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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Sandy and Scenic: Coastal Meeting Destinations

Traverse City, Michigan

Along the rich, blue waters of Lake Michigan, Traverse City provides an excellent getaway for meeting groups. In addition to the natural beauty of attractions like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was named one of the most beautiful places in the United States by ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the region’s sandy soil and temperate weather allows local agriculture to thrive, contributing to a vibrant culinary, wine and brewery scene in town. Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, producing nearly 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries. It is also home to over 40 wineries and 12 breweries.

“When you drive here, you’ll be on the highway and all of a sudden you stumble upon this incredible overlook of blue waters that look tropical,” said Jenny Jenness, media and public relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. “You find a culture of small-town hospitality with a twist of unexpected sophistication.”

For larger meetings and events, planners can use the 86,500-square-foot meeting facility in Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Nestled along the scenic Old Mission Peninsula, the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant and Brewery offers several private rooms for smaller groups. A local wine bar and cidery called Left Foot Charlie also recently opened its barrel room as a private event space. The winery is in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, an urban complex of cafes, bakeries and restaurants housed within the historic buildings of the former Traverse State Hospital.

For those interested in the local brewery scene, a company called Kayak, Bike and Brew offers an unusual beer-tasting experience where participants alternate between biking and kayaking to four local craft breweries in town, among them the Right Brain Brewery, the Filling Station Microbrewery, the Rare Bird Brewpub and the Workshop Brewing Company.

St. Augustine, Florida

With over 450 years of history, St. Augustine, Florida, offers a special kind of Old World charm, characterized by Spanish Colonial architecture, 42 miles of pristine beaches and year-round temperate weather.

Planners will discover abundant distinctive meeting venues in the historic city, such as the open-air St. Augustine Amphitheatre, the beautiful River House on the bank of the Matanzas River and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, in a former church. In the heart of downtown, the iconic Lightner Museum provides a breathtaking backdrop for events for up to 350 guests. The Treasury on the Plaza features a gorgeous 250-seat ballroom inside St. Augustine’s first and only skyscraper.

With 61,000 square feet of event space, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa is a golfer’s paradise, on Ponte Vedra Beach adjacent to the TPC Sawgrass, where the world-renowned Players Golf Championship takes place each spring.

After hours, groups can explore art galleries, live music scenes and local restaurants in St. Augustine’s historic shopping and dining district along Aviles and St. George streets. Several companies offer nightly ghost tours and haunted pub crawls throughout the city, and those with a sweet tooth may enjoy the chocolate-tasting tour at Whetstone Chocolatiers. Visitors can also experience local wildlife at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park, the only animal facility in the world that has every living species of crocodile.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

Meeting groups will find the perfect balance of business and pleasure at Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, which features 32 miles of white-sand beaches and a variety of after-hours entertainment. During the summer months, many attendees take the opportunity to turn the trip into a family vacation.

“People tend to have strong attendance numbers when meetings are held here because of the family attractions,” said Beth Gendler, vice president of sales at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.

The Perdido Beach Resort contains the largest conference center on the Gulf Coast, with over 45,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and two beautiful outdoor decks that overlook the coastline. The Island House Hotel, a DoubleTree by Hilton property, is another beachfront facility, with nearly 4,000 square feet of meeting space. Near the Wharf, the Orange Beach Event Center offers 18,000 square feet of flexible meeting space as well as an expansive prefunction area.

There are several scenic venues in the area for an after-hours reception or banquet, such as the Beach Pavilion at Gulf State Park and the seaside Gulf Restaurant, which was constructed from old shipping containers. The sailing company Sail Wild Hearts offers a relaxing sunset cruise with light hors d’oeuvres and other refreshments.

To get some fresh air after a meeting, groups can explore the coastal scenery along 25 miles of paved biking and walking paths in Gulf State Park. Other activities in the park include parasailing, Segway tours, paddleboarding and kayaking. Later in the day, many attendees stop by the iconic Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar for a juicy Bama Burger and a glass of the bar’s signature coconut and coffee cocktail, the Bushwacker.

The Wharf is one of the most popular family destinations in the area, featuring entertainment options such as laser tag, an arcade, a Ferris wheel, a movie theater and a brand-new zip line.