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Meetings With Flair

Events held in less conventional venues spark excitement and chatter among attendees

By Teresa Bergen

The VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, was completed in 2011 with a design inspired by the form of an orchid. It is both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge Petal certified. || Courtesy of VanDusen Botanical Garden

When the Western Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) met in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2022, many were surprised that one evening’s event took them out of the hotel conference center and into a vintage car museum—what did cars have to do with Alaska? But soon everybody was wandering around the 30,000-square-foot Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum with drinks in hand, admiring the 115 beautifully restored vehicles on display alongside mannequins adorned with vintage fashions from the same era. “This was a perfect venue for our meeting, with lots of room to spread out and wander the exhibits,” says Eric Lindberg, former SATW Western Chapter chair. “We spent hours at the museum appreciating the details and artful design of these gleaming automobiles. There were several last-of-their-kind cars and a few that were the only models ever made.”

Fountainhead is also artful about its refreshments. The museum’s Food and Beverage Manager Carly Nelson makes sure there’s something for everyone, including those who opt for alcohol-free options. “I absolutely love creating mocktails that are more unique to create the same buzz and excitement that guests experience ordering a regular cocktail,” she says.

Such an event inspires attendees well beyond the conventional four walls, chairs, and digital projector. Whether your group is motivated by fresh air and a view of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, an unusual museum, or interacting with sea creatures at an
aquarium, the Pacific Northwest offers a long list of creative meeting spaces. Here are a few excellent ones to consider for your event.

Maris Farms in Buckley, Washington, with view of Mount Rainier
Maris Farms in Buckley, Washington, with view of Mount Rainier || Courtesy of Maris Farms

Immersed in Culture

One of the best things about meeting in a museum or cultural institution is the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at places during the off-hours. The Alaska Native Heritage Center occupies 26 acres of land on the northeastern edge of Anchorage. Its 20,000 square feet of meeting space includes indoor and tented outdoor event spaces, and its classrooms and meeting rooms are perfect for training and brainstorming. Here, alongside learning about Alaska’s many Indigenous culture groups, attendees can stroll six authentic life-size Native American dwellings near scenic Lake Tiulana or add on a cultural performance such as dancing, storytelling, or a traditional games demonstration.

To the southeast in Canada, the Museum of Vancouver in British Columbia gives meetings some cultural cred. From the museum’s History Room and Garden Patio, attendees have gorgeous views of English Bay, Stanley Park, and the North Shore Mountains. A meeting here helps attendees learn about the culture of Vancouver throughout its history, with exhibits like “The Unity Indigenous Plant Garden” and “1930s-1940s: Boom, Bust, and War.”

Head south for an artful event at Portland’s Milagro Theatre in Oregon. It offers three group rental spaces, including the 121-seat theater itself. This nonprofit theater is well known for avant-garde and bilingual English/Spanish productions.

Over in Idaho, planners can take attendees back to school with a meeting at the 1912 Center in Moscow, Idaho. Originally built as Moscow High School, this community center is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a prime example of classical-style architecture with details of brick and terra cotta. Here, groups rent space for weekly pinochle, yoga, and mahjong, and several rooms can be rented for private events—its Great Room can host up to 200 attendees and comes with lots of natural light and a full commercial kitchen. If you want to rub shoulders with the community, your group will have an authentic Moscow experience here.

The Great Outdoors

Holding an event outside can reduce stress, improve moods, and increase feelings of freedom and creativity. Hosting your next meeting on a farm or in a garden can invigorate team bonding and brainstorming. Of course, make sure venues offer a way for guests to stay dry and comfortable when Pacific Northwest weather gets moody—luckily, there are a lot of flexible options at places across the region.

Outdoor Western-themed event at Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyoming
Outdoor Western-themed event at Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyoming || Courtesy of Brush Creek Ranch

In Belgrade, Montana, near Bozeman, Bridger Berries Farm hosts groups of up to 60 attendees. In season, eventgoers can pick fruit from the farm’s orchard. “Our micro berry farm is a special place here in Bozeman, Montana, as we believe all individuals, couples, and families should have access to the majestic mountain views and be in touch with our local food systems,” says owner Emely Lambert. “We strive to be affordable while providing peaceful comfort for all events and vacations.” The farm promotes itself as being LGBTQ+ friendly, and the venue is available for bookings May 15 to Oct. 15.

