Wonderous Wedding Locations Off the Beaten Path (but well worth the drive!) in Northern and Southern California.
by Jolene Rae Harrington, Media and Communications Director
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...
Stateline, Nevada on the south shore of Lake Tahoe
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.
Winters, 20 minutes outside of Sacramento
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."
Ben Lomond, in the hills northwest of Santa Cruz
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.
Cambria, on the Central Coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco
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.
Catalina Island, off the coast of Orange County
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.
The Eastern Sierras
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!
Los Olivos, in the hills east of Santa Barbara
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.