It may seem like a tall order to find a venue that appropriately honors the sacrifices and significance that accompany a role in the U.S. military, but there’s no better place to look than a town with great military heritage.
From coast to coast, these towns often began as military settlements with rich histories. In addition to having unique and historic venues, they are exceptionally friendly to those in the service, with many of their local hotels, restaurants and shops offering military discounts. This makes them exceptional locales for military ceremonies, reunions, meetings and other events.
Thanks to the mix of freshwater and saltwater where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic, the waters in Norfolk never freeze. That’s one reason why Norfolk became a U.S. Naval Base. Another is its long past intertwined with major events in American history. Today, the lively city is home to the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the last U.S. battleships ever commissioned. Norfolk is also the final resting place of famed General Douglas MacArthur. Its ties to the military make it the perfect East Coast destination for military events.
“Naval Station Norfolk is the largest by land,” said Mel Hopper, associate director of tour and travel at Visit Norfolk.
As a prominent Navy town, Norfolk has many impressive and unique venues on the water, which should come as no surprise. The Battleship Wisconsin offers an unforgettable venue for military events, with multiple distinct indoor and outdoor spaces available for attendees. The ship’s main deck, which features views of the gun turret and Norfolk’s skyline, can accommodate up to 600 reception-style, while the fantail can accommodate up to 250 seated attendees. For a more intimate indoor setting, the officer’s wardroom provides seating for up to 80 guests.
Groups with up to 55 attendees can take a sunset cruise along the Elizabeth River on the Schooner Virginia, with private charters being available during the year’s warmer months. Another distinct venue for military events is the MacArthur Memorial, which honors the late general. The memorial contains multiple classrooms, a visitors center and a theater seating up to 200 occupants. Norfolk also has plenty of hotels with meeting and event space, including the Main, the Marriott and the Sheraton.
Pensacola was first established by Spanish settlers in 1559 and has been owned by several different countries over the years, earning it nicknames such as “America’s First Settlement” and “The City of Five Flags.” It should come as no surprise that a city this old has played an important role in the development of America’s military. In 1914, Pensacola became America’s first dedicated Naval Air Station. Today, it’s also home to the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron.
In addition to its military contributions, it features a vibrant and walkable downtown with plenty of shopping, dining and nightlife.
“Pensacola actually is the cradle of naval aviation for the city’s development of the U.S. Navy,” said Kaya Man, destination sales manager at Visit Pensacola.
In addition to its famous beaches, Pensacola has a variety of unique venues that serve as excellent backdrops for a distinguished military event. The Historic Pensacola Museum complex, eight and a half acres of cobblestone streets and historic buildings designed to look like the Pensacola of several centuries ago, contains multiple museum venues. Trader Jon’s, a museum replica of a historic bar frequented by military personnel, can accommodate up to 75 guests reception-style.
Events such as military meetings and reunions can also be held at Pensacola’s beachfront hotels, such as the Hilton Pensacola Beach, which can seat 200 for a banquet and offers four breakout rooms. Current and retired service members and their families can visit the Naval Aviation Museum to see historic aircrafts and military memorabilia. Any visitor to the Pensacola area can appreciate its military heritage as they watch the Blue Angels take flight at practice or in an air show.
Known as the first city of Kansas and the post that opened the West, Leavenworth is home to Fort Leavenworth, the oldest active military fort west of the Mississippi. The fort, founded in 1827, is eight square miles in the hillsides near the Missouri River. Today, it’s known as the Intellectual Center of the Army, as it’s home to several military institutes and schools. Leavenworth played an important role in supplying pioneers passing through during the westward expansion.
Because of the city’s rich history and its active army base, it’s an ideal destination for Midwestern military events. Its quaint downtown also offers a rich local arts scene, a hand-crafted carousel, and shopping and dining for attendees to enjoy in their downtime.
“Not only can you visit an active army fort and delve back into the history of that, there are just a lot of attractions in our area,” said Kristi Lee, director of the Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Reunions, meetings and events can be held at Fort Leavenworth’s Frontier Conference Center, which can accommodate up to 500. Attendees can also tour the area to see the Frontier Army Museum, as well as a piece of the Berlin Wall, a historic
disciplinary barracks and a national military cemetery. Events can also be held at the Riverfront Community and Convention Center, a 53,000-square-foot converted railroad depot with river views and four distinct meeting spaces. The convention center can seat up to 675 total and provides both catering options and audiovisual services.
While most people know Hawaii as a beautiful island vacation destination, the U.S. military has long recognized the islands’ strategic significance. The strong military connection with Hawaii was elevated with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and today Hawaii is unique because it features all five branches of the military. Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island, and Honolulu, its capital, has no shortage of military-friendly venues for reunions, conferences and meetings.
“We have a very healthy military community here in Hawaii, and I think that in itself is a drawing point,” said Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, executive director at the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
Waikiki, a Honolulu neighborhood, offers a wide range of different hotels and resorts that offer special accommodations for military groups, including the Hale Koa Hotel, reserved exclusively for military personnel. The Hawaii Convention Center, also located in Honolulu, offers a modern, nature-inspired venue with an abundance of meeting and exhibition space, including a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and two theaters.
Events or ceremonies can also be held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which contains a visitors center and museums that can be used as historic
venues for military-themed meetings and events. The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is one such venue, as is the newly renovated Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum. Events can also be held on the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the battleship where the treaty that ended the World War II was signed.
While Fort Campbell’s official location may be in Kentucky, the majority of the U.S. Army installation is actually in Clarksville, Tennessee. Fort Campbell, built in 1941, is home to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and is an active base responsible for training. Many soldiers and their families live on the Clarksville side of the installation. Just 45 minutes outside of Nashville, Clarksville is known for being a military-friendly town and has been hosting the Welcome Home Veterans event annually for the past eight years. Clarksville also boasts a diverse food scene and plenty of hospitality, which only add to its appeal as an events destination.
“Everyone who comes to Clarksville often comments that it’s a very welcoming city,” said Karyl Kirkland, director of tourism/special events marketing at Visit Clarksville.
ID-holding service members can tour Fort Campbell, while the Don F. Pratt Museum on the base is open to the public. There are plenty of venues popular for military meetings and events, such as the Wilma Rudolph Event Center, named for the late track and field Olympic champion. The center can accommodate up to 1,000 reception-style or 500 for a seated event, banquet or meeting, and offers audiovisual equipment and a list of approved caterers.
Another popular site is the Customs House Museum, an elegant venue in downtown Clarksville with several distinct spaces for events, including galleries, a courtyard and boardrooms. Hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn and TownePlace Suites in Clarksville are also full-service meeting venues.