Close your eyes and think of the quintessential island destination. You're probably imagining a patch of sand thousands of miles away, as remote as it is exotic, laden with coconuts, sand crabs, and cabanas. One thing this picture is probably missing, however, is meeting attendees.
We often think of islands as places you visit to escape work -- not to embrace it. But the United States is actually home to a slew of islands that defy simple tropical stereotypes, destinations with geography and infrastructure that make them ideal for business, including corporate meetings and events. Here are five popular islands for meetings.
1. Santa Catalina Island, CA
Santa Catalina has a lot of things you'd expect from an island destination -- a remote location, sunny weather, and lots and lots of water -- but it also has a lot of things you wouldn't, including a variety of group activities and accommodations. Located just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, the rocky island is accessible via helicopter or ferry; the former takes just 15 minutes and the latter an hour from nearby San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, or Dana Point, CA.
The island's principal private landholder and developer, the Santa Catalina Island Company, offers four main meeting venues and numerous offsite options, including private homes, campgrounds, yacht clubs, and gardens. The island's most famous venue, the Catalina Casino, has been around since 1929 and offers the world's largest circular ballroom, not to mention a 1,200-seat theatre and several small breakout rooms. There's also the Catalina Country Club, which can accommodate groups of up to 200; the Descanso Beach Club, which has an outdoor events lawn for up to 250 seated or 1,200 standing guests; and Catherine's Terrace at Descanso Beach, a new oceanfront venue for groups of 20 to 200.
Available activities include zip lining, golf, fishing, and a "Glass Bottom Boat Voyage."
2. Jekyll Island, GA
Located midway between Jacksonville, FL, and Savannah, GA, is Jekyll Island, GA, which is owned by the State of Georgia and managed by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority. Although the island is small -- just 5,700 acres -- it's big on offerings for groups. For example, there's the upscale Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which when it opened in 1888 was a private club for wealthy business tycoons; now a hotel, it has 157 guest rooms and 8,500 square feet of meeting space. Or, there's The Westin Jekyll Island, which opened in 2015 with 200 guest rooms and over 5,000 square feet of meeting space. The island even has its own convention center, the Jekyll Island Convention Center; the only oceanfront convention center on the East Coast south of New Jersey, it totals 128,000 square feet and has 78,000 square feet of meeting space.
The island's diverse geography -- including maritime forests, sand dunes, and 10 miles of tidal beaches -- means there's a lot more to do than there is on your average island. Golf is a favorite, for example, as Jekyll Island is Georgia's largest public golf resort with 63 holes on three 18-hole courses and a historic nine-hole course. However, there's also horseback riding, kayaking, fishing charters, eco tours, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a marine turtle rehabilitation, research, and education facility that offers guided group tours of the center's museum and sea turtle pavilion with a trained educator.
3. San Juan Islands, WA
The San Juan Islands archipelago north of Seattle, near Vancouver, is pure Pacific Northwest. The islands' verdant forests are just as relaxing as an equatorial beach somewhere south -- maybe even more so, as the San Juan Islands lack humidity and hurricanes.
The archipelago's three main islands -- Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan -- offer a number of venues for meetings and events. Friday Harbor Suites on San Juan Island, for example, has 1,660 square feet of meeting space, including the 1,000-square-foot Harbor Room, while the Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island has over 6,000 square feet of meeting space for groups of up to 250. There's also Friday Harbor House, whose 1,070-square-foot San Juan Room can accommodate groups of up to 100, and the Majestic Inn & Spa, which boasts 2,400 square feet of meeting space, including a view-rich rooftop lounge for private events of up to 200 standing.
Activities on the islands include kayaking, zip lining, sailing, and golfing, not to mention group tours at places like San Juan Island Distillery, which makes cider and apple brandy from local apples, and Pelindaba Lavendar, a 25-acre lavender farm that smells as beautiful as it looks. The area is best known, however, for whale watching; groups can learn more about whales at the Whale Museum or experience them up close on by boat from April to October.
4. Mackinac Island, MI
Situated in Lake Huron between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island (pronounced "mack-in-awe") proves that even groups in the land-locked Midwest can sample island living. Due to an 1898 town ordinance, cars are not allowed on Mackinac Island, giving the island a horse-and-buggy culture that makes it feel stuck in time in the best possible way.
All told, the island offers over 100,000 square feet of meeting space across numerous and diverse properties. For instance, the island's Victorian grande dame, the Grand Hotel, boasts 386 guest rooms and over 22,000 square feet of meeting space, while the majestic Mission Point Resort offers 239 guest rooms and over 38,000 square feet of meeting space.
Available activities include historic carriage tours, private boat cruises, hiking, geo-caching, and fudge tastings. The island is famous for its fudge shops and exports over 10,000 pounds of homemade fudge every day.
5. Galveston Island, TX
They say everything's bigger in Texas. One exception might be Galveston Island, which is only 27 miles long and three miles wide. Located just 50 miles from Houston, it's home to historic Victorian mansions, unique stilt houses, charming art galleries, 32 miles of Gulf Coast beaches, and oodles of Southern hospitality.
Groups can meet at the waterfront Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis Resort, which has 140,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 43,100-square-foot exhibit hall and a 15,500-square-foot grand ballroom; the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center, which offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space; or the Hilton Galveston Island Resort, which offers 15,000 square feet of meeting space; among numerous other venues.
For offsite events or activities, highlights include Pleasure Pier, an old-fashioned waterfront boardwalk and amusement area that can be reserved for private events; the Grand 1894 Opera House, where groups can arrange a private show; and East Beach, where groups can enjoy a private shrimp and crawfish boil.