Choosing the perfect place to meet can be tricky. Planners seeking to stage their event in an urban environment may worry about whether the destination is safe and walkable, how accessible it is from the airport and whether it has all the amenities they are seeking.
While urban centers may lack the beaches that make coastal resorts such appealing places to meet, they are exciting, usually easy to get to and offer planners a lot of options for dining and entertainment.
Here, alphabetically, are brief descriptions of 15 great cities to meet in. For further details or more extensive information, contact the CVB in each destination.
There is a reason this city, which attracts 42 million visitors each year, is nicknamed “Hotlanta.” Atlanta is a happening place. One of the most popular destinations in the Southeast, Greater Atlanta boasts more than 90,000 hotel rooms and can handle groups of any size. Nearly all carriers fly into Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), a major hub that consistently ranks as the world’s busiest and most efficient. Georgia International Convention Center in College Park is directly connected to the airport, making it super convenient for conventioneers. Navigating to Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta’s other world-class convention center in the downtown district, is just a short car or MARTA ride away. Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau sums up the city best, saying, “fine dining, shopping and rich history combine with inspiration-inducing attractions to create a city with Southern charm and world-class sophistication.”
Young, prosperous and growing, Austin in Central Texas has a thriving business climate and a friendly community culture. Its LEED Gold convention center is one of the country’s most technically advanced—featuring 247,052 sq. ft. of contiguous, column-free exhibit space, and 54 meeting rooms. In 2017, the walkable downtown area near the Convention Center will boast 11,000 guest rooms, and planners can take advantage of innovative meeting spaces and legendary live music venues in the heart of the city. Those seeking green refuge can walk to Lady Bird Lake, where they can hike and bike. When it’s time to eat, many praise the Tex-Mex food and claim Austin has some of the best margaritas in the country. Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau says, “Austin lets you create a soundtrack all your own. We’re home to more than 250 music venues and a vibrant arts scene. So take a look around, and put Live Music Capital of the World® on your playlist.”
Located in the heart of the Southeast, Charlotte is the largest and most accessible city between Washington, D.C., and Dallas, Texas. Those who come for conventions are delighted that the airport is located just seven miles from eco-friendly Charlotte Convention Center, which provides 280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, more than 90,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and award-winning catering. Visitors are delighted to discover more than 4,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of Charlotte’s Center City, the convention district. The compact area, which enjoys a year round mild climate, boasts more than 100 upscale restaurants, in addition to top-notch cultural venues, museums and nightlife. Athletic attendees can go kayaking, whitewater rafting or canyon zip-lining at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, a nonprofit outdoor recreation and adventure sports facility. History buffs can visit Historic Latta Plantation, a restored 19th-century cotton plantation and living history farm.
This virtuoso city offers meeting professionals an incredible variety of unique venues and elite services, as well as unmatched entertainment options and a Michelin-rated dining scene. Behemoth McCormick Place is the largest meeting and convention center in the United States. It features 2.6 million sq. ft. exhibition space, 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting room space, 6 ballrooms and assembly seating for 18,000. Located just minutes from downtown Chicago, McCormick Place attracts close to 3 million visitors each year. Chicago is easy and inexpensive to travel to from virtually anywhere, thanks to thousands of flight options and extensive rail connections. There are a plethora of hotel options can meet any budget. Attendees can network in landmark locations, historic museums and sporting venues, or take in the city skyline from outdoor boat, park and rooftop venues. In addition, Chicago boasts the tallest building in the U.S., and its deep dish pizza can’t be beat.
The storied Rust Belt city is currently experiencing $3 billion in meetings-related infrastructure development that is transforming the destination, which will soon bask in the spotlight as the host city of the Republican National Convention. Planners can take advantage of the city’s sleek, new FirstMerit Convention Center of Cleveland, and dozens of new and/or renovated hotels, including a 600-room Hilton Cleveland Downtown opening soon. When meetings end, Cleveland rocks with nightlife, culinary offerings, and a great arts & culture scene. According to Destination Cleveland, “We’ve got world-class experiences without the world-class ego.” The CVB points out that “grit meets sophistication in Cleveland, where you can browse modern art inside a turn-of-the-century transformer station, hear the orchestra perform live inside the local hot dog joint and chow down on pierogi stuffed with beef cheek.”
