No stranger to big events, San Diego is the only city in the past decade to host this trio of big-time entertainment: the Super Bowl (1998), the World Series (1998), and a presidential convention (the Republicans, in 1996).

As many as 200 gray whales have been counted off the San Diego coast during mid-January, heart of the California gray whale migration. The whales pass San Diego on their way from Alaskan seas to the warmer waters of Baja California. Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma and the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla have whale-viewing areas.

San Diego County has a booming $1.1 billion agricultural industry. The five leading crops are indoor decorative plants; plants, bedding, and turf; avocados (wait until you taste the guacamole!); trees and shrubs; and eggs.

The San Diego Zoo's resident star, Hua Mei, the first surviving giant panda cub ever born in the United States, will turn two years old on August 21, 2001. She had a momentous first birthday — a special stamp cancellation by the U.S. Postal Service and a sculpted ice cake with bamboo. You can glimpse Hua Mei during viewing hours, 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

And don't forget the plants at the San Diego Zoo. A registered botanical garden collection, the zoo is home to more than 6,500 plant species, including 400 species of palm, 150 species of aloe, and 31 species of bamboo.

Centerpiece of downtown's San Diego Maritime Museum, the Star of India is one of the oldest sailing ships still able to go to sea. Built in 1863, the Star of India — originally Euterpe — spent its first three decades hauling cargo between Europe and India, and was sold to American owners in 1898. Laid up in disrepair for 50 years, the restored full-rigged vessel now sails on special occasions

San Diego and its neighbor to the south, Tijuana, became border cities when the Mexican-American War drew a new line between the two countries more than 150 years ago. Tijuana, with 1.8 million people, is more than 50 percent larger than the city of San Diego. Among Tijuana's distinctions is that it is the world's leading producer of television sets. From San Diego, you can visit this colorful city by riding the San Diego Trolley (fare: $2.25 each way) to the international border and walking across.

At a diameter of 200 inches, the Hale Telescope at San Diego's Palomar Observatory is one of the largest and most powerful reflecting telescopes in the world. It was completed in 1948 and named for astronomer George Ellery Hale, who supervised its design.

Did you know?

THE FOLKS AT THE FINANCIAL NETWORK INVESTMENT CORP. know a good thing when they experience it. So they'll be back in San Diego for their 2003 national planning conference.

“When we look at our meeting evaluations, San Diego is the number-one choice for our attendees,” says Lisa English, CMP, meeting planner for the Torrance, Calif.-based firm, which held its 2000 conference for 2,300 attendees in July at the Harborside San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.

After all, what's not to like about a sun-splashed destination where the temperature resides in the comfortable 70s practically year-round, where ocean and mountains frame the horizons, and where the attendees will never be at a loss for things to do when the meeting is not in session?

“Because we've been to San Diego before, the challenge would seem to be finding new diversions, new venues to use, but we never have that problem because there is just so much to do,” English says. “Whether you're there for your first time or your 10th, there'll always be something new.”

Last time around, the firm arranged group trips to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, a shopping excursion in tony La Jolla, a journey south of the border to Tijuana, and for the top achievers, a golfer's retreat to the Four Seasons Resort Aviara. The wide variety of restaurants gave English many dine-around options, and the nightlife of the Victorian-era Gaslamp Quarter, a short walk from the Marriott, gave attendees the perfect free-time outlet.

English says San Diego's strength is its combination of resort atmosphere and big-city amenities — not surprising given San Diego's coastal location and status as the nation's sixth-largest city. “It's a relaxing atmosphere for people to get down to business, and then have some fun afterward,” she says.

What's more, English notes a dedication on the part of the hospitality community, from the convention and visitors bureau on down to the hotels and tourist attractions. “Everyone in the community is committed to serving meetings and incentives,” she says. “The hospitality community knows its customers well. We always feel welcomed back.”

No city combines business and pleasure better than San Diego. Attendees will likely have such a fine time they won't want to leave — just as well, as San Diego is a perfect place to extend a meeting into a full-fledged vacation.

LET'S TALK BUSINESS: From state-of-the-art convention hotels to luxurious resorts to budget properties to charming bed-and-breakfast inns, San Diego has accommodations to suit every goal, taste, and budget. There are more than 46,000 guest rooms in all.

