Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/April 2011
African-American Guide To Meeting, Incentives And Traveling In The West
By: Sonya Stinson

Picture your group gathering at a meeting venue overlooking a mountain or ocean view, or a state-of-the-art convention center recognized for its green design. Your evening opening reception might be set in a grand old theater or an art museum with a dazzling contemporary design by a world-renowned architect. A morning group tour could take you to a local African-American museum and restaurant; a historical site depicting how Native Americans, early settlers or cowboys once lived; or a spectacular natural landmark.

Or maybe your goal is to plan a break from business on a strictly leisure incentive trip or vacation. How about a week of golfing, skiing, water sports, beachcombing or relaxing at one of the world’s top destination spas?

When you home in on the West for your travel plans, your options are as wide as the region’s vast landscape. You’ll find meeting and lodging facilities to accommodate groups of any size, and attractions to appeal to just about any interest. This regional overview — with spotlights on several select destination — may spark some great ideas for a meeting, incentive trip or other travel plans.

With stunning sightseeing attractions, an abundance of outdoor recreation and some of the world’s top destination spas, Arizona offers something for everyone, from the thrill-seeking adventurer to the traveler on a quest for serenity.

A meeting or incentive trip to Flagstaff might include some time for downhill skiing at the Arizona Snowbowl or splurging on a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon. Golf lovers might appreciate a gathering in Mesa, where some the finest of the state’s more than 300 golf courses can be found. Scottsdale visitors can enjoy a hike in Pinnacle Peak Park, followed perhaps by a relaxing session at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Or how about a spa experience at Tucson’s famed Canyon Ranch or Miraval-Life in Balance as a reward for excellence on the job?

The spectacular Sonoran Desert takes center stage at Tempe outdoor attractions like Papago Park, while more than 20 free museums and galleries at Arizona State University showcase beautiful views indoors.

For meeting groups and leisure travelers alike, Arizona’s largest city offers plenty of ideas for creating a unique and memorable experience. A sports lover might enjoy an incentive trip to Major League Baseball spring training in March, with 15 teams in the Cactus League participating. Tickets to daily games cost as little as $5. Foodies might enjoy attending the annual culinary celebration known as Devoured, also in March. For a corporate retreat or learning vacation, the nearby Farm at South Mountain features organic gardens, shops, restaurants, an artist studio, art workshops, writing classes, lectures and more.

Be sure to include at least one of Phoenix’s African-American cultural and historical attractions on your itinerary. 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. The historic Swindall House gave lodging to visiting performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Louis during the days of segregation.

The Greater Phoenix area is home to two thirds of the state’s 300 golf courses. You can combine your exercise with sightseeing by hitting the links at one of the courses along the Sonoran Desert Golf Trail. Those who prefer a more laid-back sightseeing experience might be interested in a sunrise or sunset balloon ride over the desert.

The Phoenix Convention Center, which recently underwent a $600 million renovation, contains nearly 900,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space. Part of the expansion earned LEED silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, and the entire facility is employing a wide range of sustainability concepts. For lodging accommodations, the Greater Phoenix area offers some 55,000 hotel rooms.
Several local attractions, including Symphony Hall, the Herberger Theatre Center, Chase Field, US Airway Center, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, also offer space for meeting and events

California is well-known for its entertainment industry, and many of its most popular tourist attractions have a show business theme. In Anaheim, Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom touts a number of outstanding attractions, like the popular Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage or Toy Story ride.. At Universal Studios in Hollywood, you can stroll around famous movie sets or take the VIP tour to see sound stages and backlots with a private guide.

Besides great entertainment, the state also offers plenty of attractions for lovers of the Great Outdoors. Visitors to Newport can go for a whale watching adventure at Newport Harbor and take a ferry excursion to Balboa Island. The desert resort of Palm Springs, dotted with picturesque golf courses, offers a great skyline view from its aerial tramway. San Francisco, widely regarded as one America’s most beautiful cities, can now boast the world’s largest public LEED-certified building: the new facility for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, designed by Renzo Piano.


