Old Dominion’s top meeting destinations have unique personalities
For more than 47 years, Virginia has lured visitors with the promise, “Virginia is for lovers.” Martin & Woltz Inc., the Richmond-based agency that created the campaign, originally considered multiple variations on that theme:
“Virginia is for history lovers.”
“Virginia is for beach lovers.”
“Virginia is for mountain lovers.”
The idea was to convey that tourists could find whatever they loved most in a vacation in Virginia. Ultimately, they opted to keep it simple…and a little cheeky.
Magazines and trade organizations have lauded the slogan as one of the most iconic campaigns of all time. But it’s more than just words: It’s a testament to the state’s diverse landscapes and attractions. From mountains to beaches, museums to vineyards, Virginia is a delight for business and leisure travelers alike.
With a central, Mid-Atlantic location, nine airports and 16 Amtrak stations, traveling to Virginia couldn’t be easier.
“Virginia is a business-friendly environment offering an inspirational location to conduct business in a setting of technology and authentic travel experiences,” says Caroline Logan, director of communications for Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Here’s a look at 10 unique meeting regions in Virginia. With such a diversity of personalities, groups can meet their match.
1. Virginia Beach: Bustling Beach Town
Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium, Virginia Beach
When a meeting is held in Virginia Beach, the question is never to go, or not to go: It’s whether to arrive early, or stay late. The city offers outdoor sports, artisanal goods in the Vibe creative district, fresh seafood and 35 miles of beautiful beaches—bolstered by the convenience of being in the commonwealth’s most populous city.
At busy Resort Beach, visitors stroll along the 3-mile oceanfront boardwalk, with opportunities for biking, boating, kayaking, parasailing and stand-up paddleboarding. Beyond the waterfront, visitors turn to traditional pastimes including golf, or more adventurous activities such as ziplining at The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium or indoor skydiving at Ifly Virginia Beach.
For meetings and expos, Virginia Beach Convention Center—a LEED Gold certified venue—has more than 500,000 sq. ft. of space. Nearby, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center has spaces that can accommodate up to 1,200 guests.
Opening in the spring, Hyatt House Virginia Beach/Oceanfront will add another 156 guest rooms to the more than 12,000 rooms already available across the city. The Cavalier, one of the city’s most iconic properties, will reopen in the summer with 85 newly renovated guest rooms. The 2,490-square-foot ballroom is popular for private events.
2. Norfolk: Where Mermaids are Real
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk
Norfolk is not a typical coastal city. For starters, the 400-year-old port town is home to Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base. And then there are the mermaids.
After Norfolk adopted its first mermaid logo in 1999, residents rallied support for a mermaid parade. The result was the creation of 130 10-foot bronze mermaid sculptures painted by local artists and adopted by business and community leaders for display throughout the city. Today, the city’s official website includes an interactive mermaid map. Mermaid painting at the Mermaid Factory is one of Norfolk’s most popular tourist activities.
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel (photo by Michael Grimm)
The mermaids, however, have competition for visitors’ attention: Norfolk also boasts chef-owned restaurants, a thriving arts scene, an opera house, a symphony hall and the Battleship Wisconsin. Chrysler Museum of Art houses one of the top glass collections in the country.
Norfolk is known to deliver when it’s time to meet, boasting approximately 5,400 hotel rooms and 263,370 sq. ft. of event space. More than 220,000 sq. ft. of that meeting space is located downtown and accessible by light rail.
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, which offers 46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 468 guest rooms, has drawn large conventions. The area will become even more appealing this spring when the long-awaited Hilton Norfolk at The Main opens with 300 guest rooms and 42,000 sq. ft. of meeting space downtown, including a 20,000-square-foot IACC-certified conference center.
3. Hampton: Air Apparent
Hampton is one of the gems of Southeast Virginia. Home to Langley Air Force Base and the Virginia Air and Space Center, visitors also enjoy the city’s charming waterfront.