The bay-front San Diego Convention Center, one of the most acclaimed facilities of its kind in the United States, is doubling its exhibit space to more than 525,000 square feet and adding significant new meeting, pre-function, and lobby space. The project is due for completion later this year. A smaller option is the San Diego Concourse, which has 65,000 square feet of exhibit space.

San Diego International Airport is located in the heart of the city, less than 10 minutes from downtown hotels and the convention center and within 30 minutes of the majority of hotels in the county. That means your attendees can get down to business fast.

San Diego's hospitality community — the hotels, the visitor attractions, the destination management companies, the CVB — works as a well-oiled machine dedicated to the success of your program. The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau is ready to help with housing arrangements, registration staffing, marketing materials, information assistance, and more.

NOW, LET'S TALK PLEASURE: Rare is the day when the sun isn't shining brightly on the nation's southwestern coast. Expect blue skies and temperatures in the comfortable 70s year-round.

San Diego has 70 miles of beaches to accompany its idyllic beach weather.

With 90 golf courses in San Diego County, there will be tee times for everyone.

Tennis? You'll find 1,200 courts.

Sailing, surfing, swimming, jet skiing, sport fishing — San Diego is a watersports paradise.

For those who prefer spectator sports, there is major league baseball (Padres) and football (Chargers), as well as basketball, ice hockey, soccer, and thoroughbred racing.

Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and Legoland will keep the family occupied, but these are also ideal venues for special dinners, receptions, and theme parties.

San Diego is an active cultural community headlined by numerous performing arts theaters; orchestra, opera, ballet, and chamber music companies; and 90 museums, historic sites, and monuments.


NORTH COUNTY Northern San Diego County is a destination unto itself — a sprawling expanse of dramatic coastline and brilliant flower fields on the west coast and mountains dusted by snow in the winter and crackling-hot desert on the east side. The diversions are as varied as the scenery. Everywhere there's golf, of course, as well as hot-air ballooning, but the west coast also has racing at the historic Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, while the east side offers winery tours and tastings and Vegas-style gambling at Native American casinos. What's more, the San Diego Zoo's sister attraction, the 1,800-acre San Diego Wild Animal Park, gives meeting groups an unbeatable after-hours option. The Wild Animal Park's latest addition is Condor Ridge, which introduces visitors to the majestic California condor. North County accommodations range from luxury resorts — along the coast, atop bluffs, in the valleys, in the desert — to quaint bed-and-breakfast inns.

CARLSBAD. Carlsbad, northern San Diego County's flower-growing capital, is blooming with options for meeting groups. Among its hotel properties are two of the West Coast's premier resorts — the Four Seasons Resort Aviara and La Costa Resort & Spa. Carlsbad's European-style village is filled with exclusive shops and restaurants, all just a short walk from the beach. There is outlet shopping at the Carlsbad Company Stores. And the Legoland California theme park not only will keep the kids entertained, but it's perfect for special events.

LA JOLLA. San Diego's Mediterranean-flavored enclave is one of America's most preferred addresses. Visitors from the world over come to admire its postcard-perfect coastline — comprising towering bluffs, secluded beaches, and hidden coves — and shop in the sophisticated boutiques lining Prospect Street. A center for the arts, La Jolla is home to numerous galleries, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. Golfers revere La Jolla for Torrey Pines, one of the nation's most breathtaking public courses and site of the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational. Less than 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego, Mission Valley, and Mission Bay, La Jolla is an ideal after-hours or spouse-tour destination, or groups can choose to headquarter in paradise at one of several fine hotels.

MISSION BAY. San Diego's 4,600-acre aquatic park, minutes from airport and ocean, is everyone's favorite playground. Miles of bicycle and jogging paths line the shores of the placid bay, a popular destination for watersports enthusiasts. Five full-service resorts, all in tropical surroundings, provide first-class accommodations for meetings. Belmont Park boasts the Giant Dipper, an all-wood, 76-year-old roller coaster that is one of the finest thrill rides on the West Coast. And, of course, there is the venerable marine park and special event venue, Sea World, whose newest attraction is “Pirates 4-D,” a tale of a hapless crew and captain that uses a fourth dimension — special effects — to surprise guests.

