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California Dreamin’: How to Plan Your Epic West Coast Wedding

Wedding, Where to Elope

Yosemite elopement in california

California is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the United States, and for good reason. With its year-round beautiful weather, stunning scenery, and abundance of luxurious venues, it’s no wonder so many couples choose to have a destination wedding in the Golden State.

Planning a wedding in California as a non-local does take some extra work compared to having a local wedding. However, the payoff is a gorgeous backdrop and unforgettable experience for you and your guests! Your wedding will feel like a relaxing vacation getaway for everyone.

California offers seemingly endless options when it comes to locations. You can get married on a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in a chic urban loft in San Francisco or Los Angeles, among the redwoods, or at a scenic winery in Napa Valley or Temecula. The hardest part will be narrowing down your location with so many incredible places to choose from!

Beyond the location, California weddings also lend themselves well to laidback vibes. Lean into the California lifestyle by creating a relaxed, fun experience. Keep reading for more tips on planning your dream destination wedding in California!

Pick the Perfect Location

California offers a stunning wedding spots, from wine country to the coast to the desert. When choosing your location, consider the vibe and backdrop you want for your big day.

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Some of the most popular wedding destinations in California include:

  • Napa/Sonoma: For wine lovers, hosting your wedding in Napa or Sonoma wine country is a dream. You’ll be surrounded by rolling vineyards and charming towns, with no shortage of world-class wineries and restaurants for you and your guests to enjoy.
  • San Diego: With idyllic weather year-round, gorgeous beaches, and lively urban energy, San Diego is a fantastic place for a destination wedding. Hold your ceremony on the sand or in one of San Diego’s beautiful gardens and parks.
  • Palm Springs: For a glamorous desert oasis vibe, Palm Springs can’t be beat. Mid-century modern architecture, swanky resorts, and striking mountain views provide a unique backdrop for exchanging vows.
  • Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara oozes romantic, Spanish-style charm. With the ocean on one side and vineyards on the other, it’s ideal for an intimate wine country meets coastal wedding.

The key is choosing a location that fits your wedding vision and makes you feel joyful. California offers so many diverse settings to create your perfect wedding backdrop.

Find Wedding Venues

California offers an abundance of spectacular wedding venues to choose from. Here are some of the top options for hosting your destination wedding:

Vineyards

Getting married at a vineyard is the epitome of wine country romance. With rows of vines, beautiful scenery, and onsite wineries, vineyards make for an unforgettable wedding backdrop. Top vineyard wedding venues include V. Sattui Winery in Napa, Gainey Vineyard in Santa Barbara, and J. Lohr Vineyards in Paso Robles.

Beaches

For a seaside wedding with ocean views, California’s beaches can’t be beat. Popular spots include Coronado Beach in San Diego, Point Dume in Malibu, and Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco. Permits are required for beach weddings, so make sure to plan ahead.

Hotels & Resorts

Luxury hotels like Madonna Inn, The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, Montage Laguna Beach, and San Ysidro Ranch offer first-class event venues and amenities. On-site coordinators can handle all the details. Resort wedding venues provide numerous lodging, dining, and recreation options for guests.

Ranches

Rustic ranch wedding venues in California includes Hummingbird Nest Ranch in Simi Valley. Enjoy panoramic views and a remote setting at these spacious properties.

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Tour venues in person to get a feel for each location.

Consider the Weather

When planning a California destination wedding, the weather is a key consideration. The state has incredibly diverse climates, from sunny beaches to snowy mountains. You’ll want to pick the location and time of year based on your ideal wedding weather.

Northern vs Southern California

Northern California tends to be cooler, with more rain and fog. Summers are mild and dry. Winters can be rainy and chilly, especially along the coast.

Southern California is hotter and sunnier. Summers are hot, dry, and sunny. Winters are mild and comfortable along the coast, while inland areas are cooler.

Best Times of Year

For a beach wedding in Southern California, late summer and early fall are ideal. Temperatures are warm and rainfall is minimal.

For a Napa Valley wine country wedding, late spring and early fall are best. You’ll enjoy warm sunny days and cooler evenings.

For a Lake Tahoe mountain wedding, summer offers long sunny days and comfortable temperatures. However, winter weddings with snowy backdrops can also be magical.

No matter what type of California destination wedding you envision, pay close attention to historical weather patterns. This will ensure you pick the location and date with the best chance for perfect wedding weather.

Plan Guest Accommodations

When planning a destination wedding in California, one of the biggest logistical challenges is arranging lodging for all of your out-of-town guests. With some savvy planning, you can make sure everyone has a wonderful place to stay during your special weekend.

Hotels

Research hotel room blocks at a variety of price points near your wedding venue. Negotiate a discounted group rate for 10-20 rooms, and ask about amenities like complimentary breakfast or shuttle service. Provide guests with a special booking code.

Popular hotel chains like Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt have properties throughout California wine country, beach towns and cities. Boutique hotels and cozy inns offer charming local flavor.

Vacation Rentals

For guests who prefer home rentals, search Airbnb, Vrbo and other sites for large houses, condos or cabins to rent. A vacation rental with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms is ideal for families or groups traveling together.

Some companies like Vacasa specialize in managing vacation home rentals and can assist with group bookings, concierge services and event coordination.

Group Rates

Maximize savings by negotiating group rates and room blocks at multiple hotels. Provide guests with details on all available lodging options.

