The Carolinas are home to some of the best waterfront destinations in the country, from isolated barrier island towns with pristine white-sand beaches to larger cities that front rivers or the Intracoastal Waterway. These beautiful waterfront destinations offer a variety of hotel and meeting venues as well as plenty of water activities and fun attractions to keep your meeting attendees occupied during their free time.
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Island is a 10,000-acre barrier island about 21 miles south of Charleston in South Carolina. It has 10 miles of beaches, maritime forests, marshes, sand dunes and plenty of wildlife to discover, including sea turtles, white-tailed deer, alligators, seabirds and bobcats. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a wonderful coastal setting for meetings and conferences. The resort has more than 500 private villas and luxury homes that provide 1,150 rooms. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is a 255-room luxury hotel and spa on property that resembles a grand seaside mansion. Its West Beach Conference Center has 23,000 square feet of pre-event and event space, including a 10,000-square-foot meeting room and 10 breakout rooms. The Sanctuary’s east wing includes many different meeting and event spaces, including the 6,000-square-foot Grand Oaks Ballroom and the Calhoun Boardroom. The Grand Lawn and Terrace offer oceanfront views for outdoor events.
Groups that want to take advantage of the beaches and water can kayak in the ocean or on the marshes; take an ecotour boat ride through Kiawah’s inlets, creeks and marshes searching for the Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin; book an inshore fishing charter; or do yoga on the beach.
Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head, in the Outer Banks, is one of the oldest beach communities in North Carolina. Legend has it that the name came from land pirates that would tie a lantern around a horse’s neck to make ships believe there was another ship between them and land. When their ships crashed onto shore, the pirates would steal their goods. Now, instead of piracy, the area is known for its beautiful beaches, three national park sites that are within a short drive of town and the Bodie Island Lighthouse.
Groups meeting in the area have their pick of 10 hotels; the largest include Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk, with 9,854 square feet of event space and 180 guest rooms, and the Comfort Inn Oceanfront South, with 7,471 square feet of meeting space and 105 guest rooms.
Nags Head is close to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, all of which make great spots for groups to visit. Jockey’s Ridge State Park, in the middle of town, covers 426 acres of natural sand dunes, which rise nearly 90 feet above sea level. More adventurous groups like to take hang gliding lessons there.
The Bodie Island Lighthouse, a few miles outside of town, is open for climbing. Groups that would like to get out on the water can book an excursion on the Crystal Dawn Head Boat out of Pirate’s Cove Marina on the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway. Groups can fish for flounder, sea bass, gray trout and more, or enjoy a sunset cruise on Roanoke Sound, where they can see Jockey’s Ridge and the Elizabeth II, a square-rigged sailing vessel.
Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Isle of Palms, which is not technically an island since it only has water on three sides, is best known for its beaches and vacation rentals and the expansive 1,600-acre Wild Dunes Resort. Groups that want to get away from Charleston, South Carolina, can host their meeting or event in the resort’s 35,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort opened its new 153-room hotel, the Sweetgrass Inn, in March 2021. The property added 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces, including a grand ballroom and terrace and a rooftop ballroom and terrace that feature panoramic views of the ocean. The hotel also features a 14-treatment-room destination spa, expanded pools and a poolside restaurant and bar. The Boardwalk Inn Hotel is a AAA four-diamond resort that has 93 coastal hotel rooms and suites; or groups can book rooms and suites through the Residences at Sweetgrass.
During their off hours, meeting attendees can take advantage of the resort’s pristine beaches or plan a group golf outing on the resort’s two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses. Groups that want to get out on the water can set up group kayaking or boating expeditions, an oyster clinic or skeet shooting, or schedule a group sail on the Schooner Pride, an 84-foot tall ship that berths in Charleston Harbor. Charleston is only 20 minutes away, so attendees also have the option to go to town, where they can take historic walking tours or nighttime ghost tours. Boats are also available to take groups out to Fort Sumter National Monument.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Beaufort sits on the Intracoastal Waterway in South Carolina, within boating distance of a handful of barrier islands.
Its waterfront location gives meeting planners plenty of outside meeting venues and water-based activities from which to choose. Hunting Island State Park is on a barrier island 15 miles east of Beaufort and has a beautiful lighthouse that groups can tour, as well as a covered pavilion where groups can host a meeting or luncheon on the beach. St. Phillips Island, Ted Turner’s former island retreat, can host smaller groups in his former beach home, or groups can organize an ecotour of the island through Coastal Expeditions, exploring the island’s dense foliage, salt marshes and tidal creeks looking for wildlife.
Coastal Expeditions also offers dolphin tours and cocktail or moonlight cruises in the area on its 38-passenger boats. Groups can also rent paddleboards or kayaks to tour local creeks or the Intracoastal Waterway.
Bay Street in Beaufort, which fronts the water, offers a plethora of locally owned shops and restaurants, and the seafood options are fresh and plentiful. The largest meeting hotel in Beaufort is about a block off the water.
The Beaufort Inn has 48 guest rooms and meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 300 guests. The inn plans to build a 65-room hotel across the street from its current guest cottages and one additional 14-room cottage. The project will open in the first quarter of 2023. As part of the renovation, the hotel will increase its indoor meeting spaces to 12,000 square feet and its outdoor venues to 17,000 square feet.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Nestled along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington, North Carolina, is known for its beautiful island beaches: Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville, all within easy driving distance of downtown. Historic Wilmington has plenty of outside activities that meeting planners can schedule into meetings and conferences held in the area, including history, craft beer and themed walking tours; canoe and kayak excursions; narrated cruises; and culinary adventures.
There are plenty of meeting hotels right on the water. Groups can tour the battleship North Carolina, which is moored across the river from downtown Wilmington, or host an event on the ship’s fantail or in Battleship Park. They can also tour a historic Civil War fort at Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Kure Beach. The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is worth a visit, and groups love to stroll along the famed Carolina Beach Boardwalk.
The city’s Historic District and South Front District are full of older buildings that have been transformed into brewpubs, wine bars and hip restaurants. The North Waterfront Park and Amphitheater, which opens this summer in Wilmington’s Convention District, is a 6.6-acre green space that will be a great fit for large outdoor receptions and special events. The park has stunning views of the Cape Fear River and will be connected to the city’s Riverwalk.