That’s where convention and visitors bureaus come in. Meeting professionals will find them very helpful and knowledgeable, not only with meeting and event planning, but also with finding unusual and inventive leisure and team-building activities for groups. Enlist their assistance for the ultimate experience. For example, the staff at Seattle’s CVB, might suggest what boat tour to take to see the houseboat where Sleepless in Seattle was filmed on Lake Union. They can also map out where to spot a variety of popular Dale Chihuly glass art pieces—they’re not just in Museums—and where to witness locally blown glass artwork. Or they can even suggest where to grab a quality locally brewed beer or see one of the largest air and space museums in the world.
But the interesting tidbits don’t end in Seattle.
Just east of Seattle, Bellevue has blossomed into its own destination. The newest and trendiest nightlife can be found at Blue Martini Lounge in The Shops at the Bravern commercial center. To the south, Tacoma boasts a totally free light rail system that runs through the downtown core into the theater district. Plus, the Tacoma Art Museum boasts a 110-piece Chihuly collection. Southeast of towering Mount Rainier, Treveri Cellars in Yakima makes the sparkling wine that was served at the White House for the 2011 holidays. Spokane, in the eastern part of the state, has a new culinary walking tour named Your City Bites, which combines a little history with delectable food and chocolate tastings.
Washington has more than stunning meeting space, incomparable hotels, world-class chefs and legendary attractions; it has a whole second layer to show off that groups won’t want to miss.
Where to Meet
Washington state offers a broad mixture of urban epicenters and out-in-the wilderness meeting venues. Depending on a group’s preferences and program length, Washington offers much to choose from to complete an engaging itinerary.
Cedarbrook Lodge, Seattle
Why we love it: Seattle offers the best of both city and outdoor experiences. This year, Chihuly Garden & Glass opened on the Seattle Center campus.
Galleries, landscaping, a cafe and a gift shop showcase the famed artist’s work and some of his collections, including items such as juicers, dollhouse furniture, bottle openers and shaving brushes. Another addition is The Seattle Great Wheel, a Ferris wheel that premiered on the waterfront last spring. It’s open year-round with 42 fully enclosed gondolas so attendees can ride rain or shine.
Standout feature: Its expansive bodies of water such as Puget Sound and Lake Union, two mountain ranges and three national parks. Seattle acts as the perfect starting point for whatever attendees might want to do during their downtime. If skiing or snowboarding stirs a group’s passion, attendees can drive for an hour to the mountains. Spend half a day on the road and you’ll arrive at Olympic National Park, which encompasses three distinct ecosystems— rugged glacier-capped mountain, temperate rain forest and the wild Pacific coast.
Convene here: The Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). It houses more than 414,000 sq. ft. Of connected meeting spaces, including 205,700 sq. ft. Of dedicated heavy-load exhibit space. Choose from small and intimate spaces or large, airy ballrooms—whatever suits your event. WSCC has begun a $20 million refurbishment to be completed in multiple phases through 2013.
Stay here: The Westin Seattle. All 891 rooms have been refreshed with neutral color palettes, natural woods and stonework, upgraded vanities and fixtures in the bathrooms, new furniture and updated technology. All this has been done using an environmentally friendly approach, including energy-efficient lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures.
Dine here: Wild Ginger Asian Restaurant and Satay Bar. Menu items at this fine-dining establishment span the eastern Pacific Rim from China to Indonesia and Malaysia to Vietnam. Dishes from these regions demand the hands-on techniques and fresh ingredients available here.
Bond here: Seattle geo trek led by Adventure Associates. The program is based on the sport of geocaching, which uses a GPS; secret caches are hidden in parks and other unique city spots. When you find a cache, it also holds the clue to where the next one is. Attendees can build relationships while enjoying many of the attractions this city has to offer.
Cast Iron Studios, Bellevue
Why we love it: Shopping. Need we say more? With The Shops at the Bravern, designed to approximate a European village shopping experience; the Bellevue Collection; and boutique shops in downtown and Old Bellevue, together with nearby Seattle, the city lacks for nothing in the retail realm.
Standout feature: Compact, thriving urban center. Bellevue has stellar meeting space and is brimming with amenities, attractions and all levels of dining and sparkling nightlife. It’s ideal for work and play, but the bridges permit a quick trip into Seattle when desired. Explore the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, Downtown Park, the Bellevue Art Museum and the beach.
