The San Francisco Bay Area Is Booming With New Hotels and Alluring Attractions

September 19, 2018

Whether it’s a digital-free retreat in the redwoods or a downtown tradeshow showcasing the latest tech innovations, the San Francisco Bay Area has got it covered. From San Jose to Santa Rosa, there’s something to suit just about any meetings style or requirement.

San Francisco

San Francisco continues to be among the most sought-after meetings destinations anywhere, with 2018 bringing the highest number of room nights booked in the city’s history, according to Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Travel Association.

With the expansion of Moscone Center headed for an on-time completion at the end of November and a grand opening on Jan.  3, the future is even brighter. Along with a new 50,000-square-foot ballroom, the updated convention center will offer 108,000 square feet of light-filled prefunction lobbies with city views, outdoor terraces and open plazas with public art. In another advantage, groups will no longer need to split their exhibitions between the north and south wings of the complex but will have 500,000 square feet of contiguous space.


“Not only can we accommodate groups that we couldn’t before, but this frees up the Moscone West building for other meetings,” D’Alessandro said. “It gives us more flexibility.”

Opened this summer just two blocks from Moscone, the Salesforce Transit Center, which sports a four-block-long rooftop park, Salesforce Park—reminiscent of New York City’s High Line—is a new option for groups seeking outdoor event space with city views.

“It’s an incredible venue, with an amphitheater and beautiful landscaping and artwork five stories off the ground,” D’Alessandro said.  

He is also enthused about the upcoming Chase Center, a new arena for the Golden State Warriors slated to open on the waterfront not far from AT&T Park in time for the 2019-’20 basketball season.

“This will be a fantastic option for general sessions and other events for large groups,” he said. “It’s got a phenomenal design and has a variety of spaces good for small or midsize groups. Plus, it has a huge plaza for events and is right on a new light-rail line connecting it to downtown.”

Several new hotels are in the pipeline for sites close to Moscone Center, including the 194-room Virgin Hotels San Francisco, which will offer a rooftop lounge as well as multiple dining and meeting options when it opens in November. The Waldorf Astoria San Francisco and Langham Place are both expected to debut as early as 2020.

The city’s newest property is the upscale 42-room Lodge at the Presidio, a conversion of late 19th century U.S. Army barracks in the Presidio national park, a short walk from museums, wooded hiking trails, restaurants and historic event space.

Last year marked the start of a new hotel development cycle, including the opening of two boutique properties with stylish rooftop event space: the 159-room Hotel VIA across from AT&T Park and the 131-room Proper Hotel near Civic Center. In the Fisherman’s Wharf area, the former Tuscan Inn was reborn as the Hotel Zoe, offering 221 guest rooms, 1,950 square feet of meeting space and a courtyard with outdoor fireplaces and communal seating.  

Silicon Valley

South of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are home to the dynamic region known as Silicon Valley, the world’s technology capital and a major meetings destination that draws groups to its innovative atmosphere and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Its primary meetings hub is San Jose, where the downtown area is abuzz these days with new infrastructure plans, including a major expansion of the Adobe Systems campus and a proposed Google transit village that is to include offices, residences, retail, restaurants and hotels. According to Ken Slattery, vice president of sales and services for Visit San Jose, these and other developments, including several hotel proposals, are part of a wave that is transforming downtown San Jose into a vibrant destination with plenty of nightlife, restaurants and attractions within a walkable area.

“As the Google development moves forward, we’re seeing other developers recognizing the enormity of the project and building around it,” he said. “We’re looking at the creation of an urban village centered around transit and high-density living.”

With tech firms among its most frequent meetings customers, the city makes it a priority to keep the San Jose McEnery Convention Center up-to-date, including the recent installation of a new sound and lighting system from Meyer Sound Laboratories.

“The sound, lighting and audiovisual throughout the building are now on par with any major concert venue,” Slattery said. “This not only meets the needs of our tech customers, but it gives nonprofits and other more budget-sensitive groups the chance to have a first-rate sound system at a very attractive price point.”

Among new or upcoming hotels in San Jose are the recently opened Hyatt House and Hyatt Place, a dual-branded property offering 365 rooms north of downtown. A dual-branded Marriott, which will include a Courtyard and Residence Inn, is in the planning stages for downtown. The 210-room AC by Marriott San Jose Downtown debuted last year with a salt-water pool and 3,400 square feet of meeting space. Also new is the 236-room Sonesta Silicon Valley, which offers 4,400 square feet of meeting space and free shuttle service to San Jose International Airport.

