From the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to secluded island nature preserves, the Carolinas offer scenic destinations enough for the most ardent outdoor enthusiast. Meeting planners can take advantage of these locations through teambuilding and organized outdoor activities.
Wilmington, North Carolina
With its nearby island beaches and its scenic Riverwalk along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington has much to offer visitors. The River District has more than 200 restaurants, shops and attractions, all within walking distance of the 107,000-square-foot Wilmington Convention Center. The facility brings in plenty of natural light and offers meeting-goers wonderful views of the riverfront. It can accommodate groups of as many as 2,000 people.
Wilmington’s Convention District has numerous nearby hotels, with nearly 900 rooms and suites. The largest convention hotels are the Embassy Suites Wilmington Riverfront Hotel, next door to the convention center; the Hotel Ballast Tapestry Collection by Hilton; and the Best Western Plus Coastline Inn. New properties under construction in the area include the Aloft Coastline Hotel and the Hampton Inn Wilmington Downtown. The Embassy Suites has 6,600 square feet of meeting space and a 4,000-square-foot rooftop bar that can accommodate larger groups.
Groups that book meetings in Wilmington can organize horse-drawn carriage and Segway tours, or history, craft beer and themed walking tours of the area. Many groups take advantage of the water by organizing kayaking, surfing and canoeing excursions; biking and hiking along nature trails; narrated cruises and culinary adventures.
Wilmington has one of the largest historic districts in the country, with 230-plus buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its proximity to three beach towns — Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville — also makes it desirable to visitors.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Situated right on the coast of South Carolina in Port Royal Sound, historic Beaufort offers meeting planners something they can’t get anywhere else: a slower pace dictated by the tidal schedule.
Founded in 1711, Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina. Its historical downtown and its large population of Gullah people make it a must-visit destination.
Beaufort attracts more than a million visitors a year and, because of its waterfront location, is well known for its fresh seafood and water-based activities. Many of Beaufort’s best meeting locations are in nontraditional, intimate locations, like the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center, which has a small meeting space for executive board meetings. It is a great location if groups want to participate in teambuilding. They can learn how to cast a net on the river or do some crabbing off the dock.
“One thing that makes Beaufort so special is so much water access,” said Linda Jeffries, director of sales for Visit Beaufort. The Beaufort Holiday Inn and Suites, which is Beaufort’s main meeting hotel, sits right on the marsh, and guests of the historic Beaufort Inn are only a block away from the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.
The Beaufort Inn can host groups of up to 200 people in its Tabby Place Conference Center. The inn has several outdoor courtyards that offer both a taste of nature and a feeling of intimacy, surrounded by downtown Beaufort’s Victorian-era homes and cottages.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
One of the top island destinations in the United States, Hilton Head is known for its 12 miles of pristine beaches, resorts and golf courses and more than 60 miles of leisure trails for hiking and biking. Groups that choose to hold meetings on the island can organize dolphin-watching cruises, stand-up paddleboarding lessons or teambuilding excursions at a private island. Many organize zip-line tours at Aerial Adventure and Zipline Hilton Head.
Numerous resorts on the island have meeting facilities that can accommodate large groups, including the Marriott Hilton Head Resort and Spa, with 46,000 square feet of dynamic meeting space and outdoor oceanfront venues; the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, an oceanfront resort with 37,000 square feet of meeting space that includes its new Grand Ocean Terrace; and the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a 200-room resort with 16,000 square feet of meeting space.
History buffs can tour the Coastal Discovery Museum, a museum housed at the historic Honey Horn Plantation, or take a tour of Mitchelville, the first self-governed town of freed slaves in South Carolina.
“Gullah culture lives on through many sites and people on Hilton Head Island,” said Charlie Clark, vice president of communication at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
Groups can tour the Heyward House, one of eight antebellum homes in Bluffton, or browse the Old Town’s many art galleries and boutique shops.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Beaufort, North Carolina, is part of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast and the gateway to Cape Lookout National Seashore. The third-oldest town in the state, Beaufort attracts history and maritime enthusiasts from across the country.
Visitors to the area not only appreciate the area’s beautiful waterfront but also love to explore the many natural wonders that are easy to reach from Beaufort.
The newest meeting venue in the area is the Beaufort Hotel, which sits right on Taylor Creek and has amazing views of the boats and yachts in the marina. The grand ballroom has 10,000 square feet of event space and can accommodate 375 people for a banquet. The Celebration Cottage is an event space right on Atlantic Beach. It can host groups of up to 250 guests and offers catering through its Island Grille restaurant.
The Island Express Ferry Service provides transportation to Harkers Island, home to Cape Lookout National Seashore, with its 56 miles of pristine beaches and herd of wild horses, and the distinctive Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Kayak tours are a must to visit the Rachel Carson Reserve, which sits directly across Taylor Creek from Beaufort. The reserve includes four small islands and another herd of wild horses.
The North Carolina Maritime Museum is home to more than 300 artifacts pulled from the wreck of Blackbeard’s pirate ship.
Asheville, North Carolina
The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains tower over Asheville, North Carolina, making the city a gateway to outdoor adventure. The city itself has nearly 1 million acres of protected wilderness and thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails for those who love to get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Meeting planners can take advantage of the marvelous mountain views by hosting events at some of the area’s popular rooftop spaces. The AC Hotel Asheville Downtown has a rooftop bar called Capella on 9 that is a wonderful space to host a cocktail reception or an office party. Both the bar and the hotel’s ballroom, which is on the top floor of the hotel, offer incredible, uninterrupted views of the mountains to the West. The Omni Grove Park Inn is Asheville’s largest conference hotel. Its west-facing terrace is a great outdoor spot for meetings or receptions.
The Hilton Garden Inn Asheville also has a rooftop space called the Pillar Rooftop Bar that can be rented out for private events. The hotel has 3,000 square feet of meeting space and 140 guest rooms.
Asheville sits on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic byway that wends 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains. North of Asheville, visitors can visit Craggy Gardens, which hosts a visitor center and shop, or explore Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River.
The 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, a former home of the Vanderbilt family that features amazing formal gardens and wonderful views of the surrounding mountains, is a desirable off-site venue for formal dinners or cocktail receptions. Groups that rent out part of the estate can also tour the home and grounds.