When your career gives you insider access to some of the most amazing venues around the world, how do you ever make a decision on where to host your own wedding? You’re probably thinking I could have WAY worse problems. You would be right. But in order to truly tell my tale, my trek through the wilds of wedding planning and perfect party locations, we need to get personal.
Because picking the venue for your wedding is extremely personal. My fabulous boss and founder of The Venue Report, Cortnie Purdy Fausner said it best - “There are really only two times in your life where all of your loved ones will gather to celebrate you. And the second time, you won’t be there.” Here at The Venue Report, we have a beautiful, hand-picked and curated collection of the most amazing venue spaces from around the world. But much like your wedding dress, there’s only one that’s going to fit you and your story. Here’s to hoping my venue journey will help you, in some small way, narrow down your own.
So in the words of Missy Elliott – lemme “put my thing down, flip it and reverse it.”
Sometimes, the right words escape us when describing life's most beautiful moments. It's then we turn to our cultural icons, in this case, Rihanna, (the voice of her generation). We think she said it best when she sang "fell in love in a hopeless place." The beautiful beginnings of our love story begin in exactly that same way, in what can only be described as the most hopeless of places.
Back in April of 2013, Max was 22, living in San Diego and training for his current job and I was 30, living in LA, doing high-end event planning. I was in San Diego for the weekend celebrating my group of friends’ yearly excuse to act like college kids. Dubbed "Lovefest" in honor of a friend who passed away that same weekend, who also happened to hold the same job Max aspired to at the time. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. Fate sounds a bit more like it.
Our group of long-time friends celebrate our friend on this anniversary each year by drinking in his honor at the bars he used to frequent. We were on our last, (disgusting) bar of the day when Max, who had been playing volleyball all day at the beach, approached me for the first time. He lied about his age when he found out I was 30, as well as where he was from. He claimed he too was from Venice Beach and lived on "Main St.” I was wearing leather pants and was not sober. Max was from the Midwest and a good liar.
At the end of the night after some dancing and tequila, I called Max an Uber sent him home, alone, but with my phone number.
The next day, Max called and came clean about his age. He also told me his parents are the same age difference in the same way, which I found to be highly coincidental (its true). We talked as I drove back to LA and then every day forward for the next two weeks until Max borrowed a friend’s car to drive up to LA (for the first time ever) to take me on our first official date.
After a weekend including crashing a wedding, exploring Topanga Canyon with the resident alcoholic, meeting Bill Murray and driving up and down PCH with the windows down singing at the top of our lungs... we were together ever since.
On Christmas Eve 2014, we were back in Illinois for the holidays with Max’s family. He had told me he needed to fly out early, alone, because he wanted to have a weekend with his brothers – but he spent all of it ring shopping in Chicago, picking out each detail from the size of the band to the placement of the diamonds, based on his sleuthing of my Pinterest page.
On Christmas Eve morning, I was blow-drying my hair and Max handed me an unwrapped ceramic curling iron. “Here” he said. “I know you’ve been wanting one of these.”
I replied “Uh, thanks?” While thoughtful, (I had been wanting one) I was confused considering he had wrapped his gifts to me in the past. Each Christmas Eve his immediate family opens presents together before they join the rest of the family on Christmas Day. Dividing up presents and watching each other open them is part of the fun and I realized I didn’t have anything else from him. I asked him if the unwrapped curling iron was my only present and he said:
“I have another one but it’s really big so I’ll bring it out last.”
I then stupidly asked him how we would ship it home.
He said he had a plan.
He got down on one knee in front of his entire family that morning and asked me the question he said he’d been thinking about since we met.
At that point, sh*t gets real. After the champagne is poured, parents and besties are FaceTime’d and well wishes are posted to Facebook, decisions must be made, especially if you’re like us and wanted to get the proverbial show on the road.
Sh*t gets real.