Convene here: The Meydenbauer Center. It houses 54,000 sq. ft. Of function space, including the 36,000-square-foot Center Hall. The venue hosts corporate meetings, consumer shows, conventions and community events. It has 434 parking spaces in its own garage and prides itself on limiting its impact on the environment. Waste is minimized, recyclables are handled efficiently and energy use is managed throughout each event.
Stay here: The Westin Bellevue. The newly renovated Four-Diamond property is in the heart of the action downtown. Many of the 337 guest rooms and suites have patios and views of Lake Washington or the surrounding city. Amenities include a 25-yard lap pool, business center, Truce Spa and easy access to shops and the Bellevue Art Museum. The hotel holds 25,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space including a 7,226-square-foot ballroom.
Dine here: Lot No. 3. The beverage menu alone totals more than 20 pages. Beer, wine, spirits, cock tails and a glossary of terms will keep attendees entertained until their food arrives. They can even customize their own Manhattan cocktail to hark back to the era of Mad Men. The restaurant can also cater groups in Cast Iron Studios, an adjacent event space.
LeMay-America's Car Musem, courtesy of Tacoma CVB
Why we love it: Tacoma and the surrounding region can accommodate meetings and budgets of any size. Besides the 1,900 hotel rooms in the area located in boutique, limited and full-service hotels, ample meeting space also exists. The Tacoma Regional CVB provides services to help meeting planners ensure their event is a success.
Standout feature: A vibrant glass-arts culture. Inspired by the famous native son Dale Chihuly, the city proudly showcases glass pieces in museums, restaurants, bars, hotels and other venues. To get a genuine feel for what is required to create glass art, group members can blow their own glass at the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio.
Convene here: Greater Tacoma Convention + Trade Center. Glass walls face spectacular mountain views in 119,000 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space available for events. In Shelton, Wash., 45 miles to the west, Little Creek Casino Resort offers 40,000 sq. ft. Of event space, 190 guest rooms, onsite golf, gaming and entertainment options.
Stay here: Hotel Murano. Glass art is well-displayed and attendees can travel floor-to-floor to see featured pieces by 45 international artists. The hotel provides a “help me” button to fulfill most needs, a pillow menu and welcomes pets, offering Cast Iron Studios, Bellevue them their own room-service menu. The property also has more than 27,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space.
Dine here: Stanley and Seafort’s. Savor premium steaks, locally caught seafood, chicken and pasta while overlooking downtown and Commencement Bay. After a day of meetings, this is the place to relax, have a crafted cocktail and enjoy tasty food.
Bond here: LeMay – America’s Car Museum. Opened in June 2012, the museum presents numerous opportunities for engaging attendees with their dream machines. Ferraris, electric cars, Indy cars, motorcycles, scooters and more fill this fourstory 165,000-square-foot space. Competitive group members can go head-to-head with other racers in the ACM Racing Simulators on the second floor; these are the same simulators used to train professional race-car drivers, so watch out.
Horseback wine tours, Yakima
Why we love it: Situated east of the Cascade Range, Yakima has warm, sunny weather most of the year. Ongoing revitalization projects have transformed downtown into a lively destination and the nearby wine country attracts regional groups drawn by its affordability and drive- or fly-in accessibility.
Standout feature: Wine country. Grapes grown here make up the key ingredient in more than half of all the wines produced in the state. There are numerous colorful vineyards and more than 50 wineries that call the region home; some also accept group reservations.
Convene here: Yakima Convention Center. Not only does it have 41,000 sq. ft. Of interior space, but a new outdoor plaza was added in 2011 and offers another 7,000 sq. ft. Where attendees can enjoy events on sun-filled days. Evening receptions and outdoor lunches work very well in this space.
Stay here: Holiday Inn Yakima. It’s located across from the convention center and has 114 guest rooms and 1,550 sq. ft. Of its own meeting space. Amenities include an indoor pool, fitness center and complimentary gated parking.
Bond here: Horseback wine tours. Ride through wine country on horseback offered by Cherrywood Bed, Breakfast and Barn. Besides stopping for tastings along the way, you’ll get wine plus a gourmet box lunch at Cultura Winery.
