Hitting the road for work needn't be a loathsome chore. Our picks for the best cities for business travel have it all--entrepreneurial culture, stylish hotels, great eats and the elusive "fun" factor. Put these destinations on your itinerary, and you just may not want to go home.
How do you identify the best destinations for business travel? We've all heard friends and colleagues detail their plans: "I need to go to Albany," they might say, "but next week I get to go to Portland." Clearly, some cities are more desirable than others.
Part of it is the ease of doing business. Is the airport accessible from other cities and close to downtown? Are companies and meeting spaces within easy reach from the best hotels?
It also has to do with the entrepreneurial mindset of a place, a sense that innovation is in the air. The best place to go for business, many entrepreneurs will tell you, is the one where they're likely to come away with a new idea or a new client.
Then there's the "fun" factor, cities that tempt you to stay the weekend. As Mark Ehrnstein, a vice president at Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, says about his city: "None of our team members need to be talked into making a trip here." Indeed, Austin is one of our selections for the best cities for business travel. We've picked three, based on metro-area population: large (2 million-plus), medium (1 million to 2 million) and small (fewer than 1 million).
Schedule meetings and retreats where logic dictates. But if a trip comes up to one of these places, don't let your VP or regional rep take it instead--they may never come back.
Large City: Boston
The best part about doing business in Boston? The business. The most visible companies, such as Zipcar, Daktari Diagnostics and Preserve, are only the tip of the iceberg. The convention center, opened in 2004, has livened up the previously moribund South Boston, and after two decades in exile in the suburbs around Route 128, startups and thriving small businesses can again be found in the city.
Apart from the occasional winter nor'easter, which can close things down for days at a time, business travel to Boston is a treat. The city wouldn't have been considered for this award before the Big Dig--the largest public works project in American history--invested nearly $15 billion into underground infrastructure. Now, the Ted Williams Tunnel has cut travel time from the Financial District to Logan Airport from an hour to as little as 15 minutes.
(There's even a water taxi from downtown.) Plenty of cabs and one of the finest urban rail systems on the continent make traversing the city far easier than getting around San Francisco, Los Angeles or even New York.
Boston has always had good hotels, but a dozen intriguing properties have sprung up in the past decade. Many are in the Back Bay, within walking distance of most meetings, top restaurants and cultural attractions. "In a day, you can do an awful lot," says Craig LaRosa of local design firm Continuum, whose clients visit from around the world. "That mix of business, entertainment, food and culture within a very small geographic area is enticing."
A visit isn't complete without a trip to the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame just outside the MIT campus. In what other city can you find homage to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs actually etched in stone?
Where to stay: The Liberty Hotel. This is a business hotel with a raucous party vibe. Cava is offered on arrival; the weeknight bar crowd spills out into the atrium lobby; and there are cooking demonstrations, art exhibitions and fashion shows. It's a one-stop social life for the road warrior. But 6,000 square feet of meeting space and a staff attuned to business needs also make it an ideal base for a week of meetings--if you can handle the clamor. Set in a retrofitted granite-block jail, the hotel is perfectly situated on the edge of Beacon Hill, one stop on the MBTA from MIT's Entrepreneurship Center and accessible to Copley Square and the North End. (215 Charles St.; libertyhotel.com)
Where to eat lunch: Coppa. The rejuvenated neighborhood around Tremont Street is dotted with boutiques, graphic design firms, ad shops and other small businesses. Coppa, a 40-seat sliver of a restaurant owned by high-profile Boston chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer, serves as the canteen for nearby creative types, while attracting chowhounds from around the city. They come for wood-fired pizzas, Italian small plates and creatively authentic pastas, such as house-made chestnut tagliatelle with wild-boar ragù. Though the room has the comfortable feel of a neighborhood bar, you won't be out of place in a business suit. There's a well-priced, carefully chosen wine list for that clinch-the-sale celebration. (253 Shawmut Ave.; coppaboston.com)
Where to eat dinner: Craigie on Main. At his bustling French-inflected restaurant on the Cambridge side of the Charles, Tony Maws turns out intellectual food you don't need to think about to enjoy. These are hearty dishes--a pork sampler with four preparations; crispy Vermont pheasant; house-cured sardines--presented in sophisticated fashion. The room hums with professionals in animated conversation over beer or wine. It's the perfect spot to impress a discerning client. (853 Main St., Cambridge; craigieonmain.com)
Where to meet for drinks: Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks. Don't be put off by décor that looks like a national chain waiting to be rolled out. The cocktails at this brasserie around the corner from Fenway Park are rivaled only by those at the obsessively original Drink in South Boston. The wine list is a hidden gem, and the food isn't half bad, either. The exuberance of the Kenmore Square clientele gives Eastern Standard a post-game feel even in the dead of winter. Best of all, it's echt Boston, an ideal spot to gather a group of outside suppliers or regional managers.
(528 Commonwealth Ave.; easternstandardboston.com)
Three extra hours: The $345 million Art of the Americas wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, designed by Sir Norman Foster, has transformed what already ranked as a premier museum into arguably the most compelling in America. If it's nice out, consider a Boston Duck Tour, which canvasses the area's historical and cultural sites from a World War II amphibious landing vehicle. Even Yankees fans will want to catch a glimpse of Fenway Park in its 100th anniversary year. Tickets to Red Sox games are hard (but not impossible) to acquire, but stadium tours are offered year-round.