Never content with the status quo, Southern California's major destinations are rolling out a host of improvements that corporate meeting groups will find to their liking--notably major new hotels in Orange County, a new theme park north of San Diego, and an expansion of the theme park that started it all, Disneyland. As always, Southern California offers a wide variety of meeting environments--urban and hinterland, coastal and desert. There are all manner of attractions around every bend and a benign climate that lends itself to a full spectrum of outdoor activities.

Anaheim/Newport Beach/Orange County Hotel News * At Disneyland in Anaheim, the development of a new theme park called Disney's California Adventure includes construction of Disney's Grand Californian, a 750-room arts-and-crafts-style hotel with 20,000 square feet of meeting space. It opens in 2001.

* The 454-room Doubletree Hotel Anaheim/Orange County has completely refurbished its Grand Ballroom, California Ballroom, and pre-functions space. The revamping was part of a $1 million redo that also included new kitchen equipment and the remodeling of five junior suites that can be used as hospitality suites. The hotel offers 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Evans Hotels, which owns three hotels in San Diego, plans to build the 400-room Newport Dunes Resort in Newport Beach. The property, with 1,000 feet of bay frontage, will have a pair of contiguous 12,000-square-foot ballrooms included in its 55,000 square feet of meeting space. Pending the necessary permits, groundbreaking is planned for late 1999, with opening in 2001.

* The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort, in Dana Point, in 1998 completed a $3.5 million renovation that included all 350 guest rooms, suites, and meeting space, and added an ocean-view meeting room and restaurant/lounge. The new 400-square-foot Catalina Room accommodates up to 45 for meetings, 60 for dinners; the new Regatta Grill has a separate private room seating up to 50 and a patio that holds up to 60 for outdoor functions. The property has 43,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

* Construction began in December 1998 on the Hilton Ocean Grand, a 516-room luxury hotel in Huntington Beach. The property will have 52,000 square feet of meeting space, a 15,000-square-foot health and fitness spa, and 11,000 square feet of retail space.

* The 290-room Waterfront Hilton Beach Resort completed a $2.5 million guest room renovation in November. It has 21,000 square feet of meeting space.

Important Info Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau: (714) 765-8842 Fax: (714) 991-8963

Newport Beach CVB: (949) 722-1611, (800) 94-COAST Fax: (949) 722-1612

Total Hotel Tax: 17.75% in Newport Beach, 22.75% in Anaheim

Long Beach Hotel News * Two new hotels are in the offing for Long Beach: A developer is seeking financing for a 430-room Marriott property with 15,000 square feet of meeting space next to the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center; groundbreaking could occur as early as this spring. Also, the Queensway Bay Project, a $650 million retail, restaurant, and entertainment project on the downtown waterfront, could eventually include a boutique hotel in the 150- to 200-room range. Queensway Bay's groundbreaking is set for this spring.

* The West Coast Long Beach Hotel in 1998 completed a $3 million renovation of all guest rooms and meeting space. The 200-room hotel has 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Sheraton Long Beach became the Westin Long Beach in early 1998 and underwent a $4 million renovation. The 460-room property has 41,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Hotel Queen Mary has launched a renovation of its 365 guest rooms and public areas. The $11 million project will continue through the fall of 1999. The hotel has 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

Important Info Long Beach Area CVB: (800) 452-7829, Fax: (562) 435-5653

Total Hotel Tax: 22.25%

Los Angeles Hotel News * Los Angeles' largest hotel, the 1,354-room Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites downtown, completes its $25 million renovation this spring. All guest rooms were renovated and 10,000 square feet of meeting space was added, for a new total of 100,000 square feet. The property also added a full-service spa and made renovations to its gardens and pool deck.

* The Regent Beverly Wilshire, in Beverly Hills, completed a $35 million expansion in December. The hotel added 120 rooms, for a new room inventory of 395 (including 120 suites). The luxury property has 25,529 square feet of meeting space.

* The 175-room Le Merigot Beach Hotel opened in January in Santa Monica. The property has a full-service spa and 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

* At the Doubletree Guest Suites in Santa Monica, a $5.5 million renovation of all 253 guest rooms, the lobby, the restaurant, and the 10,000 square feet of meeting space was scheduled for completion in February

* The Hyatt Valencia opened last August with 244 guest rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Valencia is in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles and near the Six Flags California amusement park.

