Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/April 2014
African-American Guide To Meeting, Incentives & Traveling In The West
By: Michael Bennett
Americans of the 19th and early 20 th century looked at the American West as an area of untamed wilderness ripe for adventurous thrill seekers looking for an opportunity to claim this vast region as their own.

Not much has changed in the past 150 years.  It's still an area of vast opportunity and beautiful wilderness that leaves many in awe.

From the towering snow capped Rocky Mountains to the majestic Pacific Coast, from the cactus strewn desert landscapes of Arizona to the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada, the contrast across America's great frontier is difficult to put into words.

Visitors to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Santa Fe or Seattle can find themselves snow skiing, kayaking, hiking, biking, golfing or simply enjoying the sounds of nature in an hour.

From the busy streets of Houston, Honolulu or San Diego, the nearest beach is mere minutes away. 

From Phoenix, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Tulsa and Oklahoma City to the nearest Indian Reservation or ranch is like a walk in the park. 

It's time to begin your western adventures.

ARIZONA

The kaleidoscope of colors this state offers is breathtaking - the Red Buttes and Mesa's of Monument Valley, the magnificent Hoover Dam, to the stunning imagery of Painted Desert and Red Rocks near Sedona, it can overwhelm the senses.

Nestled in the world's largest ponderosa pine forest is Flagstaff, a year-round playground featuring skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting and rock climbing.  The Grand Canyon is just an hour away. 

Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe - suburbs of Phoenix - are equal parts chic and rustic with a blend of upscale shopping, spas, dining, a collection of golf courses, outdoor activities, nightlife, and art.

Set amongst the Saguaro Cactus of southern Arizona is the state's second largest city, Tucson.  It's a thriving visual and performing arts destination with numerous galleries, museums and great world-class observatories such as the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory.  The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Pima Air & Space Museum are a must.

PHOENIX

Projected against a rich panorama of beautiful vistas, canyons, red rocks, cactus and wondrous desert sunsets is a city of great urban sophistication. America's sixth largest city and sunniest metropolis features resorts and spas that soothe the soul and those aching bodies after a day of hiking, playing golf or shopping.

 Phoenix is the location de jour for many of America's great sporting events.  The countdown to 2015 is underway as the city and nearby Glendale play host to Super Bowl XLIX. Not to be outdone, college football's annual Fiesta Bowl is played in Phoenix University Stadium.  Phoenix will host college football's national championship game in 2016.

Two-thirds of the state's 300 golf courses are located in the greater Phoenix area.

A $600 million expansion of the Phoenix Convention Center makes it one of the largest facilities in the United States boasting some 900,000 sq. ft. 

Since January 2009, almost every hotel in downtown Phoenix is either new, or has undergone massive renovation putting over 3,000 rooms within walking distance of the convention center.

The Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, just two blocks from the convention center is the area's largest with 1,000 rooms and 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Directly across the street from the convention center is the 693-room Hyatt Regency Phoenix.  Other large properties nearby include; the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown and the Westin Phoenix Downtown.  For the budget conscious, there are several smaller properties within walk distance of the Phoenix Convention Center.

For a touch of African-American culture stop by the Phoenix Union Colored High School, the state's first Black high school and home to the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. 

CALIFORNIA

No single destination in America has more to offer the visitor than California. From adventure to romance, indulgence to delight, California has it all. 

California is home to the towering California Redwoods and Redwoods National Park in the north.

Head south across the scenic Golden Gate Bridge and take in the majestic views, wonderful tourist attractions and unique urban vibe of San Francisco. 

The desert resort of Palm Springs in the California desert east of Los Angeles is known for great golf, tennis and beautiful mountain scenery.

Pasadena is a mecca of art and culture and home to the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses Parade.  An hour's drive south is Anaheim and everything Disney. 

From Anaheim head west to Newport Beach and enjoy boating, restaurants, amusements and boutique shopping or take the 90-minute drive south to picturesque San Diego.  The city's mild year-round climate and deep water harbor is a boaters paradise.

LONG BEACH

Virtually everything in Southern California can be accessed through this centrally located southern California city.  Travelers should try the Long Beach Airport.  This airport offers easy access and is serviced by JetBlue, Delta, US Air and Alaska Airlines.   From arrival to sipping a cocktail on the beach is measured in minutes not hours.

The most recognizable attraction in Long Beach is the RMS Queen Mary.  This ocean liner, converted into a hotel that's permanently docked in Long Beach, is actually 200 ft. longer than the more famous Titanic and was the fastest in the world between 1936 and 1952.  Come aboard for a guided tour and enjoy a meal, shop or plan to spend the night in an original First Class Stateroom.

