By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor
Usually, a trip to California’s Orange County in January equates to a welcome influx of warm sun and clear, blue skies, but for my group of journalists who traveled to Anaheim for the grand debut of the Anaheim Convention Center’s new Grand Plaza and the 2013 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show, the sun had retreated into a gray, drizzly sky. It was hard to believe, considering the destination enjoys 328 days of sunshine per year.
But leave it to the resilient, sunny staff of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau (AOCVCB) to inject a bright ray of energy into our three-day trip. On day one, after our group had checked into the neighboring Marriott Anaheim and Hilton Anaheim, we kicked off a packed itinerary with lunch at Morton’s The Steakhouse with Jay Burress, AOCVCB’s incoming president.
From there, we set out on a guided tour of the convention center’s new Grand Plaza, a 100,000-square-foot outdoor campus punctuated by fountains and verdant landscaping, including 151 palm trees and 60 orange trees. Every night starting at sunset, the plaza’s river of colored lights, which can be coordinated to an event’s theme, illuminates the landscape.
The center is also gearing up to begin yet another expansion. After opening in 1967 and undergoing five expansions, the center is now the largest meeting facility on the West Coast. The plan is to add another 200,000 square feet, which will provide extra meeting and ballroom space to accommodate the breakout needs of medical meetings and other groups.
After five expansions, the Anaheim Convention Center is now the largest meeting facility on the West Coast.
But the convention center isn’t the only revamped venue option in Anaheim. After a quick preview of NAMM’s show floor (look for an article in next month’s issue), our group was off to visit Angel Stadium of Anaheim and the Honda Center, an 18,900-seat arena that is currently adding the Grand Terrace. Due for completion in 2013, the Grand Terrace will include a 15,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor event space with a new, 250-seat restaurant and expanded gift shop. That evening, we toured the new Cars Land, which opened in 2012 as part of Disney California Adventure Park’s five-year expansion. Sprawled across 25 acres, Cars Land is suited for both large-scale events and smaller groups, who can opt to just buy out individual attractions.
Next morning, our group explored Anaheim’s up-and-coming downtown shopping and dining districts — Center Street Promenade and the Anaheim Packing District. While sipping on lattes at the Gypsy Den, we learned from our hosts that downtown Anaheim has grown and changed during the past few years. Not only has the promenade become a birthplace for quirky, independently owned shops, arts and entertainment venues, and restaurants such as the Gypsy Den, it has revitalized one of Anaheim’s most historic commercial centers. Across the street, the Packing District — which takes its name from the 1920s-era buildings that once served as packing warehouses for the area’s orange groves — is home to Umami Burger, a hip, upscale burger joint, and The Anaheim Brewery. Next door, a vacant lot will soon be transformed into a community park, which is flanked by the restored Packing House — an airy, two-story space that will house an open-to-the-public culinary marketplace.
On the last day of the trip, we ventured out of Anaheim and into the beautiful coastal communities of Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach. After being transported back in time to a 1930s resort during lunch at The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove, a retro beachside café in the Crystal Cove Historic District, we spent the afternoon combing the shops of downtown Laguna Beach. Then it was time to check in at the sprawling, 517-room Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. Everything about the resort is soaring and expansive — from the 20,000-square-foot Pacific Waters Spa to the oversized guest rooms and 110,000 square feet of meeting space designed to give groups ample room and seclusion. Finally, we ended the day in true California style, with a four-course dinner consisting almost entirely of local fare and California wines in the AAA Four-Diamond Californian restaurant. Somehow, it seems, the O.C. always finds a way to shine even when the sun won’t.