Choosing 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 rarefied elegance.
Will you and your betrothed take your vows on a wide-open beach with the waves crashing in the background and salt in the air? The coast is dotted with beautiful locations with every manner of accommodation to make that dream come true. Or maybe you'd prefer a mountain ceremony, with dramatic peaks and a more rustic feel—resorts and lodges in Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes, Lake Tahoe and others fit that bill perfectly.
If you feel like going all-out and embracing as much glamour and luxury as possible for your special day, you’ll find several locations that will provide plenty of ways to ritz things up, such as the Parker Palm Springs and Hotel del Coronado, to name just two. Wedding locations that could be called quintessentially Californian can be found in nearly every part of the state, whether they draw from the state’s Old West or Spanish past or are nestled in the midst of great natural beauty.
And of course, there is the option of getting married at one of the state’s iconic amusement parks. Who knows, maybe Mickey could be available as a witness?
Below, 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 3,350 metres, easily accessed by an enclosed cable car. At Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, get your wedding party to form a human chain around the trunk of a giant sequoia, one of the world’s largest living things. The low-key Wuksachi Lodge features 102 beautiful rooms; you can also choose from a collection of historic timber- and tent-style cabins at Grant Grove or opt for rooms at the Cedar Grove Lodge for a more rustic experience.
Lake Tahoe, with an alpine setting unlike anything else in the world (except maybe Italy’s Lake Como), features sumptuous accommodation at or near the lake, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe in the Northstar California resort at the lake’s north end, and the Resort at Squaw Creek at the base of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. In South Lake Tahoe, The Landing, a luxury boutique venue, is so close to the lake that if you throw your bouquet a little too far it’ll end up in the waters of the Tahoe.
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.
The protected beaches along the Orange County coast can make breathtaking backdrops for weddings. Considered by many to be one of the state’s prettiest beaches, Crystal Cove State Beach, just north of Laguna Beach, has historic cottages available to rent (book as far in advance as possible). Or go for a barefoot-on-the-beach style ceremony at Huntington Beach—aka Surf City, USA, with fire rings in the sand for after-dark fun. Or celebrate the bands of gold on your fingers on the narrow band of sand known as Silver Strand State Beach, a finger of sand with ocean on one side and bay on the other, at the south end of Coronado Island, in San Diego Bay.
On the Central Coast, have a barefoot wedding on the sugar-fine sand of Carmel Beach. (It helps that there are plenty of luxury venues, like the sumptuous yet relaxing 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. Go up the coast to Sonoma Coast State Park to find your dream site on a 27-kilometre-long string of remote beaches, with squawking gulls, sunbathing seals and spouting whales standing in as ad-hoc wedding guests.
On the state’s North Coast, consider tying the knot on a clifftop 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 cosy reception and even cosier wedding night.
Looking for a really unforgettable setting? Just south of Mendocino, Point Arena Lighthouse makes an unforgettable backdrop as you say your vows, plus there are cute little housekeeping cottages on site should you want to make a weekend of it.
California excels at exclusive (and discreet) retreats fit for film 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 accommodations. On the North Coast, Mendocino, with wisps of fog above coastal cliffs dotted with charming cottages, is a wedding hotspot. 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 views and red-tiled rooftops, has a host of spectacular hideaways, such as El Encanto in the hills above the town, and the Four Seasons’ The Biltmore on the edge of the sparkling Pacific.
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 and Two Bunch Palms, both in the Palm Springs area, or the Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Resort) in Death Valley National Park.
If it’s glitz and glamour you seek for your nuptials, it’s difficult to rival Southern California. Known for film-star liaisons, Beverly Hills has plenty of exclusive—and posh—places to get married. To step into Elizabeth Taylor’s shoes, consider the extensively refurbished Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows; Liz had six of her eight honeymoons there. 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.
For a wedding that truly could not 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 lake-front mansion at Tallac Historic Site, once the playground of San Francisco’s 19th-century elite. About 160 kilometres 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.
On the Central Coast, there’s Hearst Castle, where you can marry in the ornate opulence created by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Want to spend your wedding night in a caveman’s lair? A captain’s quarters? Choose from over 100 themed rooms at the Madonna Inn, a monument to kitsch in San Luis Obispo. In Southern California, consider Kimberly Crest in Redlands; the 1897 Victorian chateau is encircled by more than three-and-a-half hectares of Renaissance-style Italian gardens.
For the ultimate fantasy, say your vows at Disneyland Resort or another iconic theme park. Or give your wedding that Tinseltown glow by having your ceremony at a world-famous film studio, like Universal Studios Hollywood.
On the North Coast at Redwood State & National Parks, groves of soaring coastal redwoods create breathtaking natural cathedrals for a memorable ceremony. Weddings in the Wild can help you set up the perfect location for your wedding in any of the area’s parks.
Vistas of vineyards, local wines in your glass, settings ranging from 5-star resorts to low-key farms with gnarled olive trees and rustic barns—if this sounds like heaven, then plan to have your wedding in California's wine country. Choose from castles, manors and elegant estates in the celebrated Napa Valley. Or, for a more intimate experience just north of San Francisco, consider the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the inviting Sonoma Valley. Travel to the North Coast to discover wineries, many focusing on organic growing techniques, adorned with tall redwoods. Just east in the bucolic Lake County wine region, find surprising elegance at 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 understated and friendly wineries with beautiful settings. Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, is known for producing exceptional Pinot Noirs, and has wineries and vineyards nestled in rolling coastal hills. And in Paso Robles, the former ranch land has gained an international reputation as an acclaimed wine region, but there are still plenty of cowboy hats and boots around.
And, for the warm evenings that truly turn weddings into magical affairs, try these two destinations. First, the Central Valley’s Lodi Wine Country, with more than 70 boutique vineyards in inviting grounds, many of which are available for weddings. Another option is the Temecula Valley and its expansive wine region. Roughly halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, this verdant region blanketed in vineyards of Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache grapes has both lavish wine estates and low-key wineries—and hot-air balloon rides too.
Places that are traditionally popular with the LGBT community can be hard to beat for hosting a destination wedding to remember. San Francisco is a focal point for the gay movement, and has now become an iconic destination for LGBT weddings. The cupola at the top of City Hall is a popular—and beautiful—place to tie the knot in an urban setting. Another iconic spot is the Golden Gate Club, a former enlisted men’s club with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. For a more casual location that requires less planning ahead, the monumental Cupid’s Span art installation in the three-quarter-hectare Rincon Park fits the bill perfectly, and the view of the Bay Bridge seals the deal.
In Los Angeles, West Hollywood has chic hotels, sleek restaurants and swanky nightlife; an open attitude towards same-sex marriages; and venues that range from traditional high-end hotels to history-rich nightclubs such as The Roxy and House of Blues, to rooftop eyries, like the private Petit Ermitage Rooftop Club. Or, up the coast, opt for San Luis Obispo favourite the Madonna Inn, with its 110 themed rooms, six banquet rooms and a famously free-spirited take on hospitality.
In the Greater Palm Springs region, choose from mid-century modern hotels to luxurious resorts, such as the Parker Palm Springs or romantic Two Bunch Palms Spa & Resort in Desert Hot Springs. For a more rustic setting, try Guerneville, a long-standing gay hub in Sonoma County, with relaxed retreats in redwood-shaded glens and along the Russian River.