One of the newest attractions in Long Beach is the shopping, dining and entertainment district known as the Pike at Rainbow Harbor. You’ll also find a variety of dining and shopping options along Retro Row, while Alamitos Bay is popular for its waterfront restaurants. Just south of Long Beach, the seaside community of Belmont is another shopping and dining hot spot. Visitors to the Long Beach Museum of Art can dine in a restaurant overlooking the bluffs. Other local cultural and historical attractions include the East Village Arts district, the Museum of Latin American Art, the Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens, the Ranchos Los Cerritos Historic site and the Miller Japanese Gardens at California State University-Long Beach.

Perhaps the city’s best-known attraction is RMS Queen Mary on their itinerary. Book a ticket for the Paranormal Shipwalk tour, or make reservations for Sunday brunch aboard the former World War II troopship and luxury liner. Kids might get a kick out of experiencing Long Beach’s whale watching season, which runs from late December to mid-April, or a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific. At Rainbow Harbor the fun can include playtime at Shoreline Aquatic Park, a ride on the Ferris wheel or a Segway® tour.

Long Beach’s free Passport Shuttle provides transportation to many local attractions. For those who want an even wider choice of recreational and entertainment options, the Metro Blue Line light rail system connects Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles.

The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center comprises more than 400,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibit and meeting space — including 34 meeting rooms, a grand ballroom and three exhibit halls — plus the Long Beach Arena and the Terrace theater. There are more than 5,000 hotel rooms citywide, including over 2,000 rooms within walking distance of the convention center.

The new Ray Charles Memorial Library and Archive in downtown Los Angeles opened on September 23, 2010, Charles’ 80th birthday. Visitors will get a close-up view of hundreds of personal artifacts.
Other new visitor attractions include the $125 million, 1,700-seat Valley Performing Arts Center, which opened in January 2011 on the campus of California State University, Northridge; the $42 million Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens; downtown’s high-energy LA Live entertainment district with the gleaming new luxury J.W. Marriott; a new pavilion designed by Renzo Piano at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Santa Monica Place, a new shopping center designed by Frank Gehry.

Oakland’s free Broadway shuttle debuted in summer 2010, traveling a route between Jack London Square — the city’s popular waterfront entertainment district — and the Uptown area. You can explore the city’s Black heritage at sites like the African American Museum and Library, the Museum of African American Technology Science Village and the Ebony Museum of Art.

The Oakland Marriott City Center is undergoing $17 million in renovations, including a spruce-up of the meeting and event space. Meanwhile, the adjacent Oakland Convention Center is getting a $4 million makeover. Together, the two facilities contain a total of 89,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.



Two of Pasadena’s top attractions let visitors combine a couple of activities on every traveler’s list of favorites: eating and sightseeing. On Brown Bag Tuesdays at the Gamble House, you can have a picnic lunch on the grounds along with touring the famous Craftsman-style property. Food tours are available in Old Pasadena, a 22-block area that boasts more than 130 retail stores, art galleries, theaters and restaurants. Besides the food, other main attractions in the historic district include the Rose Bowl Flee Market, the Pacific Asia Museum, the Armory Center for the Arts, the Pasadena Museum of History and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

For meeting goers and other travelers who like to stay connected, San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter now offers free Wi-Fi. Between sending emails and surfing the ‘net, you can check out some of the shops, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs in the district. Those traveling with kids will find plenty of family-friendly diversions. Visitors to Sea World San Diego can choose from several backstage tours and experience a brand new attraction called Sea Turtle Bay. LEGOLAND California® in nearby Carlsbad, which opened the world’s first LEGO®-themed water park last summer, has added more features in 2011 like the LEGO Hero Factory and Star Wars Miniland. The SEA Life Aquarium is next door to the theme park.

The renowned San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park — the nation’s largest urban cultural park. The sprawling facility also is home to Wild Animal Park, the Tony Award-winning Globe Theatres, 15 museums and several art galleries. San Diego’s 70 miles of Pacific coastline provides a bounty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, from surfing to strolling on the beaches. A nice day trip would be a visit to La Jolla, a scenic seaside village about 20 miles north of the city. The area’s 600,000-acre Anza Borrega Desert State Park is a great place to hike, fish and view wildlife.

Many of the area’s top attractions, including the beaches, are easily accessible via the metro bus and trolley system. The city’s premier meeting venue, the San Diego Convention Center, contains 525,701 gross sq. ft. of contiguous ground-level space. Summertime meeting groups get a bonus experience when a marina behind the convention center holds concerts. For lodging, there are 131 area conference and convention hotels offering a total of nearly 57,000 total hotel rooms.