Set up room blocks as early as possible, before venues fill up. Recommend guests book early to ensure lower rates and room availability.

By securing great accommodations, you’ll ensure out-of-town guests can relax and enjoy your destination wedding to the fullest.

Yosemite elopement in california

Handle Logistics

When planning a destination wedding in California, handling the logistics well in advance is key to creating a smooth and stress-free event. Here are some logistical considerations for couples planning a California wedding:

Transportation

  • Decide how you will transport guests to the ceremony and reception locations. Consider booking shuttle buses or coordinating private rides if venues are not within walking distance.
  • Don’t forget transportation for yourself on the wedding day! Book a limo or vintage car to take you between venues.

Parking

  • Contact your ceremony and reception venues to understand parking availability. Is there enough on-site parking for all guests or do you need to arrange additional off-site parking?
  • If parking is limited, consider paying for valet service to handle all guest parking needs.
  • Provide parking details on your wedding website and print them on maps, so guests know what to expect.

Permits

  • Research if you need any permits for your wedding activities. This may include permits for outdoor ceremonies, parking on public streets, noise/amplified music, serving alcohol, etc.
  • If getting married on a beach, park, or other public space, apply for permits well in advance as these can book up quickly, especially in summer.
  • Your wedding planner can assist with acquiring any necessary permits for local laws and regulations.

Make a Wedding Weekend Itinerary

Your wedding day will fly by in a flash, so make sure to create special memories. You can do this by planning events for you and your California wedding guests throughout the entire weekend.

Welcome Dinner

Host an intimate welcome dinner the night before your wedding. This will help out-of-town guests get to know each other. Pick a restaurant with a cool vibe, ocean views, or trendy ambiance to set the tone for your wedding weekend. Share your love story, express your gratitude to those who traveled to celebrate with you, and get everyone excited for the big day ahead!

And don’t forget, video coverage of the welcome dinner! If there are toasts, this is a MUST for your highlight film! Click here to chat with me about a videography package that highlights your full wedding story.

Day-After Brunch

Keep the celebration going with a laidback day-after brunch, where guests can swap stories from the night before while relaxing together before departing. Choose a sunny outdoor spot like a winery patio, beachside eatery, or rooftop venue to unwind. Provide morning treats like coffee, fresh juices, and breakfast tacos or burritos.

Activities

Give your guests memorable experiences by planning fun group activities. Go wine tasting at vineyards in Napa or Sonoma, take a sunset cruise in San Diego, go hiking in Big Sur, or rent a beach house for the weekend. Schedule organized activities like couples massages, surf lessons, or a post wedding photoshoot. The options for making the most of your time together in California are endless!

imperial sand dunes california on film

Consider a California Theme

California is known for its beautiful landscapes, laidback lifestyle, and iconic attractions. Incorporating some of these elements into your wedding design and details will give your big day a fun, authentic California vibe.

Design

Use natural elements like succulents, palms, and citrus fruits in your floral arrangements and centerpieces. These plants evoke the California landscape. You can also decorate with items like surfboards, seashells, and sand to give a beachy, coastal feel.

For colors, think bright, saturated hues like coral, turquoise, and gold. These colors pair nicely with blue skies and ocean views.

Decor

String lights over outdoor spaces to create a romantic, twinkly ambiance. Incorporate recycled wine barrels, crates, or barrels into your decor for a laidback, rustic look.

Display vintage California postcards, license plates, or maps as decor elements. Use postcard-style save-the-dates or invite guests to a “California love story.”

Food

Serve fresh, local cuisine like grilled fish, avocado toast, tacos, and mixed greens salads. Offer wine from Napa and Sonoma vineyards.

For dessert, consider options like fruit tarts, churros with chocolate sauce, or s’mores around a fire pit.

Drinks

Signature cocktails are a fun way to bring in local flavor. Try drinks containing ingredients like citrus, berries, jalapenos, or basil. Give them creative names related to your location.

Provide local craft beers or set up a mimosa bar at brunch. You can even give your drinks little paper umbrellas or citrus slices.

Create Lifelong Memories

Your wedding day goes by so quickly, so make sure to take time to soak it all in with your new spouse. Here are some tips to create lifelong memories for you and your guests:

  • Hire a professional photographer and videographer to capture every moment. Looking back on photos and video will transport you right back to the emotions felt on your big day. I’d be over the moon excited to help with both for your big day!!!
  • Get an aerial photo with a drone of your ceremony site and reception space. Seeing the venues from above will be a unique memento.
  • Set up a photo booth with fun props for guests to take silly pictures to take home.
  • Provide disposable cameras on tables for guests to capture candid moments. Developing the random photos later is always entertaining.
  • Write personal vows to share intimate thoughts and declare your love. Vows are a highlight of the ceremony… or you can choose to do these privately before the ceremony starts!
  • During the reception, give a heartfelt thank you speech to guests for their support.
  • Organize a spectacular exit like rose petals, or confetti canons to end the night with a bang.
  • Schedule time the next day for an after brunch with close friends and family to extend the celebration.
  • Keep mementos like your bouquet, signage, and invitation suite to display in your new home.

Making memories together with loved ones is what it’s all about. With thoughtful planning, your California dream wedding will be unforgettable in all the best ways.

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And if you’re looking for the perfect Cali elopement location, check out this blog post on eloping in Joshua Tree!

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