Picking your dream wedding location—one that reflects who you are as individuals, and as a couple—is a key part to creating your perfect celebration. California has an unmatched variety of perfect settings for your ceremony—from low-key to luxury, wild and beautiful to rarified elegance. Here, we help you find the California destination that best matches your big day.
Getting married is a monumental step, so why not choose a monumental setting? At Yosemite National Park, stand outside among granite monoliths and thundering waterfalls, or have your ceremony in an idyllic steeple-topped chapel framed by views of Yosemite Valley. Or find amazing alpine vistas around Mammoth Lakes, especially at Mammoth’s summit at 11,000 feet/3,352 meters, easily accessed by an enclosed gondola. At Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, have your wedding party form a human chain around the trunk of a giant sequoia, one of the world’s largest living things. Then celebrate at low-key Wuksachi Lodge, or choose from a collection of historic cabins.
Lake Tahoe, with an alpine setting unlike anything else in the world (except maybe Italy’s Lake Como), features sumptuous lodgings at or near the lake, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe in the Northstar California resort on the lake’s north end. In South Lake Tahoe, The Landing, a luxury boutique lodging, is so close the lake that if you toss your bouquet a little too far it’ll end up in the Tahoe blue.
Southern California has alpine retreats too—with wedding venues to match the scenery. Get married on a private beach at a San Bernardino Mountain classic, Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa. Wedding venues at Big Bear Lake, range from rustic retreats to elegant B&Bs and even a paddlewheel boat.
Protected beaches along the Orange County coast can be breathtaking backdrops for weddings. Given the nod as one of the state’s prettiest beaches, Crystal Cove State Beach, just north of Laguna Beach, has historic cottages for rent (reserve as far in advance as possible). Or go for a barefoot-on-the-beach style at Huntington Beach—a.k.a. Surf City, USA, with fire rings in the sand for after-dark fun. Celebrate the bands of gold on your fingers with the narrow band of sand known as Silver Strand State Beach, a one-side-ocean, one-side-bay finger of sand at the south end of Coronado Island, in San Diego Bay.
Along the Central Coast, have a barefoot wedding in the sugar-fine sand of Carmel Beach. (It helps that there are plenty of luxury lodgings, like the newly revamped Bernardus Lodge, where you can hold your reception.)
North of San Francisco, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore offer incredible bay and ocean views in wild coastal settings. For elegance amidst all that natural beauty, try the handsome, half-timbered Pelican Inn at tucked-away Muir Beach, near Muir Woods. North on the coast, at Sonoma Coast State Park, find your dream site along a 17-mile/27-km-long string of remote beaches, with squawking gulls, sunning seals, and spouting whales standing in as ad-hoc wedding guests.
Along the state’s North Coast, consider tying the knot on an oceanfront bluff at Mendocino Headlands State Park—then head to one of Mendocino’s romantic B&Bs or lodges, like Stanford Inn by the Sea, for a cozy reception and even cozier wedding night.
Looking for a really unforgettable setting? Just south of Mendocino, Point Area Lighthouse makes an unforgettable backdrop as you say your vows, plus there are tidy housekeeping cottages on site in case you want to make a weekend of it.
California excels at exclusive (and discreet) retreats fit for movie stars—and anyone else who wants 5-star luxury in ultra-romantic settings. These destinations are known for sigh-inducing settings and spoil-me-now lodgings. Along the North Coast, Mendocino, with wisps of fog above coastal bluffs dotted with charming cottages, is a wedding favorite. Luxury B&Bs and resorts abound, many with complete wedding packages.
Further south along the Central Coast, wedding options abound. Consider Clint Eastwood’s historic and meticulously restored Mission Ranch in the beautiful Carmel Valley, or the dream destination of Post Ranch Inn, perched on cliffs along the spectacular Big Sur coast. Santa Barbara,with its ocean vistas and red-tiled rooftops, has a host of spectacular hideaways, like El Encanto in the hills above town, and Four Seasons’ The Biltmore along the edge of the sparkling Pacific (Editor's Note: The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore was affected by the recent mudslides. It is currently closed until June. Please refer to their website for the latest information). In San Diego, vamp like Marilyn at the iconic Hotel del Coronado, where the blond bombshell steamed up Tony Curtis’s glasses in 1959’s Some Like It Hot.
