Waterfalls draw a crowd.
Prehistoric people, Native Americans, French traders, pioneers: They’ve all been drawn to tumbling water, and so are we. Which makes these five cities, all with quite different downtowns enlivened by waterfalls, invigorating meeting destinations. Though small in size, each has found ways to make the most of their liquid assets.
In Spokane, water is the sound of music.
It’s hard not to hear waterfalls in downtown Spokane, Washington’s convention district. The Spokane River’s upper and lower falls are upriver from its waterfront convention center and a half dozen major hotels, including the 375-room DoubleTree by Hilton, which is connected to the center. Other hotels include the Hotel Indigo, the historic Davenport and the refurbished Centennial and Ruby River hotels, formerly part of the Red Lion chain.
Along the river, Riverfront Park’s pathways and trails are outfitted with benches and overlooks for varied perspectives. Getting close to the falls can be an adventure, whether it’s a walk across a swinging suspension pedestrian bridge or a ride above the falls in six-person gondolas, a remnant of the 1974 World’s Fair. Adjacent to the park and a few blocks from the convention center, a new sports competition area is emerging with the opening of the Podium, a city-run, indoor athletic competition facilityand the December 2021 groundbreaking for a 5,000-seat soccer stadium.
The Big Sioux tumbles through downtown Sioux Falls.
An ice sheet, not an abstract artist, created the jumble of pink quartzite slabs and boulders over which the Big Sioux River tumbles on its way through South Dakota’s largest city. Native Americans called the area Minnehaha — laughing waters — and it’s easy to see why they did. The falls are part of a city park on the edge of downtown, and visitors can easily walk over from the Hotel on Phillips, a 90-room boutique property in what was once a historic bank, or the riverfront Hilton Garden Inn, across the water from the Phillips, with 6,300 square feet of meeting space. The park offers its own entertainments, including the Arc of Dreams, a stainless-steel sculpture that bends over the river, and Levitt at the Falls, an outdoor pavilion where about 50 free concerts are held each year.
Downtown, where many old buildings are built of pink quartzite, visitors can get liquid refreshments at Covert Artisan Ales and the Glacial Lakes Distillery and Brew House and try new restaurants like Harvester Kitchen by Bryan, or see a movie at the State Theatre, a revitalized vaudeville-era showplace.
Greenville turned the seedy Reedy into a showplace.
Greenville is no doubt better off thanks to the devoted members of a local garden club that dug in and helped turn the seedy banks of the Reedy River into an Eden in downtown. The showstopper of this 32-acre linear park is Reedy River Falls, which can be viewed above from the Liberty Bridge, a curving suspension bridge designed by architect Miguel Rosales, or along the trails that follow the river as it wends through town.
There are a surprising number of downtown hotels, with major brands well represented: Marriott’s AC, Aloft, Residence Inn and Courtyard; Hilton’s Embassy Suites, Hampton and Homestead; a Hyatt Regency and a Hyatt Place; and the Westin Poinsett, winner of this year’s Best City Center Historic Hotel award from Historic Hotels of America. The hotels are outdone by a gob of restaurants — 110 in all downtown — surprising until you learn of the outsize number of Fortune 500 companies in the area.
It’s a short walk to waterfalls in Ithaca.
Within 10 miles of Ithaca, New York, 150 waterfalls pour through gorges gouged eons ago by glaciers. Lucky for meeting attendees, three of them are within a short walk of downtown hotels. The best known and most popular is probably Cascadilla Falls, a series of nine waterfalls along a trail through a gorge that connects the Cornell University campus to downtown. But none are far from downtown, where new hotels built in the past few years huddle near the pedestrian mall, home to local restaurants and shops. The newest, the Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons, has 159 rooms and 3,000 square feet of meeting space. The 131-room Canopy by Hilton supplies free bikes for scooting around downtown.
Other options include the 170-room Hotel Ithaca, with 3,000 square feet of meeting space; the Hilton Garden Inn, also just off the Commons, with 104 rooms; and for high-endsmall meetings, the 13-room boutique Argos Inn, winner of multiple awards for historic preservation and LEED certified for those that want to go easier on the environment.
Small falls draw crowds in Middlebury.
With its white church steeples, town green and red-brick storefronts, Middlebury, Vermont, is quintessential New England. The village of 9,000 takes it up a notch, though, with a waterfall right in the middle of town that draws crowds. They can stand on an arched, stone pedestrian bridge that’s a fantastic perch for watching daring kayakers run the 15-foot drop at Middlebury Falls or placid anglers reel in their catches from Otter Creek.
Being home to Middlebury College boosts the town’s cool quotient, with plenty of coffee shops, breweries and local restaurants. Small meetings can gather at the Middlebury Inn, in business since the late 1800s; it has 71 guest rooms and a ballroom for up to 135 guests. Outside downtown on four acres, the Swift House Inn, once a governor’s mansion, is now a 20-room inn with a carriage-house-turned-conference-space.