Texas cities boast one-of-a-kind features
Some years back, an advertising slogan for Texas was “Texas—It’s Like a Whole Other Country.”
There’s some truth to that, as Texas is certainly unique in its history, local cultures, cuisine and landscapes. But it isn’t really a whole other country. Actually, Texas is more like a whole bunch of other countries.
Thanks to its massive size, Texas shares borders with Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico; the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas; and the Gulf of Mexico, to the southeast. Because of its many neighbors and storied past, the second largest U.S. state has a wide variety of characteristics. From the rolling plains to the borderlands, Hill Country, mountains and canyons, Texas abounds in unique regional flavors, sights and sounds.
Accordingly, Texas also abounds in distinctive meeting cities and facilities, hotels, offsites and just plain fun for attendees. So whether they’re looking for loads of entertainment options, deep-rooted American history, a melting pot of culinary choices or even an epicenter of technology and business, it can all be found in Texas.
Here is a sampling of the things you can expect to find in just some of the Lone Star State’s many popular destinations.
Lone Star Court, Austin
The first settlers arrived in Austin in the 1830s and built the town of Waterloo. Somehow, their little town became the capital of the New Republic of Texas in 1839. Shortly afterward, residents named it for Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas.” It then became the capital of the new state of Texas. The city built the Capitol Building in 1888, promptly billing it the seventh-largest building in the world.
Today, Austin is better known as the Live Music Capital of the World, with famed events such as Austin City Limits Music Festival, where everything from reggae to samba—with a huge dollop of country thrown in—comes out of nearly ever doorway on Sixth Street, and South by Southwest, which combines two of the city’s great passions—music and technology.
Austin is home to the burnt-orange-clad University of Texas Longhorns, and their great football and basketball teams. Natural beauty is close by, as well: Austin is at the doorstep of scenic Texas Hill Country.
When it comes to food, barbecue and Tex-Mex have always been big, but with a metropolitan-area population that recently passed 2 million, you can now find pretty much any cuisine.
Among the many outstanding hotels, Lone Star Court, situated in The Domain—Austin’s newest residential and commercial district—features 123 retro-inspired guest rooms, live music, outdoor fire pits and a dipping pool reminiscent of country swimming holes. The property also provides 5,400 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Austin is moving full-speed-ahead on hotel development. By next year, it will have some 36,000 hotel rooms, 11,000 of which will be downtown. Opening next summer is Fairmont Austin, with 1,048 guest rooms and more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hotel ZaZa Austin debuts the following year with 160 guest rooms and an undetermined amount of meeting space.
Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas
When John Neely Bryan established a trading post on Trinity River in the 1840s, he probably couldn’t imagine it would one day become a city of 1.2 million people; neither could the 2,000 people who called the area home when Dallas was incorporated in 1860.
The region burst upon the international consciousness with the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in 1973. This virtual city within a city has fueled tremendous growth, along with ethnic and culinary diversity.
Dallas is a cosmopolitan city that still wears its Western heritage proudly. It has more than a dozen entertainment districts, a booming culinary scene, and one-of-a-kind attractions such as Geo-Deck in Reunion Tower, Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, along with the extraordinary Dallas Arts District.
The district was inaugurated in 1984, when Dallas Museum of Art relocated there. It was followed by facilities such as Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art and Nasher Sculpture Center. In 2009, AT&T Performing Arts Center opened, followed in 2012 by Dallas City Performance Hall and Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Those aren’t the only changes, though. Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas, with 2 million sq. ft. of meeting space, recently invested $26.5 million in design and infrastructure improvements. An additional $6.6 million upgrade is coming soon.
Karen Watson, senior director of strategic events at Experient, an Austin-based event-services management company, brought a group of 650 attendees from around the country to Dallas in March.
“Dallas is an exciting city,” Watson says, “whether it’s the arts district, the great restaurants or the mixture of East and West. Under that impressive skyline, there’s so much for attendees to see and do. We met at the Hilton Anatole, and we were able to accommodate all our attendees there. Any planner will tell you that’s a great advantage.”
Between Dallas and Fort Worth lies Arlington, which boasts MLB’s Texas Rangers and NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, each in state-of-the-art stadiums. The city also has attractions such as Six Flags Over Texas and American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum.
Arlington Convention Center offers 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, free Wi-Fi, an award-winning chef and catering operation, and a location adjacent to Sheraton Arlington Hotel, which has 311 guest rooms and 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Cowboys & Culture in Fort Worth
Bass Performance Hall
Fort Worth proudly boasts the title, “Where the West Begins.” There, the Old West is still very much alive, and cowboy boots are still worn by many.
Fort Worth was originally a fort built to protect settlers from Indian attacks. In the 1860s and 1870s it became part of the legendary Chisholm Trail, and thousands of cowboys drove millions of cows through there. The Texas & Pacific Railroad arrived in 1876, bringing thousands to work in the stockyards and on the railroad. The oil and aviation industries followed.