Around the corner from the Queen Mary is Aquarium of the Pacific.  Explore the Ocean Science Center and the Arctic and Antarctic Gallery to see how climate change, maritime trade and ports impact our lives.   A Zagat survey rated the aquarium the #2 Family Attraction in the Los Angeles area behind Disney.

If your travels take you to Long Beach in April catch the exciting action of the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Long Beach nightlife is second to none.  Enjoy Jazz, salsa or one of the city's great restaurants.

The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center across the street from The Aquarium has 400,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and exhibit space.

Adjacent to the Convention Center is the 528-room Hyatt Regency Long Beach with an additional 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.  There are numerous brand-name high quality hotels within walking distance of the convention center.

LOS ANGELES

As home to the film and television industry, Los Angeles and the greater Hollywood area is a hotbed of star-sightings and tourist attractions starting with the Hollywood Walk of Fame.   The world's most famous sidewalk features over 2,500 stars honoring greats from Michael Jackson to Bob Hope and even Kermit the Frog and Big Bird from Sesame Street.

Stop by Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers Studios or other studios for tickets to tapings of your favorite shows.

Downtown Los Angeles has undergone tremendous development in recent years starting with the opening of Staples Center in 2000.  Adjacent to Staples Center is the Los Angeles Convention Center and the new Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.  Nokia has quickly become downtown Los Angeles' premiere destination for concerts, award shows and other "Live" events.

The Los Angeles Convention Center is a 720,000-sq. ft. facility across three halls.  This convention center hosts everything from the world famous Los Angeles Auto Show to star-studded events featuring many of Hollywood's top celebrities.

Just steps from L.A. Live and the convention center is the 54-story JW Marriott Los Angles Live hotel and nearby is a 123-room Ritz Carlton hotel with 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

OAKLAND

Some of the best views of the famed San Francisco Bay can been seen from Oakland Hills.  While Skyline High School might be better known as the school Tom Hanks attended, this 45-acre campus is the place for those majestic Bay views.

Other great Bay views can be had from Chabot Space and Science Center or the Paragon Restaurant inside the Claremont Hotel and Spa.

But Oakland is known for more than its views.  Oakland's crown jewel is a series of theaters that offer a nostalgic look back in time.  The Fox Theater, built in 1928 was refurbished a few years back and that has led to a renaissance in Uptown Oakland in recent years.

Just two blocks away is The Paramount Theatre, built in 1931, this Art Deco venue features live symphony and ballet.

For a look at Black history check out the African American Museum and Library.

Why travel across the Bay when you can conduct meetings right here in Oakland. The Oakland Convention Center conveniently located downtown features 64,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and is fresh off an $8 million renovation.  The Center is connected to the 489-room Oakland Marriott City Center.

COLORADO

The first winter snows can only mean one thing in Colorado - time to hit the slopes.  This state is the best-known skiing destination in America.

Aspen, Breckenridge, Snowmass, Steamboat Springs and Vail are just a few of the world famous mountain resorts that draw millions each year to experience this winter wonderland.  Visitors will find slopes for all skill levels with numerous downhill trails and cross-country skiing options.

Aspen is a noted draw for the rich and famous.  Steamboat Springs has been the site of numerous competitions including the 1989 and 1990 Alpine Skiing World Cup.  Vail is the site of the Colorado Ski Museum and second largest ski mountain in North America.           

The 14,110-ft. Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs is the most visited mountain in North America and the furthest east of the big Rocky Mountains peaks.  While in Colorado Springs take a tour of the United States Air Force Academy.

DENVER

The Mile High City has several key points of interest for African-American culture buffs. The Five Points Neighborhood, better known as "Harlem of the West" in the 1940s and '50s is 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 the state's first Black female physician, Dr. Justina Ford.

Your itinerary should include the Denver Art Museum, the U.S. Mint, and the 16th Street Pedestrian Park. 

The 584,000-sq. ft. Colorado Contention Center is within walking distance of 8,400 hotel rooms.

HAWAII

There is no place on earth quite like Hawaii.  The birthplace of President Barack Obama is one of fresh floral brilliance, with warm sea breezes and tranquil waters.  Six of the eight islands are open to visitors from around the world.

Oahu means "Gathering Place."  That name seems so appropriate as the island attracts more the 7.5 million visitors annually.  Among the top attractions are The USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor Museum, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and the mountain views of Nuuanu Pali Lookout.

Conde Nast readers voted Maui the "Best Island" for 17 straight years.  Stroll through the seaside streets of Lahaina or the beaches of Kaanpali.

On Kauai, try a hike along the Kalalau Trail.  Hilo, located on the rainy side of the Big Island of Hawaii has beautiful rainforests, gardens and waterfalls. Lanai and Molokai are the places to go for an escape from civilization.

