While gargantuan convention centers have their place in the spectrum of meetings venues, nothing can quite beat the offbeat if the goal is to create a unforgettable get together. Constantly on the lookout for something new to offer corporate guests, meeting organizers frequently turn to museums as the go-to venues for event environments that are fresh, colorful and captivating.

As gathering places, museums feature built-in dramatic backdrops, plus an experienced venue will be able to provide AV technology, security and food and beverage services, either in-house or catered. And practically every top-tier city in the world has more than one great museum, so there’s little risk of boring your event attendees.  From high art to history to the downright quirky, we explore some of the elegant and eclectic in museum options available in five cities across the US.

Boston
Known as the Cradle of Liberty and the Hub of the Universe, Boston is an intriguing blend of historic charm, urban diversity and high-tech ingenuity. But beyond the iconic landmarks and youthful sophistication, the city offers great dining and nightlife, extraordinary shopping, championship professional and college sports teams, and a vibrant arts and cultural community, making it a dynamic meeting and convention destination.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened its $135 million Renzo Piano-designed, four-story 70,000 square foot wing in January 2012. The new wing offers some significant opportunities for meeting and event planners who have not been able to include the Gardner in the past. The Gardner features unique spaces including the historic 1903 Palace. Here guests can gather for private receptions around the ever-blooming Courtyard or tours of the collection which includes art, rare books and archival objects from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th-century France and America. Spaces within the New Wing can be used for speaking programs, conferences, seated dinners and receptions.

If a group is looking to stage a gathering celebrating freedom of speech, no Boston location carries more symbolism than the Old South Meeting House, built in 1729 as a Puritan meeting house and located in what is now the heart of the downtown financial district. Operated as a museum today, the meeting house can accommodate groups of 500 in a theater setting and 100 for a banquet. Visit oldsouthmeetinghouse.org

Other memorable meetings and events venues include Boston’s world-class museums, from the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Boston Children’s Museum on the waterfront to the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge and the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston near Fenway Park.

All have websites with more information or visit bostonusa.com for more.

Philadelphia
Founded in 1682, The City of Brotherly Love has long been at the heart of the American experiment in democracy, where the Founding Fathers met to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 – at that’s just for starters.  With such a rich and colorful history, it’s little wonder the meeting places that were part of the city’s original raison d'être have since become a part of Philly’s DNA.

If you can imagine 16 soaring Corinthian columns holding up an 80-foot dome beneath which rests a massive 20-foot-high marble statue of Ben Franklin – then you’re on the right track for a larger than life event inside the Franklin Institute Museum’s Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

The privately owned national monument offers 5,184 square feet of visually captivating space which can accommodate a reception for up to 700, dinner for 400 or theater-style seating for 670.

Have something smaller in mind? The institute’s Fels Planetarium will bring cosmic elegance to events for 220 dinner guests, 250 in theater-style seating or receptions for up to 300.  Nearly 4,000 square feet of functional space beneath the stars makes a moonlit event at the second oldest planetarium in America absolutely flawless.
220 North 20th Street, (215) 448-1275.  Visit fi.edu

In 1876, the first official “World’s Fair” was held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Of the many buildings constructed for the fair, Memorial Hall was the showcase for all the exhibition’s art.  After the fair, the building became the first home of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a role that lasted until 1929.  Thereafter the building went through a variety of uses, and today it’s the home of the Please Touch Museum. What was created to dazzle the senses of children ages zero to seven is now a top spot for whimsical kids-of-all-ages events in the city.
4231 Avenue of the Republic, (215) 578-5786. pleasetouchmuseum.org

Atlanta
As the cultural center of gravity in the South, Atlanta is a known as a major mecca for meetings and conventions.  In fact, there are over 100 meetings and events venues in the greater Atlanta metro area, ranging in size from the intimate to the positively gargantuan.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums – a distinction awarded to only 5 percent of museums nationwide – the Fernbank Museum of Natural History affords guests a sense of perspective into the age of the dinosaurs as they mix and mingle in the 8,400-square-foot Great Hall amongst extinct reptilian creatures like a 47-foot-long meat-eating Giganotosaurus and 123-foot-long Argentinosaurus.

Other rare options include the oval shaped Star Gallery that features a fiber optic ceiling showcasing the constellations of the evening sky, an immersive and interactive children’s exhibition and a five-story IMAX screen. The Fernbank can accommodate up to 2,500 guests, along with smaller functions for 200 to 600.
767 Clifton Road NE, (404) 929-6390 or (404) 929 6334. fernbankmuseum.org

Chicago 
Chicago is a business-friendly, world class city.  From the Gold Coast to Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile to the spectacular lakefront and beautiful tree-lined parks, Chicago is a city that works hard to host business travelers from around the world.  In addition to time-honored venues like McCormick Place Convention Center and The Merchandise Mart, the city offers a multitude of other meetings and events sites.

With a pair of life-sized lion statues guarding the front entrance, the Art Institute of Chicago boasts some of the best Impressionist, American and Modern Art galleries in the world. Its one million square feet contain 11 fascinating and creative venues to host meetings and events for any number from 120 to up to 5,000 guests. Whether it’s a seated dinner, flowing reception or theatre style program, your guests’ experience will be enriched when a private gallery viewing is added to your event.
111 South Michigan Ave., (312) 443-3530; artic.edu

The Museum of Science and Industry features a multitude of whimsical spaces ranging from a reception in the art deco Rotunda to dining in the shadows of U-505, a German submarine captured during World War II. MSI is the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, home to more than 35,000 artifacts and nearly 14 acres of hands-on experiences designed to spark inquisitiveness and creativity. It can be booked for intimate groups as small as 20 up to gigantic affairs that take up the entire museum with as many as 12,000 guests. Just in case the more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space isn’t enough, the North and South Porticos can be tented for up to 1,500 people.
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, (773) 753-2583; msichicago.org

San Diego
In recent years the economy of San Diego has gradually shifted its focus from Pentagon spending to technology, which today makes up a bigger chunk of the city’s economy than does the military, now in second place. All that said, the bayside city’s third largest meal ticket is the area’s meetings and tourism industry.

The USS Midway was commissioned on Sept. 10, 1945, and served 47 years, longer than any other US Navy carrier in the 20th century.  In her day she was the largest naval ship in the world and the first carrier built with a steel flight deck. Decommissioned in 1992, the USS Midway Museum is now docked in “Navy Town,” where she provides a spectacular option for meetings. Hosting an average of 700 annual events for up to 3,500 guests at a time, the waiting list can be three years in most cases. Reasons include the wonder of the ship’s amazing flight deck and hangar spaces, the historic nature of the ship and the dramatic backdrop of sunset views over the bay and the downtown San Diego skyline.

Another intriguing option for events is the San Diego Natural History Museum with its rooftop deck offers sweeping views of Balboa Park. Other spaces include the Sefton Atrium, and the Fossil Mysteries interactive exhibition hall, with its life-size dinosaur.  Set in historic Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art offers a world-class art collection, historic architecture and the May S. Marcy Sculpture Court and Garden, featuring 19th- and 20th-century sculptures.

Events at San Diego’s newest museum, The New Children’s Museum, are known to bring out the inner child in every attendee, regardless of age. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, this 50,000-square-foot urban museum offers three floors of contemporary, interactive and creative possibilities with flexible space for groups up to 1,000.