Auburn/Opelika, Alabama at a Glance
Location: East-central Alabama
Access: About 105 miles southwest of Atlanta and 55 miles northeast of Montgomery off Interstate 85
Major Meeting Spaces: Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort and Spa at Grand National
Hotel Rooms: 3,247
Off-Site Venues: Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Agricultural Heritage Park Pavilion (the Red Barn), Southerly Warehouse, Gogue Performing Arts Center
It’s not accurate to call Auburn and Opelika twin cities. The east-central Alabama cities are adjacent — almost blending together — but they are distinct. Auburn is best known as the free-spirited university town that it is, and some locals describe Opelika as Auburn’s hip older sister that enjoys a sense of history.
Regardless, the two cities promote themselves as one, and they have plenty to offer meeting planners and their groups.
This vibrant community is strategically located along Interstate 85 between Alabama and Georgia’s capital cities. Montgomery is about 55 miles southwest, and Atlanta is about 105 miles northeast. This puts Auburn-Opelika in a sweet spot, both for access and appeal.
The area’s population is well suited to meetings that seek amenities without the crunch of a major metro. Auburn’s population is about 64,000, and Opelika’s is about 30,000. Add Auburn University’s enrollment that’s pushing 30,000, and you have a great mix of people, facilities, entertainment and activities.
Auburn University athletics, of course, deliver considerable excitement, especially during football season when Jordan-Hare Stadium can swallow almost the equivalent of the two cities’ populations. The university says it’s the 10th-largest on-campus stadium in the country: capacity: 87,451.
College sports aside, it is golf that provides much of the allure here. That’s because of the Grand National, the golf complex described as the jewel of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Its Links course and Lake course have been listed in Golf Digest’s “America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses.” More than half of the complex’s 54 holes are along 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee. It’s a challenge to keep attendees in meetings when that much golf temptation is nearby.
It’s not all play, of course. Forbes named Auburn-Opelika one of America’s top-10 cities for small business in 2019.
The area has two major meeting facilities. One is the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, and the other is the Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort and Spa at Grand National.
Both are a mouthful, and both deliver for meetings.
The Hotel at Auburn University recently completed a $1.2 million conference center renovation and, in 2019, earned AAA Four Diamond status. It has 236 guest rooms and 27,000 square feet of meeting and event space. If you detect a particularly youthful vibe, that’s because its management firm partners with Auburn University’s hospitality management program and provides students with hands-on experience.
The Marriott, a Four Diamond property since 2017, has 221 guest rooms, 15,220 square feet of meeting space and 13 event rooms. One of its major calling cards is a full-service spa, often visited before big social events or after hard days of golf.
Other Meeting Venues
A barn, a warehouse, an art museum and a sparkling new performing arts center lead the list of off-site event venues.
The Hotel at Auburn operates the Agriculture Heritage Park Pavilion, usually just called the Red Barn. Recent major renovations made the Red Barn an open, well-lighted architectural gem overlooking the 30-acre Ag Heritage Park. It works well for receptions and dinners.
Another notable reception site is the long, two-story lobby of the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center, capacity 1,200. In addition, the performing arts center has a 1,500-seat outdoor amphitheater. All this is across from the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, which has reception and dinner space — indoor and garden settings — and an auditorium for formal presentations. For contrast, the Southerly Warehouse in the heart of Opelika’s historic district offers a blank canvas for meeting planners.
Opelika also is primed for a multistop spirits tour with two breweries, a craft distillery and a wine bar that says it has the largest by-the-glass selection in America.
Robert Trent Jones, who designed or redesigned more than 500 golf courses worldwide, said Grand National is the “single greatest site for a golf course” he ever saw. That’s one reason so many attendees hang around after a meeting here. The adventurous press on to some of the other 10 Alabama sites on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
History is another major draw. The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site is less than 20 miles away on the way to Montgomery, where destinations such as the Civil Rights Memorial and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice await to illuminate important aspects of America’s story.
A completely different educational experience is another of Montgomery’s attractions: seeing the amazing process that produces more than 1,500 Hyundai cars each workday. Alabama’s highly automated Hyundai plant is the only one in the U.S.