Small Pennsylvania towns make an obvious destination for those looking to escape the big cities of the East Coast.
The natural choice for these travelers is a destination in Pennsylvania’s northeast corridor, which is dominated primarily by two distinct regions: the Poconos and Lackawanna County. The Poconos are instantly recognizable as a renowned East Coast vacation destination, but the second is an area that has quite a different claim to fame. Lackawanna County is known for two things: its prominence in the production of coal and silk during the Industrial Revolution, and the American version of the television show “The Office.” The area’s largest city, Scranton, is where the popular comedy series is set.
Scranton on the Rise
The televised Scranton is painted as a post-industrial blue-collar town.
“The show’s fairly accurate,” said Susan Estler, the executive director of the Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau, who noted that the down-to-earth feel hasn’t left since the time of the city’s rise to prominence during the coal revolution. “However, the area has really seen a resurgence in the past several years,” she said, “due both to economic opportunities and the fact that it has that same small-town look and feel.”
Estler explained that its proximity to New York City and Hartford, Connecticut, approximately a three-hour drive from each, and even Boston, just five hours away, has made it a popular relocation spot for young professionals seeking to get out of the big city.
“The area is also beautiful,” said Estler. “Come during fall foliage season, and you’ll see what I mean.”
For groups looking to hold meetings in the area, this resurgence of culture has created numerous options for both venues and entertainment. One of the first spaces Estler mentioned is the Lackawanna Station Hotel, operated by Radisson. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this landmark building, which was once a passenger train station, is now a six-story, full-service haven for leisure and business travelers alike. The space can accommodate events for as many as 1,000 attendees.
Around the corner from the Radisson are a Hilton and a Four Points by Sheraton, which offer meeting spaces for groups of similar size. This trifecta of large hotels makes Scranton a natural choice for a large convention or a multiday meeting, where guests may seek diverse lodging options.
For a more intimate event, Estler recommended the Scranton Cultural Center. This historic behemoth sits in Scranton’s downtown and was originally constructed as a Masonic Temple and Scottish Rite Cathedral. It continues to serve those purposes today, along with playing host to a variety of musical and theatrical productions. The Gothic-style building is ripe with secret passageways, cathedral ceilings and amenities that are sure to stimulate guests’ minds and imaginations.
The Pristine Poconos
Industrial Scranton’s neighbor to the southeast is the second iconic area of Pennsylvania’s northeast region: the Pocono Mountains. This area officially comprises four counties: Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne.
“There’s just so many options,” said Elizabeth Richardson, public relations manager for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, when asked about the best places for meetings in the 2,400-square-mile area. “If you’re doing a multiday event, I highly recommend having your own transportation and doing some exploring in multiple counties,” she said.
It takes about 45 minutes to drive through the region both north to south and east to west.
The appeal of the Poconos rests in the area’s stunning mountain views and activities centered around the great outdoors. “Team building is huge here for business groups,” said Richardson, noting that most major resorts and outfitters offer group classes for outdoor activities or facilitated team-building sessions.
One of these resorts, Skytop Lodge, is set on 5,500 acres of scenic mountainside, viewable from one of the highest peaks in the area. Skytop has 17 rooms for meetings, as well as dedicated staff to help plan events of all sizes. After a long day of seminars, guests may choose to duck into the on-site Skytop Spa or venture outdoors to participate in one of the resorts many excursions, among them golf, skiing, tubing, archery and team-building activities orchestrated through the Treetop Adventure Course.
The Poconos area is also preparing to welcome two new giants in the venue category: the Camelback Resort and the Kalahari Resort, both still under construction and slated to open by the end of this year, and both of which will have indoor water parks, restaurants and plenty of conference space.
To avoid the “vacationland” feel of some of the larger resorts, Richardson recommends looking at a boutique meeting venue option such as the French Manor Inn and Spa, which looks as if it was plucked directly out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. The stone lodge seated atop Huckleberry Mountain can comfortably accommodate up to 25 guests for meetings. The intimate setting is popular for board retreats, small companies and team-building weekends.
As you may guess, the area is as dotted with restaurants as it is mountain lodges and kayak rental companies. “It really depends on what you like,” said Richardson, who added that the constant influx of travelers supports eateries offering everything from Peruvian cuisine to fine dining and burgers.
This region of Pennsylvania has also seen a demographic shift in recent years.
“I think a lot of people don’t know how much the Poconos, over the last decade, has really changed,” said Richardson. “A generation or two ago, it was just known as a honeymoon destination, whereas now, there has been a huge influx of families and of business travelers.”
I-81 and I-84
Major meeting spaces
Four Points by Sheraton, Lackawanna Station, Scranton Cultural Center
Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House, The Leonard Theater, Everhart Museum