A Wedding Planner Turned Bride’s Journey Part 6: Finding the Wedding Venue

What’s the #1 question you’ve been asked most since you got engaged?

So… when are you getting married?

I’m sure you’re nodding your head right now in agreement.

But here’s the thing… You can’t answer that question until you have a wedding date.

And you can’t have a wedding date without a venue.

Finding your wedding venue is perhaps one of the biggest tasks you’ll be taking on in your wedding planning. Because it sets the stage for everything else.

Rustic barn reception tucked in the woods for a mountain wedding in Kirkwood at the Hideout venue by destination wedding planner Mango Muse Events creator of Passport to Joy online wedding planning course for couples
(Photo credit: Anita Martin)

The wedding venue you choose will affect the vendors you’ll be bringing in, the decor you choose and the schedule for the day.

It also plays a big part in your budget.

And it’s where you’re going to get married.

Those are all big things!

And so it’s a BIG decision.

So, how do you find the right wedding venue?

With the help from your friends! And a fellow bride, Stephanie.

In this Part 6 installment of a wedding planner turned bride’s journey, we’re helping you find the wedding venue.

And make sure you check out all of the tips and info from Stephanie and Kirk’s wedding planning journey from the beginning:

What it’s like getting engaged during a worldwide pandemic (part 1)

Engagement ring shopping online (part 2)

How to start planning your wedding (part 3)

How to create your wedding budget (part 4)

Wedding dress shopping (part 5)

So, let’s pick up the story where we left off …


So after we got engaged, Kirk and I really took our time before diving into planning.

Sure, we shopped for an engagement ring. And yes, we discussed big picture ideas.

We talked about when we wanted to get married (end of summer). We talked about who we wanted to invite (immediate family).

But then we pushed pause on our wedding planning.

And things stayed that way for a while…

Maybe it was the pandemic or maybe it was inertia, but it wasn’t until we received our first vaccination shots in April that we truly felt ready to start planning.

The fact that we were 3 to 4 months from our desired time frame might have had something to do with it too…

So we put together our budget and then started looking at venues.

Like so many couples, it was the venue search where things really began to click into place for us.

Because it’s when our wedding started to take shape. And we could finally picture ourselves enjoying our big day!

A bride and groom kiss amoungst the redwoods at their Ben Lomond forest wedding by destination wedding planner Mango Muse Events creator of Passport to Joy online wedding planners
(Photo credit: Bethany Carlson)

Finding our ceremony and reception venues is really what reignited our excitement about getting married.

So, if you’re feeling stuck before you’ve even begun, it could do the same for you and your wedding!

To help you get there, here’s the steps we took to find our wedding venues.


For us, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to have an outdoor wedding.

There’s still a pandemic after all, and we wanted a venue that would work even if things were to take a turn.

We knew we wanted the ceremony to be somewhere beautiful, where we could feel in awe of nature.

There’s a certain magic being near the ocean or in the woods. And we wanted to capture some of that magic for our wedding.

Because of our small wedding size, we also wanted the reception at a restaurant to keep costs relatively low.

We wanted a restaurant with semi-private patio seating, a relaxed atmosphere, and most importantly, delicious food!

*PRO TIP: Putting together a list of features or criteria that you want first will help to narrow down the search that comes next.

Calistoga Ranch restaurant and lake a beautiful luxury wedding venue and honeymoon location in Napa by destination wedding planner Mango Muse Events creator of Passport to Joy, the step by step online wedding planning course for couples
(Photo credit: Kate Webber)


So we wanted to be surrounded by nature, but we also wanted the location to be within driving distance. And we wanted it to be relatively accessible for our older family members (i.e. no long hikes).

To find options that fit this criteria, we started our search by looking up local parks and gardens, as well as searching for Bay Area weddings near the ocean or in the redwoods.

We searched both in Google and on wedding blogs and websites.

*PRO TIP: If you’re looking for a more uncommon or unexpected wedding venue, take a look at wedding blogs or on photographers’ websites. You can sometimes find a real diamond in the rough.

