Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas Few cities can offer a waterfront as inviting, unique, and so well suited to groups as San Antonio's Riverwalk. Along this winding waterway are several venues that are great for private parties. One of them is the Hertzberg Circus Museum, where you can hold an event under the big top for up to 400 people. Another is La Villita, located in a beautifully landscaped historic district and offering various Mexican-themed areas for rental, the largest accommodating up to 2,500 guests. Also on the Riverwalk, the Presidio Plaza features a total of 10,000 square feet for private events in various indoor and outdoor areas overlooking the river.

Contact: For information on any of the Riverwalk venues mentioned above or for information on others, contact Rebecca Loredo, public information officer, San Antonio CVB, (210) 207-6758; fax: (210) 207-8843.

American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, St. Louis, Mo. Now this is as close to dog heaven as you will probably get on earth: The Kennel Club offers one of the world's largest collections of dog paintings, sculptures, and other artworks--from formal portraits of various beloved pooches to whimsical bronze works and fine porcelains. The museum is housed in Jarville House, a Greek Revival home built in 1853, with a contemporary addition completed in 1987. Even if you are not a dog lover, you'll find yourself smiling as you tour the museum: Few can resist the humor of such pieces as the "Scottie" napkin holder, or the mixed-medium piece called "Sic 'em."

Groups of up to 180 can be accommodated in the Constellation Room, while the conference room holds up to 50 for meetings. Catering is permitted but not provided. Rental rates are up to $575 for the larger private events.

Contact: Kathy Arnold, special events manager, (314) 821-3647; fax: (314) 821-7381

Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Ill. Guess what venue is the largest provider of company picnics in the Midwest? Groups from 100 to 10,000 can enjoy a "private" picnic together, with Six Flags preparing a fully catered event and taking care of details such as setup, cleanup, entertainment options, a special private entrance gate, as well as discounted tickets for the theme park. Picnic menus range up to $19 per person, and park admission fees are about $22 per person for groups of 100 or more. The park itself features 10 thrilling roller-coaster rides, and more than 100 rides in total.

Contact: Scott Kern, public relations manager, (847) 249-2133; fax: (847) 249-2390; www.sixflags.com

Reitz Home Museum Evansville, Ind. This Victorian-era landmark, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, was the grand home of lumber baron John Augustus Reitz, who built the mansion in 1871. Replete with stunning hand-painted ceilings, silk damask covered walls, molded plaster friezes, stained-glass window panels, and marble fireplaces, the museum is hailed as one of the country's finest examples of Second Empire architecture.

Groups of up to 48 people can enjoy private functions at the museum for very reasonable fees: $100 for four hours, plus catering costs (you make your own arrangements). A number of special events are held at the museum throughout the year (Mystery Evenings, the Victorian Gala, and Christmas Gala, etc.) can be enjoyed by individual visitors.

Contact: Kelly Sorensen, special events manager, (812) 426-1871; fax: (812) 426-2179

Buffalo Trace Distillery, Lexington, Ky. This distillery is on an ancient buffalo crossing that became a pathway for westward exploring--and subsequently the oldest distilling site in the United States. The distillery's 200-year-old Commodore Richard House is the oldest building in existence in Kentucky's Franklin County. The first modern distillery was built on the site in 1857--the first to use steam power, a major advance in producing bourbon. The Buffalo Trace distillery was also the first to produce single-barrel bourbon commercially in 1984, and a few years later, the first to use reverse osmosis in the filtration process. Today it is the only one using five recipes for whiskey products--two rye, one barley, one pure rye, and one wheat--and the only Kentucky distillery that produces vodka.

But more than history and good spirits are to be found here. Located on 110 acres with as many production, offices and warehouse structures on-site, the distillery offers a clubhouse built with 200-year-old logs from authentic Kentucky cabins. The reception hall is available for private meetings and parties, accommodating up to 200 people for sit-down meals, with a separate bar area and a side conference room for up to 25. Rental rates are $100 per hour, with catering costs extra. It's a great place for tastings and special events of all kinds.

