Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January February 2015
Walking Cities
By: Buck Samuels
While many groups choose to meet at large resorts or out of the-way locals, even more seem to be embracing the idea of walking cities. Destinations with compact downtown corridors offer an incredible advantage to meeting planners looking to cut costs during challenging times. Smaller walking cities usually have everything your attendees require within walking distance or a short ride away. What a difference it makes to have your hotel across the street from the convention center as opposed to across town! Hosting a meeting in a small to mid-sized walking city can dramatically reduce transportation costs to and from events, attractions and special activities.

Some larger cities, on the other hand, offer a myriad of experiences with opportunities to explore unique neighborhoods and world-class attractions in an environment perfectly suited for walking.

Meetings in these cities, whether large or small, open the door for a better quality of experience for attendees. Instead of becoming hindered by transportation woes, visitors can embark on their own for any multitude of adventures, fully exploring the destination in which they are meeting. Here are a few possibilities for your consideration.

SAN ANTONIO

The San Antonio River Walk is a verdant oasis of cypress-lined paved paths, arched stone bridges and lush landscapes. It gently winds through the city center, providing millions of visitors each year with easy access to the city's cultural hot spots, historic sites and other attractions.

Colorful and iconic umbrellas shade riverside tables as diners savor a splendid array of diverse River Walk cuisine. Classic Tex-Mex, tender barbecue, traditional Italian and contemporary Southwestern fare are just a few of the choices you'll find in the cafés, restaurants and bistros. Just steps from the River Walk is Main Plaza - "the heart of the city."

The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is the largest urban ecosystem in the nation. Tucked quietly below street level and only steps from the Alamo, it provides a serene and pleasant way to navigate the city. Ride a river cruiser, rent a bicycle or take your time seeing the sights on foot. With 15 miles of sidewalks and paths, the River Walk provides access to museums, the King William Historic District, 300-year-old Spanish missions, hotels, shops, restaurants and a new adventure around every turn. In 2009, a 1.33-mile Riverwalk extension was completed, featuring visual and aural works of art, terraces landscaped with native plants and pedestrian access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the historic Pearl Brewery complex.

Planners will be happy to hear that the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the central component of San Antonio's meeting industry, is located right on the famed Riverwalk.  The facility hosts more than 300 events each year with over 750,000 convention delegates from around the world.  The 1,300,000-sq. ft. state-of-the-art center boasts 203,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, three ballrooms, four contiguous exhibit halls over 440,000 sq. ft. and the adjacent 2,500-seat Lila Cockrell Theatre, a performing arts venue, which is part of the original construction.

For more information, contact Visit San Antonio at (866) 517-7771.

DETROIT

While Detroit may be best known for its automobile industry and for the iconic Motown sound, there's no question that it's prowess as a walking city is on the rise.  Under girding this rise as a pedestrian friendly destination is the developing Detroit International Riverfront, a popular tourist attraction that extends from the Ambassador Bridge in the west to Belle Isle in the east, for a total of 5½ miles. The International Riverfront encompasses a cruise ship passenger terminal and dock, a marina, a multitude of parks, restaurants, retail shops, skyscrapers, and high-rise residential areas along with Cobo Convention/Exhibition Center and Joe Louis Arena. The Marriott at the Renaissance Center and the Robert's Riverwalk Hotel, two of the city's major convention hotels, are also situated along the International Riverfront.

With 723,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, Cobo Center boasts one of the largest contiguous exhibit floor spaces in North America and is the 19th largest convention center in the country.  Elegant banquet rooms and more than 80 meeting rooms comprise 180,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Private companies and foundations together with the city, state, and federal government have contributed several hundred million dollars toward the riverfront development. Key public spaces in the International Riverfront, such as the RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut Greenway and Trail, William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, and a cruise ship passenger terminal and dock at Hart Plaza encourage and accommodate foot traffic. This makes sense, since the area provides an ideal venue for a variety of annual events and festivals including the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Detroit Free Press International Marathon, the Detroit International Jazz Festival, Motor City Pride, the North American International Auto Show, and River Days.

