It’s not just the easy commute to the city, the enjoyable pace of life and the countless conveniences that make Southern suburbs such desirable places for many meeting planners and eventgoers. Unlike larger cities, it’s the suburbs where visitors can find that authentic Southern charm and charisma in an environment that’s all at once affordable and upscale.
Suburban meetings and events often have all the same bells and whistles as more urban locations, with outstanding culinary offerings and local entertainment options. The beauty of meeting in the suburbs is that it often comes without the headache of worrying about parking, traffic jams and high hotel rates.
From a suburb often defined by its vibrant culture and even more vibrant cuisine to a Tennessee suburb with a music scene that’s giving Nashville a run for its money, here are some great Southern suburbs to consider for your next meeting or event.
If a smile isn’t the first welcome visitors receive when they arrive in Lafayette, Louisiana, they must have missed the exit. Often referred to as the Happiest City in America, Lafayette is filled with people looking for a place to have a good time. The city is in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole country, and is the birthplace of Cajun zydeco music.
“One of the things I always like to point out is a lot of areas have great facilities, but when the meeting is over, that’s what differentiates towns,” said Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Visitors and Convention Center. “Here in Lafayette, in the heart of Cajun and Creole country, people have the chance to be immersed in Cajun and Creole culture. There’s a Chili’s in every city in America, but there’s not a Charlie G’s, Café Vermillionville and Judice Inns. There’s only one of those in the world.”
Lafayette is home to three full-service hotels, but the main meeting facility is the Cajun Dome Convention Center. The center just underwent a $22 million renovation of its 72,000-square-foot convention center and 13,500-seat arena. A brand new Rock ’n’ Bowl just opened in town with meeting space of its own, and Lafayette locals love the Blue Dog Café for its Sunday brunch and private meeting spaces.
It’s not a trip to Lafayette without taking part in a swamp tour on the Atchafalaya Basin or stopping in at the famous living-history museum, Vermillionville, for a journey back through time.
Winter Park, Florida
Just three miles outside Orlando, Florida, Winter Park was once the resort destination of choice for travelers looking to escape the harsh winters up north and trade them for the sunny, parklike setting of this Southern suburb. The resort town has grown over the years to include more than 70 parks, many that host a variety of events and celebrations throughout the year.
“We are currently building a new library and events center known as the Winter Park Canopy that will be open for meeting space in 2020,” said Clarissa Howard, director of communications for the city of Winter Park. “The building is designed by Sir David Adjaye, and we are excited about its grand opening next year.”
Winter Park is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of area theme parks. It’s known for Old World charm; brick-paved, tree-lined streets; and world-class museums and shopping. Top venues owned by the city include the Winter Park Community Center, the Winter Park Country Club and the Winter Park Farmers Market.
Before and after meetings, guests can gaze at the world’s largest collection of Tiffany glass at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, tour the estate homes by water on an open-air Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, play a round of golf at one of Florida’s historic golf trails or uncover the stories behind Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek’s work at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Nestled along South Carolina’s scenic waterways on Port Royal Island, the historic town of Beaufort is rich in antebellum charm and loaded with Southern hospitality. Moss-draped live-oak trees and Civil War-era homes add to the appeal of this prime meeting location.
“People have done the Charleston and Savannah meeting locations. And both are fantastic,” said Robb Wells, president and CEO of the Greater Beaufort/Port Royal SC Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but Beaufort has a small-town feel, and you get a coastal vibe. People also feel like it’s home. When people think of coastal South Carolina, in their heads they’re envisioning Beaufort. And when they come, they realize this is exactly what they hoped it would be. It is oozing with charm.”
Tabby Place is the top venue for meetings in town, with space to accommodate up to 350 people. One of the newer meeting venues in the city, having opened in 2016 inside the Beaufort Inn, Tabby Place offers indoor and outdoor meeting space with top-of-the-line amenities. The town also has traditional meeting spaces within a number of hotels, including the Holiday Inn and Suites in uptown Beaufort and the Hilton Garden Inn. A performing arts center at the University of South Carolina hosts the annual Beaufort International Film Festival and a range of other private events, meetings and traveling shows.
Wells and his team assist groups in organizing packages and activities before and after meetings and events; many people rave about the unique options in town.
“Whether you’re learning to crab or cast a shrimp net or just go out along with the dolphins, we’ve got your typical activities for a coastal community, and we have your not-so-typical, like how we have the only kazoo factory in America.”
Despite Franklin, Tennessee’s independent identity as one of the most vibrant towns in the South, its proximity to downtown Nashville — less than 17 miles, with many hotels as close as six miles from the Nashville city lines — has earned it the nickname Nashville South.
“One of the things that sets us apart is our downtown,” said Kathryn York, director of sales for Visit Franklin, Tennessee. “It’s rare that you would find such vibrant, lively restaurants, shops and music in a downtown as close to Nashville. It’s definitely more upscale and family-friendly here. Nashville is more mainstream, and here it’s more singer-songwriter. Among the restaurants, we only have six chains, so most are local owned. The feel to the area is definitely unique.”
The main meeting venue in town is the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Conference Center, with 24,360 square feet of flexible meeting space. The Embassy Suites Cool Springs also has meeting space for up to 1,200 guests.
Off-site options include the Factory at Franklin, a group of 11 Depression-era buildings that have been renovated into a shopping, dining and entertainment venue. There, the Liberty Hall, a 14,000-square-foot venue; Jameson Hall, a venue with theater seating for up to 800 guests; and a little brick theater with 125 seats are favorite options for meeting groups. Between meetings, groups can take advantage of a range of shops, restaurants and artisan coffee shops.
Downtown is another great options before and after meetings. Historic homes open for private dining, and the Franklin Theatre is the main act for a night out in this quaint suburb.
White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia
Home to the iconic resort The Greenbrier, White Sulfur Springs has been a top destination for groups since the early 19th century. Even then, this charming town drew visitors with its signature warm welcome: its natural mineral springs. The sulfur springs of this West Virginia suburb are renowned for their healing qualities, and they laid the foundation for the town’s star attraction, the Greenbrier resort.
The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark and a world-class luxury resort. The resort offers 710 rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest and estate homes, as well as 10 lobbies, a conference center and more than 40 meeting rooms. Celebrities, politicians and royals have all spent time within the 11,000 acres that play host to this stunning retreat. Part of the resort was built specifically for the U.S. government for use as a fallout shelter.
“The bunker was built for all 535 members of Congress during the Eisenhower era,” said Emily Hatfield, director of marketing and public relations for the West Virginia Tourism Office.
Visitors can tour the bunker, play a round of golf at the first-ever American golf course or take to the waters at the resort’s award-winning spa while in town for meetings or events. The Greenbrier also offers exclusive services and amenities such as fine dining, more than 55 activities, designer boutiques and a 103,000-square-foot gaming and entertainment venue.