Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: February/March 2009
The African-American Guide to Meetings, Incentives, & Traveling in the West

Multicultural. Fun-loving. Earth-friendly. Naturally awe-inspiring. If any of these attributes describes what you're looking for in a travel destination, you'll find it in the West.

The region's African-American heritage - from the Buffalo Soldiers, cowboys and explorers of the past to modern-day ranchers, artists and business owners - is just one facet of its diverse history and culture. The landscape is just as diverse, providing unrivaled natural scenery and outdoor adventure - not to mention a great incentive to protect and preserve those resources.

With more speed and enthusiasm than perhaps any other region, meeting and travel destinations in the West are going green. The Oregon Convention Center was first to receive a LEED certification for existing buildings. The Long Beach Convention Center recently installed solar panels on the roof, and the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston will soon follow suit. Texas' capital city is touting its Austin Climate Protection Plan to make municipal facilities and operations carbon-neutral by 2020. The Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau even provides meeting planners with a carbon equivalent emissions calculator so they can tally up the carbon footprint of their events.

The impression Western destinations want to leave on visitors is the memory of a fun and fruitful experience.

ARIZONA

Along with serving as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, the northern Arizona city of Flagstaff is home to an arboretum boasting one of the largest U.S. collections of high-country wildflowers.

In Mesa, part of Phoenix metro area, you can tour the state's largest arts complex, the Mesa Center for the Arts. Neighboring destinations include Scottsdale, where you can take a guided tour of the famed Taliesin West home, and Tempe, whose architectural landmarks include the Gammage Auditorium, a building resembling a tiered cake that originally was designed to be the royal opera house in Baghdad.

In southern Arizona you'll find Tucson, where the historic Dunbar School, founded in 1918 to educate Black students, is being renovated and converted into an African-American museum and cultural center. On the state's southeastern edge in Yuma is the Yuma Historical Territorial Prison Historic State Park, once home to some of Arizona's most dangerous criminals.

PHOENIX

If you meet in Phoenix, be sure to make time to visit some of the city's African-American cultural and historical attractions. The former Phoenix Union colored High School, founded 1926 as Arizona's first Black high school, now houses the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. Other notable African-American heritage attractions include the Black Theatre Troupe, which performs at the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts; the Swindall House, site of the only hotel that admitted Black guests - including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Louis - during the days of segregation; and Tanner Chapel African American Episcopal Church, the city's oldest Black church. Getting to some of Phoenix's top tourist spots is easier now that the Metro Light Rail system is up and running. The Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, Chase Field and US Airways Center are included among the stops, and the system also links the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the downtown area.

If kids are in your travel group, consider an outing at the Phoenix Zoo, the Hall of Flame - the world's largest collection of firefighting equipment - or Rawhide, a recreation of an 1880s western town complete with shootouts, stagecoaches and pony rides.

To take in some of the natural beauty in the Valley of the Sun, you might head for the Desert Botanical Garden, the world's largest collection of desert plants, or book some tee time at one of the more than 200 golf courses in Greater Phoenix.

The Phoenix Convention Center recently completed a $600 million renovation project that added a new facility with 150,000-plus sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, another building with 310,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and a 50,000-sq. ft. ballroom. Lodging is plentiful, with about 55,000 hotel rooms in the metro area.

CALIFORNIA

A chance to visit California's best known theme park isn't the only reason to meet in Anaheim, which also boasts other attractions like the new Anaheim Garden Walk. Avid shoppers would be particularly pleased with the choice of either Beverly Hills, famous for its upscale shopping, or Newport Beach, the boarding spot for shopping excursions to Balboa Island, as a gathering place.

Besides iconic sights like Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco offers such notable Black cultural attractions as the African American Shakespeare Company and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. In the capital city of Sacramento, the 40 Acres Art Gallery & Cultural Center spotlights African-American works.

California's natural wonders include the Living Desert Reserve in Palm Springs and the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. The mountain resorts of Tahoe North offer more great natural attractions, while the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose showcases inspirational human feats.

LONG BEACH

If you go to Long Beach, don't miss a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific, where noteworthy features include the Shark Lagoon, Lorikeet Forest and a new exhibition and educational facility that's been singled out for its LEED platinum-rated green design.

The RMS Queen Mary is another contender for your "must see" list. Check out some of the ship's 360 converted first-class staterooms and catch the Ghosts & Legends show and tour, then go and see the Scorpion, a Russian submarine docked next door.

With 5.5 miles of waterfront, beachcombing, boating and other waterside adventures are big draws to Long Beach. Favorite things to do include strolling through beach communities like Belmont Shore, sailing on Alamitos Bay, riding a gondola through the canals on Naples Island, and shopping at Shoreline Village, whose design mimics an old California seaport.


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