Meet in San Diego

Sur­pris­ing in many ways, this bay­side city has a rich his­tory and plenty of event­ful po­ten­tial

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael An­dré Adams

Sur­pris­ing in many ways, this bay­side city has a rich his­tory and plenty of event­ful po­ten­tial

Cal­i­for­nia is a land of high­pro­file con­trasts. San Fran­cisco has its fa­mous Golden Gate; Los An­ge­les has the Hol­ly­wood Hills and Santa Mon­ica Pier. So it may sur­prise you to find San Diego is called“the birth­place of Cal­i­for­nia.”

It hap­pened this way: in 1769 Fa­ther Ju­nipero Serra chose a hill over­look­ing the San Diego River to es­tab­lish the first per­ma­nent Euro­pean set­tle­ment in Cal­i­for­nia. The Mis­sion was orig­i­nally built next to the Span­ish fort called the Pre­sidio, what is called Old Town San Diego to­day. It was here that Fa­ther Serra built the first of the 21 Mis­sions that an­chored the de­vel­op­ment of Cal­i­for­nia for Spain.

The area later be­come a ter­ri­tory of Mex­ico, then af­ter the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can War, was ceded to the United States. The new ter­ri­tory gave birth to the states of Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Arizona and Utah. In 1850 Cal­i­for­nia was granted state­hood, the same year San Diego was in­cor­po­rated. For decades there­after, San Diego was a quiet back­wa­ter by the bay un­til a spike of growth in 1880, sparked by the open­ing of sev­eral mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties.

That spike turned into a full-fledged boom dur­ing and af­ter WWII. To­day, San Diego’s 107,000 em­ploy­ees in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions ac­count for $12.4 bil­lion of the re­gion’s econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to the San Diego Re­gional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. Of the na­tion’s top 25 largest metro ar­eas, San Diego en­joys a com­fort­able first-place po­si­tion in mil­i­tary pay­roll. Even the Pen­tagon, head­quar­tered Wash­ing­ton, DC ranks sec­ond to San Diego, with 39,000 fewer em­ploy­ees than San Diego’s mil­i­tary econ­omy.

How­ever, in re­cent years San Diego has grad­u­ally sup­ple­mented its fo­cus on mil­i­tary spend­ing, turn­ing to high-tech in­dus­tries to be­come one of the na­tion’s lead­ers in game-chang­ing in­no­va­tion, with ground­break­ing de­vel­op­ments in the clean­tech, life sciences and in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy. Now, th­ese in­dus­tries to­gether gen­er­ate more eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity than the mil­i­tary, which re­mains firmly in sec­ond place.

The bay­side city’s third largest meal ticket is rev­enue from the area’s mighty meet­ings and tourism in­dus­try. The num­bers in­clude over 32 mil­lion area vis­i­tors in 2012, with 16.1 mil­lion overnight vis­i­tors, re­sult­ing in a con­tri­bu­tion of $8 bil­lion spread through­out its di­verse neigh­bor­hoods span­ning from the ocean side to the moun­tains, a meld­ing of parks and ur­ban vis­tas in be­tween.

With 11,000 ho­tel rooms to an­chor the stun­ning 2.6 mil­lion-square-foot down­town con­ven­tion cen­ter, the city ex­pects to host nearly 600,000 at­ten­dees this year gen­er­at­ing more than $1.6 bil­lion in re­gional eco­nomic im­pact. The cen­ter is lo­cated in the Ma­rina dis­trict of down­town San Diego near the Gaslamp Quar­ter next to the bay. The cen­ter’s ar­chi­tec­ture is marked by the Sails Pav­il­ion, a strik­ing 90,000 square-foot ex­hibit and spe­cial event space in­tended to re­flect San Diego’s mar­itime his­tory.

The Spirit of San Diego

Ask nearly any meet­ings and con­ven­tions spe­cial­ists and San Diego will come up as a top five to 10 fa­vorite for at­ten­dees. This de­spite the lim­i­ta­tions of the city’s air­port, which is the busiest sin­gle-run­way air­port in the coun­try.

San Diego In­ter­na­tional Air­port (SAN) is also known as Lind­bergh Field, af­ter avi­a­tion pi­o­neer Charles Lind­bergh, who in 1927, came to San Diego and com­mis­sioned Ryan Air­lines to build an air­craft that would carry him on a his­to­ry­mak­ing trans-At­lantic flight be­tween New York and Paris. Money talks, and it was in honor of Ryan’s fi­nanciers that the fin­ished prod­uct, a Model NYP mono­plane, was chris­tened“Spirit of St. Louis.”