World-famous mountain resorts make skiing one of Colorado’s biggest draws. In Aspen you’ll find slopes for every skill level, from Buttermilk for beginners to Aspen Mountain for the experts. Snowmass, 12 miles down valley from Aspen, offers both downhill and cross-country skiing. During the warmer months, you can try fishing in the Fryingpan River.

Steamboat Springs, home of the renowned Steamboat Ski & Snowboard School, was once a cattle ranching site. The town has hosted a summer rodeo for more than a century. Along with its powdery slopes, Vail is the site of the Colorado Ski Museum and several outdoor attractions that can be enjoyed year round.

The Edwin Carter Museum in Breckenridge is believed to be Colorado’s oldest museum, while the Barney Ford House Museum highlights the little-known Black history of this former mining town. Visitor’s to Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs can tour the spectacular Garden of the Gods in the foothills ⎯ or brave the 14,000-ft. hike to the summit.

To explore some of the African-American heritage of Denver, head to the Five Points Neighborhood. Nicknamed the “Harlem of the West” in the 1940s and ‘50s, this area is now home to the Stiles African American Heritage Center, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, and the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center, located in the former home of Dr. Justina Ford, Colorado’s first Black woman physician.

Those who like to get outdoors and enjoy nature might try whitewater rafting in Confluence Park or walking through the Balisteri Vineyards. Denver’s Colorado Convention Center recently garnered LEED ® certification for existing buildings.


Hawaii’s most famous beach is less 30 minutes from Honolulu International Airport, but there’s more to Oahu than the sands and shores of Waikiki. The USS Memorial Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor Museum and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve are just two more of the island’s many attractions. On Kauai, you can get a birds-eye view of the stunning Napali Coast on a helicopter tour, or see it from the ground level on a hike along the Kalalau Trail. Some of Maui’s most beautiful sights appear on a drive along the famous Road to Hana, a small, unspoiled town on the island’s eastern coast.

The city of Hilo is situated on the eastern “wet” side of the Big Island, where rainforests, gardens and waterfalls dominate the landscape.  Lanai is a small, laid-back island known for dolphin sightings at Hulopoe Bay and the natural landmark called Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock). You can connect to Lanai by air from either Honolulu or Maui.

Two of Nevada’s top outdoor attractions are located within a few hours of the state’s biggest urban area, but their atmospheres couldn’t be further apart. Death Valley National Park, less than three hours from Las Vegas, is the driest and hottest spot in America. Hoover Dam, just one hour from Vegas, feeds the waters of Lake Mead, the center of major recreation site.

Situated in the Colorado River Valley at the junction of Nevada, California and Arizona, the city of Laughlin is surrounded by the Black Hills, Spirit Mountain and Grapevine Canyons. Laughlin also is home to 10 major hotels and casino resorts. Reno’s gaming casinos may be its most popular attractions, but the city also boasts some notable historical and recreational sites. Bethel A.M.E. Church stands as Nevada’s oldest surviving African-American institution. For the outdoor enthusiast, the area offers mountain hikes through the Sierra Nevada, cruising on Lake Tahoe, kayaking and whitewater rafting on the Truckee River.


Las Vegas casino resorts draw millions of visitors with dreams of winning big. What these visitors may not know is that some of the gaming resorts along the Las Vegas Strip also showcase spectacular free attractions, from live music and dancing to light shows and choreographed fountains. There’s also meeting space at many of the resorts.

The city offers an array of cultural and historical attractions that highlight its diversity, including the Walker African-American Museum, the Hispanic Museum of Nevada, the Asian-Pacific Cultural Center, the Jean Weinberger Museum of Jewish Culture and the Lost City Museum, which exhibits Native American artifacts.

In a state known as “the Land of Enchantment,” you can expect to find plenty of interesting natural attractions, such as Puye Cliffs, an ancient Pueblo Indian dwelling place near Albuquerque. Kids traveling to New Mexico’s largest city are sure to be charmed by the Explore Museum, which includes an aquarium, botanic garden, zoo and aquatic park.