We knew we wanted a short engagement and unlike many other couples, his work commitments dictated the dates we could choose for our wedding. As summer is our favorite time of year, and a holiday weekend may guarantee some of his friends and our out-of-town relatives would be able to make it… Check. I wouldn’t recommend this time for everyone. In fact, I think winter weddings can be all kinds of magical. Be flexible on the time of year you want to be married, as “I-do-ing” in the height of wedding season will certainly cost you – as will a holiday weekend, which we eventually settled on since it was one of the only weekends he had off… and we love America.
The Crazy Venue Search Begins
We knew we wanted to get married in LA, which is where I grew up (yes, we LA natives exist even though a sighting can certainly be akin to a unicorn) and where the majority of my family lives. It’s also where Max and I fell in love. While we met in San Diego, it took 10 months for me to move down from LA so we commuted back and forth from San Diego to LA and vice versa every weekend we could. It was during a particularly rough part of his job training that he would take the train up the coast and find refuge on my front porch in Venice, he and I trading stories as the ice melted slowly in our cocktail glasses, our lives pouring forth from our lips as we told story after story and slowly unfolded before each other.
There are some blow-your-mind-insanely fabulous venue choices in Los Angeles, everything from expansive warehouses with gorgeous exposed beams and polished concrete floors to whitewashed barns in the heart of Hollywood that would have fit us perfectly. But this city girl is marrying a country boy – and he likes wide, open spaces that remind him of home.
How Do A Boy And A Girl Agree On The Perfect Venue?
My challenge: find a venue that celebrates the outdoors and LA in the summertime, would be a kick-ass spot for a 4th of July BBQ, hold all of our family and friends – this is NOT a small wedding, yet remind Max of Northern Illinois and have no curfew. No big deal, right? WRONG. Laughably wrong!
But, I figured if anyone was up for the job, it was me. I mean, it is my job. So there’s that... In any case, most of the larger, outdoor venues in Los Angeles are parks or beach venues, which have alcohol, noise and curfew restrictions. (All of which I was looking to avoid.) If these are not on your priorities list, certainly look into beach or government-owned property. There are some amazing historic properties that are government-owned and cost virtually nothing (as far as venue fees go) My personal favorite? Leo Carrillo Ranch in San Diego. We went and looked at this one venue a bit closer to our San Diego home base and fell in LOVE, even though we’d have to start at noon, but they book up close to a year in advance and didn’t have our date available.
We worked our way up the coast and visited Rancho Las Lomas and Franciscan Gardens – both absolute stunners with gorgeous expansive gardens and outdoor spaces. But at this point, we had our hearts set on Los Angeles. Franciscan Gardens especially gave us pause, with world-class catering and a customizable, all-inclusive package AND the cutest dive bar you ever did see across the street – it was high on our list of “oooooh yeah, maybe this one?”
We also visited Lombardi House, the to-die-for beautiful, whitewashed barn in the heart of Hollywood with no curfew. While I would have been more than perfectly content with this choice, Max felt as though his family, who would be flying out from Illinois, may want to be closer to the beach during the summertime. I told Max I understood as I carefully removed my heart from my throat as I turned down Lombardi House.
When I lived in LA I was fortunate enough to be a part of a Wine Club. (I see your side eye.) Our Wine Club was (and is) a group of great girlfriends who come together to “learn about wine” by, well, drinking it and hanging out with each other. While many of our wine club nights took place at a member’s house, apartment or local restaurant, when there was more to celebrate – a baby, bridal shower or new job – we ventured forth to vineyards. And as many of you may or may not know, Malibu is vineyard-central.
(my vineyard bridal shower)
I had been contemplating Malibu, circling it slowly for awhile. I had already emailed a few Malibu marvels – Malibu Rocky Oaks, Calamigos Ranch – all gorgeous in their own rights… but I had some wonderful days and nights with my Wine Club at Malibu Family Wines, the tasting room arm of Saddlerock Ranch. I began to remember how much I loved the wine at this particular venue and how neatly tucked away into the Malibu Canyon it was, away from the madness that would inevitably become Pacific Coast Highway on 4th of July weekend. I decided this would be my first foray into Malibu venues and if it missed the mark, I would see what else Malibu had to offer us.
