Huntington Beach

Is Orange County, California, the wellness capital of the world? Well, if it isn’t, it’s pretty darn close.

This slice of Southern California sunshine is an epicenter for upscale lifestyles. It’s blessed with a striking landscape of mountain cliffs, nature preserves and ocean that the athletic can enjoy. It is the place that popularized surfing, helping propel the sport into the nation’s consciousness in the early ’60s.

Wellness really isn’t a trend as much as a lifestyle choice in Orange County. Loaner bicycles and trail maps for walking and running have become standard extras at many hotels. Team building has taken off, as well, and you can find groups running their own 5Ks through Off N Running Tours or flying high at Big Air Trampoline Park in Buena Park. You can be pretty sure that if there’s a new trend in the health and wellness arena, it probably can be found in Orange County.

Hotel restaurants are incorporating healthier food choices, with more fresh local items. Many hotels in Orange County have renovated their fitness centers. Some smaller ones without fitness facilities are teaming up with nearby gyms to offer fitness options to meeting attendees. Yoga on the sand is now a staple of beachfront properties.

If you want to incorporate health and wellness into your meeting program, Orange County is the place to go.


anaheim-convention-centerAnaheim Convention Center

One of the best wellness facilities in Anaheim is actually inside Disneyland. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, with 940 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, boasts Mandara Spa, with the unique aromas, treatments and ambience of a Balinese hideaway, and the latest equipment and therapies for tired meeting attendees.

Hilton Anaheim, with 1,572 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of event space, can host just about any meeting and can support a fun, relaxing event with its basketball courts, fitness club, spa, hot tub, and outdoor and indoor pools. The hotel is responding to meeting planners’ needs by developing shorter health and wellness programs.

“In and out has become an important concept where our groups are concerned,” says Lauren Baker Nelson, health club manager at Hilton Anaheim. “So we’ve created programs like Express Facial and Express Massage. We know that our group guests want to feel refreshed and rejuvenated…but they don’t have half a day in which to do it.”

There are four key hotel projects that will support Anaheim’s convention and theme park businesses.

Orange County’s first JW Marriott will be built adjacent to the Anaheim GardenWalk, offering 466 guest rooms. The project is expected to open in 2018.

Disneyland Resort has announced plans to build a 700-room luxury hotel, its first new property in nearly 20 years. Featuring two pools, a fitness center and rooftop restaurant that overlooks the park and its nightly fireworks display, the new property would break ground in 2018 and open in 2021.

Anabella Hotel, which is adjacent to Anaheim Convention Center, will be bulldozed and converted into a 630-room luxury property. The 580-room Anaheim Plaza Hotel & Suites, located across the street from Disney California Adventure, will also be demolished and developed into a luxury hotel with 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

“The proposed AAA Four Diamond hotel properties will fill a notable void in our hotel inventory and more importantly will increase revenue to support local police, firefighters, community programs and paying down the city’s debt,” says Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim.

In the nearby city of Garden Grove, California’s first Great Wolf Lodge opened in March, just two miles from Disneyland. It offers 603 guest rooms and 21,000 sq. ft. of event space.

Huntington Beach

the-waterfront-beachShades Restaurant at The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach jumped aboard the health and wellness train long ago. There, you’ll find a plethora of personal trainers, fitness camps, Zumba classes and hundreds of other ways to move, rejuvenate, hydrate and nurture yourself.

Regarded as one of the birthplaces of surfing, which first took off in the ’50s, Huntington Beach is home to International Surfing Museum. Any local will tell you that Jan and Dean’s classic 1963 hit, “Surf City,” was about Huntington Beach.

There are four AAA Four Diamond hotels in Huntington Beach, all sitting on the oceanfront along Pacific Coast Highway, and all within a half-mile footprint of downtown Surf City, USA. Two of them have spas, and a third spa is on the way.

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa offers a long list of options for health-conscious attendees, including Pacific Waters Spa, a 20,000-square-foot Spanish-Mediterranean facility that uses organic products and purified sea water. The resort has 517 guest rooms, 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, two pools, Jacuzzi grottos, tennis courts, surfing lessons and bike riding along the beachfront.

Pasea-Aarna-Spa-TreatmentAarna Spa at Pasea Hotel & Spa, Huntington Beach

Pasea Hotel & Spa opened in May with 250 guest rooms and 34,600 sq. ft. of meeting space. Attendees can relax after meetings at the South Pacific-inspired Aarna Spa, with indoor and outdoor island-themed treatments and aromas.