In the 1930s, Fort Worth built Will Rogers Memorial Center, a 120-acre complex of cultural, educational and business facilities including 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 8,856 sq. ft. of theater-style seating.
Recently, the city has revitalized itself with Sundance Square, a 35-block commercial, residential, entertainment and retail district, and a remodeling of Fort Worth Convention Center, now with 340,235 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 13,500-seat arena.
In addition to being Where the West Begins, Fort Worth is known as the City of Cowboys and Culture. The cowboy ambience is evident in places such as Forth Worth Stockyards National Historic District and Billy Bob’s Texas honky-tonk. The cultural side boasts facilities such as Amon Carter Museum of American Art (with superb Frederic Remington and Charles Russell collections) and Bass Performance Hall, with meeting spaces for 2,042 and reception areas for 350.
In Fort Worth, 150-year-old red-brick buildings still stand next to glass skyscrapers. The city has one eye toward a promising future and the other toward a colorful past.
Houston is a big, bawdy, bodacious boomtown built on “bidness,” as in the awl (oil) business.
Little did the two brothers who founded Houston in the 1830s dream that in 1969, “Houston” would be the first word spoken on the moon, as the astronauts communicated with Space Center Houston.
Two years later, Shell Oil moved to the city, and more than 200 other corporations followed. Houston now has 24 companies in the Fortune 500, trailing only New York City and Chicago.
Boasting 2.1 million residents, it’s the United States’ fourth-largest city. It has 10,000 restaurants and is one of only a few American cities with professional ballet, opera, symphony and theater companies.
Interesting venues abound. The Corinthian Houston, a 1905 bank building with 35-foot ceilings, marble floors and Corinthian columns, accommodates 1,000 for dinners and 2,000 for receptions. At Space Center Houston, you can hold your event where history is still being made.
Located in West Houston’s CityCentre development, luxurious Hotel Sorella CityCentre Houston features 266 guest rooms, dining options, a pool, a fitness center and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Houston Convention District is undergoing a $1.5 billion transformation. By the time the 2017 Super Bowl is hosted there in February, it will be one of the most exciting urban districts in the United States.
A new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis with 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space will connect via skybridge to George R. Brown Convention Center, with 1.2 million sq. ft. of meeting space. The 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston, with 91,500 sq. ft., is on the other side.
Five city blocks will transform into ADLA Plaza, with a grand stage for meetings and events. An area called The Wharf will be lined with interesting restaurants overlooking Discovery Green Park.
Inside the convention center, new restaurants will open, along with an entrance and concourse between exhibit halls.
“Houston’s been very good to us,” says Jodie Wilmot, director of meetings for Oberlin, the Ohio-based National Association of College Stores. “We brought 2,000 attendees to our CAMEX 2016 annual conference in March, and our attendees loved it. We’ve met in Houston three times in recent years, and we’ll be back.”
Hotel Galvez & Spa
Fifty miles southeast of Houston is the historic island city of Galveston, which features a laid-back lifestyle of an island city without the high price tag of most beach destinations, as well as many options for meetings. For over a century, the AAA Four Diamond Hotel Galvez & Spa has been a symbol of elegance on the island.
Hotel Galvez offers 224 guest rooms, 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, stunning Gulf of Mexico views, a swim-up bar and a day spa. Galvez Bar & Grill is a longtime local favorite for fresh seafood, and the hotel is located near attractions, museums and restaurants in Strand Historic District and Pier 21. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, free bicycles and helmets, and a fitness center. Planners use the expansive outdoor lawns for special events.
Thriving & Humble Irving
Irving is a small city where big things happen. Surveyors from the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf Railway arrived there in 1902, while mapping a route between Fort Worth and Dallas. They bought 80 acres, and founded the town of Irving in 1903.
The first major piece in the Irving puzzle was Cowboys Stadium, which served as the longtime home of the Dallas Cowboys. Then came Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)—the world’s third-largest—which lies partially within the city.
In 1973, Irving entrepreneur Ben Carpenter opened Las Colinas, a privately funded, master-planned community that now includes more than 1,000 corporations, along with homes, schools, shops and recreational facilities.
Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas
When Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas opened in 2011 with 100,000 sq. ft. of event space, Irving became a meetings destination.
The convention center is actually just one phase of a mixed-use entertainment district opening next year. Included will be a 350-room Westin hotel with 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a dining/entertainment destination called The Music Factory, with an 8,000-seat indoor-outdoor amphitheater. Boasting 250,000 sq. ft. of entertainment, retail and restaurant space, it will provide Irving with a true city center.
