In pretty much any category you can think of, from its landscapes to its persona, Texas looms large. Take Houston, for instance. Unfettered by zoning concerns, the city’s ever-expanding footprint easily incorporates those of Boston, D.C., Minneapolis, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Seattle—combined. There are 10 downtown districts alone, and at least as many nicknames for the city. Within this sprawl are countless unique experiences for groups, true of Texas itself. So how to make sense of it all and zero in on a memorable location for your group? Let the destination experts show the way.
John Graner, Owner,
A Hosts Global Member (DMC)
For our groups, we like to tell Houston’s story through the food and people that make up our great city. One of our favorite options is showcasing some of our ethnic neighborhoods with our culinary tours. For example, we may explore Houston’s Chinatown. Covering approximately six square miles, it’s one of the largest in the country by size. This creates the opportunity to take groups to a variety of restaurants representing not only multiple regions of China, but other Asian cuisines, such as Korean, Vietnamese and Malaysian. Depending on the theme, these experiences are led by one of Houston’s numerous great chefs, including James Beard Award-winners Chris Shepherd and Justin Yu. It’s definitely the best way to learn about Houston and its food!
Another trend is incorporating into our events local artists and entertainment that speak to the diversity of cultures represented in Houston. For example, we have some talented street and graffiti artists who create unique pieces of art during events. These are great takeaways, or better still, can be an interactive activity for attendees. In addition, we want to support local dance troupes and bands, which can include drum lines, Chinese dragon dancers and our beautiful Folklorico dancers.
In terms of venue selection, Houston has seen quite a few exciting new openings around town leading up to the Super Bowl earlier this year, and in the time since then. The city offers both indoor and outdoor options that work great for large or small groups. These include restored warehouse spaces that serve as blank slates for a wide variety of event programs and designs, along with some amazing Texas-themed options suitable for all types of groups and budgets. Now more than ever, Houston offers near-endless possibilities for event experiences.
Director of Destination Services, Grapevine CVB
Grapevine offers meeting planners and attendees a diverse array of conference spaces, meeting venues and more with a side of Texas hospitality. For planners seeking opportunities to wow attendees, I highly recommend the following three “can’t miss” experiences found only in Grapevine.
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad offers a variety of train excursions on the Historic Cotton Belt Route. The railroad is the perfect setting for teambuilding, networking or unwinding in a setting where attendees travel back in time in 1920s-era coaches, pulled by either an 1896 steam engine named “Puffy” or a 1953 diesel named “Vinny.” Custom excursions and stationary charters, as well as weekly excursions, are available. Groups can enhance their package with wine from Grapevine’s winery tasting rooms or other catering options in Grapevine. Each excursion can be tailored to meet a group’s needs.
Groups can also experience Austin Ranch, one of the oldest ranches in Texas. In operation since the late 1800s, this Western-themed event venue sits on more than 90 spectacular acres of rolling hills and dense woods, including a 10-acre lake. Offering more than 12,200 square feet of great indoor space, complete with a grand ballroom, the property also features an additional 9,000 square feet of outdoor patios. Austin Ranch, which can accommodate groups from 30 to 1,500, is perfect for corporate retreats, teambuilding sessions, evening receptions and more.
Another option for groups is to sip and savor along Texas’s premier Urban Wine Trail at one of 10 winery tasting rooms, pouring everything from strong and bold Texas red wines to crisp and clean Texas white wines. Each stop along the trail has a unique atmosphere, diverse selection of wines and knowledgeable wine growers and sommeliers. Grapevine is also home to two craft breweries and a cidery. Also part of the Urban Wine Trail is Grapevine’s art and culture scene displayed along the Public Art Trail, featuring bronze statues, murals, art galleries and more.
Maritza Munoz, Special Events Coordinator, Visit McAllen
Built in the 1930s, Quinta Mazatlan is a Spanish Revival-style adobe mansion set on 20 acres of lawn, gardens and forest, complete with walking trails. It serves both as a nature center and a special event venue.
The venue will appeal to history buffs. The original owners built much of the home themselves, fashioning the adobe bricks by hand. Cedar beams in the home were purportedly a gift to the owner from the king of Lebanon to thank him for fighting alongside Lawrence of Arabia during Lebanon’s War of Independence.
Acquired by the city in 1998, Quinta Mazatlan today is an urban sanctuary working to share knowledge about birds, plants and environmental stewardship in South Texas. As part of the World Birding Center Complex, it attracts many wildlife watchers. Featuring an art gallery, wildlife sculpture trail and permanent popular Mexican art display, the property is also a popular location for special events and can cater to groups.
Another local highlight, the Smithsonian-affiliated International Museum of Art & Science (IMAS) is the premier art and science museum of South Texas, featuring 50,000-plus square feet of exhibit space and a permanent collection that includes folk, fine and decorative art. With revolving exhibitions throughout the year, IMAS encourages creativity and innovation through unique hands-on science and art programs for visitors. Groups can take advantage of its versatile rental facilities, which include the galleries, Industrial Lab and Creativity Central room.
Primarily located on 17th Street (the city’s original Mexican Main Street) but also extending to its cross streets, McAllen’s Entertainment District has evolved over recent years to become the social gathering place for the region. Featuring some 36 restaurants, lounges, nightclubs and bars, the district buzzes with energy and live entertainment, including Cine El Rey, a 1947 landmark theater updated for film, comedy and stage productions.
Groups can use the private space Patio on Guerra, located in one of the Rio Grande Valley’s oldest buildings, a ranching and mercantile store from around 1908, which is now known for its fine dining, Bloody Mary’s and exotic cocktails. Renowned for its gorditas, El Pocito Restaurant is housed in a still-active 80-year-old tortilla factory, and is another group option.