By Kelsey Ogletree
Take a boat ride around Newport Beach, California and you’ll spot not-so-humble abodes owned by celebrities like Celine Dion, Kobe Bryant, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Nicholas Cage. At the home of the late John Wayne, the landscaping alone is rumored to have cost around $1 million.
Given that Newport Beach resembles a playground for the rich and famous, it may come as a surprise that the destination is quite friendly on meeting planners’ budgets.
“We like to say meeting here is like a taste of the good life,” says Michelle Donahue, senior vice president of sales with Visit Newport Beach. She reports the average daily rate for groups here is $198. That’s lower than the ADR for Boston, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Miami and its neighbor to the northwest, Los Angeles, according to 2016 figures from Statista.
With a population of less than 87,000, Newport Beach is a tertiary market that’s quietly rising in the ranks of Southern California meeting destinations. Last year, it booked more than 90,000 group room nights, according to the CVB. Only half of those came from organizations based in California. Many groups from the Eastern Seaboard are flocking to Newport as a fresh way to experience the SoCal lifestyle. “Planners have booked San Diego and Los Angeles; but Newport Beach wasn’t on their radar,” says Donahue.
Find upscale shopping, high-class restaurants and waterfront event space in one pretty little black-and-white package at Lido Marina Village. Popular among locals, this development built in the 1970s was given a complete makeover in 2016. Its luxury surrounds have attracted restaurants like Nobu, with patio seating overlooking the harbor; and Lido Bottle Works, with an expertly curated menu of small-batch beers and incredible vegetarian options. Retail includes a luxurious Sugar Paper and even a Goop pop-up shop, which Gweneth Paltrow opened for the holidays (through Dec. 24) at Lido. The village’s outdoor spaces can be rented for private events on a case-by-case basis.
Getting Around Newport Beach
By land, air, and sea, electricity is a trending theme in Newport Beach activities—just ask Gerard Widder, general manager at Fashion Island Hotel, who’s been known to commute on his electric skateboard.
Bikes. Groups can explore the Oceanfront Boardwalk and Balboa Island by renting two-wheelers from Pedego Electric Bikes. It’s optional to use the motor, so the bikes suit groups with a wide range of fitness levels. The company offers teambuilding options that can be customized with entertainment and refreshments. Among the choices is a stop at the end for Newport Beach’s famous frozen banana treat.
Boats. There’s no special license required to operate electric boats in Newport Beach, which is (mostly) awesome for groups. Rent a fleet of French Riveria-style Duffy boats and organize a scavenger hunt around the harbor. Teams can hunt for items and capture photos—then share stories over apps at one of 15 “dock-and-dine” restaurants.Helicopter. With 25 years of military flying experience, founder, captain and pilot Ric Webb of OC Helicopters will make even acrophobiacs feel safe during helicopter tours of the area (or VIP transfers from the airport). Webb is one of an elite group testing electric helicopter flights. They’re not available to book yet, though Webb is confident they are the way of the future.