Southern California has an agreeable climate (El Nino notwithstanding), abundant natural beauty, top resorts and business hotels, and world-famous attractions. So what can the region possibly do for an encore?

Build more, of course. Insurance meeting planners will find broader entertainment options in the years ahead, beginning this summer when the Aquarium of the Pacific opens in Long Beach. The project, a centerpiece of the harbor city's efforts to rebuild its economic base, will be dwarfed, however, by what the Walt Disney Company is cooking up in Anaheim: Disney's California Adventure, a companion theme park to Disneyland, set to open in 2001. Yet another theme park, Legoland, the Danish toy company's first building-block theme park in the United States, is taking shape in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, and should open next year.

Not as much development is occurring on the hospitality front, mostly because Southern California lagged behind other parts of the country in recovering from the recession of the early 1990s, says Bruce Baltin, senior vice president with PKF Consulting in Los Angeles. The region's newest major resort, the 331-room Four Seasons Resort at Aviara, opened in 1997 in Carlsbad. The next major resort property, the 500-room Hilton Ocean Grand Resort in Orange County's Huntington Beach, is due to break ground this April and open in 2000.

Convention center expansions in San Diego and Anaheim are likely to spur hotel development in those areas, Baltin says; in fact, the two large hotels serving the San Diego center--the Hyatt Regency San Diego and the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina--have already announced expansion plans.

"We're seeing strong hotel occupancy and rising rates in most of Southern California," says Baltin, "and all indications are there for new hotel development. Many companies are looking, but it does take a while."

Hotel News San Diego * Downtown's two largest hotels--the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina and the Hyatt Regency San Diego--hope to expand in conjunction with the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. If final approvals are secured, the Hyatt will add a second, 33-story tower, and the Marriott a third, 32-story tower. The projects will be completed in 2001, at the earliest.

* The 132-room Horton Grand Hotel in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter purchased the adjacent Hahn Cosmopolitan Theater. Now called the Horton Grand Theater, the 250-seat facility, can be used by groups.

* Marriott has taken over management of Le Meridien San Diego. The 300-room property on San Diego Bay, is now called the Marriott Coronado Island Resort.

* Destination Hotels & Resorts, the hospitality subsidiary of Lowe Enterprises, assumed management of the Hotel del Coronado last August. The company plans to invest more than $50 million over five years.

Carlsbad * The Four Seasons Resort Aviara opened last summer. The 331-room resort, bordering a lagoon and overlooking the ocean, has 29,000 square feet of meeting space. Recreational options include an 18-hole, Arnold Palmer golf course; a six-court tennis center; and a spa.

Palm Springs * Marriott's Desert Springs Resort & Spa, in Palm Desert, last year completed a renovation of its 884 guest rooms, restaurants, and lobby, and also added two pools.

* La Quinta Resort and Club is opening the Spa at La Quinta, a 20,000-square-foot wellness spa, this spring. The facility will have massage rooms, wrap rooms, facial rooms, a fitness area, an outdoor massage area, and a skin-care salon. The property has 640 guest rooms and 66,000 square feet of meeting and function space.

* The Westin Mission Hills Resort, in Rancho Mirage, has renovated its conference center in a Southwestern motif and refurbished half of its 512 guest rooms.

* At the Palm Springs Marquis, a Shadowrock Resort, an 18-hole golf course and a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse are scheduled for completion in late 1998.

Anaheim/Orange County * The Hilton Ocean Grand Resort, anticipated to open in 2000, will have 500 guest rooms, a 10,000-square-foot spa, and 70,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Anaheim Hilton & Towers recently completed an $18.5 million renovation that upgraded all 1,576 guest rooms and the 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The 750-room Grand Californian Hotel is planned as part of Disneyland's expansion. The property, which will be located within the theme park's new addition, is slated for a 2001 opening.

Los Angeles/Long Beach * In November, the Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel opened a 12,000-square-foot spa, and earlier this year the Clara Vista Cottage, a meeting facility in a 1930s mansion just behind the main hotel.

Santa Barbara * The Fess Parker Red Lion Inn is now the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. The property has 360 rooms and 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Hotel Santa Barbara renovated its 66 guest rooms last year. The hotel has a library seating up to 18 for meetings, and two additional meeting rooms.

* The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang, a working cattle ranch on 10,000 acres 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara, will complete the renovation of the back nine holes of its Ranch Golf Course in April. The 73-room property has 6,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Four Seasons Biltmore plans to complete the renovation of soft goods in its 217 guest rooms this year. The property, with 16,000 square feet of meeting space, also has arranged for preferred tee time privileges at the area's two newest golf courses.

Rick Smith, director of agency services for United Farm Bureau Insurance of Indiana, based in Indianapolis, says his company prefers to keep its incentive programs as unstructured as possible. How unstructured? The company's modus operandi is to give its qualifiers a rental car and a good set of maps and have them explore the destination on their own. For such a program, Smith says San Diego is an excellent choice, "because there is just so much to do."

United Farm Bureau Insurance brought 360 qualifiers and spouses, all Hoosiers, to the Hotel del Coronado for five nights in February 1997. Smith had booked most of the rooms in the Del's rambling, 110-year-old original building, but some attendees opted for the property's contemporary addition to get an ocean view. Much of the time, qualifiers and their spouses were on their own. Many opted for golf, shopping, and touring at such attractions as the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, and a few even drove up to Los Angeles (two-and-a-half hours on the freeway) or jetted to San Francisco (less than two hours by air) for the day.

Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau James Kissinger, VP, convention sales (714) 999-8945; Fax: (714) 991-8963 www.anaheimoc.org

Los Angeles CVB Danna Stroud, dir., western region sales (213) 624-7300; Fax: (213) 624-9746

Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau Susan Pederson, corporate and incentive sales (714) 722-1611; Fax: (714) 722-1612 www.newportbeach-cvb.com

Palm Springs Desert Resorts CVB Douglas Small, vice president of sales (760) 770-9000; Fax: (760) 770-9001 www.PalmSpringsUSA.com.

San Diego CVB Cristina Barragan-Palmieri, national sales manager (619) 557-2845; Fax: (619) 696-9371 www.sandiego.org

Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission Kathy Janega-Dykes, dir. sales & mktg. (805) 966-9222; Fax: (805) 966-1728 www.santabarbaraCA.com