From Santa Barbara to the Silicon Valley, Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles, California offers medical meeting planners diversity, idyllic weather, and a host of convention facilities. Groups may have to pay a bit more to meet in the Golden State, but planners agree it is money well spent.

"San Francisco is very expensive. Even though we had a large turn out, we made less than we budgeted for, but the drawbacks are minor compared to the pluses. San Francisco is a fantastic city. It has so many things to see and do and such wonderful restaurants," says Stephen Stidinger, director of meetings for the American Association of Mental Retardation, whose organization's 1995 annual meeting, held at the San Francisco Hilton May 30 to June 3, attracted 1,733 delegates.

The sheer variety of meeting venues ensures that medical associations return to California again and again. This year, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Heart Association, the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, and the American Society for Surgery of the Hand were just a few of the many medical associations who chose California for their conventions.

Long Beach hosted 447,830 people at 69 conventions in 1995-a 68 percent increase over its previous high in 1992. Ground was broken in November for the $100 million, 120,000-square-foot Aquarium of the Pacific, which will be located within walking distance of the convention center and is scheduled for completion by the end of 1997. It will be part of the Queensway Bay Project, the plans for which include an entertainment and retail complex along the waterfront; a hotel across from the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center; and the development of 300 acres of oceanfront property into parkland with a beach and a 10,000-seat amphitheater.

Convention center expansion projects are also planned for San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. While Oakland is not expanding its facilities, the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau has merged with Oakland Convention Center Management, Inc. to create the Oakland Convention and Visitors Authority, offering one-stop shopping for meeting planners.

CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTERS Los Angeles Last summer, Los Angeles, began construction on Phase II of its convention center expansion project. This project will modify existing garage space to make it convertible into 162,000 square feet of exhibition space when needed. Phase II is expected to be completed by July 1996, further enhancing the facility, which completed a $500 million expansion in late 1993 that more than doubled its previous size. The center has consists of five halls and 64 meeting rooms.

Ontario Ontario, located between Anaheim and Palm Springs, broke ground in the fall for its first convention center. The $60 million, 225,000-square-foot project, scheduled to open in fall 1997, will include a 70,000-square-foot, column free exhibit hall, a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, and 20,000-square-feet of meeting space.

Sacramento Sacramento opened its expanded convention center in April. The $80 million project tripled the facility's size to 384,359 square feet. It now has 136,945 square feet of ground floor exhibit space, a new 24,500-square-foot ballroom, a performing arts theater, and 31 meeting rooms.

San Diego In October, ground was broken for the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The project, to be completed by fall 1998, will add 302,000 square feet of exhibit space and 100,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 40,168-square-foot ballroom.

San Francisco A study released this summer recommends adding 300,000 square feet of convention space, close to either the 1.2 million-square-foot Moscone Center or to the Union Square area convention hotels, to complement what exists at the Moscone Center. The project should be completed in 2000.

The South San Francisco Conference Center, one mile north of the airport, has over 16,500 square feet of column-free meeting, banquet, and exhibit space. There are more than 2,000 hotel rooms nearby.

HOTEL NEWS Los Angeles * The Beverly Hills Hotel reopened in June after a two-and-a-half-year, $100 million renovation that reduced the hotel's room count from 253 to 194 while upgrading the entire property. The hotel was built in 1912 and is known as the Pink Palace.

Palm Springs * The Givenchy Hotel & Spa opened on a 15-acre site in Palm Springs in December. The resort has 98 guest rooms and offers a full spa program, like that of the original Givenchy Spa in Versailles, France.

* The La Quinta Resort and Club is adding a 16,000-square-foot ballroom that will be ready in February. It will complement the property's existing 17,000-square-foot ballroom.

San Francisco * In June, The Hotel Monaco opened in a landmark 1910 American beaux arts building at the edge of the city's theater district. Conference facilities include seven meeting rooms and a ballroom, totaling 6,950 square feet.

* The Radisson Miyako Hotel San Francisco began an extensive redecoration of its 218 rooms and suites in November. Located in the heart of the city's Japantown, the hotel offers 13,000 square feet of meeting space, including 13 meeting rooms and two ballrooms, the largest of which is 4,600 square feet. The project, which will include new room doors and electronic card key system, will be completed in early February.

* The 90-year-old Westin St. Francis will complete its $30 million room renovation in the spring. A further $20 million is being spent to upgrade the hotel's exterior and back-of-the house facilities.

Santa Barbara * The Harbor View Inn has opened a new 52-room wing, bringing the property's total room count to 80.

TAX AND MONEY MATTERS In northern California, the sales tax for San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose is 8.25 percent, but hotel taxes differ. In San Francisco, the hotel tax is 12 percent; in Oakland, 11 percent; and in San Jose, ten percent. In southern California, the sales tax is 8.25 percent in Los Angeles and Long Beach, 7.75 percent in Orange County/Anaheim and Palm Springs, and 7 percent in San Diego. The hotel tax is 14 percent in Los Angeles, 12 percent in Long Beach, 15 percent in Orange County/Anaheim, ten percent in Palm Springs, and 10.5 percent in San Diego.