Whether it’s the sea kissing sandy shores or a mighty river surging along bucolic banks, the water calls to us. Perhaps it’s because so much of our bodies is made up of water, or maybe it’s the opportunity for fun water affords in it and above it. Whatever the reason, water can soothe, inspire and energize, making a waterside locale a great place to host a meeting.
Nowhere is that truer than in the South, where warm temperatures and bright sunshine combine to make Adam’s ale even more appealing. When planning your next event, you might want to treat your attendees with a meeting in one of these waterfront cities.
Nags Head, North Carolina
With 12 miles of oceanfront and loads more shoreline mere minutes away, Nags Head, North Carolina, makes a spectacular setting for meetings.
“You have access to more than a hundred miles of beaches across four islands,” said Aaron Tuell, public relations manager for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “There are three national park sites and several other wildlife refuges and state parks that surround the Outer Banks villages, preserving the splendor and providing for recreation in the pristine coastal environment that’ll be the setting for your small to midsize gathering.”
If groups can tear themselves away from the sand and surf, the Outer Banks is filled with fantastic meeting venues. The luxe Sanderling Resort offers a wide variety of spaces, like the just-renovated Event House, with first- and second-floor facilities and an oceanside event lawn. In Nags Head, the Haven on the Banks, opening this year, will feature an event center that can seat 180 and cottage lodging.
As befitting such an iconic seaside destination, there are abundant ways to enjoy the water in Nags Head, including dolphin-watching tours and fishing from Jennette’s Pier. Instruction and gear are available for groups at the pier, and there’s a 3,500-square-foot banquet room there, too. Slightly further afield, attendees can grab some wheels from Outer Banks Jeep Rentals and take a spin on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which borders Nags Head.
For meeting attendees who love adventure, Richmond, Virginia, offers what no other Southern city can: Class IV whitewater right in the middle of town. The fast-flowing James River runs through Virginia’s capital, and companies like Riverside Outfitters can create customized group rafting tours as well as paddleboarding, kayaking and tubing trips. Meanwhile, history buffs will want to climb aboard a narrated cruise of Kanawha Canal, which was designed by George Washington, or visit the American Civil War Museum. Located along the riverfront, it’s available for receptions and small meetings.
“There are a lot of options here for a wide variety of people,” said Richmond region tourism director of convention and sports services Matt Robinette. “You could be the adventure traveler, the history traveler or the sophisticated traveler who’s looking for that luxury experience.”
Speaking of luxury, Richmond’s opulent gem, the Jefferson, boasts 26,000 square feet for conferences in locations like the Rotunda. The Quirk Hotel specializes in smaller events, with 3,000 square feet of sleek, modern space, including a rooftop venue. The Greater Richmond Convention Center is another option, with 36 meeting rooms in 80,000 square feet of meeting space.
With a diverse assortment of conference spaces as well as opportunities for water adventures from mild to wild, Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the South’s best for meetings, according to Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi.
“Meeting planners will discover a unique, versatile region with the perfect combination of amenities and activities to suit all needs,” he said, “along with a dedicated team of industry professionals at Coastal Mississippi who are eager to assist groups.”
Among the city’s more impressive venues is the 400,000-square-foot Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, which offers four halls that can be combined or broken down into smaller rooms, three lobby areas and an exhibit hall. Another popular site for conferences is the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. It features three ballrooms that can be split into smaller areas, the 520-square-foot Oaks Boardroom and five other intimate spaces, for a total of 50,000 square feet.
Once the day’s work is done, Biloxi impresses with activities that get guests out on the gulf. The Biloxi Shrimping Trip takes visitors on an exciting and educational expedition to net shrimp and other sea life, and the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum offers sailings aboard its Biloxi oyster schooner replicas. Or attendees can board the Betsy Ann sternwheel paddleboat for a two-hour cruise through the Mississippi Sound and Back Bay.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Bayou State’s energetic capital, benefits from its spectacular location on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, but that’s not all it offers meetings, according to Courtney Taylor, director of destination experience for Visit Baton Rouge.
“Here, your attendees will find an abundance of vibrant music, cuisine, collegiate spirit, history and culture,” she said. “Baton Rouge offers a walkable downtown with over 9,000 hotel rooms in the city, as well as over 225,000 square feet of meeting space and various opportunities for dining and attractions.”
In addition to the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center’s 20,000 square feet of event space, which is spread over more than a dozen individual rooms, the city also provides a number of waterside facilities. The Estuary at the Water campus sits on the Mississippi itself, affording attendees a stunning view from its deck, and Raising Cane’s River Center on the riverfront features an exhibit hall with more than 200,000 square feet.
Whether planners are looking for an unusual site for a function, or a unique downtime activity, the USS Kidd, a World War II Destroyer docked on the Mississippi, hosts events as well as group tours. Or culture-loving attendees could visit the Shaw Center for the Arts; get a great look at the water from its rooftop restaurant, Tsunami Sushi; and then take in some of Baton Rouge’s fantastic riverside art.
Charleston, South Carolina
Located on Charleston Harbor, beloved Charleston, South Carolina, features a wide range of impressive meeting facilities, like the recently restored Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel, a more-than-160-year-old beauty with 10,000 square feet of conference space, including 11 rooms. In North Charleston, the Charleston Area Convention Center Campus provides 150,000 square feet for gatherings, and the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant offers a waterside setting and 6,000 square feet of event space.
Of course, “America’s most European city” really shines thanks to its leisure-time attractions, making it “the ideal location for small meetings because of the unique mix of history, food, shopping, arts and culture that come together in a setting that allows for year-round enjoyment of the outdoors and our beaches,” said Doug Warner, Explore Charleston’s vice president of media and innovation development.
Waterside opportunities for fun are almost unlimited in this low country city and range from taking in the marine life at the South Carolina Aquarium to touring the infamous Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. Attendees who would like to cruise the harbor can hop aboard the Schooner Pride, a three-masted tall ship.