San Diego has long since shed its reputation as that sleepy Navy town just north of Tijuana, but meeting and incentive organizers who haven't visited recently might be surprised at just how far it has come. The city now has so many top-quality offerings that a group would never want for things to do. There's great theater, and the classical music scene is alive and thriving under the auspices of the La Jolla Chamber Music Society. Last year, its 33rd season, brought in guest violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist André Watts, among others. And every August the society puts on a dynamic three-week music festival.
Then, of course, there's 1,200-acre Balboa Park, with its 15 museums and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Natural History Museum in the park has just completed a major expansion, doubling its size. It now offers some intriguing meeting and event space, including a theater that seats 300 and can handle multimedia presentations and teleconferencing, and a 400-square-foot rooftop deck for receptions or sit-down meals.
There's an active theater scene both in town and across the bridge in Coronado. (The Civic Theatre downtownregularly brings in Broadway plays). And for a touch of local history, groups can take a docent-led walking tour of the Gaslamp Quarter, or circuit the entire city by trolley via Old Town Trolley tours. Ticket holders can disembark for exploration and reboard at any of the eight stops.
On a recent trip to town, I spent two entire days (not nearly enough!) at Balboa Park and the zoo. I drove a couple of freeways stops north to La Jolla for a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art and lunch at the stunningly restored Nine-Ten restaurant in The Grande Colonial Hotel, a short stroll away. I even fit in a side trip to Escondido one evening to dine at El Bizcocho in the charming Rancho Bernardo Inn (which offers several venues for meetings), and then hear jazz singer Jane Monheit perform at the California Center for the Arts.
Noteworthy for planners, the San Diego Convention Center expansion opened in September, with the two-and-a half-year project doubling the size of the waterfront facility to 2.6 million square feet. There are seven exhibit halls; 525,701 square feet of contiguous exhibit space; the 90,000-square-foot Sails Pavilion, with an industry-standardfloor; and 72 meeting rooms totaling 204,114 square feet, including a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. Contact the San Diego CVB at (619) 696-9371.