There’s a palatable energy and excitement in Columbus, the capital and largest city in Ohio. Artisan food producers, imaginative chefs, nationally acclaimed distilleries and coffee roasters combine to deliver an impressive foodie scene. Neighborhoods throughout Columbus are exploding with new places to shop, and artists are shaping new areas of the city into dynamic spaces to explore. Columbus Museum of Art just added a spectacular new wing, and the Scioto Mile project has put 33 acres of new riverfront parkland in the heart of downtown. Columbus Convention Center, located in the walkable downtown, is undergoing a full renovation and expansion that will give it 373,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space. The project is expected to be complete in July 2017. There are currently 2,100 hotel rooms adjacent or connected to the convention center. Planners will be happy to learn that Columbus is just a one-hour flight from 50 percent of the U.S. population, and Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) welcomes nonstop flights from 34 cities.
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau wants planners to know that Detroit is America’s great comeback story. After years of decline the region is now surging and thriving, and it seems like everyone is taking notice. Inc. magazine has dubbed Detroit “Startup City USA.” High-tech startups and business incubators are proliferating thanks to an influx of young innovators, entrepreneurs, techies and creative game-changers who are making their mark in the city. The area is being held up as a model for urban innovation, as lots and vacant spaces in metro Detroit are being repurposed into urban farms and bona fide independent businesses. The city, home of the American auto industry, has a proud history of manufacturing. It is also a musical mecca and the birthplace of the Motown sound. Sports fans will be delighted with the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions and Detroit Red Wings playing downtown, and the Detroit Pistons in Oakland County.
When you think “urban,” Long Beach doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the city, situated alongside a picturesque harbor on the Pacific Ocean, is appealing to both conference planners and attendees alike. Long Beach is a delightful urban waterfront playground that offers the best of Southern California dining, entertainment and culture. Small enough not to be overwhelming, Long Beach provides the diversity and variety of a much larger city; with a renowned aquarium that is adding a new wing in the shape of a blue whale that is expected to open in 2018. Meetings are expertly handled at Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, which completed a $40 million modernization in 2013. The downtown center is within walking distance of more than 5,000 guest rooms. Offsite team-building options can be found at nearby Catalina Island. It is also just a short jaunt to SoCal’s premier attractions of Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Charming and hospitable Myrtle Beach, located in the northeast portion of South Carolina, welcomes 17.2 million visitors annually. Many come for the golf. The city features more than 100 championship courses, and it is estimated that 3.4 million rounds of golf are played there each year. But as the CVB will tell you, there are many attributes besides golf that make Myrtle Beach a popular meeting destination. Myrtle Beach Convention Center and Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel offer planners a great one-two meeting punch. Other major meeting resorts are clustered a short drive north of the convention center. After meetings conclude, Myrtle Beach offers plenty of action. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is classic Americana, with a 187-foot Ferris wheel among other attractions. For live music head to The Bowery, which used to have the Southern rock group Alabama as its house band. Art lovers will revel in nearby Brookgreen Gardens, which boasts the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculptures—more than 1,400 sculptures by 350 artists.
Last year 9.6 million tourists came to Montreal, and this year the number is expected to cross 10 million—making it one of the most visited places in North America. The sophisticated, French/English metropolis is brimming with cosmopolitan energy. Visitors will discover globally inspired cuisine, independent boutiques and more than 100 festivals annually, including a legendary jazz event ranked the largest in the world by Guinness World Records. Christopher Marilley, director of meeting and convention sales for Tourisme Montreal, offers insights on why Montreal is a great place to hold meetings. “Delegates get to experience a European-style city in North America,” he says, adding that Montreal is an extremely safe walking city. Delegates will appreciate the city’s ultra-modern, state-of-the-art convention center, The Palais des congrès de Montréal, which is located at the north end of the old town. Montreal has 12,000 hotel rooms downtown; 4,000 are connected to the underground city.