With so many convention facilities, accommodations, attractions and recreational options clustered around the Detroit International Riverfront for easy access, it's no wonder planners and their delegates are placing Detroit high on their wish list of meeting destinations.

Fr more information contact the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau at (313) 202-1800.

MILWAUKEE

In the heart of downtown, the two-mile long RiverWalk winds along the Milwaukee River with access to some of the city's best restaurants, brewpubs, shops and waterfront nightlife. Eye-catching public art gives the RiverWalk the feel of an outdoor gallery and colorful, user-friendly directional signs elaborate on the city's history. It's the site of many Milwaukee events, including River Rhythms, the Milwaukee River Challenge and more.   Simply put, Milwaukee is a walker's paradise.

The Milwaukee RiverWalk winds through the heart of the city, tying together three distinct riverfront neighborhoods - the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. Just three blocks south of downtown, the Historic Third Ward is now known as "Milwaukee's Arts and Fashion District" and offers the city's most dynamic array of restaurants, spas, theaters, galleries and unique shopping, all in a historic warehouse setting.  More than 20 blocks from its northernmost to southernmost points, the RiverWalk is unified by permanent and changing art exhibitions that create a unique, urban, outdoor gallery.

A leisurely stroll provides plenty of opportunities to discover Milwaukee.  Why?  Milwaukee's RiverWalk is home to an outdoor art gallery called RiverSculpture! that includes both permanent pieces and temporary installations that change periodically. As you stroll along the RiverWalk you'll enjoy making new discoveries, from small, whimsical sculptures such as Gertie, the world's most celebrated duck, to sizeable and striking abstract works.  There are currently 20 sculptures on display representing national, regional and local artists.

 Also located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee is the Wisconsin Center, one of the world's most architecturally exhilarating and technologically robust convention facilities.  The facility offers 188,695 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit sp[ace, a 37,506-sq. ft. Grand Ballroom, an additional 39,640 sq. ft. of meeting space that can be divided into as many as 28 meeting and breakout rooms, and $1.2 million in public art.

Fortunately, the area's popularity has not gone unnoticed. Several years ago, Milwaukee's RiverWalk was designated one of America's Ten Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association (APA).

Milwaukee is nicknamed the "City of Festivals," and it only takes a glance at the calendar to know why! Most of the city's great street festivals and year round special events, plus near-weekly ethnic festivals and huge events like Summerfest are easily accessible on foot.

For more information contact Visit Milwaukee at (800) 5544-1448.

LOS ANGELES

Since the City of Angels is such a huge sprawling destination, you might think the only way to experience LA would be by car or on one of those double-decker open-air tour buses.  But you'd be wrong!  Los Angeles is a city of many unique and fascinating neighborhoods that entice visitors with culture, cuisine and excitement.  Granted, things can be pretty spread out in Los Angeles, so you will need some wheels under you to journey from one district to another.  But once you arrive at your neighborhood destination, there's no better way to drink it all in than by touring on foot.

Los Angeles has something for everyone, with 75 miles of sunny coastline, a flourishing Downtown, lifestyle playgrounds for the rich and famous, acclaimed restaurants, trend-setting art and fashion scenes, and internationally flavored neighborhoods. One of the most popular ways to experience L.A. is by enjoying free activities, such as taking in an ethnic festival or visiting top cultural attractions.

You have a choice of touring LA's neighborhoods and districts on your own, or as part of an organized group.  Visitors who want to experience rich African-American culture and heritage need only take a self-guided walking tour through Leimert Park, an enclave of museums, sidewalk cafes, performance venues and African boutiques along and around Degnan Boulevard in the Crenshaw District.  Here's where you'll find beautiful dashikis, reggae inspired clothing, great art, and some of the tastiest menus in town in eateries like the Ackee Bamboo, Addassa's Island Café and Dulan's.