Leisure travelers may associate Hampton with aviation, but meeting planners know it for Hampton Roads Convention Center. With 344,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space—and 35 flexible spaces for up to 14,000 delegates—it’s one of the state’s largest meeting venues. The convention center conveniently connects to the neighboring Embassy Suites Hampton, which offers 192,384 sq. ft. of conference space and 295 guest rooms. The complex also features venerable Hampton Coliseum, which opened in 1970. The 9,777-seat arena became a regular stage for the Grateful Dead and was the original home of the American Basketball Association’s Virginia Squires.
4. Williamsburg: The Past is the Present
Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg
Williamsburg is more than Colonial reenactments of yesteryear. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“When we talk to people about hosting a meeting in Williamsburg, their initial response is ‘I remember going to Colonial Williamsburg as a child and exploring its rich history,’” says Dominique Holt, associate director for conference sales and marketing for Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance. “We take pride in our history—however, what people don’t realize is there is so much more to our area.”
Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses (photo by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a tremendous resource. It’s a center for history and citizenship, and encourages national and international visitors to learn from the past through the preservation, restoration and presentation of 18th-century Williamsburg and the study, interpretation, and teaching of the United States’ founding democratic principles.
Modern Williamsburg dazzles visitors with championship golf, world-class spas, an award-winning winery, farm-to-table dining and Busch Gardens theme park, all within minutes of the Revolutionary city.
That old-meets-new concept extends to the city’s meeting spaces, as well. At Kingsmill Resort, high-tech facilities meet Southern hospitality. Groups can choose from 16 meeting rooms spread out among 20,000 sq. ft. meeting space, plus the private Pettus House for special events and retreats. The 425-room resort has three golf courses, 15 tennis courts, a spa, Segway tours and water sports in the adjoining marina.
Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg offers spacious meeting space, with an indoor water park. There are 405 suites and more than 14,000 sq. ft. of event space.
5. Richmond: Foodie Paradise
Lemaire Restaurant at Jefferson Hotel, Richmond
Forget San Francisco and Brooklyn. Richmond is America’s current gastronomical darling. A melting pot of people and history, seasoned with arts and culture, Conde Nast Traveler declared it the “Southern food destination you need to know about,” while National Geographic Traveler named it one of the top travel destinations in the world for food.
Visitors love savoring Chesapeake Bay oysters at Rappahannock Restaurant, sampling artisanal cider at Blue Bee Cider, grabbing a pint at a buzzy craft brewery or sitting for dinner—including pork fries—at Heritage. The only drawback to visiting Richmond is the overwhelming number of excellent restaurant choices.
Greater Richmond Convention Center, with more than 700,000 sq. ft. of space and a 258-seat lecture hall, is a few blocks from the burgeoning Grace Street restaurant scene. Jefferson Hotel has 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 261 guest rooms and Lemaire, a celebrated restaurant.
For those looking for a setting outside of the downtown area, Wyndham Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center is a AAA Four Diamond hotel and IACC-approved executive conference center located on a 20-acre estate overlooking a golf course, less than 15 minutes from downtown.
6. Charlottesville: Jefferson’s Legacy
Woodland Pavilion at Monticello, Charlottesville (photo by © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello)
It’s impossible to travel to Charlottesville without seeing a nod to the city’s most famous son, Thomas Jefferson. Monticello, Jefferson’s home, is the city’s top tourist attraction, followed by University of Virginia, another Jefferson legacy. Fortunately for meeting planners, both are available for private events.
At Monticello, groups can reserve the 15,500-square-foot Jefferson Library for scholarly talks and receptions or seated dinners for up to 60 guests. Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center, on the lower slope of Monticello Mountain, is LEED Gold certified and has 42,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, with five pavilions for events. For smaller receptions, board meetings or presentations, Monticello offers Robert H. and Clarice Smith Woodland Pavilion.
For more traditional conference facilities, planners turn to Boar’s Head, the official hotel of the university, which features 175 renovated guest rooms and more than 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space—including a 9,000-square-foot pavilion, 19 function rooms and outdoor space. One of the standout perks there is the resort’s partnership with Organizational Wide Leadership Solutions (OWLS) for team-building activities. From cooking classes to rock climbing, to gardening, the resort will coordinate world-class experiential education programs for any group.