Warm evening air, a desert breeze, cabañas by the pool—what’s not to love about a luxurious wedding in the California desert, especially with choices like The Parker Palm Springs or Two Bunch Palms, both in the Palm Springs area, or Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park. Another ultra-luxurious destination: Beverly Hills, a town known for movie-star liaisons, has plenty of exclusive—and posh—places to get married. To live in Elizabeth Taylors shoes, consider the expansively refurbished Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows; La Liz had six of her eight honeymoons at there.
For a wedding that truly couldn’t be anywhere else in the world, consider one of these Golden State originals. Start with some of the state’s oldest amazing sites, California’s 18th and 19th century Spanish missions, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma; Mission La Purisima Concepción, now a state park north of Santa Barbara, is considered to be the most meticulously restored.
At Lake Tahoe, consider getting married at a majestic lakefront mansion at Tallac Historic Site, once the playground of San Francisco’s 19th-century elite. About 100 miles south in California’s high desert, get hitched in a real-life ghost town at Bodie State Historic Park, with sagebrush-scented winds fluttering your veil.
Along the Central Coast, there’s Hearst Castle, where you can wed in ornate opulence created by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Want to spend your wedding night in a caveman’s lair? A ship captain’s quarters? Choose from over 100 themed rooms at Madonna Inn, a monument to kitsch in San Luis Obispo. In Southern California, consider Kimberly Crest in Redlands; the 1897 Victorian chateau is wrapped by more than six acres of Renaissance-style Italian gardens.
For the ultimate fantasy, say your vows at Disneyland Resort or another iconic theme park. Give your wedding that Tinseltown glow by having your ceremony at a world-famous film studio, like Universal Studios Hollywood.
Along the North Coast at Redwood State & National Parks, groves of soaring coast redwoods create breathtaking natural cathedrals for a memorable ceremony. Redwood Adventures helps you set up the perfect location for your wedding at various park locations.
Vistas of vineyards, local wines in your glass, in settings ranging from 5-star resorts to low-key farms with gnarled olive trees and rustic barns: if this sounds like heaven, then plan your wedding in California wine country. Choose from castles, manors, and elegant estates in the celebrated Napa Valley. For an intimate experience just north of San Francisco, consider the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the inviting Sonoma Valley.Travel to North Coast to discover wineries, many focusing on organic growing techniques, trimmed with tall redwoods. Just east in the bucolic Lake County wine region, find surprising elegance in under-the-radar vineyards.
If you dream of a wedding with relaxed country appeal, consider the Central Coast. In Monterey Wine Country, quiet country roads lead to low-key and friendly wineries with beautiful settings. Santa Ynez Valley, known for producing exceptional Pinot Noirs, has wineries and vineyards nestled in rolling coastal hills. And in Paso Robles, former ranch land is known an acclaimed wine region, but cowboy hats and boots still abound.
And, for the warm evenings that truly turn weddings into magical affairs, try this trio. First, the Central Valley’s Lodi Wine Country, with more than 70 boutique vineyards on inviting grounds, many available for weddings. Another option is the Temecula Valley and its expansive wine region. Roughly halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, this are has both lavish wine estates and low-key wineries—and hot-air balloon rides too.
With laws now allowing same-sex marriages in California, LGBT destinations are including weddings into their mix of offerings. Standout locations include San Francisco. This focal point of the gay movement has now become an iconic destination for LGBT weddings, with cupola topped City Hall a popular—and beautiful—place to tie the knot in an urban setting. West Hollywood has chic hotels, sleek restaurants, and swanky nightlife, with an open attitude towards same-sex marriages, with venues ranging from traditional high-end hotels, to history-rich nightclubs like The Roxy and House of Blues, to rooftop aeries, like the private Petit Ermitage Rooftop Club. In the Palm Springs region, choose from mid-century modern compounds to luxurious resorts, like the Parker Palm Springs or romantic Two Bunch Palms Spa & Resort in Desert Hot Springs. For a more rustic setting, try Guerneville, a longtime gay hub in Sonoma County, with relaxed retreats in redwood-shaded glens and along the Russian River.