MISSION VALLEY. Lively and close to all, Mission Valley is a district of hotels (more than 6,000 guest rooms), shopping (two giant malls with a combined 380 stores and 38 movie screens), dining (every cuisine imaginable), golf (the Riverwalk Golf Club has 27 championship holes), sports action (baseball's San Diego Padres and football's San Diego Chargers play at Qualcomm Stadium), and history (Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, 224 years old, was the first of the 21 Spanish missions established along the California coast). Meeting groups can headquarter in Mission Valley — the largest hotel, the Town & Country Resort, is a regional convention center with 165,000 square feet of flexible meeting and function space. Or groups meeting elsewhere in San Diego can select Mission Valley as an after-hours destination. A bonus: Mission Valley is linked to downtown by the San Diego Trolley, the area's fast and efficient light rail.

DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO. Few cities have reinvented their downtowns as successfully as San Diego has in the past 20 years. World-class amenities abound, from the 150 specialty shops at Horton Plaza shopping center to the pulsing nightlife of the restored Victorian-era Gaslamp Quarter, to the New England ambience of the Seaport Village marketplace, and the magnificence of a bayfront convention center that is undergoing a massive expansion. Two dozen hotels within a mile of the San Diego Convention Center offer a combined 7,500 rooms, and many of the hotels are linked to the convention center by San Diego Trolley light rail. Five minutes away in one direction is the airport, and five minutes away in another direction is the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

CORONADO. Ever gracious and cooled by ocean breezes, this historic peninsula community is located across the bay from downtown San Diego, and accessible via bridge or ferry. There are three major resorts, including the incomparable Hotel del Coronado. Recipient of a $55 million restoration, the rambling, 113-year-old Victorian gem has hosted presidents and movie stars (surely you remember Some Like it Hot). Downtown Coronado has one-of-a-kind shops, and the Ferry Landing Marketplace is a must-see retail/entertainment/dining complex. Coronado's exceptionally wide beach is ideal for bathing, lounging, and partying.

GAMING. There's no need to fly off to Las Vegas when your meeting is in San Diego. Gaming to follow your meeting sessions and events is less than an hour's drive away. San Diego County has three Native American casinos offering Vegas-style action — the Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, the Viejas Casino and Turf Club in Alpine, and the Barona Casino in Lakeside. The latter, owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians, is doing a massive $225 million expansion that includes a 400-room hotel, an 18-hole championship golf course, a 20,000-square-foot events center, and a redesigned casino. Upon completion of the project, the casino will be rechristened the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino.

DMCs Point the Way

San Diego offers a cornucopia of special event venues, indoors and outdoors, from coast to valley. Here are some favorites of San Diego-based destination management professionals Claudia Wehrman, CMP, director of sales with PRA Destination Management, and Lex Lyon, president of Enjoy California Enterprises:

Don't be fooled by Evans Antique Auto Garage's nondescript location just north of downtown San Diego and its less-than-elegant exterior. “From the outside it's a blue building with an antique car painted on the front,” says Wehrman, but inside are picture-perfect vehicles from the collection of hotelier Bill Evans, many of them one of a kind. Attendees can dine or mingle amid Evans' impressive collection, which also includes antique clothing and furniture. Certainly not your everyday garage. “I like the stained-glass windows, the wrought-iron staircases, and the Persian carpets,” Lyon says.

Among northern San Diego's wineries, Lyon prefers Escondido's Orfilia Winery, which has several attractive outdoor venues for tastings and receptions and beautiful views of the vineyards and surrounding hills. “And it's just a mile or two from the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which allows us to do wine-and-wild animal events,” he says.

Groups can have a field day in San Diego's lovely Balboa Park, which has 15 museums scattered about, not to mention a world-famous zoo. For a cocktail reception, Lyon suggests the Mingei International Museum, which displays handicrafts from around the world. “The Mingei is fresh, it's light, and you can dine among most of the exhibits — perhaps kites from Japan or calligraphy tiles from the Middle East. It's a very eclectic collection, and the items are displayed in a tongue-and-cheek style.”

If the San Diego Zoo will be on the itinerary, consider its behind-the-scenes daytime tour, Wehrman says. Simply put, this private two-and-a-half-hour guided tour (for up to 40 people per guide) “is an experience you can't get as a regular visitor walking through the door.” The tour takes guests behind the animal enclosures and into the food warehouse, filled with big sides of beef, fruits, vegetables, bamboo, and other items. “You learn just how scientific process it is feeding the animals,” Wehrman says. The behind-the-scenes tour can be paired with a meal event in the zoo's Treetops restaurant.