Santa Fe’s Canyon Road Fine Arts District and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum are two of the top attractions in this popular artists’ haven. Other points of interest include the Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico History Museum and the LEED Gold-certified Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

A ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers glimpses of some magnificent sights in Taos. For more active outdoor adventure you can take to the slops at the Taos Ski Valley or go for some whitewater rafting or rock climbing at Rio Grande Gorge.


With the Organ Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop, New Mexico’s second largest city offers a host of interesting visitor attractions. The list includes the Las Cruces Museum of Art, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, and Old Mesilla, once a major western trading post and now home to a variety of popular shops and restaurants. For a fascinating day trip, consider a visit to the sparkling gypsum dune fields of White Sands National Monument, 52 miles northeast of the city.
A new 55,000-sq.-ft. convention center recently opened, containing approximately 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

In a state with a surprisingly diverse landscape — including more than 10 distinct eco-regions — one of the favorite outdoor attractions is the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Lawton. The city of Lawton has erected a statue in honor of the Buffalo Soldier.

Oklahoma City’s Deep Deuce Historic District is the heart of its Black business community. The city also is home to the Bricktown Entertainment District, Paseo Arts District, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the only state capitol ever built over an oil well. A must-see attraction in Tulsa is the Greenwood District, a historically Black neighborhood that is the site of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, Greenwood Cultural Center and the Mabel B. Little Heritage Center. The BOK Center showcases spectator sports and entertainment, while hiking trails along the Arkansas River beckon meeting goers and vacationers who enjoy being active.


Oregon is home to both the deepest river gorge in North American and the deepest lake in the United States. Hell’s Canyon, where the Snake River runs along Oregon’s eastern border, and Crater Lake in the southern region are a bit off the beaten path, but they might make an ideal vacation or incentive trip destination for the traveler with an adventurous spirit. With 363 miles of Pacific Coast and more national scenic byways than any other state, a beautiful view is always just a short drive away when you’re in Oregon.

Those who prefer to enjoy the sights on two wheels — or on foot — will appreciate Eugene, the largest city in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Eugene has more bridges for bicycles and pedestrians than for cars, while a notably picturesque biking trail runs between Eugene and Portland. Other area attractions include the Owen Rose Garden, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

Ride down Portland’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and you’ll encounter an interesting visual treat. The street is lined with lamppost banners designed by artist Adriene Cruz to highlight the teachings of the civil rights martyr. The city’s historically Black Albina district has several notable sites. The former Golden West Hotel was the only local lodging place open to African-Americans. Gladys Sims McCoy Memorial Park is named in honor of a local African-American community activist. The performing arts take the spotlight at the Matt Dishman Community Center, home base for the Northwest Afrikan American Ballet, and the Albina Coffeehouse, which often features entertainment from the Albina Jazz Quintet.

To experience more of Portland’s Black history and culture, you can explore the Alberta Arts District, which includes a number of African American-owned shops, art galleries and restaurants; view performing and visual artworks by artists of color at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center; and check out exhibits at the Oregon History Museum highlighting African-American contributions to the state. Portland, often touted as the most bike-friendly city in America, is a great fit for meeting groups and vacationers who like to stay fit when they travel. Many local fitness buffs take advantage of the Intertwine, an integrated network of parks, hiking trails and other outdoor recreational attractions including Tryon Creek State Park and the Springwater Corridor.

The Oregon Convention Center earned a LEED Silver rating for existing buildings from the U.S. Green Building Council for environmentally friendly elements like the Rain Garden water feature that doubles as a cleanser of pollutants draining from the center’s roof. The center contains 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 50 meeting rooms, the 25,200-sq. ft. Oregon Ballroom and the 34,300-sq. ft. Portland Ballroom. There are about 20,000 hotel rooms in the metro area, including 4,300 guestrooms downtown.


If a destination near the Gulf Coast would appeal to your meeting group, consider Beaumont, Texas, home to St. Anthony Cathedral — whose design was inspired by St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome — and the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. The Dallas Arts District is one of the top attractions in that city, which also is the site of the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and other Black heritage attractions. Nearby Plano hosts a hot-air balloon festival each September, while the cattle drive sculptures at Bassus Plaza are a favorite photo op.

