“Been there done that.”
That is how I felt about pretty much every venue I looked at (online) when Stephen and I began the wedding planning process after we got engaged. As a long-time wedding lover, I truly had seen a lot of the venues. Between friends, hours spent on Pinterest and StyleMePretty and an unhealthy obsession of watching strangers’ wedding videos on YouTube, I felt like I’d seen every style of venue, even if not the exact one I was Googling. I really wanted something different and unique that could be decorated to really articulate Stephen’s and my story and style.
My aesthetic wish list was:
- Modern and neutral (I did not want any bold colors built into the venue, nothing rustic or bohemian; modern without being extremely industrial)
- Indoor/Outdoor space (Once we decided on California, which has year-round excellent weather, I wanted to find a space where we could be outdoors for cocktail hour)
- Natural light (I am happiest with sunshine, so I wanted a space with lots of natural light and as many windows as possible)
- A “blank slate” (I have a specific vision and I wanted a venue that I could really transform, rather than a venue where it already has its own look and feel)
We also had a few specific logistical requirements when it came to choosing a venue that narrowed the search pretty drastically. This was something that was additionally tricky because while our families have left the aesthetics, theme and décor up to us, they did have input on logistics.
- Budget (We have a decent sized budget, but y’all – venues get PRICEY.)
- Guest count (You’d be surprised at how many venues get ruled out even with 100 guests)
- Location (I’m from Colorado, Stephen is from Oklahoma and most of my friends/extended family are in California. More on this later.)
There were truthfully some moments where I felt convinced that we wouldn’t be able to find a venue that made everyone happy. But we actually did book our venue this past week, deposit and all, and it truly does feel like it hits all of our logistical needs as well as the general vibe I wanted. How we got there is outlined below:
Take Wedding Style Quizzes
This may sound silly, but even though I had a picture in my head of what I wanted, I wasn’t entirely sure how to communicate it. The Knot and many other wedding websites have built-in quizzes you can take that ask you to choose photos that capture what you like and then they ascribe words at the end to verbalize what you’re gravitating toward. This is hugely helpful when trying to communicate with family members, planners or venue owners.
Talk to Family about Dealbreakers
Stephen and I are lucky that neither of our families have super strong opinions about the wedding. However, that didn’t mean there weren’t some asks. Location was the hardest part for us. Stephen is from Oklahoma City and I’m from Boulder, Colorado. But we met in LA and that is where most of my friends are. I also have extended family all along the coast of California, including a 97 year old grandpa in San Jose. We looked all over California, Colorado and Oklahoma.
First ruled out was Colorado. I wasn’t seeing any venues that fit my style and though I do have family here, 90% of our guest list would still have to travel.
We didn’t originally put a lot of thought into Oklahoma, but we found a cool venue there that hit the aesthetic we liked. However, it was small (75 guests max) which was hard to narrow down to because of the size of my extended family. My parents also really wanted our wedding to be in a location that was easy to fly to without connecting flights.
We had hesitated on LA venues, because they are notoriously expensive and hard to book, but eventually started looking there. LA had a lot more options that fit the aesthetic I liked and with extra research there were affordable options. It is also where the majority of my friends are and had a huge advantage that my aunt and uncle could drive my grandfather down from San Jose, since he isn’t really supposed to fly anymore.
Google Outside the Box
Once you are armed with descriptive words and phrases of what you’re looking for, Google becomes your best friend. The reality is when it comes to venue searching, Pinterest is pretty useless. There were so many beautiful venues I saw on Pinterest and became enamored with, only to realize they were in Arkansas or Texas – both states we were in no way considering. I also found some of the sites specifically dedicated to wedding venues to actually be somewhat restricting. I felt like I was getting the same results over and over, none of which I liked.
If you’re like me and really want a venue that feels fresh and new, I recommend looking for lists of “new venues in (desired city).” So many new venues pop up every year! Also a huge benefit here is that if you find a venue early on before it is the next big thing, you can often get a discount. When we found our venue it was half the cost of a similar one that was more established. I asked the venue manager why it was so much more affordable – expecting a huge catch. She explained that since this is their first year open it’s an entry level rate. In future years she expects the price to double.
I also didn’t always include “wedding” in my venue searches. There are some venues that are not just for weddings – they also host corporate events, brand events, etc. – and if you don’t have a huge group of people it can work out quite well.
Visit In-Person and Ask LOTS of Questions
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I almost signed on the dotted line for a venue that would have been a total disaster. I had been searching online and found one I thought was perfect based on the photos. (Instagram is a liar.) The venue actually insisted I see it in person first, thank God. My mom and I (with every precaution you can think of) went out to LA to see that venue and one other “backup” option. The first venue was 2x as expensive, but I though it would be worth it.
We got to the venue and there were several deal breakers I wouldn’t have predicted. Their outdoor ceremony site, though beautiful, was on a busy street in the middle of LA. I directly asked the venue manager how they dealt with it in the past, and her answer was less than satisfactory and came off as more of trying to deny it was an issue. (Meanwhile semi-trucks rumbled by and horns blared.) Their parking lot was tiny and even though they owned it, we would have to pay for any cars that wanted to park there. The venue had far less natural light than the picture implied.
Leaving the venue, my mom and I felt it wasn’t the right fit at all, much less for the price. We went to the next venue, originally thought of as a “back-up” and it was an entirely different experience. Instagram didn’t do this venue justice! It was secluded in a quiet area with a beautiful fence around the perimeter that made it feel very private. The property was beautiful and also included a lot of “extras” not all venues have, like chairs, tables, linens, etc. But the stand-out to me for the venue was the property manager.
I have worked in events a lot through my career, so I think of every detail that could go wrong when I look at venues. The property manager anticipated every question I had, often speaking to it before I could even ask. Every question or concern I had she answered honestly and a lot of it was already in-progress to be solved. She was professional, organized and extremely well-versed in weddings. The venue was amazing, but I also felt comfortable putting down a deposit because our point of contact was reliable and communicative.
Take a Moment to Really Think It Through
My mom and I were definitely very enamored with the venue immediately, but the property manager told us to take our time to talk and decide. We were able to discuss privately and discuss all the aspects of why the venue would or wouldn’t work. It also allowed us to have more detailed conversation about the size of the guest list, catering options and date/time. We were able to think everything through – which is important if your contract details guest count, timeline and food (which mine did.)
When my mom and I drove away, she looked at me and said, “Wow you’re really getting married!” I had already been engaged for three months at that point, but seeing the venue in-person made the whole process so much more real for me and my mom. It was a relief to feel like such a big aspect of the planning was decided and allowed us to get excited about the details.
What were aspects you considered or would consider when picking a wedding venue?