Give attendees a taste of Washington countryside with an event at Maris Farms, a 40-acre family-owned farm located in Buckley, an hour southeast of Seattle. Among its big barn, farm food, and original dairy buildings, Maris Farms is a well-known “agri-tainment” venue. “When you come to Maris Farms, we want your family to become our family,” says owner Dale Maris. Most of the farm’s private event customers are medium to large businesses wanting a full-service facility for a company picnic or staff appreciation day. The farm accommodates 300 to 2,000 attendees and is suitable for the largest of gatherings. Depending on the season, planners and attendees will find fields of tulips, zinnias, sunflowers, or pumpkins, and an animal barn full of goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, and pigs.

For a wilder outdoor venue, Bellevue, Washington, has a meeting solution. “Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center is a very versatile meeting venue, tucked away in the serene wilderness of the slough,” says Brad Jones, executive director of Visit Bellevue. “When we held one of our board meetings at the venue, the group was so energized to have one of our breakout rooms be in the treehouse. You get sweeping views of the wetlands below, with downtown Bellevue peeking through the trees.” The education center also offers group kayaking tours for team building.

In warmer months, gardens make spectacular outdoor venues. The Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon, 14 miles northeast of Salem, features 80 acres encompassing more than 20 specialty gardens. In July and August, this venue can host spectacular outdoor meetings. The rest of the year, the garden offers indoor spaces, such as the J. Frank Schmidt Junior Pavilion, formerly an Arabian horse barn. For lodging, planners can coordinate with Oregon Garden Resort right next door.

Up in British Columbia, VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver has various indoor and outdoor spaces, some with lake or pond views. “Our Visitor Centre halls are typically the most popular venue spaces that are booked for corporate events,” says Taylor Shewfelt, senior marketing specialist for the garden. “These three halls can be combined into one larger space and can host up to 180 people in a ceremony or lecture-style event.” VanDusen’s Visitor Centre is one of Canada’s first buildings to attain the Living Building Challenge, an eco-certification, and was the winner of the World Architecture News’ Most Sustainable Building of the Year award not long after it was built. “Our Floral Hall and Cedar Room also are commonly rented for meetings and events with slightly smaller capacities. Both rooms are in one of the original buildings on-site, offering a postmodern-style space.”

Fantastic Fauna

For groups whose missions align with wildlife and conservation—or consist of animal enthusiasts—a meeting at a zoo, aquarium, or ranch could provide the desired critter fix.

The small town of Stanley, Idaho, sits within the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch first welcomed guests to explore the region’s beauty in 1930 and is on the National Register of Historic Places for its log cabin architecture. Office Manager Ryan Kolbe describes the ranch as an ideal location for corporate retreats. “We have nearly 900 acres to explore in between meetings, and our ranch welcomes guests with incredible food, cozy accommodations, and strong Wi-Fi.” With 22 guest rooms, this is a good place for a team retreat. “A private meeting space that opens to the mountains encourages collaboration and lively discussions, with breakout areas just outside by the fire pits or nearby on the hot spring pool deck.” There’s horseback riding, too.

Indoor event dining at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch in Stanley
Indoor event dining at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch in Stanley || Courtesy of Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch

The Cowboy State of Wyoming also offers several venues to get attendees in touch with the natural landscape. Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga combines traditional Western style with innovative group activities like a half-day hike with llamas or group snowshoeing in winter. Medicine bowl sound healing taps into alpha and theta brainwaves, relaxing guests and opening deep-seated creativity.  Brush Creek Ranch is an authentic Western gem with all-inclusive activities for everyone,” says Amanda Wascher, director of group sales. “Whether getting out in nature or engaging in one of our many culinary experiences, our unique guest ranch is a great destination for groups to try something new.”

Meeting attendees can’t get much closer to marine life than at the Seattle Aquarium in Washington. “Where else can you explore the depths of the Puget Sound and come face-to-face with beloved marine mammals such as sea otters and harbor seals?” asks Emily Malone, the Seattle Aquarium’s public relations specialist. The aquarium is located on Pier 59 at Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay and can accommodate groups of up to 800, who will enjoy the 20-by-40-foot “Window on Washington Waters” exhibit looking right into the sound. Philanthropic-minded groups will be happy to know their event fees help fund ocean conservation.

Event at the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 along Elliott Bay in Washington
Event at the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 along Elliott Bay in Washington || Courtesy of Seattle Aquarium

Zoos are another unusual option for a meeting, but a fun one. The Oregon Zoo in Portland has multiple event venues, ranging from the 30-person Sunset Room to a 3,500-capacity amphitheater. In nice weather, the Cascade Cafe Deck is an especially pretty outdoor spot that accommodates 150 people. At Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Washington, planners can add a visit by an animal ambassador to their corporate event. Choose from a long list of unusual animals—from something adorable like a two-toed sloth to a guaranteed conversation starter like the Madagascar hissing cockroach—and an expert staff biologist will liven up your party.