How to pick a Wedding Venue | Destination Wedding Photographer

Trying to decide how to pick a wedding venue? It’s one of the biggest decisions you will make about your wedding, so there’s definitely some pressure to get it right. It’s also probably one of the very first decisions you’ll want to make because it will dictate a lot of things such as your wedding date and often some of the vendors as well. There is a lot to consider when choosing a venue, so here are a few important questions to answer before looking for a venue.

The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is… Do you want a destination wedding?

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Eagle Vail Pavilion Destination Wedding in Colorado

There are definitely pros and cons to a destination wedding! If you are afraid of having a huge guest list, a destination wedding can be a great way to cut down on that. The problem is, there may be some people you really care about who will be unable to make it to the wedding due to either cost or the additional time it will take. Another thing to consider is that if you choose a location in a different time zone, it can be more difficult to get a hold of your vendors. You’ll also likely want to fly out and see the location at least once, so factor plane tickets into your budget. A destination wedding can be a ton of fun though! Depending on where you hold it, it can be a bit of an extension to your honeymoon and you can even have your friends and family arrive a few days early (or stay a few days late!) so you can explore the location together. If you really want a DIY wedding, a destination wedding will take a little more planning because you’ll have to consider how you will get all the DIY elements to the wedding. You can get around this by sticking to smaller DIY elements, such as calligraphed name settings which are easy to pack and transport. You’ll also want to consider housing for guests at a destination wedding. Some venues offer all-inclusive services, such as the OVY Camp + Event Center, which can cut down on costs for both you and your guests and also allow for more time spent together.

How many guests will you have?

Charming Redwoods Elopement in Woodside

Elopement in the Redwoods in Woodside

You don’t need a full guest list, but you definitely need a general idea of how many guests you will have at your wedding. Meredith and Stephen decided to have just two people at their elopement, so they were able to hold their ceremony in a clearing in the Redwood Forests near their house, something they definitely wouldn’t have been able to do with too many more people. All venues have a maximum number of guests they can hold, so if your guest list is on the larger side there will be some venues that won’t be able to accommodate all your guests. Unless you are /really/ good at saying no, plan on adding a few extra people to your guest list–these extra guests could be dear friends of your parents that they just HAVE to invite or plus ones for some of your friends.

Indoors or outdoors?


Saints Peter and Paul Church Wedding Ceremony in San Francisco

Where do you want the ceremony and reception to be held? Outdoor weddings can be absolutely gorgeous and so incredibly charming. If you are planning on an outdoor wedding, make sure you have a contingency plan. This is especially important in areas that are a bit more prone to rain, but even in the sunny San Francisco Bay Area, you can have sunshine one weekend and rain the next depending on the month. Take a look at the weather patterns and try to pick a month that is less rainy. If you’re planning on having the reception outdoors as well as the ceremony, make sure it will be warm enough at night for all your guests, especially the youngest and oldest. My sister, for example, decided against an outdoor reception because she was worried about our grandparents being too cold. There are definitely ways to get around this (some weddings have blankets as the favors! Or heat lamps are always a nice backup), but it’s something to keep in mind.

Lake Tahoe Destination Wedding

River Ranch Lodge Wedding in Lake Tahoe

Indoor weddings are often a little more traditional, though you can definitely find some venues that are a little quirkier, if that’s what you’re looking for. The nice thing about indoor weddings is you don’t have to worry about the weather! There are also some incredibly stunning venues that will provide a beautiful backdrop. The San Francisco City Hall, for example, has absolutely gorgeous architecture that adds class and elegance to any event. By placing the couple at the bottom of this lovely staircase at the Ruby Hill Golf Course, I was able to create a striking image filled with lines that I would not have found outdoors.

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Ruby Hill Golf Course Wedding in Pleasanton

Indoor venues are often easier to decorate because you already have some structures (walls and door frames!) to provide some support. For example, my sister’s wedding venue came with the cloth backdrop that I added paper flowers to. It would have been difficult to hang the paper flowers in an outdoor wedding without building a structure for them. Make sure to check with your venue what hanging implements are allowed (push pins, nails, tape, etc).

What’s your budget?

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Julia Morgan Ballroom San Francisco Wedding

This is a really important question to ask yourself before you start looking at venues. It doesn’t need to be a hard and fast number, but it’s important to have an idea of how much you want to spend so you don’t waste time looking at venues that are completely out of your budget. For example, if you’re willing to travel a couple hours north of the Bay Area, there are some beautiful venues for a fraction of the price. If you’re on a tight budget, traveling farther away from busy cities can cut venue prices quite a bit, or another option might be to take a look at state parks! There are some beautiful state parks in the Bay Area (one of my favorite is Old Mill Redwoods? and Stern Grove) and their rates tend to be quite a bit lower than dedicated wedding venues. You often have to sacrifice a little control and polish though, as they are parks first and wedding venues second.

What’s included? Are there required vendors?


Half Moon Bay Wedding at Costanera Restaurant

If you’ve already started looking at venues, you may have noticed that they all offer different things. The most basic ones offer just the location for either the ceremony or reception and nothing else. Others bundle in additional items and services like a day of wedding coordinator, linens, chairs, etc. Some places (especially where destination weddings are common) even provide wedding photographers. Many venues have required vendors–this is especially common for caterers. Other venues have a list of vendors you can choose from. If you are set on a certain caterer, make sure your venue has an open policy. Venues that include caterers and other services often have a minimum price that you must meet by either having enough guests, upgrading to a higher meal package, adding an open bar or various other services.

What’s my style?


Chambers Landing Beach Wedding in Lake Tahoe

Okay, so I put this question last, because I think this can be very difficult to answer! I also think that although the location can play a big part in the overall feel of the wedding, it also depends a lot on the details. So two weddings in the same location can feel completely different from each other. That being said, a casual wedding on the beach in Tahoe is going to have a very different feel from a traditional catholic church wedding. Try to pick a few key features that you would like in your venue. Do you want a ceremony held in the redwoods? (If so, you’re in luck because I’m planning on putting together a post featuring some of the many wedding venues with redwoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.) Or perhaps you’d prefer the sweeping green hills of a golf course? Maybe you’re looking for the charm of a winery? Help yourself out and narrow your search down to start and widen it if you don’t end up finding anything that accommodates all your guests in your price range.

I hope this article gave you a better idea of how to pick a wedding venue! Feel free to reach out to me in the comments if you have any questions and keep an eye out for future posts highlighting wedding venues in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Once you pick out a venue and date, contact me or email me at so I can photograph it ;)!

Alice Che is a San Francisco Wedding Photographer based in the Bay Area, available for travel to destination weddings specializing in intimate, emotional wedding, engagement, couple and boudoir photography. Serving the South Bay, Peninsula, and East Bay: San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos, Burlingame, Los Altos, Milpitas, Union City, Fremont, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas.


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