From pristine white sand beaches to top-notch golf courses, rich cultural heritage, amazing wildlife and every type of watersport imaginable, waterfront destinations in the South are wonderful locations for meeting planners who don’t want to work that hard to attract people to their events. Consider some of these beach and riverside destinations for your next event.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama are prime destinations for meeting groups that want to lie out on white sugar sand beaches, get out on the water or play a round of golf at one of the area’s 15 golf courses. Kiva Dunes, right on the water, and the Craft Farms Golf Resort are two of the most popular courses in the area.
There are more than 200 locally owned restaurants in the area, which is on the southernmost tip of Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico. The area is also home to the Coastal Arts Center and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Water lovers will appreciate playing in the saltwater of the Gulf, the brackish water of the back bays or the freshwater lakes in Gulf State Park.
There are more than 18,000 hotels rooms and condo units, as well as hundreds of beach houses along the water. Springhill Suites at The Wharf in Orange Beach is adjacent to the 18,000-square-foot Orange Beach Event Center, located on the Intracoastal Waterway. The center can host groups of up to 2,500 people. The Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, with its 344 guest rooms and 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and the Lodge at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shore, with its 350 sleeping rooms and 40,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, are both full-service hotels and offer the largest meeting spaces in the area. In their free time, groups can organize sunset or dolphin cruises, take glassblowing or pottery classes at the Coastal Arts Center or learn to build the best sandcastles at Sandcastle University.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach, Virginia, is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay meet and offers plenty of oceanfront resorts and fun water activities from which to choose. The city has seven distinct districts to explore. The Oceanfront district sits on a 3-mile-long boardwalk that features restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Some of the area’s top meeting resorts are right on the beach for easy access to the Atlantic.
In their downtime, attendees can grab a kayak or a paddleboard and enjoy the many waterways around Virginia Beach, take a whale- or dolphin-watching tour or visit the Virginia Beach Aquarium, the Military Aviation Museum, the Cape Henry Light House or the Surf and Rescue Museum.
A short drive south of the boardwalk, Sandbridge offers secluded beaches and sand dunes to explore; there’s also the marshes, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, where they can go kayaking, hiking, fishing and wildlife watching. First Landing State Park fronts the Chesapeake Bay and commemorates the 1607 arrival of the first English settlers in America.
Meeting planners have their pick of meeting venues, with the 500,000-square-foot Virginia Beach Convention Center being the largest and just about every oceanfront hotel and resort offering at least one small meeting space. The Holiday Inn Virginia Beach-Norfolk Hotel and Conference Center has 317 sleeping rooms and 22,000 square feet of meeting space that can host banquets for up to 450, while the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront has 25,000 square feet, including a 10,738-square-foot ballroom and 305 sleeping rooms. The Founders Inn and Spa, though not on the beach, has 40,000 square feet of meeting space and 240 guest rooms.
Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida
In Florida, Fort Myers and Sanibel have 50 miles of white sand beaches, over 12,000 hotel rooms and nearly 300,000 square feet of meeting space to choose from. Crystal-clear turquoise water, secluded islands, pristine beaches and a plethora of wildlife are the main attractions. Meeting attendees can go parasailing, rent watercraft, take a cruise out on the water or step back in time at the Mound House Museum, where they can learn about the native Calusa who lived in the area 2,000 years ago. The site also offers guided kayak tours along the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail and Estero Bay.
Luminary Hotel and Co. in downtown Fort Myers boasts 243 guest rooms and several smaller meeting spaces and is connected to the 41,176-square-foot Caloosa Sound Convention Center. The hotel has a rooftop bar, two restaurants and the Workshop, a state-of-the-art culinary theater.
The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs has its own private island. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the island by boat, but the ride is anything but boring, with pelicans, dolphins, eagles and osprey vying for your attention. The property has 82,500 square feet of meeting space.
The South Seas Island Resort resides within a 330-acre wildlife preserve on 2.5 miles of white sand beaches at the end of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The resort has 20 pools, guided cruises on the bay and a beachfront golf course. It has 28,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa has 45,000 square feet of meeting space and a luxurious 40,000-square-foot spa, a private fishing pier, a game room and a 100-foot yacht.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Bay St. Louis is just one of the many beautiful waterfront destinations in coastal Mississippi. Not only is it close to the many fun attractions in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, but it has a deep connection to African American history and culture. One of the area’s top meeting venues, 100 Men Hall, is on the Mississippi Blues Trail. The hall, founded in 1894, became one of the few places in the South where Black musicians could perform in the era of segregation, hosting legendary musicians such as Ray Charles, Etta James and Sam Cooke. The hall can hold about 400 people for a reception or concert.
Meeting attendees can take a scenic cruise out on the bay and along the Jordan River and its tributaries with Tiki Cruises; dine, grab a drink, or shop along the waterfront; or visit the Bay St. Louis Historic L&N Train Depot, which houses the Bay St. Louis Mardi Gras Museum and the Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum. Bay St. Louis has small, protected beaches to enjoy along the bay.
The Hollywood Casino and Resort Gulf Coast is the largest hotel in the area, with 291 rooms and 14,000 square feet of meeting space. Its Bridges Golf Club offers lessons at its 11-acre practice facility, and the staff can organize group outings or tournaments for the casino’s guests. It also has meeting and banquet facilities. The Pearl Hotel, a brand-new 53-room hotel right on the water downtown, has a smaller event space for about 40 people that opens onto the pool. The Longfellow Civic Center is a 4,500-square-foot assembly space with views of the waterfront and downtown.
Natchitoches, Louisiana, sits on Cane River and is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, dating back to 1714. The 33-block Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District is full of bed-and-breakfasts, historic churches and brick-lined streets. Free guided walking tours of the area are available.
The former Red River tributary is now a lake in the middle of downtown. Visitors can rent boats to get out on the water and even host events on the riverbank. The Cane River Queen Riverboat is a 60-passenger paddle wheeler that takes groups on scenic tours of the lake; it can also be rented out for board meetings or social hours. The Cane River Brewing Company, which is in a restored cotton seed oil plant, also has a large events space.
The Natchitoches Event Center can accommodate groups of up to 1,000 about a block from the water. Two boutique hotels are nearby, the Chateau St. Denis Hotel and the Church Street Inn, an old bank building converted into a 20-room boutique hotel. The Chateau has 87 rooms and meeting space for up to 200 people. The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum were designed to look like a Creole plantation with louvred windows. Groups can tour the museums or host their conference’s opening reception there.