Cities across America’s Heartland are situated on rivers, lakes and streams, making them wonderful waterfront destinations for meetings and events and great locations for enjoying the great outdoors. These five waterfront destinations offer plenty of traditional and unique meeting venues along with locally owned restaurants, boutique shops, and a chance to get out on the water and explore.
Holland, Michigan, a quaint Dutch community, sits along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Guests love walking its cobblestone sidewalks as they peruse more than 100 shops, restaurants and galleries. It is best known for its Dutch attractions, including Windmill Island Gardens, which features beautiful Dutch architecture and a large working windmill that was brought over from the old country. Nelis’ Dutch Village is a re-creation of a Netherlands community from 100 years ago with canals, a Friesen house, and a barn where activities like Dutch klompen dancing and cheese making take place. De Klomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory in Holland makes traditional wooden shoes and The Netherlands’ famous hand-painted, glazed blue and white delftware. The Holland Museum has a large collection of Dutch art and furniture.
Holland Civic Center Place in the heart of downtown has 55,000 square feet of meeting space and recently underwent a $20 million renovation. Three hotels are within walking distance of the civic center, including the Haworth Hotel at Hope College (with 10,000 square feet of meeting space and several breakout rooms), Courtyard Holland Downtown and CityFlatsHotel Holland.
Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant has a huge conference space and a patio where guests can watch the boats go by. Windmill Island Gardens has a large pavilion that can host meetings, dinners and weddings for 300 people. Dutch Village has several meeting options for more casual, outdoor events with a Dutch ambiance. The city has 2,000 hotel rooms, with three new hotels being built in 2023 that will add an additional 300 rooms.
The oldest city in Iowa, Dubuque got its start because of its prime location on the Mississippi River. Located in the southeast corner of the state, adjacent to Wisconsin and Illinois, the city has become a regional hub for meetings or events.
Meeting planners have their pick of traditional meeting spaces, casinos and riverboats. Port Dubuque, a reclaimed industrial site, is home to the Grand River Center, the city’s 86,000-square-foot conference center, as well as a large aquarium and museum and a beautiful trail called the Mississippi Riverwalk.
The convention center has a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall for large trade shows or meetings and a 12,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom that can host groups up to 1,000 guests. The third-floor River Room features stunning views of the Mississippi River from its floor-to-ceiling windows and large balcony.
The Grand Harbor Resort is a full-service meeting hotel attached to the convention center via an enclosed, climate-controlled skywalk. It has 193 guest rooms and some smaller meeting spaces that can accommodate groups up to 100 guests. The resort has a 25,000-square-foot indoor waterpark to keep attendees entertained in their free time.
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium tells the stories of early settlers and Native Americans who called the area home. The aquarium has a 40,000-gallon saltwater tank that features animals native to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Meeting planners can host events up to 1,500 people among the exhibits or plan a picnic on the outdoor plaza facing the harbor.
The 750-passenger Celebration Belle offers scenic cruises with food and entertainment along the Mississippi River.
Dayton is the birthplace of aviation. Many people don’t realize the Wright brothers were raised in the city. They began their study of flight and even attempted their first takeoffs there but were stymied by the lack of wind. Their legacy fueled many aviation-themed attractions, including the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which features four hangars of aircraft from the beginnings of flight to the present. Visitors can see one of only two stealth bombers on display and the Air Force One plane that was used to bring John F. Kennedy’s body back from Dallas.
The city is known for its many waterways, including the Great Miami River, which runs through the heart of town. During the spring and summer, visitors can use kayaks, canoes and standup paddleboards to explore the area. Four riverfront parks are another way to enjoy this waterfront destination.
The 150,000-square-foot Dayton Convention Center is the largest meeting venue, with a 68,352-square-foot column-free exhibit hall, a 672-seat theater and several smaller breakout spaces. The full-service Radisson Hotel Downtown Dayton, with 200 guest rooms and 12,000 square feet of meeting space, is attached to the convention center.
Off-site venues include Carillon Historical Park, which has outdoor spaces that can host larger groups and an elegant two-tiered ballroom that seats up to 500 people. The Dayton Art Institute has several event spaces for up to 600 guests, and America’s Packard Museum is a fun place for receptions where guests can walk among the cars.
Lake Michigan is Kenosha’s No. 1 attraction, with nearly 90% of Kenosha County’s lakeshore publicly accessible. There are beaches, parks, bike paths, marinas and places to host festivals. The city itself has five beaches on Lake Michigan, so visitors have plenty of waterfront activities to participate in, including charter fishing and sailing.
Visitors can rent standup paddleboards and kayaks to use in the harbor and duck-shaped paddleboats, which were added in 2022. The North Pier Lighthouse, which was built in 1906, is one of the most recognized landmarks in the area and is now privately owned and used as a studio. An older lighthouse, built in 1866, is open for visitors to climb and is part of the Southport Light Station Museum.
The city has an electric streetcar system traveling along the lakefront that includes a mix of vintage streetcars and more modern urban vehicles. The streetcars do a two-mile loop through downtown, stopping at three museums, as well as shopping and dining hotspots.
The city has a mix of full-service hotels and off-site venues that can fit the needs of any meeting group. Wyndham Garden Kenosha features two banquet halls and a lakeside deck that can host groups up to 200 people. The Stella Hotel and Ballroom downtown has 8,000 square feet of flexible event space and 80 guest rooms. The Civil War Museum, which overlooks the lake, and the Kenosha Public Museum both offer event space.
Evanston fancies itself an urban suburb of Chicago since it is a 30-minute jaunt to the city via train. Situated on Lake Michigan, Evanston is known for its pristine beaches and water-based activities, including swimming and boating. Northwestern University, residential neighborhoods and the only Baha’i House of Worship in the Western Hemisphere take up most of the lakefront property.
Evanston is a major meetings destination due to its proximity to Chicago and O’Hare International Airport. It has several full-service meeting hotels, including Hilton Garden Inn Chicago North Shore/Evanston, with 178 guest rooms and 5,800 square feet of meeting space; Hilton Orrington/Evanston, with 269 rooms and 26,705 square feet of meeting space; and Holiday Inn Chicago North-Evanston, with 159 rooms and 6,578 square feet of meeting space.
The Westin Chicago North Shore in nearby Wheeling is the largest full-service hotel in the area with 35,000 square feet of venue space and 412 guest rooms. Altogether, there are 4,500 hotel rooms in Chicago’s North Shore.
Palmhouse is a new meeting venue in Evanston that can host meetings and weddings, and the Double Clutch Brewing Company makes for an interesting off-site venue. Northwestern University has plenty of meeting options on campus, and Rotary International’s headquarters features several event spaces and meeting spaces equipped to translate meetings into any language from around the world.
In their free time, groups can tour the Baha’i House, which is right on the lake and features beautiful architecture, or the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which is one of the largest outside of Washington, D.C.