Among San Diego's many military installations, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, home to the Third Marine Aircraft Wing of America's 911 Force, is best suited for special events. “Smaller groups can have a dinner in the Officers' Club, and you can do a party for thousands in the hangar,” Wehrman says.

Lyon's vote for “hidden gem” — figuratively and literally — is the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, a school that has a small, fascinating museum with ever-changing exhibits, banquet space, an outdoor terrace, and breathtaking views of Carlsbad's famous flower fields and the Pacific beyond.

TAKE IT FROM VETERAN INSURANCE CONFERENCE PLANNERS: San Diego is a potent reward for the hardworking troops. After all, how many cities can combine a utopian climate, miles of beaches, and abundant golf, tennis, and water sports with big-city amenities such as culture, shopping, and nightlife? How many cities offer more than 46,000 guest rooms, including those in some of the nation's most sought-after resorts? And how many boast the nation's most celebrated zoo and wild animal and marine life parks?

“As far as I'm concerned, San Diego is a bright star,” says Rich Peters, field service manager for Woodmen Accident and Life Co. of Lincoln, Neb., whose recent incentive program was headquartered at the fabled Hotel del Coronado. “We were looking for a beach resort, but there was just so much going on, so much to do, that some of our people said they never even found the time to just sit at the beach and relax. But everyone loved being there.”

“San Diego is really the best of both worlds — a resort with all the advantages of a city, such as great restaurants and shopping,” says Rich Granger, assistant vice president, conference and travel services for Allmerica Financial in Worcester, Mass. Granger booked the harborfront Hyatt Regency San Diego for a recent incentive. His 700 attendees took full advantage of the area's activities — a cruise and a sailing regatta on the bay, a winery tour in the eastern part of North County, a photo caravan at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and, to top things off, a lively evening at E. Street Alley in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter.

All this, plus competitive airfares, an effortless transfer from the airport, and superior accommodations and service in a town that knows what hospitality is all about. “Although there was another group in the Hyatt Regency,” Granger says, “we felt like the whole hotel was ours.”

The same holds for the town. San Diego — it's all yours.

CUSA TECHNOLOGIES' USERS CONFERENCE is an intensive training affair, the type where “the attendees are cooped up in a room … and at the end of the day they need to clear their brains and get ready for the next day,” says Ruth Palmer, corporate meeting planner for the Salt Lake City firm, which develops software for credit unions. As a result, CUSA looks for a certain kind of city, one that allows busy people in a high-stress line of work to kick back and, hey, even enjoy the meeting.

A city much like San Diego. That's where CUSA brought its users conference last September.

CUSA's 275 attendees — 195 of them users of the company's software — spent three days at the Catamaran Resort, on the shores of the city's Mission Bay and just a couple of blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, more than a few attendees banished the cobwebs at the beach, and CUSA took advantage of the idyllic surroundings by throwing a beach party as well as a dinner cruise on Mission Bay.

“This was our biggest conference ever, and I've been doing this for 14 years,” says Palmer, who believes the location had a lot to do with the impressive attendance. The weather was predictably ideal, and the surroundings, Palmer says, were conducive to the networking CUSA strives to foster. “A focus of the conference is to renew friendships between users and the CUSA staff, and San Diego has just the relaxing atmosphere to accomplish that,” she says.

Palmer also finds San Diego to be a practical destination, noting in particular the abundance of non-stop flights into San Diego International Airport and the proximity of the airport to the hotels — all the better for busy people who are anxious to get down to work, and play.

ASSOCIATIONS KNOW THAT MARKETING IS NOT ENOUGH to drive attendance at conventions. They need to pair those efforts with a destination that the members will want to visit. San Diego — blessed with perfect weather, idyllic surroundings, and an unbeatable combination of resort-style and big-city amenities — is just that destination.

The Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association 2000 convention last spring was a case in point. The attendance of slightly more than 700 was the best in a decade, and Liz Richards, executive vice president of the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based association, credits San Diego with the big turnout. “Our membership just loved San Diego — the weather, the attractions, the great restaurants,” says Richards, whose convention was held at the Hyatt Regency San Diego on the downtown harborfront. “What impressed me most was the variety of things that groups can do in town — whether Seaport Village, which gave our attendees a place to escape to; or Sea World, where we had our opening night party; or the San Diego Zoo, where we offered a behind-the-scenes tour. I knew San Diego was going to be popular, but I had no idea we were going to have such a great turnout.”

