equally important to this crowd. Instead of chafing dishes and water baths for buffets, Gold uses smaller roasting pans and composed presentations, such as salmon with salsa verde, asparagus and potatoes. He suggests simple and seasonal table décor to match, like sprigs of peach blossoms and an arrangement of summer squash.
When you’re feeding the Silicon Beach crowd, you need to be prepared for demands that go beyond egg-white omelets. “Because they’re on the Internet all day, everything is at their fingertips,” Landes says of this new generation of techies. That can translate into requests for event menus where each item is akin to one offered at a specific restaurant, requiring more coordination and tasting sessions. (Pinterest boards can serve as a handy lookbook—an easy way, says Landes, for planners to share ideas with clients.)
“Companies say, ‘we want this kind of sushi, this kind of whiskey, this kind of dessert’ and our chefs take all of that in and rework it to our hotel and concept,” says The Ritz- Carlton, Marina del Rey’s Leary. “No one wants the same old, same old, they want to create something customized and personalized.” There’s also a hunger for educational components, such as a predinner wine-tasting session. “This market wants a more robust experience,” Leary says.
Formal sit-down dinners are out of sync with Silicon Beach’s interest in innovation. For a venture capital firm, The Ritz-Carlton worked with its farmers market purveyors to set up stations highlighting ingredients during a predinner reception. A family-style meal followed outside (of course) on the hotel’s basketball court under globe-shaped lights.
There’s an App for That
Mobile apps and websites are essential tools in Silicon Beach event logistics. There’s valet parking on demand via Luxe Valet (available in Santa Monica, downtown LA and San Francisco) while the CurbStand app allows drivers to preregister a credit card so there’s no hunting for small bills for payment or tips when valet parking. The city of Santa Monica offers an app, ParkMe, that shows realtime parking availability in city lots. Roaming Hunger has over 7,200 food trucks in its database and a mobile app that connects foodies to food trucks. Its catering side links event planners to food trucks; the process begins with an online submission form. “In general, people have migrated away from formality, ” says Ross Resnick, Roaming Hunger’s founder. “In the past, you never could have imagined a CEO lining up at a taco truck or at an ice cream truck.” Today, that’s common among the young Silicon Beach set.
“Millennials are looking for shareable moments and experiences,” Resnick adds. “That’s their guiding light.” If you don’t want to be left in the dark when planning events for the high-tech set, you’ll keep that in mind.
Silicon Beach Style
Two high-profile events demonstrate the tech community’s growing importance to area businesses and nonprofits.
The Marina del Rey Hotel welcomed the 2,000 attendees of the fourth Silicon Beach Fest in June, a multiday conference of panels, mixers and parties geared towards technology, entertainment and startups. “The venue was perfect,” says Kevin Winston, Silicon Beach Fest’s founder and director and the CEO/founder of Digital LA. “The bright, direct sunlight and open, optimistic mid-century architecture matched the vibe of the conference.” Another plus: The hotel had the necessary flexibility the increasingly popular conference required, and was able to arrange everything from a showcase for new industry trends, like oversized 3-D printers, to an opening cocktail party on the hotel’s waterside event lawn.
Providing a blast of freshness to the Venice Art Walk & Auctions (2015 was its 36th year), Google opened its landmark, Frank Gehry-designed office building and courtyard as headquarters for the event. The partnership brought new growth and 6,000 attendees. As Laney Kapgan, director of development for the Venice Art Walk, puts it, credit is due to Google “for digging in and being a part of making our neighborhood better.”
Volunteer staff transformed the tech giant’s cafeteria into a pop-up art gallery and home to the signature silent art auction, which netted $400,000 for the nonprofit. The exterior courtyard hosted a music stage and beer garden; the adjacent street was closed for an all-day free street fair that featured food purveyors, food trucks, artisans and children’s art activities.
If there’s one thing worse than running out of beer and wine at a Silicon Beach fête, it’s running out of power.
On-the-spot-technology- and lots of it—is essential when you’re planning a gathering for the tech set. Free, speedy Wi-Fi, charging stations, power strips and outlets are always in high demand. “There never can be enough,” says Silicon Beach Fest CEO Kevin Winston. Technology is deeply integrated into these events, whether it’s a drone capturing footage of a VIP yacht party at the Silicon Beach Fest (later uploaded to youtube.com) or creative monetizing of Wi-Fi passcodes. At a recent conference for 500 that was held at the Fairmont Miramar, the event planner sold passcodenaming rights to the conference’s free Wi-Fi; everyone who logged in saw the sponsor company’s name.
Liz Dugan, events services at the Annenberg Community Beach House, points out that “this sector has specific and technically advanced technology requirements. Their requests are more than ‘we just want Wi-Fi.’ Often, they want to stream live and have participants from around the world join in video conferences.” The city of Santa Monica invested early on in digital infrastructure. Its fiber-optic Santa Monica City Net offers 34 free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city and a network that offers services of 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps to area businesses.