Wonderous Wedding Locations Off the Beaten Path (but well worth the drive!) in Northern and Southern California.
by Jolene Rae Harrington, Director of Creative Content
Sometimes you have to make a little extra effort to get something you really want. Nothing Herculean, mind you. Not even as strenuous as your after-work spinning class. But to secure that magical location, the one the Wedding Fairies have sprinkled with pixie dust just for you? Now that may require thinking outside the box and venturing a bit beyond your usual stomping grounds. Where wedding venues are concerned, going the extra mile can lead to spectacular sites overlooked by less imaginative souls.
But you, oh Savvy Sojourner, know that the journey itself is part of the reward. Whether traversing unspoiled country roads or a traffic-free stretch of the Pacific coast on the way to your off-the-beaten-path wedding destination, you’re the one slowing down to take in a field of wildflowers, or opening the window to catch the scent of fresh-mown hay on the breeze So give yourself a mental pat on the back for choosing the road less traveled—it will take you to a celebratory setting that’s just right for you.
Come with us while we explore a dozen out-of-the way gems.
Roughly a four-hour drive from the Bay Area or a short flight from L.A. puts you in the lap of Lake Tahoe’s scenic luxury. To make the most of this truly breathtaking landscape, celebrate at the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Reminiscent of a grand alpine ski lodge, Edgewood’s timber-and-glass clubhouse rises from a small hill, while the sparkling blue water of the nation’s deepest alpine lake and the soaring peaks of the Sierra Nevadas frame the building like a living photograph. Inside, steeply vaulted wood-beamed ceilings, rock pillars draped with ferns and soaring windows embracing the fantastic views make Edgewood seem like a veritable mountain cathedral. In summer, have your ceremony on the lakeside patio; in winter, marry in front of the lofty windows of a banquet room, with the backdrop of the lake and snow-topped mountains completing the picture-perfect tableau.
The Bear Flag winery and organic farm could pass for a tiny village in the European countryside. Flourishing orchards, grapes ripening on the vines, and an abundance of flowers in bloom all contribute to a joyous, pastoral ambiance. The pale stucco walls of the main house, cottage and barn give off a rosy glow in the sunlight, and the luxuriant grounds offer a cornucopia of sites for each phase of your wedding: a grassy amphitheatre; a spacious terrace shaded by sycamore trees; or one of the many groves that perfume the air with their fruity sweetness. Or set up a tent in front of the winery for shelter from the elements. At night, the terrace is lit with paper lanterns, enhancing the romantic mood for that special “first dance.”
Midway between Ukiah and the coastal town of Mendocino
The road to Shambhala winds through cool, shady forests and over rocky hills, covered with fields of dry grass that glow in the sun like parched honey. Hidden away in this idyllic countryside is a 140-acre sanctuary, aptly named for an ancient mystical civilization thought to inspire Nirvana. This green wedding location includes a solar-powered main lodge, crafted from redwood timbers, that speaks of both untouched wilderness and sublime refinement in the same breath. The interior seduces with a gorgeous juxtaposition of handcrafted woodwork, plush furnishings, and eclectic decor. Windows are everywhere, bathing guests in sunlight and scenic panoramas. The sprawling grounds, filled with oak trees, orchards and creek-fed waterfalls, entice most couples to stage their event outdoors. Choices include the Ritual Meadow, view-filled wooden decks, or the intimate herb garden; later, husband and wife can privately toast their newly wedded bliss in a pond-side hot tub.
Built in the ‘30s, Highlands House reigns over 43 acres of verdant county parkland. In front of the mansion, a vast lawn is ringed by towering oaks and redwoods. Say your vows in the gazebo at one end, and have an al fresco reception at the other. Or fête your guests inside the house, where multipaned windows look onto the garden, abloom in spring with whisper-pink camellias and magnolia trees. A selection of pleasant salons lets your gathering really spread out—gifts, buffet, cake and dancing each have their own attractive space. You’ll also appreciate the sizable changing room upstairs—you can even toss your bouquet from the balcony! Highlands House has a laid-back environment—and a low rental cost—sure to soothe wedding jitters.
One of the highlights of Highway One’s famously scenic drive is Cambria, an artist colony known for its pristine beaches, hiking trails and small-town friendliness. On a tranquil, woodsy hilltop overlooking town is Cambria Pines Lodge, a Central Coast wedding favorite. Built in the ‘20s as the rustic retreat of a European baroness, the pine-log lodge is beautifully landscaped, with grassy paths meandering through world-class gardens. Both ceremony and reception can be held on a pretty expanse of lawn ringed with flowers and Monterey pines, and elegantly dressed for the occasion. Fireplace suites, an organic kitchen, and an on-site spa will keep you pampered and relaxed.
Why not splurge and ferry your wedding guests “26 miles across the sea” to glorious Catalina Island, where cars are verboten and spectacular ocean views are impossible to miss? Back In 1929, when this island paradise was the exclusive playground for society’s elite, the main draw was an enormous jazz-era dance hall called the Casino Ballroom. Today the Art Deco landmark is still one of Southern California’s most glamorous reception venues—its vaulting, 50-foot ceiling boasts five Tiffany chandeliers! An elevated stage, raised seating areas around the dance floor, and a vintage full-service bar are very event-friendly. There’s even an outdoor balcony overlooking the coves, and at night an endless starscape sparkles across the water. If it’s “memorable” you want, surely the Casino Ballroom delivers magnificently.