This city in Western Pennsylvania, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary, is in the midst of a renaissance. Set at the junction of three mighty rivers, the historically industrial town is suddenly cool—attracting hipsters from around the country. Recently named the Top Food City in the United States by Zagat, Pittsburgh boasts a wide variety of dining options. The Cultural District is home to seven world-class theaters, along with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Pittsburgh Ballet. Craig Davis, president and CEO of Visit Pittsburgh, says the city’s many attractions make it a desirable meeting destination, most of which are within a few blocks of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The rivers provide options for planners to create unique experiences for attendees—from cycling along the shore and kayaking around Point State Park, to enjoying a river dinner cruise. A passionate sports town, fans can cheer on the NHL Penguins, NFL Steelers and MLB Pirates. Art lovers will appreciate the Andy Warhol Museum (the famous artist was born in Pittsburgh), as well as the renowned Carnegie Museums.
Reno, which straddles Nevada and California borders, has been dubbed “The Biggest Little City in the World.” Known for its exciting casinos and its close proximity to the Sierra Nevada ski resorts, it offers the top-rate hotel accommodations, dining options and 24/7 entertainment of a large metropolis, without the exhorbitant prices. In Reno-Tahoe planners will discover versatile venues, with plenty of opportunities to create memorable team-building adventures. Groups can take advantage of the 500,000-square-foot Reno-Sparks Convention Center, the Reno Events Center and the Reno Ballroom. The region boasts 20,000 hotel rooms, many of which are undergoing renovations and improvements geared toward group business. Depending on the season, athletic conventioneers can ski or snowboard on some of the country’s finest slopes, or golf on the area’s more than 50 courses. For a real thrill, go whitewater rafting in the heart of downtown Reno. Less athletic visitors will enjoy the National Automobile Museum located downtown, which showcases more than 200 vintage cars.
Salt Lake City, Utah’s high-elevation capital in the Rocky Mountains, is bordered by the Great Salt Lake and the snow-capped peaks of the Wasatch Range. Home of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City has worked hard to shed its conservative, staid image. Today, the downtown district pulsates with 1,700 restaurants and hundreds of bars, including a dozen breweries and six distilleries. A leader in the arts, Salt Lake is one of the few cities in America boasting professional symphony, opera and ballet companies. Planners find organizing events in Salt Lake City to be easy. Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, aka Salt Palace, was built in 1969 and has undergone several major renovations. Today it is a modern facility with 515,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 164,000 sq. ft. for meetings. Interesting offsite venues include the Natural History Museum of Utah, which has event spaces that can accommodate up to 1,500 guests. Those who enjoy nature will be in heaven, as Utah boasts five national parks and dozens of state parks. Easily accessible, the airport is located just 7 miles from downtown via car or TRAX light rail.
There is a reason people claim to leave their hearts in San Francisco. The charming, European-style city has a lot to like. The City by the Bay boasts an iconic bridge, vintage cable cars and streets lined with colorful Victorian homes that are meticulously maintained. A gastronomic paradise, thousands of restaurants cater to every food whim, and many food trends trace their roots to the San Francisco Bay Area. Meetings are always a hit in San Francisco, where diversity is not just tolerated, but celebrated. The modern and efficient Moscone Center is a model for green convention centers. Hundreds of interesting venues can host offsite events. A particularly impressive site is the refurbished San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which just reopened after a three-year closure. A fun city to walk in if you don’t mind hills, San Francisco boasts unique and distinctive neighborhoods such as Chinatown, the Financial District, Union Square and Nob Hill.
Gracious Savannah, located on the coast of Georgia, has been voted one of Travel + Leisure’s Top Ten Places to Visit in North America. It’s known for its manicured parks, horse-drawn carriages and ornate antebellum architecture. Its cobblestoned historic district is filled with squares and parks that encourage visitors to wander and experience the history and beauty of this relaxed city. Planners can utilize Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, an architecturally stunning waterfront complex that features 100,000 sq. ft. of divisible exhibit space, 50,000 sq. ft. of prime meeting space, including 13 meeting rooms, four executive board rooms, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 367-seat auditorium. When meetings end, planners can arrange architectural tours, Civil War re-enactments or an evening featuring dinner, live entertainment and a cruise of the Savannah River on an old fashioned riverboat.