The Waterfront Beach Resort, A Hilton Hotel has 290 guest rooms and 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. It is undergoing a $140 million renovation. When the project is complete next spring, the resort will have a new spa and a new 152-suite tower with a restaurant, ocean-view lounge, pool deck. Indoor and outdoor event space will increase to 34,000 sq. ft.

Kathleen Strickland is the owner of Marietta, Georgia-based PJA Groups, a full-service event- and meeting-planning firm. In September 2015, she held a distributors’ meeting for the National Association of Professional Gerontologists at The Waterfront Beach Resort.

“We had 275 attendees, and the feedback was virtually unanimous: Huntington Beach is a hidden gem,” Strickland says. “The resort is right on the beachfront. The staff was very professional. The food was excellent. The location was within walking distance of pretty much everything, so we saved on transportation costs. And the attendees, who tend to be very health conscious, loved the fitness facilities, the pool and the jogging track.”

Even resorts without spas are now providing health and wellness benefits. For example, Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel, with 157 guest rooms and 15,065 sq. ft. event space, provides yoga mats in every guest room.


Courtyard-Irvine-SpectrumCourtyard Irvine Spectrum

Hotel Irvine is raising the bar on wellness through its kitchen. Executive chef Michael Beck has expanded breakfast choices to include The Spa, offering gluten-free breads, build-your-own-parfait bar, Greek yogurt, steel-cut oats cooked in alkaline water and freshly squeezed juices. Zen AM features miso soup with tofu and sweet soy roasted salmon with scrambled eggs. “Sport Break” includes fresh fruit smoothies blended with soy or rice milk, nutrition bars, oatmeal cookies and whole fruit. Nearby Irvine Ranch ensures locally sourced fruits and vegetables for all lunch and dinner options.

Known for its Borrow-A-Bike program, Hotel Irvine offers 536 guest rooms and more than 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space. The Backyard is a new lawn area with more than 20,000 sq. ft. of space, including a climate-controlled pavilion.

The state-of-the-art Courtyard Irvine Spectrum, opened in 2014, has 210 guest rooms, 5,390 sq. ft. of meeting space and one of the finest fitness facilities you’ll see in any hotel, along with a pool and hot tub.

Irvine has one of Southern California’s legendary spas. Opened in 2012, Irvine Spa is a Korean-based health and wellness center combining the latest in wellness techniques with the serenity and relaxation of traditional Asian treatments.

If your attendees would prefer some open space to work out post-meeting kinks, Irvine is the place. It has more open space than any other city in Orange County, and it includes 54 miles of off-street bikeways and numerous hiking trails.

Laguna Beach

Montage-Laguna-Beach-Architectural-Catalina-Suite-BalconyCatalina Suite’s Balcony at Montage Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach has always had a passion for wellness. Yoga on the beach is popular, as is hiking and biking on the 7,000 acres in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Planners can arrange guided eco-kayak tours so attendees can view the hidden coves, marine life and tide pools up close.

Montage Laguna Beach, with 248 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft. of event space, has several new treatments at its highly regarded Spa Montage. For example, juniper lemon detox massage uses essential oils to purify the body, and body-firming detox wraps help enhance circulation.

the-ranch-laguna-beachThe Ranch at Laguna Beach

One of Laguna Beach’s longtime landmarks, The Ranch at Laguna Beach, completed a major renovation in August, including updates to Sycamore Spa, which integrates the resort’s mountainous surroundings with stress-relieving garden- and sea-based therapies designed to evoke relaxation. In addition, the resort provides yoga and Pilates classes, meditation, nature hikes, Ben Brown’s Golf Course and a new fitness facility. Set in Laguna Canyon, the resort offers 97 guest rooms and a variety of indoor and outdoor event space.

Laguna Beach spas, like the rest of their Orange County cousins, have expanded their services to meet the needs of meeting attendees.

“Ours is an increasingly wellness-focused world,” says Laura Tuerck, director of Spa Montage. “And Southern California is the epicenter of these trends. Recently, we’ve seen increased demand for treatments using custom-blended aromatherapy products. Here at Spa Montage, guests are increasingly seeking to bring their lives back into balance. So we also offer a spa menu with healthful dining options. If you want to host meetings in Southern California, you definitely have to keep your finger on the pulse of the health/wellness movement.”

Dana Point

Monarch-Beach-Resort-AVEOMonarch Beach Resort, Dana Point

Coming off a $40 million renovation that was completed in June, Monarch Beach Resort is a wellness retreat that also happens to offer 400 guest rooms and 90,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space. Formerly a part of the St. Regis family, the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond resort features Miraval Life in Balance Spa, which is patterned after Miraval Resort & Spa near Tucson, Arizona.