7. Loudon County: Napa of the East
Salamander Resort & Spa, Middleburg
Northern California isn’t the only region in the United States with a booming wine industry. In Leesburg, local vineyards are luring visitors away from nearby Washington, DC, for lazy afternoons of wine tasting and bucolic bliss. Casanel Vineyards and Winery allows guests to taste and purchase nine exclusive blends from the vineyards. Stone Tower Winery hosts small corporate events at its Wild Boar Hall and Summit Room.
Though it doesn’t boast a vineyard, Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg has 296 guest rooms and 55,000 sq. ft. of total function space. Conference planners at the resort can arrange team-building tournaments on the two championship golf courses or even organize off-property events at local wineries.
Stone Tower Winery, Leesburg
The National Conference Center is a distraction-free meeting site in Leesburg. The IACC Green Seal-certified facility has 917 guest rooms, as well as 250 conference rooms, breakout rooms and general session spaces totaling 265,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg is a meeting center situated on 340 acres, which are surrounded by wineries and horse farms. Salamander has its own equestrian center along with 12,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space and 168 guest rooms.
8. Fairfax County: The Sampler
Nourish Cafe at Convene, McLean
For history buffs, there’s Mount Vernon. For outdoor enthusiasts, there’s Great Falls Park. Music lovers can take in a concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, foodies can savor the farm-to-table flavors at Trummer’s on Main and the style set can splurge on world-class shopping at Tysons Galleria. From biking and golfing to battlefields and microbreweries, sprawling Fairfax County has a taste of practically everything that Virginia offers.
Fairfax County, located less than an hour outside Washington, DC, is chosen by federal agencies, Fortune 500 companies and political insiders for the combination of big-city amenities and suburban convenience. Meeting planners are similarly drawn to the area’s breadth of choices.
The Barns at Wolf Trap, Vienna
Groups partial to a modern, start-up vibe for meetings head to Convene in Tysons Corner. The space includes Nourish Cafe, state-of-the-art technology and collaborative workspaces. The 15,000-square-foot location features six meeting rooms plus a reservable lounge, and has capacity for up to 200 people. Though it lacks guest rooms, Convene partners with nearby hotels to secure low rates for overnight guests. Local meeting participants can take the Metro Silver Line to the venue.
For a white glove hotel meeting experience, The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner offers 15 meeting spaces in more than 30,000 sq. ft. of space, as well as 398 guest rooms. Planners seeking a more intimate gathering should consider The Barns at Wolf Trap, two restored 18th-century barns with modern amenities.
9. Alexandria: Beltway Getaway
Christ Church, Alexandria
Metro-accessible and only 3 miles from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Alexandria is one of the most popular Washington, DC, suburbs because it combines convenience with history. After a day of productive sessions and modern conveniences, guests can step back in time to experience Gadsby’s Tavern and Christ Church, the spots where founders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe once gathered in the city.
The Westin Alexandria offers more than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting, space including the largest ballroom in Old Town.
Beyond the city’s hotel conference center options, Mary M. Gates Learning Center at the United Way Worldwide is a convenient space for education and training. The facility offers more than 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, covering two stories. It offers a wide variety of options for collaborative innovation, including a business center, recording studio, webinar rooms and lounge areas.
In addition to more than 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the facility has “de-stressing” areas.
10. Roanoke: Star of the Blue Ridge
Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
For centuries, travelers have used the North Star to find their way home, but in Southwest Virginia, there’s a star that shines brighter than the celestial beacon: the 88-foot neon-lit Roanoke Star atop Mill Mountain.
Visible for 60 miles from the air, it’s both a sight to see and a site from which visitors see the city below. From that vantage point, it’s clear why groups find their way back to Roanoke.
Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke has endless opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, paddling, mountain biking and fishing. The area’s indoor attractions are also excellent.
Last year, the 134-year-old Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center completed a $6.3 million renovation of its 330 guest rooms and joined Hilton’s newest brand, Curio, which caters to properties with individual identity. The Tudor-style hotel’s IACC-approved conference center has 63,000 sq. ft. of high-tech conference space. In nearby Blacksburg, The Inn at Virginia Tech has 147 guest rooms and 193,000 sq. ft. of highly wired meeting space set on 25 lush acres with views of the Allegheny Mountains.