On May 10, 1927, Lind­bergh de­parted San Diego on his way to St. Louis, the first leg of a jour­ney that would even­tu­ally take him on to Paris and down in his­tory. The flight ig­nited pub­lic en­thu­si­asm for avi­a­tion around the world, and the cit­i­zens of San Diego passed a bond is­sue the next year to build a mu­nic­i­pal air­port, to which Lind­bergh lent his name.

To­day, the air­port that bears Lucky Lindy’s name is still lo­cated where it was in 1928, a mere 3 miles from down­town. It han­dles some 600 flights ev­ery day on its sin­gle east-west run­way, and hosts 18 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year through its three ter­mi­nals. Lon­don, Toronto, Tokyo, Mex­ico City and a hand­ful of other des­ti­na­tion in Mex­ico are on its flight boards, along with 40-plus US cities.

In­ter­est­ing op­tions are avail­able to avoid po­ten­tial con­ges­tion at SAN. Al­though Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port lies a two-hour drive away to the north along the no­to­ri­ous 405 Free­way, in be­tween the two mar­kets are Long Beach Air­port (about 100 miles north of San Diego) and John Wayne Air­port (ap­prox­i­mately 90 miles away). Par­tic­u­larly if your busi­ness is on the north edge of San Diego, time may be on your side if you plan an itin­er­ary that takes you into one of th­ese al­ter­nate air­ports.

The Ho­tel Scene

As with any top tier des­ti­na­tion, the ma­jor brands are present, as are some great classics. At the top of the list of the most talked about properties is the nearby beach­front Ho­tel del Coron­ado.


Since the open­ing of the doors in 1888, Ho­tel del Coron­ado has played host to pres­i­dents, roy­alty, Hol­ly­wood’s elite and ev­ery­day trav­el­ers – and, ac­cord­ing to le­gend, at least a cou­ple of ghosts. The orig­i­nal in­tent was to cre­ate“the talk of the Western world.”Now in it’s 125th year of op­er­a­tion, with the re­lease of a new his­tory book to prove it, it’s mis­sion ac­com­plished. Visit


Re­lais & Chateaux afi­ciona­dos will ap­pre­ci­ate know­ing the fact that the brand’s only South­ern Cal­i­for­nia prop­erty – Ran­cho Va­len­cia Re­sort & Spa, is in San Diego’s Ran­cho Sante Fe. Fresh on the heels of last fall’s $30 mil­lion trans­for­ma­tion, the prop­erty boasts a ded­i­cated event plan­ning team. The prop­erty of­fers space for 50 up to 180 guests, with the op­tion of book­ing the 5,000-square-foot“Ha­cienda,”which re­ceived a sep­a­rate $1 mil­lion up­date of its own. This pri­vate space in­cludes a gar­den for cock­tail re­cep­tions and gath­er­ings. And since three spa­ces can be a charm, there’s the“Wine Cave.” This pri­vate din­ing room with its vaulted brick ceil­ing, 500-pound an­tique en­trance doors and pri­vate pa­tio over­look­ing the Eu­ca­lyp­tus grove is a real show-stealer. Visit ran­chova­len­


His­tory buffs will take de­light in the US Grant Ho­tel, which is lo­cated in the heart of down­town San Diego’s hip Gaslamp Quar­ter. Now part of Star­wood’s Lux­ury Col­lec­tion of properties, the 270-room land­mark was built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., in 1922 and named af­ter his fa­ther, the Civil War gen­eral and for­mer US pres­i­dent. Ad­di­tional en­tice­ments in­clude a $6.5 mil­lion art col­lec­tion of sculp­tures,

iron­work, mu­rals and paint­ings, all in cel­e­bra­tion of the ho­tels sto­ried past and mod­ern re­nais­sance.

Jeff Josen­hans, the ho­tel’s award win­ning di­rec­tor of venues, sug­gests that guests con­sider“Sun­set on San Diego Bay, a Padres game with a post-game burger at Burger Lounge, fol­lowed by post-din­ner cock­tails at Grant Grill,”in­side the US Grant, af­ter a long day of meet­ings and other events.

The US Grant’s 6,000 square foot Ce­les­tial Ball­room has a hand painted vaulted ceil­ing sup­ported by grand col­umns that have been in­tri­cately re­stored to the era when the room was a cel­e­brated sup­per club and speakeasy. “Hand blown Ital­ian glass chan­de­liers and co­or­di­nat­ing wool car­pets har­mo­nize with the orig­i­nal Span­ish tiles found in the south en­try foyer,”ex­plains Mark Hig­gin­botham, di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing at the ho­tel. Visit us­

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