Kimpton Hotels is planning a 173-room property for Museum Place, a mixed-use complex set for 2021 that will also include residences, collaborative office space and an expanded Tech Museum of Innovation. Another new mixed-use complex, this one in nearby Milpitas, will include Virgin Hotels Silicon Valley, a 200-room property set to open in 2020.

Located between San Francisco and San Jose, San Mateo County’s prime meeting areas include a wide assortment of group-friendly hotels near San Francisco International Airport and in Palo Alto, an upscale enclave near Stanford University and major tech firms. The diverse county also encompasses a stunning stretch of coastline that includes resort properties such as The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay.

“One of our biggest selling points is our easy access to San Francisco—attendees can get here on BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit], Caltrain or a quick Uber ride,” said Anne LeClair, president and CEO of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB. “Another big selling point is our safety—we’re ranked as the safest large county in the state.”

For groups that want a behind-the-scenes Silicon Valley experience, the CVB can help them connect with such tour operators such as Incredible Adventures or Silicon Valley Innovation Center, both of which offer tours and customized experiences at local tech firms.

“These tours enable people to go on the campuses where they might not otherwise have access,” LeClair said. “You can take a selfie in front of the Facebook sign or hear a presentation at Google. It can also be combined with a visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.”


In particular, the airport area has become a hot spot for hotel activity in the county. Scheduled to open next July, the 350-room Grand Hyatt at SFO will be the only hotel located on the airport grounds and is to include 17,500 square feet of meeting space and direct access to terminals via the AirTrain. Among recently opened hotels is the AC Hotel San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront, a 187-room property with 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

East Bay

Across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, the region known as the East Bay offers an array of relatively affordable options for meetings, many of them linked to downtown San Francisco and the Oakland and San Francisco airports by BART.

In particular, Oakland is brimming with new choices, everywhere from Oakland International Airport, where a SpringHill Suites is slated to open next summer, to downtown areas such as Jack London Square and Uptown, which boast a burgeoning culinary and entertainment scene.

Home to a growing number of start-ups, corporate meetings, especially tech, are a growing focus for Oakland, which has long drawn association groups seeking price relief from San Francisco, according to Rhanee Palma, director of sales for Visit Oakland.

“We’re a launching pad for entrepreneurs and homegrown businesses, whether in technology, culinary or the arts,” she said. “We still do a lot of associations, but corporate has grown to about half of our business just during the last year and a half.”

At the same time, a number of Oakland hotels are upgrading their meetings facilities, including the Hilton Oakland Airport and the Waterfront Hotel. The Oakland Marriott City Center, which is adjacent to the Oakland Convention Center, will be wrapping up a property-wide renovation in January.

Changes are also afoot at the Claremont Club & Spa, which has elegantly crowned a hillside locale on the Oakland-Berkeley border for over a century. The iconic hotel, which offers a resort atmosphere with 22 acres of landscaped gardens, a full-service spa, tennis courts and multiple pools, recently renovated its 20,000 square feet of meeting space and converted its Meritage restaurant into banquet space with spectacular views of the bay.

A meeting destination marketed by Visit Berkeley, Berkeley offers a number of boutique properties geared for small to midsize groups, including the newly renovated, 144-room Graduate Berkeley hotel near the University of California campus, and the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, which offers 8,000 square feet of meeting space in an elegantly restored 1910 building in the heart of downtown.

East of Oakland and Berkeley, the inland valleys encompass cities such as Concord, Walnut Creek, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon, and offer not only meetings-friendly hotels but sunny weather, scenic hiking trails and an abundance of wineries, craft breweries and fine dining. The region is marketed by Visit Concord, formerly Visit Diablo Valley, and Visit Tri-Valley.

North Bay  

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, the urban grid quickly gives way to a bucolic landscape laden with celebrated vineyards, redwood forests, orchards, farmlands and dramatic coastal preserves. A world-class resort and culinary scene drawn from world-class chefs and artisanal purveyors are among the pleasures as well.

In Marin County, about 80 percent of which is protected open space, groups will find no shortage of hiking trails and water activities as well as the chance to enjoy artisanal cheese and other products at organic farms, according to Christine Bohlke, director of sales and marketing for Visit Marin.