* The Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa opened last September at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. A 6,000-square-foot, full-service spa is part of the hotel's overall $3.2 million renovation. The 350-room property has 17,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Doubletree Club Hotel at the Ontario International Airport is being rebranded the Sheraton Ontario International Airport this spring. The property is now undergoing a $4 million renovation that will reduce the guest room inventory from 170 to 165 and double meeting space to about 2,500 square feet.

Important Info Los Angeles CVB: (213) 236-2315, Fax: (213) 624-9746

Total Hotel Tax: 22.25%

Palm Springs/Desert Resorts Hotel News * The Mediterranean-style, 226-room Miramonte Resort opened last year in Indian Wells. The luxury property has 15,000 square feet of meeting space and is opposite three championship golf courses.

* La Quinta Resort & Club opened a 20,000-square-foot spa and a 2,000-square-foot fitness club last summer. The 640-room resort has 66,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Early this year, Marriott's Rancho Las Palmas Resort, in Rancho Mirage, wrapped up a $32 million renovation that included the addition of a 20,000-square-foot European health spa, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, a 10,000- square-foot rooftop deck, and a pool/entertainment complex with a waterslide that is 100 feet long. The property has 445 guest rooms and 41,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

* The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Indian Wells last year added The Pavilion, a free-standing, 12,000-square-foot multifunction ballroom that accommodates up to 900 people in a number of configurations. The 560-room property has 55,000 square feet of meeting space.

* International Conference Resorts is now managing the 265-room Marquis Resorts in Palm Springs. The property has been renamed the Palm Springs Conference Resort. A new media center and business center were scheduled to be in operation in early 1999; later in the year, meeting room space is to be increased from 23,000 to 38,000 square feet.

Important Info Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB: (760) 770-9000, Ext. 103 Fax: (760) 770-9001

Total Hotel Tax: 16.75% to 18.75%, depending on municipality

Pasadena Hotel News * The Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel has been renamed The Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa following the addition of the $3 million, 12,000-square-foot Huntington Spa and Salon. The 392-room resort has 11,220 square feet of meeting space.

* A $5 million renovation of the Hilton Pasadena was scheduled for completion in February. The project is redoing all guestrooms and adding five rooms, for a new total of 296, and freshening the 19,000 square feet of meeting space.

Important Info Pasadena Visitors Bureau: (626) 795-9311 Fax: (626) 795-9656

Total Hotel Tax: 20.10 %

Santa Barbara Hotel News * Santa Barbara's largest meeting property broke ground last summer next to the Sandpiper Golf Course. Tentatively called the Santa Barbara Resort and Spa, the $220 million property will have 400 guest rooms and 55,000 square feet of meeting and function space, plus a freestanding executive conference center with a meeting room seating 50 theater-style and four breakout rooms. Amenities include a 40,000-square-foot spa, three swimming pools, and equestrian trails. Opening is planned for July 2000.

* The Casa de Carrillo, a 96-room business property with 5,000 square feet of meeting space, is scheduled to open this September. It will have a rooftop pool and deck.

Important Info Santa Barbara CVB and Film Commission: (805) 966-9222 Fax: (805) 966-1728

Total Hotel Tax: 10%

San Diego Hotel News * The San Diego Convention Center expansion has spurred a flurry of downtown hotel proposals, including the addition of 500 guest rooms and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom at the 1,354-room San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, and a second 810-room tower at the neighboring Hyatt Regency San Diego. Neither project has a set timetable. Also near the convention center, a developer has proposed a 1,400-room hotel on a former shipyard property.

* The San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina has completed a $1.3 million renovation of its 14,000-square-foot San Diego Ballroom and the corridors around it. The 1,354-room property has 103,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The 130-room Grand Pacific Palisades Resort and Hotel is scheduled to open in March in Carlsbad, adjacent to the new Legoland theme park, which also is opening in March. The hotel will have 4,400 square feet of meeting space.

* Manchester Resorts plans to build a $200 million high-rise beach resort with 450 to 500 guest rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting space in Oceanside in northern San Diego County. The project is still in the permit stage and groundbreaking is expected in 2000.

* Guests at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort, formerly Le Meridien, can now take a water taxi between the resort and the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina in downtown San Diego, next to the San Diego Convention Center. The 300-room property has 11,200 square feet of meeting space.

