WHAT'S NEW Long a mecca for insurance meeting planners because of its welcoming beaches and seemingly unlimited entertainment possibilities, Southern California is in the midst of a building expansion. Topping the list is Anaheim's $4.2 billion resort complex, featuring a new Disney theme park known as Disney's California Adventure and a massive expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center. Not to be left behind, Los Angeles is building a feast of new museums and entertainment centers, of which perhaps the most anticipated is a $567 million entertainment complex embracing Hollywood Boulevard and the historic Mann's Chinese Theatre.

Meeting planners looking for interesting venues may want to enquire about a pair of new museums: the Los Angeles Police Department Historic Museum and Community Education Center (opening this year) and the Hollywood History Museum (opening in 2002).

I WAS THERE San Diego proved an irresistible winter destination for the annual communications meeting of the National Fraternal Congress of America, a group of not-for-profit insurance companies. The congress held its February 2000 conference at the Catamaran Resort Hotel at Mission Bay, according to David Rustad, manager of public relations for the congress. Drawn by such attractions as the beaches, Sea World, and golf courses, more attendees than usual brought their spouses and children.

The prices “were very competitive with the other cities we looked at, and traffic was not an issue,” Rustad said. Unfortunately, the 75 attendees did run into one glitch: the weather. San Diego's normal sunshine gave way to persistent rain during the conference, forcing the cancellation of the group's whale-watching tour. But Rustad, coming from Minnesota in February, said he couldn't complain about temperatures in the 60s.

MY FAVORITE EVENT Carolyn Davis of PGI-San Diego likes to take groups south of the border for a day of relaxation along the coast, followed by bargain shopping. The drive through Rosarito, Mexico, takes visitors along beautiful coastline, where, she says, “all you see is the ocean.”

In the evening, she recommends a hangar party at the Marine Corps' Air Station Miramar, where scenes of the movie Top Gun were filmed.

Ken Smith of PGI-Palm Springs suggests off-roading or hot-air ballooning outside that desert city. A favorite evening venue is the Palm Springs Air Museum, which can hold more than 1,000 people for a USO show.

“It's the most beautiful drive, because it's all coastal. All you see is the ocean.”
— Carolyn Davis, PGI-San Diego, on taking groups south of the border.



WHERE TO GO

Anaheim/Orange County
Santa Monica
Pasadena
Long Beach/Huntington
Beach/Newport Beach
Los Angeles
San Diego

Meet at the Zoo

At the world-famous San Diego Zoo, groups can arrange special behind-the-scenes tours of food warehouses and elephant bedrooms, or take an open bus tour shortly before sunset when the animals are active. The zoo has facilities for open-air receptions. (619) 718-3000.

San Diego bills itself as the birthplace of California. Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed in what is now San Diego Bay and claimed the region for Spain in 1542. The 1874 Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro is said to be the world's only remaining wooden lighthouse.

GOING Up

ANAHEIM/ORANGE COUNTY

Expanded • Anaheim is finishing a $4.2 billion redevelopment project, including Disney's California Adventure and an entertainment district called Downtown Disney. The expanded Anaheim Convention Center now features 1 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space.

New • Disney's much-anticipated Grand Californian Hotel opened its doors in January. On the grounds of Disney's California Adventure, it offers 750 rooms and 22,000 square feet of meeting space.

HUNTINGTON BEACH/NEWPORT BEACH

New • In Huntington Beach, Hilton is opening the Ocean Grand Resort & Conference Center this year, with 500 rooms and 5,200 square feet of meeting and event space.

Expanded • The Four Seasons Newport Beach has added a 10,000-square-foot special event and banquet venue.

LOS ANGELES

New • U.S. hotelier Andre Balazs is converting the former Bank of California building into a new Standard hotel. Located near the downtown Staples Center, it will have a spa, gym, and pool, and it will include an unusual feature — a set of oversized rooms with nine-foot beds that can accommodate professional basketball players. The property will open this summer.

New • A 1,200-room Los Angeles Convention Center headquarters hotel is expected to open in 2004. It will be part of the L.A. Entertainment District, which will include an outdoor plaza and a 375,000-square-foot business, retail, and entertainment complex.

New • The 150-room El Dorado Hotel is opening this summer as part of a renovation of the Old Bank District.

New • The 114-suite Renaissance Hollywood Hotel is opening late this year. The luxury property will feature about 23,000 square feet of meeting space and a 25,000-square-foot ballroom. It also will house the 3,500-seat Kodak Theatre, which is the new home of the Academy Awards presentations.

CONTACT THE CVB

Santa Monica CVB
(310) 319-6263 • Fax: (310) 319-6273
www.santamonica.com
Total Hotel Tax: 20.25%

Long Beach Area CVB
(800) 452-7829 • Fax: (562) 435-5653
www.golongbeach.org
Total Hotel Tax: 20.25%

Newport Beach CVB
(949) 722-1611
Fax: (949) 722-1612
www.newportbeach-cvb.com

Los Angeles CVB
(713) 624-7300 • Fax: (703) 624-9746 www.lacvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 22.25%

Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB
(760) 770-9000 • Fax: (760) 770-9001
www.desert-resorts.com
Total Hotel Tax: 16.75% to 18.75%

San Diego CVB
(619) 232-3101 • Fax: (619) 232-1707
www.sandiego.org; Total Hotel Tax: 18.25%