Think Outside the Conference Room Box: Nine of the coolest meeting spots in the North

You can serve all the jelly donuts you want, but a conference room will never be more than a conference room. So if you're looking to connect, inspire and fire up your company's contingency, why not plan an out-of-the-box experience for your next big meeting? Northern Michigan has opportunities aplenty for team-building and off-site meetings; here's a few of our favorite places for beyond-the-ordinary gatherings:

By Emily Bingham

Get Some Fresh Air: Ranch Rudolf

The hum of florescent lights and computer monitors will be but a faint memory during a retreat at this 195-acre Northern oasis, where Boardman River canoeing, snowmobiling and horseback trail riding through Pere Marquette State Forest are just a few of the ways your group can embrace the outdoors. After adventuring, meeting rooms and banquet facilities can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 110 guests; make it an overnight for up to 60. Traverse City, ranchrudolf.com

Embrace the Arts: Dennos Museum Center

Plan a dynamic group gathering at this premier cultural hub just a hop-skip from downtown Traverse City. Possibilities? Mingle among the renowned permanent collections and traveling exhibits with a walk-around reception or sit-down dinner in the museum, or host a large-scale presentation for up to 400 people in the fully A/V-equipped Milliken Auditorium: enormous projection screen, state-of-the-art sound system, and more. Traverse City, dennosmuseum.org

Spice It Up: Red Ginger

Slide show presentation with a side of sushi? It's possible at Red Ginger's private Lotus Room, which has A/V capacity and seats for 12 to 50 people, or mingling space for 80. Enjoy this red-hot restaurant's exceptional Asian food with a seated dinner or cocktail reception with knockout passed appetizers or buffet stations. Bonus? You're right next door to Traverse City's gorgeously restored historic State Theatre, where your team can catch a first-rate flick after the meeting. Traverse City, Red Ginger: eatatginger.com; State Theatre: statetheatretc.org

Hit the Links: Arcadia Bluffs

This exceptional 18-hole golf course recently overhauled its clubhouse and dining room, with stunning results. Gather your group in the 26-to-38-person-capacity Sunroom, where built-in presentation equipment and flexible seating options aren't the only amenities-the room also features a dramatic view of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Seasonally inspired cuisine, an award-winning wine inventory, and of course, some of the best golf in the state make this a guaranteed hole-in-one for your gang. Arcadia, arcadiabluffs.com

Michigan Pride: The Homestead Resort

Nestled in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore-one of the crown jewels of Michigan's park system-The Homestead Resort gives you an unparalled and inspiring backdrop for corporate meetings. Imagine fully equipped spaces to host even the most intimate (less than 20) or large (144) groups, all steps from sweeping dunes, sand beaches, miles of trails. Capping a productive day of business with a stunning Lake Michigan sunset? That's pure Michigan. Glen Arbor, thehomesteadresort.com

Have It All: The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Please a crowd at this multi-faceted destination, one of the largest and most innovative historic redevelopment projects in the nation. Pair your meeting with a wine tasting for up to 100 guests at laid-back yet sophisticated Left Foot Charley (leftfootcharley.com), then head next door for a cupping (aka coffee tasting) and tour of organic coffee roastery Higher Grounds (highergroundstrading.com). Your crew can then roam the eclectic boutiques among art-lined walls in the European-like indoor market known as the Mercato, or gather for a group hike along trails on the adjacent 480 acres of preserved parkland-all to the backdrop of stunning century-old Victorian-Italiente architecture. Traverse City, thevillagetc.com

Unplug:

Michigan Legacy

Art Park at Crystal

Mountain Resort

& Spa

Forget teleconferencing; connect in real-time with a gathering at Michigan Legacy Art Park, a densely wooded 30-acre preserve with a gentle 1.6-mile trail, more than 40 sculptures and a rustic outdoor amphitheatre perfect for unplugged presentations. Need something more structured? Crystal's got all the goods, as recipient of the coveted Paragon Award, an honor given out annually by Corporate Meetings and Incentives magazine to the best conference facilities in the nation. Thompsonville, crystalmountain.com

Get Things Cookin': Martha's Leelanau Table

If you've got foodies or "eat local" proponents in your group, look no further than Martha's Leelanau Table: an intimate Suttons Bay café that star chef Mario Batali has been known to frequent for its simple, seasonal offerings that draw inspiration from Leelanau bounty. Arrange a cozy wine dinner or sign up for a group cooking class, and savor the local flavors. Suttons Bay, marthasleelanautable.com

Uncover Treasure: Shanty Creek Resort

Promote team building and problem solving with a group geocache excursion on Shanty Creek's 4,500 acres. Shanty's event planners can design a private treasure hunt for you and your crew, sending you out with maps and GPS units; after the search is over, head back to more than 36,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space. Bellaire, shantycreek.com

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