When we arrived at Saddlerock Ranch, we were greeted like old friends. A thousand acre working ranch unfolded before us, with vibrant vistas of vineyards as far as the eye can see, weeping oak trees, expansive and well-kept lawns and a menagerie of marvelous animals happily living in peace and harmony among the vines. As we were taken on a tour of the property by the lovely Lauren, who has been one of our biggest assets along the journey to wedding day, she pointed out beautiful works of art, accumulated and commissioned over time by the owner of the property. It was such an eclectic mix of California cool, vibrant vineyard and wide, open space akin to the Midwest, we knew if it fit our price range, this was the spot we’d “make it official.” Oh and did I mention Stanley, the resident giraffe, who lives at the venue and loves bananas and snuggling? I mean, if we weren’t already sold, a few dozen selfies with Stanley definitely did the trick.
We finished the tour – there are four gorgeous venue spaces on the property, each complete magic in their own right. Yes, they do book multiple events on the same day – but each venue has it’s own entrance, bathrooms, valet and since it’s a thousand-acre working ranch, we were assured we would never catch a single whiff of another wedding party.
The kicker? No curfew. Once I saw the expansive, open field surrounded by vines, Stanley and the potential placement of the dance floor amid four weeping oaks with twinkle lights hanging down I was sold and so was Max.
The feeling I had when I set foot at Saddlerock was of both familiarity and excitement. There was an electric current in the air that was palpable. I just knew this was the one. While I did my due diligence and emailed the other Malibu venues as well as Hummingbird Nest Ranch in Simi Valley to compare pricing, curfew & policies, like a magnet, I kept coming back to Saddlerock. I could envision the dance I would have with my Dad underneath the oak trees. I could hear the vows I would take with Max under the sun-dappled arbor. I could taste the delicious wine that would be liberally poured at our family dinner-style reception. I could see bringing our children back here to visit the animals one day and show them where Mom and Dad said I-do. The venue becomes the third-party narrative in your wedding-day story, the gathering spot you keep coming back to for the rest of your days to relive this one.
But more than anything, it seemed, much like our entire relationship, that something bigger was happening here. Our “song” since almost the inception of our relationship has been “You and Tequila” by Kenny Chesney. When we took a road trip across the country last summer, it seemed like we slow-danced to that song in every bar from Chicago to Savannah, down to New Orleans, over to Austin and westward back to California. In the song, Kenny sings about “heading up Mullholland Dr.” and what do you know… Saddlerock Ranch is located on Mullholland Dr. That old fate word fits pretty well here too.
Tips For Your Venue Search
- First things first, have a budget and stick to it. There are a TON of fees you won’t know are coming that will hit you like a freight train, so over-budget your venue fee by at least a thousand dollars and thank me later. A lot of times the venue requires security and valet that they contract out from other companies. Their rates are subject to change regardless of what the venue tells you to be true, especially on a holiday.
- Make sure the venue will accommodate your caterer. We had our hearts set on BBQ and our caterer would be towing the BBQ into the venue. On the windy roads of Malibu, we needed to make sure he was able to bring it in or we would have had to find another caterer.
- Do your homework and make a list of priorities. If you know you have a big-drinking crowd, maybe curfew and alcohol policy is important to you like it was for us so find a venue that works for what you want your reception to be.
- Don’t have your heart set on a specific time of year or a date (unlike us). If you’re flexible, often times a venue that may be out of your budget will be available on an off-day or have a cancellation you can take advantage of.
- Don’t get caught up in the small stuff. Max wanted to have the ceremony and the reception in the field – which meant that we needed to flip the ceremony to the reception in a very short amount of time. Ultimately, we moved the reception up and under the trees in another part of the space, which was smaller, but saved us on rentals (and I’m getting my first dance under the twinkling lights).
(my friends and family - I can't wait to see them at the wedding this weekend!)
Do what works for you, not what you read online or on social media. When you’re engaged, everything can feel extremely overwhelming but listen to the same heart that led you to your person. Anytime you find a venue that feels like coming home for one or both of you, you know you’re onto something special.
Venue: Saddlerock Ranch