“We get a lot of board of directors meetings and executive retreats,” she said.

Marin County’s largest hotel, the Embassy Suites San Rafael-Marin County, will embark on a property-wide renovation next spring that will include all 235 guest rooms and 6,000 square feet of meeting space. In Novato, both the Courtyard Novato Marin/Sonoma and the Best Western Plus Novato Oaks Inn have recently completed renovations.

Sausalito’s Inn at the Tides unveiled new suites with indoor and outdoor space for small meetings. Also in Sausalito are Cavallo Point Lodge, a waterfront property at Fort Baker with 14,000 square feet of meeting space and a popular cooking school, and Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa, which recently expanded with new meeting space with sweeping Bay views.

Sonoma County is enjoying a busy year for meetings, particularly from corporate groups looking for a rejuvenating setting with easy access from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, according to Jennifer Richards, vice president of sales for Sonoma County Tourism.

“We’re continuing to see growth in all areas, including medical and incentives,” she said. “We have a diverse array of hotels and off-site experiences, everything from wine tasting and blending to hiking, ziplining and other outdoor adventures. So we’re open to all groups.”

In Santa Rosa, where last year’s fires destroyed the Fountaingrove Inn and Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, inventory is rebounding this month with a new 89-room addition at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country, bringing its total to 253 rooms. Further additions are coming from the Vintner’s Inn, which is nearly doubling in size with 34 new guest rooms and a new full-service spa.

“The Hyatt, which offers 20,000 square feet of meeting space, will be our largest hotel and enable us to book bigger groups than ever before,” Richards said.

In Petaluma, which offers a historic downtown and lively culinary scene, the 75-room Hampton Inn Petaluma opened earlier this year in a former mill building dating from 1882. The nearby Hotel Petaluma, a 1923 charmer with a 1,900- square-foot ballroom, recently completed a property-wide renovation.

Neighboring Napa County is booming with new hotel activity, most notably with the Meritage Collection’s Vista Collina Resort, which opened south of downtown Napa in August. The 145-room Tuscan-style luxury hotel has 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including an expansive lawn suitable for concerts and other large events.

Among the resort’s unique features are The Village, which encompasses a series of nine tasting rooms devoted to local wineries and microbreweries, and the Food and Wine Center, which offers an exhibition kitchen and cooking classes with guest chefs and bakers.

Other new properties include Archer Hotel Napa, which opened downtown with 143 rooms, 17,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, a rooftop pool deck and spa. The nearby River Terrace Inn recently expanded with additional guest rooms, 1,500 square feet of meeting space and a new fine-dining restaurant.

“In particular, the town of Napa is booming, for the first time even surpassing the number of visitors going to towns further up the valley,” said Teresa Savage, vice president of sales for Visit Napa Valley. “There are so many things to do, including tasting rooms and music venues. It’s pretty vibrant.”

At the north end of Napa Valley in Calistoga, a new Four Seasons resort is scheduled to open next year with a fully operational winery and vineyard on the grounds. Also in Calistoga, The Francis House, a small luxury property located in a restored historic home, opened in August.


California’s dynamic state capital is gearing up for an ambitious $240 million expansion and renovation of the Sacramento Convention Center, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin early next year. Plans call for the western half of the center, which dates from 1974, to be demolished and rebuilt with a new 40,000-square-foot ballroom and additional exhibition space.

According to Sarah Atilano, vice president of sales and business development for Visit Sacramento, a goal of the expansion is to improve the attendee experience.

“One of the things we’ve noticed is that planners are looking for unique meeting spaces,” she said. “They don’t always want their attendees confined to a meeting room. As part of our convention center expansion, we are adding new indoor/outdoor space which we are excited to see used for breakouts, tradeshows, farm-to- fork dinners and receptions.”

Two other event venues are scheduled to begin makeovers next year—an $84 million renovation of the Sacramento Community Center Theater and a $16 million renovation of Memorial Auditorium.

Recent additions to downtown also include the Golden 1 Center (G1C), a sports and entertainment complex that is the new home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings as well as a venue for events and conventions. The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, a 250-room property with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, opened last year next to the G1C.

This article is part of our 2018 Meetings Today California Destination Supplement.

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About the author
Maria Lenhart | Senior Editor