* Following a change in ownership, the San Diego Princess Resort is now the San Diego Paradise Point Resort. The 462-room property has 32,000 square feet of meeting space.

* A $3 million refurbishment of guest rooms and suites at Loews Coronado Bay Resort is scheduled for completion this spring. The 440-room property has 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The 419-room Hyatt Regency La Jolla completed a $7 million renovation in 1998 that included guest room and corridor refurbishment and the addition of 19 new guest rooms, a presidential suite, the Regency Club Lounge, and the 5,800-square-foot glass-enclosed Barcino Pavillion. The hotel has 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

Important Info San Diego CVB: 619) 557-2803 Fax: (619) 231-9783

Total Hotel Tax: 10.5%

* Two new mega-attractions have broadened meeting executives' off-site options in Southern California. One is Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. A key element of the city's harbor-front redevelopment, the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific opened last June. The 156,735-square-foot attraction features 17 major habitats and 30 smaller exhibits, with more than 10,000 sea creatures in all. Groups of about 2,000 can rent the entire aquarium; individual spaces include the Great Hall of the Pacific, accommodating up to 1,000 for a reception and 700 for a seated dinner; and the harbor-view California Terrace, accommodating up to 250 for a reception. Call (562) 951-1682.

* Tinseltown Studios opened last year in Anaheim. Here's the plot: Tinseltown Studios, an interactive dinner theater that resembles a movie studio lot, uses audience members to re-create a Hollywood-style awards ceremony. The feature presentation consists of a cast of 17 performers who showcase film clips and production numbers in song, dance, comedy, and awards presentation formats. Tinseltown's main showroom seats 700 for a formal dinner in a tiered layout; a theater-style arrangement accommodates 1,300. Tinseltown will handle groups of at least 16. Call (714) 937-9090.

Quaint and charming, Coronado is across the bay from bustling San Diego, but slow enough in pace to feel far removed, says Ron Johnson, who brought Arthur Andersen LLP's Western regional partners meeting to the Loews Coronado Bay Resort in May 1998.

"It's close to San Diego, so you have all the benefits of the city, but you're out there on a peninsula, with its lovely beach and sunsets," says Johnson, president of Mosaic Event Management, a San Francisco based special events and meeting management firm.

The meeting was attended by 225 of the accounting firm's partners, plus spouses, nearly 450 people in all. The attendees used Coronado as a base from which to fan out for tours and special events, including a half-day course at a local cooking school; a tour of the wineries in Temecula, in far northern San Diego County; a behind-the-scenes tour and lunch at the acclaimed Old Globe Theater, in San Diego's Balboa Park; and a tour of the San Diego Zoo, also in Balboa Park.

The highlight, however, was right in Coronado: a lobster bake on Silver Strand Beach, across from the Loews. "The hotel did the food, a local beverage caterer set up the bar, and we had a Beach Boys-style band for the entertainment," Johnson says. That wasn't all: Guests helped the staff of Sandworld International, a firm that builds elaborate sand castles for special events, construct 10-foot-high-and-wide sand castles.

The weather held up for the Arthur Anderson meeting. No surprise there, Johnson says: "I've done probably 100 meetings in San Diego over the years, and the weather has never failed me."

MCT of Russia, an Alexandria, Va.based investment management company specializing in the former Soviet Union, annually brings together representatives from its joint venture companies. Last July, it chose Santa Monica as its meeting venue. MCT of Russia decided to hold the meeting in the Los Angeles area because of the convenience of its international airport and central location--within a few hours of San Diego and Santa Barbara, two cities the company wanted to show its colleagues. The group stayed at the Pacific Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, a block from the beach and not far from the airport.

The allure of Southern California, especially among foreigners--was a big factor. "This is like a fairy tale land for the attendees," says Mary Klett, the company's director of marketing.

During the 10-day meeting, foreign attendees were treated to a whirlwind tour of Southern California--a day at Disneyland, two days in San Diego, a day in Santa Barbara. The notorious Southern California traffic was not a major problem, because MCT tried to avoid the highways during rush hour.

On four evenings, the group headed for the Santa Monica beach; each joint venture partner took turns preparing Russian specialties on portable grills. They had brought special spices and ingredients from home in anticipation of the ocean-front feast.