Spoke Falls, photo courtesy of Spokane CVB
Why we love it: “Near nature, near perfect” describes Spokane to a tee. Whether you cross one of the many footbridges in Riverfront Park or witness the gorgeous site via helicopter tour fly over, Spokane River Falls presents a spectacular view that is evocative in any season. Manito Park showcases a rose garden, a lilac garden and the Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Memorial Japanese Garden, among others. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, in nearby Cheney, encompasses many lakes, marshes and ponderosa pine forests.
Standout feature: A rich cultural heritage. Spokane has been home to many Native American tribes whose origins began on the Northern Plateau. The Spokane Tribe’s three bands made their home along the banks of the Spokane River, while the Coeur d’Alenes, Colvilles and Kalispels had instrumental roles in the area’s evolution. Groups can explore this fascinating culture at Indian Painted Rocks, Steptoe Battlefield State Park and Horse Slaughter Camp Monument.
Convene here: Spokane Convention Center. The LEED Silver-certified center continues to practice conservation by turning off escalators on days when events aren’t being held, among other environmentally friendly actions. Exhibit halls cover 100,160 sq. ft. Of flexible space and plans have been approved for a 90,000-square-foot addition to be constructed before the end of 2014.
Stay here: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Spokane City Center. Judy Alexander, the property’s director of sales and marketing, likes to say the adjacent Spokane Convention Center “gives her hotel a hug” because of the center’s boat shape.
Bond here: Mobius Science Center. In August 2012, the exhibition space celebrated its grand opening. This is not your grandmother’s science center—it features 65 hands-on, inquiry-driven exhibits, many of which scream “team building.” How high can you launch the bottle rocket, or what will be your prognosis during the digital autopsy (the only exhibit of its kind)? The exhibit space and mezzanine total 14,000 sq. ft. And can be rented for receptions or presentations.
Main image: Seattle Great Wheel, courtesy of John Greenland
• State name: The 42nd state is the only one named after a president.
• State nickname: The Evergreen
• State State motto: “Al-ki,” an Chinook Native American word meaning “by and by”
• Highest point: Mt. Rainer; 14,411 feet
• Oldest market: Pike Place Market, in Seattle, is the longest-running farmers market in the country and is inhabited by many ghosts.
• Active volcanoes: Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens The law: It’s illegal here to buy anyone a drink on election day.
• Big city: Spokane is the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis.
• Power source: Washington produces 25% of the nation’s hydroelectric power.
• State mammal: The orca whale, which has a record speed of 34.5 mph
• Wine country: More than 740 wineries and 43,000 acres of vineyards
• Ferries: The state has the nation’s largest ferry system.
• Eyewear: Seattle oddly sells more sunglasses than any other city in the U.S.
• State fruit: Apple
Skamania Lodge on the Columbia River Gorge
Ideal for retreats and impressive meeting experiences, Skamania Lodge is set amid towering mountains, tall pines and flowing waters. “Add to this an abundance of recreational options and exquisite cuisine and you have all the necessary components to create a productive and incredibly memorable event,” says Todd Gillespie, director of sales and marketing for the lodge. “At Skamania Lodge, you’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do.” Recreational opportunities include more than four miles of hiking trails, a new 18-hole par 70 course and a fire pit for cookouts.
Situated near the border about an hour drive from Portland, Ore., or 3.5 hours from Seattle, Skamania Lodge affords meeting planners a full-service, destination resort experience. With its 22,000 sq. ft. Of functional meeting space, the lodge can easily accommodate meetings with 50–125 guests. It has 254 guest rooms.
• What: 32nd Annual National Narrow Gauge Convention; 1,700 attendees
• When: September 2012
• Where: Meydenbauer Convention Center, Bellevue
• Why: “We started planning this convention six years ago, and although employees transitioned during that time, it was always seamless. The staff is this facility’s greatest asset—they always did what they promised and did it on time. Convention attendees also liked the vast number of restaurant choices they had in Bellevue. Restaurants were very important to them.” –Russ Segner, volunteer chair of the convention
• Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism: bellingham.org
• Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau: visitseattle.org
• Snohomish County Tourism Bureau: snohomish.org
• Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitspokane.com
• Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau: traveltacoma.com
• Visit Bellevue Washington: visitbellevuewashington.com
• Wenatchee Valley Visitor Bureau: wenatcheevalley.org
• Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau: visityakima.com