The "Downtown Los Angeles Walking Tour: Culture on Foot" is a guided tour that begins at the corner of Temple and Hill Street near the Metro Red Line Civic Center Station and takes in the fortress-like Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, the Music Center, Ahmanson Theater, Mark Taper Frum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Walt Disney Concert hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Of course, no visit to Los Angels would be complete without taking a self-guided tour of the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.  Another popular area for walking tours is Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive where the rich and famous shop for Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Armani, Dior and Cartier.

Another popular area for touring on foot is L.A. Live, an entertainment complex in the South Park District of Downtown Los Angeles adjacent to the Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center.  In addition to a slew of hip restaurants, the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, and an open air plaza that's regularly used for conference events, the area is also home to the iconic Nokia Theater and the Grammy Museum .

For more information contact the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board at (213) 624-7300.

WASHINGTON, DC

Perhaps no other city has more world-renowned monuments, museums and historic points of interest than the nation's capital.  And fortunately, they are easily accessible on foot, including the latest two additions, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the soon to open National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Both of these attractions,, and many more, can be found on National Mall.

Situated on the banks of the Potomac River, the National Mall is a two-mile swath of land bound by the U.S. Capitol to the east and the Washington Monument to the west. Visitors to "the Mall" will find a wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard with moving monuments and memorials, world-famous museums and impressive federal buildings along Constitution Avenue.

The National Mall welcomes millions of visitors every year, but it has also played host to many history-making events. This is where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands who marched on Washington. The Mall is home to the country's most famous monuments and memorials. In addition to the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials all reside here. You'll also find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the National World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The National Mall is also home to many of the country's most popular museums. Smithsonian museums along the National Mall include the National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Castle.

While The National Mall may be DC's most popular visitor attraction, it's not the only game in town. Beyond the notable landmarks of the city, Washington, DC has several distinctive neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and personality. To fully experience this other side of the District, several guided tours are offered year-round and give visitors a taste of how the locals live.

For example, Washington Walks offers two-hour themed walking tours through Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Additionally, visitors can experience a tour of DC's most haunted houses or walk the monuments by moonlight. Every Saturday morning, Washington Walks offers a free walk that highlights a neighborhood, historic site or even a shopping district. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so bring those walking shoes and get ready to get fit and have fun exploring Chocolate City by foot.  For more information contact Destination DC at (800) 635-MEET.

BALTIMORE

Baltimore's Inner Harbor has many stories to tell, from its heyday in the 18th century as the nation's leading shipbuilding site, to a major site for oyster canning, steel working, railroad building, immigration port and military supply center. In 1980, the Inner Harbor area underwent a major revitalization with the addition of many attractions, hotels, restaurants and shops. Today, the Inner Harbor is a major tourist destination and port of call for cruise ships.  From family-friendly museums and restaurants to satisfy every palate, to exciting nightlife, cultural experiences and spectacular people-watching, Baltimore's Inner Harbor offers more to see and do than you can imagine.  And what's more, it's all walkable!

Planners and their delegates can take in Inner Harbor attractions like The National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Science Center with its IMAX theater and Planetarium, and the Baltimore Maritime Museum, or they can dine in style at one of many area restaurants.  Elegant gourmet cuisine, ethnic foods from around the world and plenty of fresh seafood from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay can be found at the many Inner Harbor eateries.  A short walk from Baltimore's Inner Harbor (about one block) is Power Plant Live!, a premier dining and entertainment district that features a variety of restaurants and nightclubs surrounding a common plaza. There is also outdoor seating, which often features live performances.

And visitors won't have to stray far to find superb accommodations.  Stay Among the Action at an Inner Harbor Hotel, all of which are located around the scenic Baltimore Harbor. 

Baltimore is known as a city of neighborhoods - more than 200 of them, all with a unique history and feel. Local restaurants, shops and architecture reflect the character of each neighborhood. Come down to Highlandtown, a designated arts and entertainment district, for its ethnic history and diversity. Hit Downtown with bustling streets and dozens of attractions. Stroll through Fells Point, a National Historic District, replete with 161 buildings on the National Register. And stop by Little Italy to take in the aroma of Italian cuisine and the sound of bocce ball games filling the streets. 

For more information contact Visit Baltimore at (410) 659-7300.
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