Contact: Theresa McAninch, hospitality and events coordinator, (502) 696-5996; fax: (502) 696-5947

The National Big Band Jazz Hall of Fame, Palm Springs, Calif. This new attraction is dedicated to the musicians, band leaders, vocalists, dancers, arrangers, and others connected to this musical genre. The 16,000-square-foot museum, to open in October, offers interactive exhibits, a ballroom dance floor, live radio studio with DJ, outdoor sculpture garden, and a beautiful Hall of Fame Theater. The museum can accommodate up to 200 people for private functions.

Contact: Chris Clemens, (760) 360-8656; fax: (760) 360-6808

North Carolina Zoological Park Greensboro, N.C. This isn't your typical zoo. The park is one of the largest and finest walk-through, natural habitat zoos, home to more than 1,000 animals living in its North American and African habitat areas, which are spread over dozens of acres. The aviary is ranked as one of the top 10 zoo exhibits in the United States. And wonderful outdoor picnic facilities for groups of up to 500 are available, with catering provided by Sodex-Ho Marriott. Best of all, the price is right: $300 a day to use the large picnic area, and up to $100 for three hours at the smaller picnic facilities.

Contact: Lane Ragsdale, group sales specialist; (336) 879-7203; fax: (336) 879-7210

Detroit Opera House Detroit, Mich. The Detroit Opera House reopened in 1996 after a $28 million renovation that restored it to its original 1922 grandeur. The opera house has a massive, highly detailed proscenium arch, Czechoslovakian glass chandeliers, hand-painted canvas panels, and other sumptuous details. Opened by Luciano Pavarotti and now home to the Michigan Opera Theater, the 2,775-seat opera house can be used in its entirety for large events, or in part for smaller events. For example, the main auditorium lobby, suitable for receptions, is 4,128 square feet, while two function rooms offer 1,500 square feet each for small banquets or receptions.

Contact: Jennifer Turner, director of events, (313) 237-3281; fax: (313) 237-3412

Gibson Beale Street Showcase and the Rock 'n' Soul Museum Memphis, Tenn. Here's a place where you get two outstanding venues in one locale. At the Gibson Beale Street Showcase, one block off Beale Street, visitors can see the renowned guitars being made and then enjoy a private party on-site. The plant offers several venues, including an upscale Italian restaurant (with performance stage) seating 250. A rooftop facility accommodates sit-down dinners for up to 750 and receptions for 1,500, and has a much larger stage. A full-service operation providing everything from valet parking to catering and entertainment, the Gibson Beale Street Showcase is adjacent to the new Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, which offers its own event space for private parties. The museum features the Smithsonian Institution's Rock 'n' Soul Crossroads exhibition, a chronology of rebellious hearts and music that shaped "the Memphis Sound," including the likes of Elvis, Otis Redding, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Contact: Bill Ross, general manager, Gibson Beale Street Showcase, (901) 544-7998; fax; (901) 543-0888. Jodi Ball, manager, Rock 'n' Soul Museum, (901) 543-0800; fax: (901) 543-0888

Old Town Plaza, Albuquerque, N.M. Named after a Spanish Duke, Albuquerque was founded in 1706 around the customary Spanish-style plaza. Today this beautiful plaza, where you can stroll under shady trees, explore shops and restaurants tucked in picturesque alleyways, or enjoy live entertainment in the plaza's gazebo, can be rented for private events as well. The area can accommodate hundreds for private events, open-air or under tents. There is a modest $100 usage fee for the park, plus various other permit fees.

Contact: Pat Sena, manager, City of Albuquerque, (505) 857-8669; fax: (505) 857-8641

Pima Air & Space Museum Tucson, Ariz. This very popular Tucson attraction has been hosting special events for more than a dozen years. The museum features about 250 vintage aircraft on display in several hangars minutes from downtown. Attendees can dine under the wing of a B-29. Groups of up to 600 can be accommodated for sit-down dinners. Catering can be provided, or you can arrange your own, and the museum can also arrange transportation, entertainment, and any decor needs. Costs per person can range from $50 to up to $200. The museum is open year-round, with "swamp cooling" provided in the summer months.

Contact: Mike Maggart, general manager, corporate events, (520) 618-4810; fax: (520) 574-9238; pimaair@azstarnet.com