Lots of Lodging
When it comes to top meetings hotels, a recent entry into the Norfolk landscape is stealing the show. Hilton, Norfolk, the Main, better known as simply the Main, is a stylish hub of event spaces and fine dining along the city’s waterfront that opened just last year. The Main’s conference space, dubbed the Exchange, includes the largest ballroom in Virginia among its 42,000 square feet of snazzy event space, and its array of top-tier restaurants includes Saltine, a sophisticated seafood establishment with some superb private-dining spaces. Other highlights of the 23-story property include a heated indoor pool and a rooftop garden lounge.
Another major meetings magnet is the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, which bills itself as the only lodging in town directly along the water. With 468 guest rooms and 46,000 square feet of function space, the property can handle groups of almost any size. The venue recently completed a $12 million overhaul that included robust room renovations and a remodeling of the conference center.
Allen said although details are still sparse, excitement is building over the planned debut of a Marriott Autograph Collection property next year in the city’s historic Royster Building on Granby Street; the hotel of about 120 rooms will include fine dining and a permanent glass-art gallery.
The famed Chrysler Museum is one of the first places that leaps to mind for Allen when she is asked about amazing off-sites. Its wide-ranging collection features works by artists such as Rubens, Manet, Matisse, Hopper, Pollock and Warhol among many others. The Chrysler is also a trove of enchanting event spaces, including Huber Court, which can accommodate 700 for a standing reception beneath a high, arched glass ceiling, and the Glass Shop, where up to 120 guests can drink and dine while taking in live glassblowing demonstrations.
The Norfolk Botanical Gardens isn’t just a thriving hub of gorgeous fauna; it is also a meetings and events hot spot. Sprawling across 175 acres intersected by seven miles of hiking paths, the gardens are divided into distinct areas, such as a Rose Garden and an Enchanted Forest. Surrounded by water on three sides, the venue offers tours not only by foot and tram, but by boat as well, with one special lunch tour combining all three.
The venue has a gamut of event areas for rent, including eight outdoor gardens and lawns, and indoor options that include the regal Rose Garden Hall, which can host functions for up to 200. Another compelling possibility is the intimate Garden Café, with its outdoor patio that overlooks the breathtaking Japanese Gardens.
The Nauticus compound is worthwhile even if you’re not planning a visit to the Battleship Wisconsin. The venue is also host to an acclaimed Maritime Center, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, a 350-seat theater that frequently shows 3D films and a gift shop.
Just a short drive from downtown, the Hermitage Museum is a serene retreat of open green spaces, a historic home and impressive art displays. The venue offers a handful of different tours and is home to some gorgeous al fresco function spaces on its 12-acre grounds.
Norfolk’s culinary scene is thriving, with about 80 new chef-owned restaurants that have opened around the downtown in recent years. Allen said although you can find almost any kind of fresh seafood in the area, blue crab and oysters are favorites, and the city is in full step with the fresh/local flavors focus so in vogue.
Two establishments Allen particularly recommended are Byrd and Baldwin, an upscale steak and chop house that also has a vast array of seafood treats on the menu, including raw shucked oysters and Maryland crab cakes; and Todd Jurich’s, a hip bistro that puts its own special twist on old classics such as cherry duck and meatloaf. Both restaurants are suitable for both small groups of attendees dining out on their own and organized dinner affairs, as each has private dining spaces, including some elegant brick-lined spaces at Byrd and Baldwin.
Norfolk also has a cool but low-key sports scene with minor league hockey and baseball. In wintertime, groups can take in a Norfolk Admirals ice hockey match at The Scope, a 9,000-seat arena. Come spring and summer, planners can ponder taking their attendees to a Norfolk Tides baseball game at Harbor Park; the venue offers a wide array of cool group spaces, plus perks like letting a group VIP throw out the first pitch.
Location: Southern Virginia coast
Access: Norfolk International Airport; interstates 64 and 264
Major Meeting Spaces: Norfolk Waterside Marriott; Waterside District venue; Half Moone Center
Hotel Rooms: 5,000-plus
Offsite Venues: Chrysler Museum, Hermitage Museum and Gardens, Nauticus