Mammoth Mountain isn’t just for skiers anymore. In fact, leisure-seekers come here year-round for golf, fishing, hiking—or to just kick back in the serene alpine environment. Still others, enticed by the drama of the terrain and the deluxe amenities of the newly expanded Mammoth Mountain Resort & Village, come here to wed. A wide assortment of venues lets couples customize their Mammoth experience to suit their personal style. Want traditional? The Mountainside Conference Center in the historic Main Lodge provides a wide-angle view of the ski slopes. Want modern sophistication? Then consider the state-of-the-art Grand Sierra Lodge at the heart of the new Village. If you prefer rustic charm, then tie the knot on the shores of Twin Lakes at the intimate Forest Chapel. Adventurous couples can transport their guests via gondola to Parallax, a fine-dining restaurant at mid-mountain—or even marry on an 11,000-foot summit!
Piru, between the Santa Clarita Valley and Ventura County
Rancho Camulos’ landscaped grounds and quaint adobes are part historical postcard and part rural paradise. A lovingly preserved National Landmark, this tranquil oasis is a testament to Early California’s rich heritage—and it’s also a beguiling (and very affordable!) event location. Stage your wedding on the Rancho’s sprawling meadows, cradled by orange groves and sagebrush-cloaked hills, and make a spectacular entrance beneath a white arbor swathed in grapevines before passing an aviary alive with birdsong. Then, while your photographer captures romantic photos of you in a flowering herb garden, your guests enjoy the cocktail hour alongside a fishpond with a miniature waterfall. As a glorious sunset gives way to a starry evening sky, Rancho Camulos weaves a tapestry of rustic charm over your entire celebration.
Olema, northwest Marin County near Pt. Reyes National Seashore
Tucked along one of the loveliest sections of the Northern California coast, Point Reyes Seashore Lodge is flanked by giant redwoods and Point Reyes National Seashore Park. The environs are truly magnificent, and if you reserve the Lodge for your exclusive destination weekend, you’ll have the leisure to explore, relax and celebrate. Guestrooms are cozy and plush, with many featuring fireplaces, featherbeds and pastoral views. Outdoor weddings here are a special treat, overlooking a sweeping lawns and a blooming English garden. Intimate gatherings can reserve the Casa Olema Retreat, which includes a formal herb and flower garden, fruit trees, a lawn and a private cottage. An on-site historic restaurant is a charming (and convenient) creekside setting for your rehearsal dinner, while the Retreat’s 8-person outdoor hot tub is ready-made for a bachelorette party.
A picturesque drive along a forested mountain road leads you into the wilds of Santa Barbara Wine Country. Cresting the final ridge, you’re rewarded with a stunning panorama of mountains, golden fields and the oh-so-charming Figueroa Mountain Farmhouse. Sequestered from all signs of civilization, this historic Appalachian-style home speaks of a simpler, gentler time. From Great Room to Loft, the immaculate interior is lavished with authentic 18th-century details, antiques and cleverly hidden modern luxuries. Broad wooden decks overlook the vast meadow where ceremonies and receptions are held into the wee, starlit hours. A dozen or so lucky guests can stay for the weekend and explore the grounds, while the newlyweds find romance in a pretty cottage nearby.
Agua Dulce in Santa Clarita’s Sleepy Valley
A tranquil enclave of chaparral-covered hills, big sky and sage-scented air holds a special attraction: Le Chene, a fine French restaurant that’s been piquing the palates of locals and out-of-town visitors for decades. Housed in a historic building, the restaurant conveys an invitingly rustic elegance. Picture windows in the private A-framed banquet room take in a view of the rear garden, a favored spot for ceremonies and outdoor receptions. Here, Le Chene’s wooden deck, accented with ivy-covered trellises, overlooks a contoured lawn canopied by a grove of centennial oak trees. Paths wind among seasonal blooms and greenery, while the trickling of a brook that spills from an old wooden water wheel plays a soothing refrain. In addition to its acclaimed cuisine, Le Chene is also known for its award-winning wine list. Four underground cellars showcase over 1000 vintages, including selections from chef and owner Juan Alonso’s family vineyard. With its pastoral surroundings and high culinary standards, Le Chene is sure to satisfy epicureans as well as romantics.
Indio, in the Coachella Valley
At the edge of Greater Palm Springs is the region’s Equestrian District, the home of the wonderful Empire Polo Club. This desert oasis offers couples a trio of breathtaking locations. The Rose Garden and Pavilion are set amidst a three landscaped acres, abloom with thousands of sweet-scented rose bushes. Then there’s the Hacienda del Toro, a secluded party haven imbued with the spirit of Old California. An enclosed waterfall and aviary make a delightful spot for a ceremony, while a huge covered stage can be decked out for a Western-style reception. On another part of the grounds lies Medjool Lake, an exotic paradise replete with quaint footbridges and whimsical statuary peeking out from ferns and willow branches. Couples can even arrive by gondola! After the “I dos,” it’s just a short stroll to the dinner banquet, arrayed beneath a series of spectacular Olympic tents that adjoin the polo greens.