For associations needing a larger convention venue, the San Diego Convention Center offers more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, pending completion of an expansion now under way, and a level of service unmatched in the industry. But the convention facilities, the hotels (more than 46,000 guest rooms, including 7,500 within a mile of the center), and world-class attractions are just part of the story.

As Richards found, San Diego also offers: ample non-stop and direct air service, an airport less than 10 minutes from downtown and within a half-hour of most hotels in the county, and a friendly hospitality community that is there to serve.

“If we could have a convention every year like the one we just had in San Diego,” Richards says, “it would make my job a whole lot easier.”

SIMPLY PUT, THE WORLD'S LARGEST MEETING OF GASTROENTEROLOGISTS, DURING DIGESTIVE DISEASE WEEK, found San Diego easy to swallow. After all, what's not to like? Perfect weather. World-class attractions. Easy access.

“Our doctors just love the city itself — its natural beauty, its great restaurants, the nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter, the convention center being right on the water,” says Leslie Warrick, director of meetings for Bethesda, Md.-based Digestive Disease Week, which welcomed its 15,417 attendees to the San Diego Convention Center last May.

Warrick and the attendees appreciated the ample hotel package in downtown San Diego, and the fact that the hotels are within walking distance of the convention center. And everyone appreciated the convention center, which is in the process of doubling its exhibit space to more than 500,000 square feet and adding meeting and pre-function space as well. The rooftop terrace, with its sweeping views of the harbor and city, was the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee break between scientific sessions.

“The convention center staff bent over backwards to make our event a success,” Warrick says. “We had a challenge with overflow crowds, and the center personnel were very polite and effective in keeping people from entering crowded sessions. The convention and visitors bureau was terrific, too. We used their temps for staffing registration and as door monitors, and every one of them was knowledgeable about the city. And we just loved the ‘admirals,’ the people who open the doors for you at the convention center and greet your at the top of the escalators.

“We also found that the hotels and the bureau work smoothly together. No matter what challenge we had, everyone was part of the solution. And they were excited about us being there.”

And the gastroenterologists are excited that they'll be returning to San Diego for Digestive Disease Week in 2008.

WHEN RELIGIOUS CONFERENCE MANAGERS are on the lookout for wholesome, family-oriented destinations with an abundance of lodging choices — including many in the budget category — they know to train their sights on the nation's sunny southwestern corner.

From convenient, close-in Mission Valley to the wide-open spaces of North County, San Diego is ideal for all sorts of religious meetings, convocations, and retreats.

“When we advertise that we are meeting in San Diego, families, especially, are eager to come,” says Dave Register, CMP, of the United Church of God, which held its eight-day Feast of Tabernacles in the North County city of Escondido last October. Some 1,200 people, including many families, attended.

The Feast fo Tabernacles used Escondido's versatile California Center for the Arts as the central meeting site, and booked rooms in 14 hotels ranging from five-star properties to those that cost $30 a night. For this type of event — one in which the attendees had most of their afternoons free — the San Diego area's wide range of attractions and diversions were a huge draw. The church arranged a San Diego harbor cruise, a golf tournament, and a Hawaiian luau at a Mission Valley resort. There were also lots of takers for discounted tickets to the San Diego Zoo and, in North County, the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Legoland.

Of course, that the sun usually shines brightly and the temperatures stay in the comfortable 70s was no small consideration. “Weather is very high on our priority list, especially this past year, because the convention was held a little later in the autumn than usual and attracted a lot of people from northern climes,” Register says. “We were confident that they would be able to fly into San Diego and enjoy temperatures in the 70s and 80s — and that was exactly the weather we got.”

Act of God? No — just another beautiful week in San Diego.

Contact Information

San Diego CVB:
Phone: (619) 232-3101;
Fax: (619) 231-9783
Fax-on-demand hot line:
(888) 969-9310
San Diego Convention Center:
Phone: (619) 525-5000;
Fax: (619) 525-5005
San Diego Concourse:
Phone: (619) 615-4100;
Fax: (619) 615-4115