The Ritz–Carlton, Laguna Niguel features an award-winning spa with 12 treatment rooms. The 396-room Ritz-Carlton offers 80,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space.

Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa Marriott is a AAA Four Diamond resort with a natural setting that encourages serene reflection. The 14,000-square-foot spa offers its signature Vichy Shower rain-bar that will wash all your cares away. It has 378 guest rooms and 78,558 sq. ft. of event space.

Newport Beach & Costa Mesa

Pelican-Grill-Terrace-by-Day Pelican Grill Terrace at The Resort at Pelican Hill Newport Beach (Photo by Pelican Hill)

Newport Beach was a health and wellness champion long before it was trendy. The city’s blessed with beautiful beaches, parks, bike paths and hiking trails, and fitness has always been part of the local lifestyle.

Island Hotel Newport Beach is ideal for wellness executive retreats, with a full-service spa, hiking at Crystal Cove, stand-up paddleboarding on Newport Bay and Duffy boat rides to soak in the upscale, coastal ambience. The updated resort-style pool area is great for morning stretching and nighttime receptions. The 292-room hotel features the largest ballroom in Newport Beach, with seating for up to 600 guests.

The Resort at Pelican Hill Newport Beach features a stunning setting on the Pacific Ocean. It offers wellness retreats for groups, fitness classes and an oceanfront golf course. Pelican Hill’s wellness program is centered around three principles that any meeting attendee would welcome: replenish, invigorate and relax.

Relax in a private, poolside cabana at Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel. Located in Costa Mesa, Avenue of the Arts is a trendy boutique hotel with 5,182 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space. The Garden Retreat helps facilitate brainstorming.

Hilton Orange County, Costa Mesa is a key business hotel thanks to its location near John Wayne Airport (SNA) and 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The 486-room hotel can seat 700 theater-style in its ballroom. Relax by the pool or work out at the fitness center.

Raising the Wellness Bar

balboa-bayWaterline Newport Beach at Balboa Bay Resort

Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach features innovative spa treatments, which reflect trends that are sure to catch on in other parts of the world.

“The meetings business is, of course, unique unto itself, and we’ve developed a bunch of programs specifically to serve their needs,” says Linnea Robertson, director of The Spa at the resort. “We know that meeting attendees don’t have the time that other visitors do. New treatments only take 25 minutes and some are only 15 minutes. Treatments such as the Sailaway Stress Reliever for your scalp, or the Sole Reviver for your feet and lower legs, can get you revived and refreshed without being late for your next meeting. You can schedule an appointment during your lunch break.”

Disneyland Still Dazzles

disneylandMickey’s Royal Friendship Faire at Magic Kingdom Park (Photo by Ryan Wendler)

Orange County, California, has a permanent place in American and world pop culture. It’s the home of the world’s first theme park. Disneyland Resorts, in fact, is now winding down its Diamond Anniversary.

Since opening July 17, 1955, Disneyland Resort has grown from a single park to an international destination, with two renowned theme parks, three hotels, and the shopping, dining and entertainment district known as Downtown Disney. In 61 years, the resort has welcomed nearly 800 million guests from 200 countries.

The man who founded the worldwide entertainment empire was born in Chicago on Dec. 5, 1901. By the age of 7, he sold his first cartoon sketch. In World War I, Walt Disney served as an ambulance driver overseas with the Red Cross. His ambulance, however, did not have a red cross on it; from top to bottom and end to end, it was covered with cartoons he drew.

In 1923, Disney left Kansas City, Missouri, to join his brother, Roy, in Hollywood, California, with $40 in his pocket. Borrowing $500, the brothers created a little film studio. Five years later, Walt Disney introduced Mickey Mouse. Soon after, Disney created an animated feature based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, later followed by such classics as Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia and Bambi.

The largest employer in Orange County, Disneyland has 28,000 employees. It contributes nearly $5 billion annually to the county’s economy. In addition to the theme park, on June 14, 1959, Disneyland designed and built the first monorail in the Western Hemisphere. Since then, the Disneyland Monorail has traveled approximately 780 million miles, enough for eight round trips to Mars.

“Few companies have both a legendary past as well as a limitless future,” says Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Company. “But we had the great fortune to be founded with a spirit of creativity and innovation—one that continues to define this phenomenal company, allowing us to keep moving forward to meet the future without ever losing sight of who we are and where it all started.”

