As many of you may know, my now-fiancé asked me if it was cool if we got older together at the end of December. It was pretty low-key (he proposed with a flight of beers at a brewery), and we spent a few weeks just getting used to saying the word “fiancé” before opening the can of worms that is WEDDING PLANNING. I had read basically everywhere that the very first thing you should do is find your venue - but we ended up making one crucial step before that which made finding a venue easier than I had anticipated.
The road to finding the perfect venue was wrought with so many logistical details that it (almost) literally made my head spin. Finding a venue may seem straightforward: find venue, love venue, check price, book date. HOWEVER, what nobody really tells you is that each venue is completely and totally different from the next - there is no set of universal “rules” that each venue abides by. From different max capacities (straightforward), to requiring a babysitter if more than three children are present (okay…) to bringing in your own speakers and extension cords (what??) you end up comparing apples to oranges and bananas and maybe even a grapefruit. Below, I’ll outline the process I followed to find the pot of gold (our incredible, badass, I-can’t-wait-to get-married-here-venue) at the end of the rainbow.
Back when we first started talking about where we wanted to get married, I had my heart set on Palm Springs. There’s just something so enticing about a desert wedding with a pool party the next day that feels so #springbreak (for 30 something’s…) that I thought we at least had our location set. I dove straight into the research (using The Venue Report and Woman Getting Married as my bibles) and immediately discovered a common theme: most of the Palm Springs venues I loved (outdoor, Spanish style haciendas) had a surprisingly low max capacity pretty much across the board. I fell in love with one venue in particular, Casa de Monte Vista, and I JUST KNEW when I saw it, that it would be the one.
One morning at work, I bounded over to our pink couch (where I currently sit writing) and eagerly called the office at Casa de Monte Vista to figure out when we could go see it. The very first question Joe the office manager asked me was: “How many guests do you have?” Luckily, Alfie and I had nerded out and made a full guest list about a week prior, coming to a final guest count (accounting for about an 80% attendance rate) somewhere between 160-180 people. Even though their website said the maximum capacity was 170, Joe politely informed me that their maximum number was now closer to 100 guests. I was CRUSHED. I really thought that venue was THE ONE, and now apparently I had way too many people to get married there. CRUEL WORLD!
Creating the guest list first was the best thing I could have possibly done to avoid the heartbreak of going to see (and completely falling in love with) a tiny venue that won’t fit the crazy, 180-person party that’s going to roll through our wedding like a freight train. Creating our guest list first ultimately led me to the realization that all the Palm Springs venues I could afford were too small, and our pockets weren’t quite deep enough for the venues that could fit our entire guest list. We refocused a second round of research in Los Angeles and Orange County - all because we had more-or-less completed the guest list first.
At some point early in the process, it occurred to me that I really needed to make sure Alfie and I were on the same page with what we wanted in a venue. He wanted it to be local (I originally made a pitch for a destination wedding in Mexico which was promptly shot down), but other than that, he said he didn’t really have any strong opinions (LOL, false.) Luckily enough, we were very aligned with what style we loved - outdoors (or feels like it), Spanish style details, and lots of SPACE. We were also totally (luckily) on the same page with the fact that we want a pretty “casual” vibe with a taco bar and a solid beer and wine list.
I worked at a jewelry company for years, and met so many couples who really weren’t on the same page at all when buying an engagement ring; it was very painful seeing this all unfold in front of you. Same thing applies to finding your wedding venue and planning the details - make sure you’re on the same page with your vibe so there aren’t any awkward conversations in front of your tour guide.
The research process was long and full of terrors (and set to a backdrop of seasons 1-7 of Game of Thrones). By far the most difficult part was figuring out which venues were in our budget, and which weren’t. It’s not like you’re looking at like comparisons from venue to venue - you’re completely flying blind doing crappy math on your iPhone and attempting to document it all in an Excel doc that allows you to compare each equally; it’s not pretty. But, the more research I did, the more comfortable I got with recognizing what seemed “normal” and what felt overpriced for what you were getting.
All the 20+ hours of research I did in this second round led me to only five venues that I wanted to see in person: LA River Center and Gardens in Los Angeles (#1), Ole Hanson Beach Club in San Clemente (#2), Serra Plaza in San Juan Capistrano (#3), Millwick in Los Angeles (#4), and Valentine in Los Angeles (#5).
I got this tip from a wedding coordinator while seeing Venue #3, which was absolutely gigantic in comparison to Venue #2. Venue #2 hit pretty much all of my criteria, and I came out of the tour thinking it was a total winner. Alfie, perceptive guy that he is, pointed out something I didn’t see: we would be AT CAPACITY at this venue (they had a 170 person maximum), and even then, the dining terrace was probably better suited to about 120 people or less. Neither of us love a crowd, and our reception tables would have had maybe a foot in between them, even spilling out onto the dance floor. I told this to the tour guide / wedding coordinator at Venue #3, and she told us that most couples she’s worked with have ended up unhappy with their venue if they hit the max capacity. Again, our guest list saved us. Venue #2 just wasn’t going to be big enough, so I sadly waved it goodbye.
Once we realized that we didn’t want a venue where we would be at capacity, we crossed Venue #4, Millwick, off the list before even seeing it. Before we axed it though, I had been panicking a little bit. Even looking 12-18 months in advance, it’s a popular venue and the calendar was filling up QUICK, so we may have had to choose from whatever random dates they still had available. I relaxed a little when I realized that Valentine (its sister venue) is still pretty new, so its calendar was much more open. However, I know that I would have totally and completely lost my chill if I found “The One” and the date we had pre-chosen wasn’t available, so keeping an open mind with the date was also key to my zen-like state throughout the entire process.
In the end, we chose Venue #5, Valentine. I thought I would have to do some pretty serious convincing (since Alfie was obsessed with Venue #1), but he loved Valentine so much we decided to give it our Final Rose in the parking lot before even leaving the venue. It’s full of plants, is super spacious, and the art adorning a few of the walls is seriously next-level. Next up: we’re checking out nearby hotels and booking our caterer - I’m not sure who’s more excited for the tastings, me or Alfie - but it’s safe to say there are a lot of tacos in our future.