Travelers to San Antonio, can learn about the area’s Black heritage at the Carver Community Cultural Center, plus visit famous sites like the Alamo and the River Walk. Historically Black Paul Quinn College is located in Waco, which also is home to Baylor University along with cultural and recreational attractions like Cameron Park Zoo and the Mayborn Museum Complex.


If you travel to Austin, head to Sixth Street or the Warehouse District to sample the city’s assorted and seemingly limitless menu of live music. Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center was the first Black neighborhood museum in the state. There’s more culture on tap at the Austin Museum of Art and Arthouse at the Jones Center, which recently underwent an expansion that tripled its size.

To view some of Austin’s natural attractions, you can take a scenic hike along Barton Creek or Lady Bird Lake, or check out the nation’s largest urban colony beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.


It’s not every day that you see a cattle drive on city streets — unless you’re in Fort Worth, Texas. The movement of cattle through the Stockyards National Historic District is indeed a daily event in this distinctly western-flavored city.  Two other western heritage sites are the Cattle Raisers Museum and the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame, which houses exhibits depicting the role of African-American, Hispanic, Native American and European settlers of the West.

Other notable attractions include the Texas Motor Speedway, the Fort Worth Water Gardens and Sundance Square Sea Turtle Bay Sea Turtle Bay ⎯ a popular spot for shopping, dining and entertainment.

Getting around downtown in the nation’s fourth largest city has now become a tourist attraction in itself. Visitors to Houston can tour the seven-mile indoor, air-conditioned pedestrian tunnel system that is the largest in the world.

Each year in April, the city celebrates its cultural diversity during the Houston International Festival. You can experience the local Black heritage at sites like the American Cowboy Museum on the Taylor Stevenson Ranch, the Project Row Houses art and cultural center, the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which claims to have the world’s largest collection of African-American military history.

If you travel to one of Utah’s top mountain retreats, you may get a chance to watch an Olympic medalist in the making. At Park City’s Utah Olympic Park, where admission is free, you can see athletes in training and tour two museums. The area’s three resorts offer a wide choice of outdoor activities.

Visitors to Ogden can shop and dine on historic 25th street and tour the Hill Aerospace Museum. For a good workout, you can go canoeing at Fort Buenaventura — site of the area’s first settlement — or try a host of other outdoor adventures. Afterward, you can unwind at a local spa. With four area ski resorts, Salt Lake City is another great option for the active travelers. History buffs might enjoy a visit to the Fort Douglas Military Museum, built near the site where Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th cavalry and 24th infantry served and many are buried.


This Pacific Northwest destination offers interesting things to do in every season. Travel to Seattle in summertime, and you can head to Alki Beach for some water sports or a quiet stroll. In the winter you can hit the slopes of Crystal Mountain. And of course, the famed Pike Place Market is a must-see. A meeting or leisure trip to Spokane is an opportunity to tour a local winery or brewery, visit the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture and hit the links at the Indian Canyon Golf Course. One of the city’s best sightseeing attractions is Spokane Falls, the highlight the 100-acre Riverfront Park.

In Tacoma, some of the most beautiful views are provided courtesy of the city’s numerous glass artists. The splendor of their colorful works is displayed at local sites like the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Chihuly Bridge of Glass.

Whether you’re planning a large convention, a small corporate retreat, an incentive trip, a vacation or a family reunion, the West offers plenty of options. The region’s diverse cultural heritage includes the fascinating if often little-known role of African-Americans ⎯ from Buffalo Soldiers to business owners, civil right leaders to scientists. Its natural beauty and active spirit are its hallmarks.

To explore more of what the region has to offer — or perhaps to get started on your plans to head West — tap into some of the information available from the state tourism offices on the list accompanying this article.

Arizona Office of Tourism, (866) 275-5816
California Travel & Tourism Commission, (877) 225-4367
Colorado Tourism Office, (800) COLORADO
Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, (800) GoHawaii (800-964-2924)
Nevada Commission on Tourism, (800) NEVADA-8
New Mexico Tourism Department, (505) 877-7400
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, (800) 652-6552
Oregon Tourism Commission, (800) 547-7842
Texas Tourism Division, (512) 936-0101
Utah Travel Council, (800) 200-1160
Washington State Tourism, (800) 544-1800
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