Happy Monday everyone!  I’m back with another installation of {the nuptial primer} – my little guide to planning your wedding with both substance and style.  🙂  I expect to pick up the pace with this series now that I’m blogging more regularly, so I hope that these entries will be helpful to anyone out there preparing for their wedding (or any party, really!).


photo by Ryan Ray // venue: Flying Caballos Ranch in San Luis Obispo, CA

In a previous entry, I went over the importance of setting a budget.  Once you have determined the size and scale of your celebration, you have the exciting task of selecting the setting.  What will it be: a chic seaside soirée or an elegant garden luncheon?  Will you dance the night away under ornate chandeliers in a dramatically tented canopy, or beneath the stars in a wild and overgrown field??  The possibilities are endless.  I often tell brides that as multifaceted individuals, we may be drawn to many options.  I know that I could plan a dozen weddings for myself: from a clean and modern affair at a loft, to a charming Cape Cod clambake, to an opulent fête at a French chateau, to a snowy mountaintop celebration complete with post-dinner s’mores…  I am drawn to many types of scenes and settings.  My style isn’t singularly defined.  That said, most of us are only going to have one wedding.  (Can I get an amen on a vow renewal, though?  I keep telling Erik that we’re having a 10-year vow renewal…  Sweetie, if you’re reading this, we really are.  ;-))  You will ultimately have to choose what type of wedding you want to host, and where it will be.  Here are my tips on how to hone in on the perfect place to say, “I do!”

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photo by The Image is Found // venue: Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu, CA


photo by Jose Villa // venue: San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, CA

1) Budget: First things first, you have to check the budget.  If you know your overall wedding budget is $20k, it is probably unwise to look into sites that charge $10k rental fees… unless you’re having 50 people and the In-N-Out truck (and hey, that sounds grand to me!).  Ideally you are embarking on this process with a great wedding planner who will have helped you draw up a realistic budget.  Some magazines or books will give percentages on how much to allocate for the venue rental, but you can guess how I feel about their arbitrary guesstimates.  😉  Until you build a complete budget based on your priorities and expectations, you can’t really know how much you can spend on your venue.  It is going to vary widely based on what you value most for the big day.  Nonetheless, you need to start with an idea of what you can spend on the site rental fee, and take into consideration what it includes.  Some venues include tables, chairs, and catering, while others provide nothing but permission to celebrate on their gorgeous property.  Determining the allocation for the budget requires you to know what it takes to actually hold an event at that property.  Are there “hidden” fees like required shuttles, valet parking, and/or security?  Do you have to bring in your own restrooms and/or power?  These things need to be taken into consideration before you sign on the dotted line.

2) Guest count: How many people do you want to have with you on the wedding day?  While some say “the more the merrier,” others yearn for a more intimate celebration.  I encourage clients to write out a thorough guest list together, then go through and revise a couple times before settling on a guest count.  If your priority is to have the most people possible there with you, your venue selection will include consideration of space, cost per head, etc.  If your priority is to get married at an ultra luxe resort property, you may want to trim back the guest list to accommodate the budget.  If others are contributing to the wedding budget (e.g. parents), it is wise to consult them on their guest list expectations before you set your heart on a venue.  Trust me — handling these kinds of conversations as early as possible is the way to go, to avoid as much drama and heartbreak as possible.

3) The Scene: What type of site do you have in mind?  Do you desire particular views or a certain setting?  I think seeing so many fabulous weddings over the years has given me an appreciation for all types of venues.  Whether it’s a coastal private estate or a perfectly worn-in rustic barn, a five-star hotel or a sleek “blank canvas” warehouse, there is something for everyone out there.  Narrow in one the type of space you’d like for your wedding.  Some couples may prefer a venue that can accommodate both indoor and outdoor celebrations.  If you are worried about inclement weather and are averse to tenting (because you honestly just never know…), you may want to seek out a site that has an indoor space as a back up plan.  Other couples prefer the convenience of having a resort host their wedding because their guests can simply walk from their hotel rooms to the festivities.  This also is helpful for a destination wedding where guests are going to enjoy successive days of events.  Perhaps it is vital for you to marry at a certain church.  You will need to consider the distance to your reception venue from the church, how guests will get there, and how long it might take for that post-ceremony travel.

4) The Rules & Restrictions: Make sure to carefully review ALL of the paperwork that comes with any venue.  Here is another place a planner can assist you in reviewing the site restrictions and relay any information gained from experience at the property.  You will want to understand the amount of time you have access to the site (for set-up, strike, and the event itself), any forbidden items or vendors (e.g. amplified music after a certain hour, open flames, sparklers, smoking, hard alcohol, etc.), any required vendors (e.g. valet, security, additional site management), extra fees (e.g. cleaning fee, use of kitchen or other optional spaces, dancefloor rental, etc.), upgrade costs (e.g. different linens or chairs, cost of bringing in your own cake vs. the one made by the in-house caterer), etc. etc. etc.  I really could go on and on here!  Before you commit, make sure that you are OK with the rules and restrictions for your favorite site. I’ve had clients hire me after securing a venue, only to be shocked by the “hidden” fees we uncover (that were actually plainly written into their contracts).  If you don’t understand the legalese of some of the paperwork, ask!  🙂

5) The Reaction: After you’ve confirmed that your dream site is within the budget, has acceptable rules and restrictions, will comfortably accommodate all of your guests and has just the look you are going for, you’re ready to book.  And for many couples, the venue hunt starts + ends with a reaction.  I will never, ever forget the first time I drove up the driveway at Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu in 2005.  I was speechless as I drove past the beautiful zebras and horses galloping…  The rolling vine-covered hills and idyllic white picket fences… It actually brought tears to my eyes!  haha  Now after planning dozens and dozens of weddings at this special site, I STILL get that magic feeling when I pull through the gates.  I had a similar reaction visiting the Montage Laguna Beach last week, where staff greets you with a tray of champagne, a sample of gourmet cheese from their in-house fromager, and sweeping views of the ocean everywhere you turn.  I can recall the excitement that filled my heart as I first stepped into the courtyard of Smog Shoppe in Culver City, like I was entering a secret club in this urban oasis.  I was instantly obsessed with their wall of succulents and reclaimed wood furniture.  Those first reactions are going to tell you if it’s the right place for you and your love to make the most sacred vows to one another.

Although there may be many places that catch your eye, I hope that all of you ultimately find *the place* that is perfect for you!  🙂


photo by Ryan Ray // venue: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, CA


photo by Jose Villa // venue: 3 Stones in Napa, CA


photo by Trista Lerit // venue: Bacara Resort in Goleta, CA


photo by Braedon Flynn // venue: Smog Shoppe in Culver City, CA

I hope this was helpful to some of you out there!  (If it was, please let me know! ;-))  If you are still planning your wedding, let me know if there is any topic you’d like to hear about.

If you’re already married, I’d love to hear in the comments where you got married and why you picked the place that you did!

See you all again soon!  xoxo, Angel

Comments (4)

  1. TJ: April 26, 2013

    This is such a beautiful post! Adore this!!!
    xo TJ

  2. admin: April 27, 2013

    thanks doll! hope you’re enjoying your european adventure!!

  3. Carol: April 26, 2013

    I think coming up with a realistic budget is tough for some couples as they want everything for their wedding but it’s important to have it.

  4. admin: April 27, 2013

    absolutely agree! that’s where a great planner comes in — they can lend so much valuable assistance in creating a realistic budget that incorporates each couple’s desires and priorities. xo

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