NEVADA

Las Vegas is the city that just can't stop building.  In addition to having more hotels than any city in the world - over 155,000 at last count, Las Vegas recently welcomed a new attraction - The Las Vegas High Roller at the LINQ.  This 550-ft. observation wheel (built like a Ferris Wheel) is the highest observation wheel in the world with 28 cabins that can accommodate up to 40 people each.  The ride takes approximately 30-minutes to complete. 

The Riverwalk District of Reno is lined with chic shops, coffee houses, markets, a brewery, restaurants and more.   Visitors can try whitewater kayaking along the Truckee River or simply watch during the Reno River Festival, the nation's leading whitewater event.

Laughlin is home to nine major casinos and resorts.  Laughlin attracts three million visitors a year for gambling, river cruises and watercraft rentals to enjoy the Colorado River and stunning desert scenery.

NEW MEXICO

The "Land of Enchantment" has some of the world's finest art galleries and museums featuring everything from Native American artisans to folk and contemporary art.

Santa Fe's Canyon Road Fine Arts District and Georgia O'Keeffe Museum are two of the top destinations. Santa Fe has 325 days of sunshine each year, perfect for strolling the many art galleries and quaint shops.

Taos is known for skiing with four areas to choose from - Taos Ski Valley, Red River, Sipapu and Angel Fire. 

Nestled in the picturesque Mesilla Valley sits Las Cruces.  Stop by the Las Cruces Museum of Art or the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

The largest city, Albuquerque is a great place to shop for Native American jewelry, experience hot air ballooning and living history museums.  This family-friendly city has a wonderful zoo and a host of museums like Explora, a hands-on science discovery center.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma is a cultural oasis that features a deep Native American heritage, a western frontier and a powerful African-American presence.

From 1862-1920 over 50 all-Black towns were created, primarily in eastern Oklahoma.  Native Americans and African-Americans lived side-by-side.  Thirteen of those towns still exist including, Boley and Rentisville.  Many have museums and heritage centers. 

Tulsa was once home to "Black Wall Street," a thriving African-American community of the early 20th Century that produced several millionaires.  Visit the Greenwood District, to learn more about the era.  The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, Greenwood Cultural Center and the Mabel B. Little Heritage Center are all in this neighborhood.

If you want to take a trip back in time, Oklahoma has the longest stretch of the old Route 66 in the country measuring some 400 miles.  The route is full of old neon signs, quaint motels and drive-in movie theaters.

OKLAHOMA CITY

This city has a hip vibe that blends with a deep western heritage that creates an exciting destination steeped in culture and adventure.  OKC is renowned for its festivals, national sporting events and a treasure trove of museums.

Among those great museums are:  the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, American Indian Cultural Center & Museum and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

The heart of Oklahoma City's Black business community is the Deep Deuce Historic District.  It was the place to be for Jazz for decades.

Meeting planners will take great delight in OKC's meeting venues and affordable hotels.  The Cox Convention Center has over 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space connected by a sky bridge to a 15,000-seat arena and the Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel.  There are over 1,600 hotel rooms within a few blocks of the convention center.

Bricktown is Oklahoma City's hottest entertainment and dining district with dozens of restaurants and shops.  Just a block from Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, it is the place to be after games.  Take a stroll along the Bricktown Canal or a cruise on the Bricktown Water Taxi.

OREGON

We've all heard of the Seven Wonders of the World, well Oregon has its own Seven Wonders starting with Mt. Hood.  The perpetually snow covered peak is home to six ski areas.  

The 363-mile Oregon coastline is all free and open to the public.  Watch the waves crash at Devil's Churn, hike up cliffs or investigate tide pools.  Oregon has more natural scenic byways than any state in the country.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and surrounded by 2,000-ft. high cliffs.

The Columbia River Gorge was designated a National Scenic Area by the US Congress.  Head to Crown Point, just a short drive from Portland for fantastic views.

The other three wonders are Painted Hills, Smith Rock and the Wallowas.

In the middle of the Willamette Valley sits Eugene, home to the University of Oregon.  Eugene is known for outdoor recreational activities especially bicycling, running/jogging, rafting and kayaking.

PORTLAND

Downtown Portland features a thriving shopping district, dining, theater, museums and the highest concentration of hotels in town with over 4,500 rooms. 

Start your journey through downtown with a trip to Union Way shopping arcade.  Opened in the summer of 2013, this shopping area is reminiscent of Paris' intimate passageways, Scandinavia's clean architecture and a Middle Eastern bazaar.  Downtown features lots of chic boutiques and designer retail outlets.  Leave space in your suitcases and take advantage of tax-free shopping. 

Portland's compact downtown area makes it easy to get around on foot.  The lush green lawns, riverside paths, and the refreshing fountains of Waterfront Park attract joggers and bicyclists looking for a little exercise.  This backdrop sets the stage for numerous summer festivals.  The largest is the Rose Festival held in May and June.

