As drive-to meetings gain in popularity nationwide in response to rising airfares and excessive fees, certain destinations are taking vigorous advantage of being, well, local, and not fretting to be acknowledged as second- or third-tier alternatives.

The following four regional destinations offer affordable meetings options near major metropolitan areas and plenty of fun and excitement for attendees who bring the family.

Santa Cruz/Monterey/Carmel
www.santacruz.org/meetings, www.seemonterey.com/meetings, www.carmelcalifornia.com/meetings

These Northern California coastal destination lure meeting groups with their distinctive flair and historic charm.

 

In Santa Cruz, 75 percent of its meeting groups are drive-ins from the Bay Area, which is located 74 miles from San Francisco, said Laura Manriquez, director of sales and marketing for Visit Santa Cruz County.

“There is regular attendance of groups from Google, Facebook, Uber, Adobe and Apple at our full-service hotels, with the ideal group size being 150 to 250,” Manriquez said.

New hotel projects in Santa Cruz include Hyatt Place, with 106 rooms and 1,650 square feet of meeting space, and the Fairfield Inn & Suites, with 82 rooms and 1,000 square feet of meeting space. Off-site venues and experiences for groups include the Downtown Farmers Market, zipline canopy tours, themed sailing charters, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and golf, as well as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

A new conference center, 1440 Multiversity, recently opened in Scotts Valley, six miles north of Santa Cruz. Set amid the forest, the facility offers quiet reflection, classes, lectures, guest speakers, retreats and healthy food, along with a healing arts center and teaching kitchen.

Heading 43 miles south along Highway 1 to Monterey, the city’s main conference center, which can draw upward of 3,000 attendees, is in the final throes of a $60 million renovation. The center is located near the major hotels with a total of 1,200 rooms, a 10-minute walk from Cannery Row and 300 steps from the waterfront.

Mark McMinn, vice president of sales for the Monterey County CVB, said two of the city’s best meetings properties have finished some upgrade projects. At the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, located near the conference center, the outdoor patio was redone along with a new fire pit, furnishings and a glass railing, and a new rooftop sundeck was constructed at the Vista Blue Spa. The Portola Hotel & Spa adjacent to the center has upgraded all its 379 rooms.

McMinn recommends several off-site experiences for groups: whale watching, corporate sailing regattas, wine blending and a beachfront barbecue or clam bake at the Monterey Beach House.

Four miles south of Monterey is quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is one square mile in size and offers 80-plus art galleries, 12 wine-tasting rooms and a variety of meeting venues for small groups.

Options include the Sunset Center, which features four newly renovated meeting rooms totaling around 4,000 square feet, an outdoor plaza and terrace, and a 718-seat state-of-the-art theater; and the Carmel Valley Ranch, a 500-acre, 180-suite luxury resort a few miles from downtown. The property offers teambuilding activities such as The Ranch Race (a la The Amazing Race TV show), Back-Country Obstacle Course, the Team Geocaching treasure hunt and the Organic Garden Scavenger Hunt.

Texas Hill Country

With its quaint town of Fredericksburg, scenic landscape, wineries and close proximity to San Antonio and Austin, Texas Hill Country is an automatic drive-to choice in Texas.