“Irving is often described as a city ‘built for grown-ups,’ in large part due to its dominant corporate presence,” says Maura Gast, executive director of Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have six Fortune 100 companies headquartered here, and hundreds more on the Fortune 1000 list. What makes Irving special, though, is how it still manages to maintain a true sense of community—and our meeting attendees sense that right away.”
Blended San Antonio
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio
San Antonio is a colorful swirl of Mexican tradition, “Texican” (the original Anglo settlers in Texas) history and Tex-Mex cuisine and culture, conjoined with Southern and Old European cultures.
The first Spanish expeditions arrived here in the late-1600s, and the riverside town of San Antonio de Bexar Presidio was founded in 1718. Five Spanish missions were established, including The Alamo, and by 1778 it was a thriving town of 2,000.
During the Texas Revolution, San Antonio saw several battles, among them the epic struggle for The Alamo in March 1836. After the Civil War, the town prospered as the southern terminus of many cattle drives, as well as a commercial and military center. Several major railroads arrived in the late-1800s, and by 1885, the population exceeded 20,000.
Southerners began moving there, along with emigrants from Germany. Then, as a result of the Mexican Revolution, starting in 1910, thousands of Mexicans arrived. The merging of Hispanic, German and Southern Anglo-American cultures produced a fascinating mix of customs, cuisines and celebrations. It also produced a city of 1.5 million people, seventh-largest in the United States.
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, with 1.6 million sq. ft. of meeting space, is right on the famed River Walk, which features thousands of hotel rooms, restaurants and shops. Just a 20-minute drive from downtown, in the beautiful Hill Country, Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, provides 54,000 sq. ft. of technologically advanced meeting space, along with 500 guest rooms, 27 holes of golf, a 5-acre water park, rustic Windflower Spa (in a barn) and eight restaurants, including the noteworthy Antlers Lodge.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa
Hotel Valencia Riverwalk features impeccable architecture with rich finishes, along with highly acclaimed Citrus Restaurant, 213 guest rooms and 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
San Antonio’s unique cultural heritage also makes for interesting offsites. Historic La Villita (little village) can host receptions for more than 1,200 in an Old World ambience filled with plazas, galleries and restaurants.
Mexican and Tex-Mex are the culinary favorites, and the city celebrates its food, arts, history and traditions in colorful street festivals such as Fiesta San Antonio (April), Texas Folklife Festival (June) and Fiesta Primavera at Market Square (March).
The Woodlands: Peaceful & Focused
The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center
George Mitchell purchased 50,000 acres—2,800 of which became The Woodlands—30 miles north of Houston in 1964.
Today, The Woodlands is a thriving city of 113,000 with superb entertainment, cultural, retail and recreational facilities, and a burgeoning corporate and meetings center. There’s more than 21 million sq. ft. of office, research, institutional and industrial space in The Woodlands, and more than 63,000 employees. It features 7,790 acres of green space, 205 miles of hiking/biking trails and waterways everywhere. The area has 14 hotels, 200 restaurants and excellent conference centers.
The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center boasts 406 guest rooms, 60,000 sq. ft. of IACC-certified conference space, four noteworthy restaurants, two championship golf courses, The Spa, Forest Oasis Waterscape, a tennis center, bike paths and thousands of acres of forest. The city also boasts an outdoor performing-arts venue, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, with 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in its new event center.
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands
This is a city in the country, sitting amid 28,000 acres of forest and waterways. Your attendees can often access their meetings—and pretty much anything else—by free trolley or Woodland Waterway cruisers.
“The Woodlands is unique because it has the amenities of a larger city, but still cherishes the beauty of nature,” says Nick Wolda, president of The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Grapevine: An Intriguing Mix
Historic Grapevine, located between Dallas and Fort Worth, is a particularly appealing destination for groups seeking a blend of vintage and modern Texas. It boasts a historic downtown area with unique shops, restaurants and art galleries.
The city also features wine-tasting rooms, a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities, award-winning festivals and events, Grapevine Vintage Railroad and much more.
Meeting groups are also lured by Grapevine’s 20 hotels, which together offer 800,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, equipped with modern-day technology.
One of Grapevine’s outstanding properties, the luxurious Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, offers 1,511 guest rooms and 407,489 sq. ft. of event space. The resort recently announced that it will embark on a $120 million project that will add 300 guest rooms and 86,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The expansion is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
The Gaylord and the 19 other Grapevine hotels all are within a 10-minute drive of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), which handles more than 2,000 flights daily.
Germany in the Texas Hill Country
Texas Hill Country lies between San Antonio and Austin. It’s a place of quiet beauty, rolling hills and interesting surprises. One of them is Fredericksburg, a town settled by German emigrants in the mid-1800s that still reflects German traditions in its food, architecture and gemutlichkeit (friendliness).