Portland's top destination is the International Rose Test Garden, the oldest continuously operated public test garden in the United States with over 8,000 roses.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Oregon Zoo are a must.

The downtown Oregon Convention Center (OCC), on the banks of the Willamette River, was the first convention center to earn the LEED® for Existing Buildings certification.  In 2008, the facility was recertified at the Silver level, with a pledge to continually improve its environmental footprint.  For meeting planner's looking to stretch their wallets Portland has no sales tax and no food and beverage tax either.

The OCC is over 900,000 sq. ft. with 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space and 50 meeting rooms. 

At the south end of the OCC stands a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - a brass sculpture of King with a child, a worker and an immigrant.

Portland's historically Black Albina district features the former Golden West Hotel, the only lodging place open to African-Americans in the early part of the 20th Century.  Visit art galleries and boutiques along Alberta Street.  On the last Thursday of each month about 20 businesses host "Art of Alberta" from 6-9pm.

TEXAS

Houston is one of the state's top destinations featuring attractions such as:  the Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science and Space Center Houston.  The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum claims to have the world's largest collection of African-American military history.

Much of early Texas history took place around San Antonio and the Alamo - the ultimate symbol of heroic struggle against impossible odds.  The River Walk SeaWorld and the San Antonio Zoo are top attractions.

Waco is home of the HBCU Paul Quinn College, Baylor University and the Cameron Park Zoo. 

In Dallas it's the Dallas Arts District and the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House.  Over in Ft. Worth visit the National Multicultural Heritage Museum (formerly the National Cowboys of Color Museum).

Plano is home to the Plano African American Museum.

Beaumont is where your taste buds come alive as Cajun cuisine, zesty Texas barbeque and authentic Mexican form a unique culinary experience.

AUSTIN

This might be the state's most exciting city.  It's home to the University of Texas, high-technology, the state capital and some of the best entertainment in the America starting with the world SXSW (stands for South by Southwest) music, film and interactive conference festival held each year in March.

Along Sixth Street or the Warehouse District in Austin are an estimated one hundred live music options.  The George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center was one of the first Black museums in the state.

Austin has over 30,000 hotel rooms, 6,500 of those are downtown within walking distance of the 900,000-sq. ft. Austin Convention Center.

UTAH

The beautiful mountain resort of Park City comes alive in January as they play host to the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent cinema festival in the United States.   Set among picturesque snow-capped peaks, the city has three main resort areas for year-round enjoyment even when there's no snow on the ground - Canyon, Deer Valley and Park City Mountain. 

Like Park City, Ogden has skiing, canoeing and other outdoor activities.  North of Ogden is Golden Spike National Historic Site where four symbolic spikes, two of them gold, mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Olympics has a wonderful array of entertainment options.  Historians should visit the Fort Douglas Military Museum, built near the site where the Buffalo Soldiers served and many are buried.

Make sure to stop at the beautiful parks of southern Utah - Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

WASHINGTON

The Seattle/Tacoma area is home base to Boeing.  Take a tour of The Boeing Company/Future of Flight Aviation Center.  Also The Museum of Flight has a rich collection of exhibits and programs.

The Seattle music scene is one of the most diverse in North America.  From alternative rock and grunge, to jazz and underground hip-hop, music was, and still is one of Seattle's gifts to the world.  Multiple Grammy winners Quincy Jones, Nirvana and Kenny G all grew up in Seattle. 

But arguably the best guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix hails from Seattle and there are tributes all over town touting the accomplishments of this musical genius.  Check out Jimi Hendrix:  An Evolution of Sound at the EMP Museum. 

For Black history the Northwest African American Museum is a great place to start. 

Spokane Falls and the 100-acre Riverfront Park are among the best sight seeing attractions in the Pacific Northwest.

CONTACT LIST

  • Arizona Office of Tourism, (866) 275-5816 / www.Arizonaguide.com
  • California Tourism, (877) 225-4367 / www.visitcalifornia.com
  • Colorado Tourism, (800) Colorado / www.colorado.com
  • Hawaii Tourism, (800) GoHawaii / www.gohawaii.com
  • Nevada Commission on Tourism, (800) Nevada-8 /0 www.travelnevada.com
  • New Mexico Tourism Department, (505) 877-7400 / www.newmexico.org
  • Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Dept., (800) 652-6552 / www.travelok.com
  • Oregon Tourism Commission, (800) 547-7842 / www.traveloregon.com
  • Texas Tourism Division, (512) 936-0101 / www.traveltex.com
  • Utah Travel Council, (800) 200-1160 / www.utah.com
  • Washington State Tourism, (800) 544-1800 / www.experiencewa.com
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