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5 Unique Desert Event Venues That Give Attendees a Sense of Place

Cactus Alley reception setup, Springs Preserve, Las Vegas

Don’t be mistaken—when it comes to desert regions, the expansive images of barren landscapes and oppressive sun that may come to your mind are oftentimes just a preconceived idea picked up from movies or storybooks. In reality, deserts in the western U.S. are home to thriving cities, fascinating plant growth and a resilience of life and spirit that is inspiring. 

Whether you take your meetings to Arizona, Nevada, California or Idaho, you won’t be disappointed at the plethora of opportunities to discover what makes cities in these regions unique. From botanical gardens to tramways and downtown city blocks, here are a variety of ways you can host special events in desert destinations while giving your attendees a genuine sense of place. 

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson 

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson

If you want to learn more about the Sonoran Desert, this is the place to start. A zoo, botanical garden, aquarium and art gallery all in one, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson houses 230 animal species in their natural habitat surrounded by 1,200 types of plants across 98 expansive acres.  

Situated between Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park, the museum not only offers an educational experience, but also provides stunning backdrops for offsite events. Plan a networking event in the tranquil Desert Garden for up to 250 or take in the expansive desert views during a seated dinner at 100-capacity Taylor Plaza. Other venues at the museum include the indoor Green Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows with retractable glass panels that open up to a covered veranda; and the Ocotillo Cafe, where artwork and native plants adorn the museum’s onsite restaurant that can host private events for up to 90. 

[Related: Exploring the Food Heritage and Culinary Highlights of Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix 

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix.
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix. Credit: Desert Botanical Garden

Locals know it well, but new visitors to Phoenix may be surprised at the abundance and variety of flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert, and few places show off the beauty of the natural area like Desert Botanical Garden. About 50,000 plants and five thematic trails make up the garden, and all event guests get complimentary access to the whole garden, with the option to stroll through all of the spaces. Discounted tickets are available for groups that just want to experience the garden as an offsite activity, too.  

A plethora of beautiful event spaces are available for private events. The Binns Wildflower Pavilion provides an intimate covered outdoor option with twinkling lights and scenic views of Camelback Mountain and Papago Buttes, surrounded by desert plants off of the Wildflower Trails. Scents of sage and lavender waft through the Steele Herb Garden, an intimate space for up to 75 ideal for cocktail hours or dinner receptions. For larger groups, rent the Dorrance Center, which includes Dorrance Hall, Boppart Courtyard and Kitchell Patio, adding flexible indoor-outdoor space for 250 seated or 500 standing. 

Basque Block, Boise 

Basque Center, Boise
Basque Center, Boise


Some may be surprised to learn that a place nicknamed “The City of Trees” is home to a desert climate, but it’s true of Boise, Idaho. The capital of Idaho is technically set in a high-desert area. According to Visit Boise, oral history claims that “French-Canadian fur trappers named Boise in the early 19th century. The trappers, after crossing the hot, dry desert, crested a hill and, gazing down on the woods surrounding the Boise River, exclaimed ‘Les bois! Les bois!’ (‘Woods! Woods!’).”  

This oasis is an increasingly popular meetings destination and offers groups many interesting attractions and experiences. One of the most unique is the Basque Block. In the late 1800s, many Basque (a region that straddles parts of northern Spain and southwestern France) immigrants came to Idaho to work as sheepherders.  

Today, Boise has one of the largest concentrations of Basque populations per capita in the U.S. The Basque Block in downtown Boise’s historic district preserves the traditions and flavors of the Basque people. Groups can dine at the many restaurants, visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, peruse the Basque Market and more. Groups can even use the Basque Block for events—the Basque Center can be used for events year-round, or planners can work with the Basque Market to reserve the whole block. Cultural activities and groups like Oinkari Basque Dancers (traditional Basque folk dance) can be booked for educational performances. 

[Related: On the Scene: The Beauty and Bounty of Boise, Idaho’s Meetings and Events Offerings]

Springs Preserve, Las Vegas 

Agave Room, Springs Preserve
Agave Room, Springs Preserve. Courtesy of Springs Preserve

Just miles from the non-stop action of the Las Vegas Strip is a 180-acre oasis, Springs Preserve, where visitors can learn about the landscapes and wildlife that make Nevada unique through botanical gardens, educational exhibits, galleries, walking trails, live shows and more. The site earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and in addition to educating visitors about the origins of the surrounding landscapes, it also provides a vision for a more sustainable future. 

Groups can make the 10-minute trek from the lights and sounds of the strip to attend a more tranquil event in one of the many spaces available at Springs Preserve. During the summer heat, take your event indoors at one of the many meeting rooms inside or the beautiful the Agave Room, which can host up to 120 in its airy room with cathedral ceilings and natural light. Outdoors, courtyards and amphitheaters are plentiful for open-air events—groups up to 500 can even take over the entire botanical garden. For a dose of history, rent out the historic streetscape, Boomtown 1905, that displays some of Las Vegas’ iconic storefronts and an original railroad cottage. 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Credit: Wandering Maverick Photo + Film

Fresh off of a renovation this year—and also celebrating its 60th anniversary—the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a unique way to view the picturesque 14,000-acre Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area and Coachella Valley. Planners can secure group rates to ride the tramway and dine for lunch or dinner at the Pines Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant, or at Peaks Restaurant. 

At 8,517 feet above sea level, groups can also conduct meetings at the top in a variety of spaces, including both restaurants: the Francis Crocker Room—dedicated to the “Father of the Tramway”—with a fireplace and state park view for 25-136 people; or the Culver Nichols Room, dedicated to the man who donated land for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s Valley Station, for intimate banquets and meetings of up to 24 guests (the room is undergoing renovations expected to wrap at the end of the year). 

Read this next: Visit Phoenix's Deborah Lahti on the Explosive Growth in the Valley of the Sun

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About the author
Danielle LeBreck | Senior Content Director

Danielle started at Meetings Today in March 2019 after seven years of editorial experience in the travel and food industries. She oversees all of the destination content for Meetings Today and collaborates with the team on digital content strategy and content marketing initiatives.