Attendees can check out Sunday Houses, which are one-room cottages built by the settlers to house their families when they came into town for church on Sundays. They can also see classic Old German architecture as they walk along the streets featuring unique collectible and craft shops, and can enjoy the wafting, enticing aromas from restaurants such as Old German Bakery & Restaurant, Otto’s German bistro and Der Lindenbaum.
This little town is the home of National Museum of the Pacific War, where World War II in the Pacific comes alive in dramatic exhibits. Why is this place of high military honor located in such a small town? Fredericksburg was the hometown of Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific, and a descendant of German settlers.
The winding roads of Texas Hill Country lead to some interesting places, among them Pedernales Cellars, one of a number of award-winning wineries there, and the home of former president Lyndon B. Johnson.
You can even hold meetings in the hill country. Hangar Hotel is actually built inside an old airplane hangar at a small airport, with decor straight out of the 1940s. The active runway outside (the rooms are soundproof) is filled with old planes, some from World War II, and there’s a diner alongside it. The hotel has 9,800 sq. ft. of meeting and conference space, along with 50 incredibly cool guest rooms.
Major Meeting Venues
Austin Convention Center
One of the most technologically advanced convention centers in the United States; LEED Gold certified; prefunction spaces have great downtown views; 881,400 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency Austin
AAA Four Diamond hotel on Lady Bird Lake; complimentary Wi-Fi; outdoor pool with skyline views; Southwest Bistro, Marker 10 restaurant; Starbucks; 448 guest rooms; 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
JW Marriott Austin
The largest hotel in Austin; 24-hour business center; executive lounge; four dining options, including excellent Osteria Pronto restaurant; pool deck with bar; 1,012 guest rooms; 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas
Undergoing $33 million upgrade, including interior design, water/power systems and ballrooms; 2 million sq. ft. of meeting space; three ballrooms.
Omni Dallas Hotel
Connected by skybridge to Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center; stunning downtown views from pool deck; Bob’s Steak & Chop House; 1,001 guest rooms; 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sheraton Dallas Hotel
Downtown location in Dallas Arts District; three outstanding restaurants and bars; well-equipped fitness center; intimate outdoor patio with firepits for events; 1,840 guest rooms; 230,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
American Airlines Training & Conference Center
Set amid 30 acres of woodlands; innovative cuisine at Blackhawk Dining Room; outdoor pool; 299 guest rooms; 75,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Fort Worth Convention Center
Located in Central Business District; within walking distance of thousands of hotel rooms; events plaza connects to Fort Worth Water Gardens; 13,500-seat arena; 340,235 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Omni Fort Worth Hotel
AAA Four Diamond Hotel; full-service Mokara Spa; Whiskey & Rye offers drinks, games and live music; six dining options; built-in prefunction areas; 614 guest rooms; 68,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
George R. Brown Convention Center
1.2 million sq. ft. of meeting space; by early 2017, will feature new outdoor event space called The Wharf, new grand lobby, new Skyline Flex space with 90,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and dramatic views.
Green Seal-certified hotel located downtown; Skyline Spa & Health Club on 23rd floor; 1,200 guest rooms; 91,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hotel Galvez & Spa
AAA Four Diamond resort located in Galveston; Gulf Coast landmark; elegant, classical design; pool and swim-up bar; Galvez Bar & Grill; 224 guest rooms;13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas
Four pools and huge rec center; two championship golf courses; Well & Being Spa; 431 guest rooms; 41,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas
Stunning glass architecture lets the outside in; part of mixed-use urban center that will include a new Westin hotel and 8,000-seat entertainment venue; LEED certified; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas
Set amid beautiful grounds overlooking Lake Carolyn; Trevi’s Restaurant offers Italian, American, Southwestern fare; full-service Mokara Spa; 421 guest rooms; 31,000 sq. ft. of elegant meeting space.
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center
Recently underwent $325 million transformation; has 1.6 million sq. ft. of meeting space, updated design features, advanced technology, 72 breakout rooms and the largest ballroom (54,000 sq. ft.) in Texas.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa
Built on the historic Rogers-Wiseman ranch; eight restaurants; Hill Country Golf Club offers 27 holes; Windflower Spa inside a barn; 500 guest rooms; 54,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa
Luxurious resort in beautiful countryside; two championship golf courses; seven dining options; 6-acre water park with lazy river; full-service Lantana Spa; 1,002 guest rooms; 265,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Westin at The Woodlands
Current is a striking waterfront restaurant; 24-hour fitness studio; in-room spa treatments; second-floor outdoor infinity pool; cocktails at Sidebar lounge; 302 guest rooms; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center
Tucked away on 28,000 acres in the Texas Piney Woods; recent $60 million expansion and renovation included design upgrades to conference center; 406 guest rooms; 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center
336 guest rooms; Italian restaurant, lounge and Starbuck’s; outdoor pool; spa; 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, with advanced technology.