College towns make great places to host meetings and conferences because of their many on-campus venues; their access to guest speakers; and the restaurants, bars and shopping districts that inevitably pop up around them. Here are a few of the best college towns in Texas.
Bryan and College Station
Texas A&M University is one of the largest universities in the country, with nearly 60,000 students. Founded in 1876 through a Texas land grant, the university dominates the small towns of Bryan and College Station. Bryan was there first and began to boom once the university began to take shape.
“It’s a very unusual small Texas town,” said Sophie Curtis, director of conventions at Experience Bryan College Station. “There is no downtown. It is not built on a square. It was truly built around the Texas A&M campus.”
Because of Texas A&M, Bryan and College Station are major destinations in the state. The university attracts visitors from across the country for Aggie sporting events, like football and basketball games. With more than 6,000 guest rooms and 60 hotels in the area, Bryan-College Station is a great location for a meeting or conference. The Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center on campus has 250 guest rooms and 35,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The ballroom can host events of up to 1,000 people.
The center also offers team-building events like laser tag, archery, a bike tour of the city and a derby car building challenge and race. The Embassy Suites by Hilton College Station and the Hilton College Station are both full-service conference hotels with 27,000 square feet of meeting space between them.
The courthouse and downtown area have undergone a revitalization. The area is now home to restaurants, bars, antique shops and an old-time movie house, the Queen Theatre. And visitors to the area should make a point of touring the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
The home of Texas State University, San Marcos sits at the headwaters of the San Marcos River. Hundreds of natural springs bubble up in the center of town, feeding the river. Groups visiting the area love to take a glass-bottom boat tour of the springs and river. Meeting planners love San Marcos because it sits between San Antonio and Austin, two cities that are home to many corporate headquarters. Houston is about two and a half hours away.
“We make a triangle, a good meeting spot to bring people together,” said Denise Pardo, destination services manager for the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau. “We are pretty accessible. The conference center is right off Interstate 35. It is not a hassle to connect to major roads to get to us.”
Texas State University is a big draw for conferences and has a lot of meeting spaces on campus. The LBJ Student Center can accommodate groups of up to 300 in its main ballroom.
“Within that facility, they just completed a renovation and added several small meeting rooms,” said Pardo. “Another thing the university brings to us is quality of life. They have a really amazing performing arts department.”
The Performing Arts Center is a big cultural draw and a fantastic place to host a concert, event or speaking engagement. There are 36 hotels and 2,600 guest rooms in San Marcos. Its newest hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, is set to open this spring. It is adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott, so the two will be great for groups looking for several rooms. The conference center can host groups of up to 1,300 people.
Stephenville bills itself as the cowboy capital of the world and the birthplace of the waffle fry. Visitors to Stephenville like to tour Tarleton State University (TSU), see a rodeo or sample the town’s famous chicken fry.
“Tarleton is growing,” said Julie Smith, manager of the Stephenville Tourism and Visitor Bureau. “It is truly the lifeblood of our community, and we are growing with it. I’m so proud of how Tarleton has changed and grown.”
The university and Stephenville have worked together as partners for more than 100 years. When meetings and conferences come to town, attendees split their time between Tarleton event venues and the city’s hotel and conference facilities. The university student center has a ballroom that can hold up to 500 people, as well as multiple small breakout rooms. Across campus, there are numerous auditoriums and theaters that can host events for up to 725 people.
Off campus, the Twisted J Ballroom and the City Limits facilities can hold groups of up to 500. A historic courtroom in Stephenville’s Erath County Courthouse can handle groups of up to 75.
The agricultural town has a rich dairy heritage. Its town mascot is a 50-year-old statue of a cow, and visitors to the area love to tour the TSU Southwest Regional Dairy Center, which has a state-of-the-art dairy carousel. The nearby artisan cheese farm and shop is a must-see, and Stephenville has a rich Texas music scene.
“It is neat for small meetings to come and have those rural experiences,” Smith said.
McAllen is seven miles from the Mexican border. Because of that, the city relies on Mexican nationals to come across the border to do their shopping, host their meetings and conferences, and attend sporting events in the town’s extensive sports facilities.
McAllen is also home to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and South Texas College campuses, which have brought a young population and workforce to the area.
In 2013, the city opened a sports facility with nine multipurpose fields, which has become a major host of international soccer tournaments. About a year ago, the city opened a baseball park with 11 baseball fields, and it also has become a major Texas destination.
The McAllen Convention Center has a 60,818-square-foot exhibit hall, a grand ballroom, two boardrooms and up to 16 breakout rooms for meetings and smaller events. About three years ago, four hotels opened adjacent to the convention center. Shopping and restaurants popped up around it, and now, the entire area is a destination called the District. The McAllen Performing Arts Center is also adjacent and can seat 1,800 people in the theater. Its common areas, lobby and multipurpose room can also be rented out for events.
The Quinta Mazatlan, a history museum and urban birding sanctuary, is an excellent off-site venue for smaller meetings or receptions.
On the Brazos River, Waco is home to Baylor University. Because of its location in the center of Texas, Waco is a convenient spot for meetings and conventions. Its two convention hotels, the Hilton Waco and the Courtyard by Marriott Waco, are within walking distance of the convention center, and the entire area is surrounded by restaurants, clubs and fun places to play darts or shuffleboard. The convention center has 144,000 square feet of meeting space.
Baylor’s sports teams attract many visitors to the area. One of the premier meeting places in town is the Baylor Club, which is in an enclosed part of McLane Stadium overlooking the downtown skyline, the river and the stadium. Many of the conventions held at Baylor spill over into the convention center and smaller venues throughout Waco.
“Baylor is such a big driver of the community,” said Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You will see it represented all over in a small college town like this.”
Waco has 3,700 hotel rooms citywide, 500 additional hotel rooms under construction and 700 proposed. Groups meeting in the area should visit the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Waco Mammoth National Monument and the Magnolia Market at the Silos, which was started by Chip and Joanna Gaines from the television show “Fixer Upper.”