For the restaurant, our search was much more limited.

There were surprisingly few restaurants in our area with exactly what we were looking for – an intimate patio area for a small group.

And there were even fewer options that had the right vibe – relaxed, but not too casual, with some privacy (i.e. not in the middle of a beer garden or on a sidewalk).


Then we made a list of our favorite choices.

There are a lot of parks in the Bay Area, so we had to be a bit ruthless to narrow it down to three or four potential options.

I’m very visual, so finding lots of pictures of venues was immensely helpful in figuring which locations were the best fit. I looked for pictures of the empty space, as well as pictures of other people’s weddings in the location.

*PRO TIP: Especially if you haven’t been to the venue, it’s good to look for pictures outside of a venue’s website. Search for images on Google and location tags on Instagram along with wedding blogs and websites. The more photos you have, the more angles you’ll see, at different times of day or even during different seasons.

Looking at photos (and lots of them) really helped me to be able to better see the space and understand if I could visualize our wedding being there.

Guest mingling at the Stern Grove wedding venue for this San Francisco destination wedding by Destination wedding planner, Mango Muse Events creator of Passport to Joy
(Photo credit: Jerry Yoon Photographers)


So, among all of our venue options, one ceremony site spoke to us and leapt to the top of the list.

We fell in love with all the pictures taken at the location. And so it was a no brainer for us to reach out!

Fortunately, it turned out to be available on a date that worked for us, so we didn’t end up inquiring anywhere else. (Yes, we were lucky!)

Once we had a ceremony location and date, we then reached out to restaurants.

Unlike the ceremony spot, we didn’t have a top choice, so we reached out to four options where we liked the food, decor, and style.

To try to keep costs down, we specifically contacted restaurants with furniture, china, and flatware we liked or at least didn’t mind, so we wouldn’t have to bring in additional rentals.

*PRO TIP: The more the venue provides whether that’s lighting or chairs or china, the less you’ll have to bring in or spend money on. But, those items area also built into the venue cost, so make sure what they provide are things you actually like. Otherwise that perk doesn’t actually help you.

What was really helpful for us in picking a restaurant was asking questions. Because you need all the information in order to make a good comparison and accurately assess costs.

So, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions! You might worry that you’re being annoying, but it’s important to have all the information in order to make a decision.

And ask about anything you don’t understand.

Ask about what-ifs. For example, what if it rains? Would my event then be cancelled?

In some cases, the answer I received was yes because the restaurant couldn’t guarantee that my group could be moved inside if it rained.


In my opinion, the most exciting part of venue searching is seeing a space in person!

Again, I’m very visual, but nothing beats walking through a physical space and seeing the light at the same time as your event.

The walkthrough is where you can feel everything start to come together!

*PRO TIP: Always always always go and visit a wedding venue in person, especially now that you can. You have to see it in order to really feel it and understand if it’s right for you.


Once we decided on our wedding venues, it was time to review and sign the contracts.

Contracts can be well… dull. But in this instance, we were excited to sign and finally have a date and a location for our wedding!

*PRO TIP: It’s really easy to gloss over the fine print, but take your time to understand each clause. If there’s anything that you’re confused about, ask for clarification. And if there are any terms that you’re not comfortable with, you can always ask if they can be adjusted in a way that you and the venue find mutually agreeable. There are some things that the venue won’t budge on, but they may be flexible on others. You won’t know unless you ask. And nothing is set in stone until the contract is signed!

Once your contracts are signed you can’t help but feel excited. Because it starts being real.

And I bet you’re feeling it too!

I’m ready to charge ahead with the rest of my wedding plans! So, come and join me next time as I continue the search for wedding vendors!

Stay tuned for the next installment in Stephanie and Kirk’s wedding planning journey! Till then, if you have any questions, please let us know in a comment below.

And if you’re looking for help planning your wedding, we walk you through finding your wedding venue in detail in Passport to Joy. To learn more about becoming a Passport to Joy member, click here.

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