College road trip

Colleges & Universities


Here We Come

From Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, the University of California system is coasting with top-of-the-line services and scenery

By Selena Fragassi

“Find yourself here.” Who could forget the famous tagline of all those California tourism advertisements? When you look at the full array of the University of California schools, nothing could be closer to the truth for groups and planners looking for scenic and special event venues.

University of California, Los Angeles

The pinnacle of this L.A.-based school may be the Palisades Ballroom, a lavish 6,500-square-foot space that just opened at the property. “To have a hotel-style ballroom is pretty uncommon in the university setting,” says Jason Walley, director of conference services. So too is catering that beats most 4-star hotels. As Walley points out, the chefs at UCLA come from the 5-star Biltmore Hotel in L.A. Another feature inspired by hotels is the campus’ Courtyard Collection, a 100-room residence hall that offers deluxe furniture, queen size beds and linens for summer stays by conference guests. Nearby LAX, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Bel Air, UCLA offers “a value and price that’s way under a hotel in our market,” says Walley.

University of California, Santa Barbara

“We are right on the ocean, and there is beach access from various points on campus,” says Whitney Morris, assistant director of conference services at UCSB. Just like the sandy setting mere feet away, booking accommodations at the school is just as easy and breezy. “We have group room blocks and can coordinate your meeting space for you, plus we have the ability to work with our outdoor adventure program to round out your experience,” Morris says, noting such team-building activities as wall climbing, kayaking and surfing. Dining services are also second to none with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. “We can accommodate any type of dietary restriction, plus a large percentage of our food is locally sourced and organic.” UCSB makes sure it’s easy to enjoy all these services, with free shuttles for your arrival and departure day.

University of California, Santa Cruz


Guests visiting this coastal campus near San José might feel at home on the range. “The campus still has many historical buildings and sites from when it was a ranch and lime kiln operation,” says Zaunna Wells, operations manager, conference services at UCSC. That includes an operational, sustainable farm that provides organic produce for use in the dining halls. Yet that’s just the beginning of the unique attributes afforded to groups at this school. “UCSC is home to the very prestigious Shakespeare Santa Cruz program with outdoor performances held in a redwood glen,” says Wells of entertainment options that groups can book. Accommodations are available with more than 8,000 beds with most rates including meals and parking. Guests will also enjoy the walking and riding trails overlooking The Redwood Forest and Monterey Bay.

University of California, Riverside


One of the biggest advantages the Riverside school’s location offers is its One-Stop Shop operation. “We’ve combined dining, housing, catering and event services into one office,” says Robin Hungerford, general manager of catering. “So that means we can coordinate your parking, sleeping, eating, meeting and fun all in one department.” When she says fun, she means it, too. “Within a one-hour trip, a group could go for a swim in the ocean, take a hike in the mountains, head to the desert, take a tram or do a day trip in L.A.” That abundance of offerings has found UCR success in attracting prestigious groups like the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There’s more to come from the campus, too—by next year they will unveil a new apartment-style residence with a pool, meeting space, coffee shop and grill.

University of California, Davis


A big attraction at UC Davis is the brand new conference center the school hosts in a LEED certified building with zero waste event accommodations and state-of-the-art A/V services. “It offers the perfect blend of comfort and versatility,” says Pamela Nardinelli, marketing manager, conference and event services. Another unique setting is the UC Arboretum with a 3.5-mile path for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. The 100-acre garden property is available for rent for special events and offers “guided tours by UC experts and exhibits where guests can learn about sustainable gardening,” notes Nardinelli. It’s just a few of the reasons this campus won The Sierra Club’s national award in 2012 for environmental sustainability efforts.

University of California, Berkeley

Hate paperwork? UC Berkeley can help. “Planners work closely with our event services manager who walks them through all of the campus permits and policies and fills out the forms for them,” says Gabby McGrath, event manager, event services, at the university. “We can also coordinate all the rentals, linens, catering, A/V and other event needs.” Thanks to this flexibility, the school has been able to play host to a variety of functions including conferences, concerts, career fairs, lectures, “any event you can think of, we’ve hosted it,” says McGrath. The school’s most popular venue is the Anna Head Alumnae Center, which can seat lectures or banquets and also has a courtyard for receptions and registration. Another great feature? Says McGrath, “We have very competitive pricing.”

Tip: Find your perfect unique venue in  California (or anywhere!) with new, advanced search options on uniquevenues.com that let you browse  by region.