“Visitors will fall in love with the stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the chance to discover the region’s rich railroad heritage, walkable downtown full of local shopping, and of course delicious Southern cooking,” says Alex Michaels, director of sales for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “Once you experience our true Southern hospitality, you might never want to leave.”
Robyn Hagan Cain is a San Francisco-based writer and an avid traveler.
Major Meeting Venues
Official hotel of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 175 renovated guest rooms; 19 function rooms and outdoor spaces.
Greater Richmond Convention Center
State’s largest exhibition and meeting facility; 700,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 178,159 sq. ft. of exhibition space; certified Virginia Green Convention Center.
Located in Richmond; 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 261 guest rooms; Lemaire restaurant; region’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel.
Located in Charlottesville; 15,500-square-foot library for presentations and receptions for up to 120; 42,000-square-foot visitor center with five pavilions for events; LEED Gold certified.
Wyndham Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center
Glen Allen property; 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 83 guest rooms; state-of-the-art technology; AAA Four Diamond hotel; ACC-approved; golf course.
Standalone meeting space in Tysons Corner; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; capacity for up to 200; cafe access; state-of-the-art technology; collaborative workspace features; accessible by Metro Silver Line.
Lansdowne Resort and Spa
55,000 sq. ft. of total function space in Leesburg; 37 dedicated meeting rooms; 296 guest rooms; pool and fitness center; golf course.
Mary M. Gates Learning Center at the United Way Worldwide
Alexandria center offers more than 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; six river-view meeting rooms; two computer labs; video broadcast rooms; “de-stressing” areas; business center; complimentary Wi-Fi.
Stone Tower Winery
Two meeting areas for small events in Leesburg; Wild Board Hall accommodates up to 50; Summit Room accommodates up to 35; wine tastings and tours available.
The Barns at Wolf Trap
Restored 18th-century barns with modern amenities in Vienna; English Barn has 2,200 sq. ft., accommodating up to 200; German Barn has 3,500 sq. ft., accommodating 400.
The National Conference Center
More than 265,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space in Leesburg; 917 guest rooms; 250 conference rooms, breakout rooms and general session spaces; ICAA Green Seal certified.
The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner
Photo by The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner
Property offers 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 398 guest rooms; next to Tysons Galleria; spa; Vincent’s Wine Club; America Eats Tavern.
The Westin Alexandria
More than 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting and prefunction space; largest ballroom in Old Town; accommodates up to 700 guests; 319 guest rooms.
Embassy Suites Hampton
192,384 sq. ft. of event space; 295 guest rooms; connected to Hampton Roads Convention Center; A/V and staging capabilities.
Hampton Roads Convention Center
344,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space; accommodates 14,000 delegates; 1,600 hotel rooms within walking distance.
Williamsburg landmark; 20,000-square-foot, IACC-certified meeting space; 425 guest rooms; overlooks James River; three golf courses; fitness center; spa.
Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel
46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16 meeting rooms; 468 guest rooms; dedicated convention services manager; accommodates up to 1,200.
Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel
Photo by Bradley Hart
More than 12,000 sq. ft. of space; 214 guest rooms; ocean views; outdoor and indoor pools; fitness center; hot tub; water sports rentals; free Wi-Fi.
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Great offsite venue in Virginia Beach; Bay & Ocean Pavilion accommodates 1,200 guests; McLeskey Promenade Room accommodates 120 people seated; National Geographic 3D Theater seats 260.
Virginia Beach Convention Center
More than 500,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 150,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space; first U.S. convention center to earn LEED Gold certification.
Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses
45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 28 state-of-the-art meeting rooms; combined 398 guest rooms; accommodates up to 800 attendees; spa; dining.
Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center
63,000 sq. ft. of high-tech conference space; 330 guest rooms; $6.3 million renovation completed in 2016; IACC-approved conference center.
The Inn at Virginia Tech
193,000 sq. ft. of highly wired meeting space; 147 guest rooms; IACC-approved conference center; accommodates up to 700; located on Virginia Tech campus.