A coastal meeting or event can be closer than you think. Beach activities, ocean views and waterfront venues can be found a short drive or plane ride away from major metropolitan hubs.

Attendees don’t need to spend a day traveling, and planners can forget the hassle of connecting flights and transportation to and from remote areas.

Here are four beachfront destinations that provide escapes from busy urban life—while still being easily accessible from larger cities nearby—so that you can incorporate some relaxation time into the agenda.

1. Monterey, California

Monterey is situated on the north end of California’s Central Coast, about 75 miles from downtown San Jose and about 100 miles from San Francisco. The city is home to attractions such as Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Fisherman’s Wharf. The Monterey peninsula is also home to Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Coastal Views in Monterey, California
Coastal Views in Monterey, California

The Monterey Conference Center completed a $60 million renovation and expansion in 2017 that resulted in an LEED certification. The facility is adjacent to the Portola Hotel & Spa.

The property boasts 379 guest rooms and more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space when combined with the adjacent Monterey Conference Center.

Along with the Monterey Marriott across the street, these properties offer 85,000 square feet of meeting space, 19,150 square feet of exhibition space and 700 guest rooms.

“Both meeting planners and attendees have often said what an incredibly beautiful destination [Monterey is], filled with countless ways to enjoy [surroundings] and be inspired,” said Janine Chicourrat, general manager of the Portola Hotel & Spa.

Coastal Group Activities in Monterey:

  • Boating and whale watching: There are several companies that can take groups out for whale watching year-round. There are also tours and charters that showcase wildlife.
  • Biking, hiking and horseback riding: There are multiple trails for all levels of bikers and hikers, from the paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail to the cliffs of Bug Sur, just south of Monterey. Groups can arrange for tours and rides.
  • Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Guided, private tours, lessons and rentals are available. Adventures by the Sea provides tours and teambuilding options, such as Beach Olympics and Challenge by the Sea.
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving. For those who want to get in the water, there are many areas to snorkel or dive in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Golfing. In Monterey, golf is a coastal activity. Pebble Beach boasts five famed golf courses, and there are more than 20 public and private courses in Monterey County.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium. Set in a former sardine cannery, the aquarium features more than 35,000 species from more than 550 kinds of sea and marine life. Groups can arrange for private tours and feedings, and can also use the venue for functions.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Event Details

Monterey Bay Aquarium event spaces include Open Sea, where guests can take in the view of schools of fish and sea turtles swimming nearby; and Ocean’s Edge, which allows attendees to sit beneath a kelp forest, with sharks and eels swimming by.

The aquarium is also available for a buyout for up to 2,500.

2. Ventura County, California

Ventura County Coast encompasses a string of four California communities between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. With 200,000 square feet of conference space and more than 5,000 guest rooms in more than 60 properties, the region is nicely equipped to accommodate groups. It’s also a more affordable coastal option than its neighboring cities.

Ventura County, California
Ventura County, California

“There is a feeling you get when you explore the region—The only way I can explain it is good vibes,” said Brian Tucker, executive director of the Ventura County Lodging Association.

“We have 22 miles of coastline and numerous outdoor adventure opportunities, including direct access to the Channel Islands National Park,” he added.

Coastal Group Activities in Ventura County:

  • Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. The five Channel Islands along the Santa Barbara Channel and their ocean environment are home to more than 2,000 plant and animal species. Groups can experience Island Packers’  whale-watching trips. The company also offers harbor cruises, birding excursions and island wildlife tours.
  • Ventura Harbor Village. For those who want to stay on land, there are shops, restaurants and places to take in the coastal views. For some adventure, there are also kayaks, paddleboards and pedal boats available for rental.
  • Hiking and biking. Capitalizing on the year-round temperate climate and coastal views, biking and hiking are great ways to take in the scenery. Groups meeting in Ventura can rent on their own bikes or arrange for a guided tour.

3. Galveston, Texas

Thirty-two-mile-long Galveston Island sits 50 miles south of Houston on the Gulf Coast, providing a tropical island escape in Southeast Texas.

Galveston Moody Gardens Boat, Credit: Galveston CVB
Galveston Moody Gardens Boat, Credit: Galveston CVB

The island is home to the Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis Resort, which offers 140,000 square feet of meeting facilities, including a 43,100-square-foot exhibition hall, a 15,500-square-foot grand ballroom and 12,000 square feet of breakout space.

There are more than 700 guest rooms adjacent to the center and another 1,400 nearby.

Coastal Group Activities in Galveston:

  • Moody Gardens. This 242-acre property includes a 418-room hotel and three glass pyramids: The Rainforest Pyramid, which houses a living rainforest; the Aquarium Pyramid, featuring 1.5 million gallons of aquatic attractions and 10,000 marine animals; and the Discovery Pyramid, with rotating interactive exhibits. The resort’s convention center has 103,000 square feet of space for tradeshows, meetings or special events.
  • Boating. Galveston Water Adventures offers an adrenaline rush aboard the custom-built Spintime jetboat. Private eco-tours and sunset cruises are available via the Cruise n Time vessel. Moody Garden’s Colonel paddlewheel boat has two rooms for private events accommodating about 200 people each.
  • Kayaking. Artist Boat Eco-Art Kayak Adventures mixes outdoor adventure, insights into the local ecosystem and art. Guided tours include an education on local bird and fish species before taking a break to create a plein-air watercolor painting of the scenery.

Another Coastal Meetings Classic in Texas

Also on the southeast Texas Gulf Coast, the city of Beaumont can provide an escape from the Houston metropolitan area. The city’s two convention centers and 3,500 hotel rooms make it a destination well-equipped for meetings and events.

The Ford Park Entertainment Complex includes five facilities, including Ford Arena, with 8,500 seats and a 34,000-square-foot exhibit floor, and Ford Exhibit Hall featuring 48,000 square feet of space. The Beaumont Civic Center has 41,300 square feet of function space.

4. Wilmington and the Beaches, North Carolina

Wilmington made Southern Living magazine’s “The South’s Best Cities” in 2019. Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the Wilmington and Beaches CVB, attributes this partially to the city’s walkable River District, connected by a nearly two-mile scenic Riverwalk.

Horse and Carriage Tour, Wilmington and the Beaches, North Carolina
Horse and Carriage Tour, Wilmington and the Beaches, North Carolina

Wilmington’s Convention District is home to the Wilmington Convention Center—the largest convention center on North Carolina’s coast.

“Its burgeoning River District combines the city’s historic charm and rich past with modern design and new attractions, offering planners a fresh [coastal meetings option],” Hufham said.

Wilmington and the Beaches is 360 miles from Washington, D.C., and 300 miles or less from several major cities in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Coastal Group Activities in the Wilmington and Beaches region:

  • Wrightsville Beach. According to the Wilmington and Beaches CVB, Wrightsville Beach is known for its crystal-blue waters, spacious beaches, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. There are multiple companies that offer lessons and equipment rental for watersports. Epic Excursions is just one of them, but its offerings expand to private boat charters and cruises as well as private events such as a seafood boil on the sand.
  • Carolina Beach. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is filled with amusement rides, carnival games and street food. Wheel Fun Rentals has Surrey bikes, a popular mode of transportation in the area. For groups that want to get their feet wet, Tony Silvagni Surf School has private and group lessons. Silvagni, an Olympic gold-medal winner and world champion surfer, leads the lessons.
  • Kure Beach. According to the Wilmington and Beaches CVB, Kure Beach is home to the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast, as well as the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The aquarium features marine life from salt marshes and tide pools and a two-story exhibit with sharks, rays and eels. It can host private functions of up to 2,000.

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