Walt Disney died on Dec. 15, 1966. He’d probably be happy to know that the theme park he created practices health and wellness. This year, Disney’s California Adventure park started complimentary fitness classes offering a blend of stretching and classic Pilates, as well as fitness tips from the park’s experts. So now you can get healthy while indulging in the Disney magic.

Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.

Major Meeting Venues


Anaheim Convention Center

LEED Gold certified; 945,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space; construction underway on a 200,000-square-foot addition to open next year; located in the Anaheim Resort District, along with Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Convenient entrance to Disneyland; award-winning restaurants, led by signature Napa Rose; Southeast Asian-themed, full-service Mandara Spa offers innovative, restful therapies; 940 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of event space.

Great Wolf Lodge

The Iron Horse Fitness Center offers top equipment; family-oriented resort; Kid’s Spa; seven restaurants; four retail shops; 603 guest rooms; 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hilton Anaheim


One mile from Disneyland, adjacent to Anaheim Convention Center; five restaurants/lounges; spa has wide range of treatments; two large sundecks; 40,000 sq. ft. of space; 1,600 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space.

Dana Point

Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa Marriott

Red-roofed, oceanfront resort; luxurious Spa at Laguna Cliffs offers fitness counseling; jogging trail; bike rentals; two pools; live entertainment; 378 guest rooms; 78,558 sq. ft. of event space.

Monarch Beach Resort

AAA Five Diamond resort on hillside overlooking beach; Miraval Life in Balance spa has innovative treatments; Champions golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.; 400 guest rooms; 90,000 sq. ft. of event space.

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Resort is atop a 150-foot bluff overlooking the coastline; spa offers luxury treatments inspired by the sea to restore balance; six diverse, sophisticated eateries; 396 guest rooms; 26,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space.

Huntington Beach

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa

Spanish architecture and ambience, overlooking the Pacific; 20,000-square-foot Pacific Waters Spa uses organic products, purified sea water; close to Disney and other attractions; 517 guest rooms; 110,000 sq. ft. of event space.

Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel

Steps from Main Street and iconic Huntington Beach Pier; surfing-themed interior; 24-hour fitness center; in-room spa services; yoga mats in each room; 157 guest rooms; 13,565 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Pasea Hotel & Spa


New beachfront hotel opened in May; South Pacific-inspired Aarna Spa has outdoor enclave; Tanner’s features Southern California cuisine; large lawn for events; 250 guest rooms; 34,600 sq. ft. for meetings.

The Waterfront Beach Resort, A Hilton Hotel

Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean; fitness center; hot tub; waterfront restaurant; nearby Waterfront Adventures offers group outings; bike rentals; 290 guest rooms; 21,000 sq. ft. for meetings.


Courtyard Irvine Spectrum

State-of-the–art fitness room, equipment, pool and hot tub; modern hotel opened in 2014; interior has recycled woods; The Bistro offers classic American fare; 210 guest rooms; 5,390 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hotel Irvine

Borrow-A-Bike program with maps of local trails; free breakfast; free shuttle to airport; business center; Club 12 private lounge; fitness center; pool; 536 guest rooms; more than 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space.

Laguna Beach

Montage Laguna Beach


Dramatic backdrop of cliffs fronting the ocean; whale watching, dolphin, kayak tours; three restaurants; Forbes Five Star rated Spa Montage offers detox treatments and wraps; 248 guest rooms; 16,000 sq. ft. of event space.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach

High-end resort completed a major renovation in August; stunning mountain scenery; golf course; beautiful outdoor event venues and 6,000 sq. ft. indoors; 97 guest rooms.

Newport Beach/Costa Mesa

Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel

Boutique gem in Costa Mesa; 159 guest rooms; 23,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space.

Fairmont Newport Beach

The Spa Sante is a luxurious getaway with innovative treatments; 24-hour fitness center; free yoga; 444 guest rooms; 36,614 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa

Five minutes from John Wayne Airport (SNA); 486 guest rooms; 50,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space; 6,465-square-foot ballroom.

Island Hotel Newport Beach

Free Wi-Fi; fitness center; full-service business center; spa specializes in ultra-regenerative treatments; Oak Grill offers excellent cuisine; 292 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa

Pure Blu is a full-service spa with innovative treatments and massages; fitness center; two pools, 532 guest rooms; 31,999 sq. ft. of event space.

The Resort at Pelican Hill Newport Beach

Waterfront golf course; The Spa has 22 treatment rooms, personal trainers and wellness retreats; 332 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of event space.