It’s Wedding Planning time! You got engaged, celebrated and enjoyed the moments, and now you’re ready to plan the best day of your life. If you’re following our wedding planning checklist, it’s time to find your perfect wedding venue.
Your wedding venue can be one of the most important things you will decide on, that will help set the feel for the whole day.
B and I knew right away that we would want an outdoor wedding in Southern California. But, we also didn’t want all inclusive, because we wanted the freedom to plan the day we wanted. So we went searching, and were so excited to find a brand new and upcoming DIY outdoor venue in Southern California, Heritage Hill in Murrieta. We can’t wait to share all the details with you!
But until then, here are some things to think about when you go searching…
Your budget is the going to be one of the most important, if not the most important thing to consider when looking for your venue. Venues come in all shapes and sizes, and your budget is going to help narrow down what you will need to be looking for. If you have a very low budget for the venue, you’re going to want to check out city parks, halls, or friends or families back yards. However, if you have a large budget, you can look into extravagant places like the very famous Plaza in NY, or high end hotel venues on the beach.
You will want to know your guest count when going to look at venues. At the very least, you will want to know your absolute minimum guest number. This means, you’ll want a list of your must have people…the people who you can not see yourself getting married without them there. B and I decided very early on, that our guest count was going to be our non negotiable. We both agreed that whatever type of wedding we decided on, we wanted all of our family to be included. So we looked for venues that could hold at least our “Must Invite” guest count. We had an absolute minimum of 165 guests, so this really helped us eliminate lots of venues that would not be able to accommodate this many guests.
Luckily, we found our favorite venue on our list, Heritage Hill, can host a whole lot more guests than our minimum, so we are able to invite our next list of “would really like” to invite guests.
All Inclusive or DIY
Are you the type of bride who wants to pick a few things and have someone take care of the rest? Or are you a hands on bride who has her own vision and wants to make it come to life? There are different types of DIY, All Inclusive, and some venues that will have a mixture of the two. If you’re not into the planning and would love someone to take care of everything for you, and All-Inclusive is your best bet. For us, we decided early on, we wanted a lot of different things that an All Inclusive does not provide. We wanted to bring in our own vendors and make the wedding “us”, so any All Inclusive venue we came across, we didn’t even waste our time, because we knew it just wasn’t what we wanted. We were so excited when we found Heritage Hill, since they let us do everything we want, and can make it the wedding we dream of.
The Season, Month, or Day can really help narrow down what venue you want. If you want a wedding in December in Chicago, you’re probably not going to have your wedding in an outdoor venue. If you want your wedding to be in July, you’ll probably cross off outdoor venues in Palm Springs. Depending on the season, the month, or even the day you want to have your wedding, can help take some venues off your list.
This one kind of ties in with the season. If you are wanting a beach wedding, you’re probably not going to get married in the winter. If you want an outdoor reception, it’s probably best to not have your wedding in the hottest and most humid months. B and I wanted an Outdoor Wedding and Reception, so that narrowed a lot of our venue choices, as lots were only inside.
Be sure you know what your must haves are. If you want to have your ceremony at a church, but you want to have dancing, and the church you picked doesn’t allow dancing, then you most likely won’t book your reception at the church too. If you want fireworks and to let off Chinese lanterns as your going away, venues with high fire danger are not going to be a good fit. Know what your must haves are, and eliminate the venues that can’t cater to them
Questions to ask your venue:
You’re going to want to know…
-What’s included in their price and packages?
Some venues will give you a base price, but that doesn’t include taxes, fees, and required items they ask you to pay for. Make sure you know what the price includes and…
-What are the other Required fees?
Venues may ask you to pay for the insurance, some may ask you to pay for the rental properties at the venue, etc. Ask your venue what the extra required fees may be.
-What are the Optional Add On’s that are available for an extra price?
You may be able to get a discount if you book any of their add-ons. Do you get a discount if you book their bar and other rentals? Can you pay a bit more to have them set everything up for you? Etc.
This one is a bit self explanatory, but make sure they have your date open first. If you are flexible on your date, ask them about what dates they have open to host your wedding. If you must get married on a specific date, call ahead of time, before you take the time to tour the venue, and see if its available on your date.
-When does the venue need to be Paid in Full?
Knowing when you have to have your final payment in can help you with your decision as well. Although this is fairly rare, there are venues who will let you send it your final payment after the reception. Others have to be paid a month ahead of time.
-What payment plans are available?
Is it just a 50% deposit and then paid in full a couple month before? Are you going to be able to swing that? Do they work on smaller payments more frequently?
-Dates the payments are due
Always know what dates they expect your payments to be sent in by.
-Do they offer an All Inclusive Package?
If you want the venue to take care of everything for you, you’re going to want to find one that has everything included already.
-Is there a “Must Hire These Vendors” List?
We ran into a lot of venues who advertised themselves as a Do it Yourself venue, but when we got to the details, we learned that we had to hire from their specific list and that’s it. Definitely wouldn’t work out if you are hoping to bring in your own vendors. Other will have specific vendors you need to pick from a certain category (say caterer), and allow you to bring in your own vendors from all other categories.
-Can You Bring In your own vendors and what are the requirements?
We were so happy to find a venue in Southern California that truly allowed us to do everything we wanted. We are allowed to bring in everything, which is exactly what we were looking for. But always make sure you know what requirements (usually by law) that they must meet. Example, caterers and/or bar tenders have to be licensed.
-What is the Out Time for the night?
Find out what the music out time is and the hard out, where all your guests have to be off the property.
-Is Clean Up Included in the out time?
Do you have to have everything packed up and off the property at a certain time? Or are you allowed to do clean up the next day, or after the out time?
-What time can you be on the property to start Set Up?
Of course this probably doesn’t pertain to All-Inclusive venues, some DIY venues have certain times you can start your set up, if not the day before.
-Is a Rehearsal Time Included?
Some venues will only allow you to do the rehearsal the day of. (In this case, we recommend you blind fold the groom so he doesn’t see the bride, or have the bride skip this part). Other venues we looked at had rehearsals scheduled for Thursday, since they have weddings on Fridays too.
-Are there any other events going on the same day/weekend?
When getting all the information about your venue, you’re going to want to know if you are sharing the space with 2 other weddings. This is fairly typical of hotels that have different ball rooms available, but shouldn’t be much of a problem since the property is large. If you’re having your wedding at a small venue, you’ll probably want one that allows you to have the venue to yourself, at least day of.
-What is allowed for decor?
I personally asked if we could do a sparklers exit. Some venues do not allow this. Also, check to see if your venue allows flower petals down the isle, candles on the table, etc.
-Are there any accommodations available on the property?
This was an extra thing we thought would be a great find. We would love to have a weekend wedding, and have lots of out of town guests. Having our families all in the same area would make this really simple. Hotels are an obvious one, if you are doing it at a hotel, but we like the idea of renting several large airbnb’s near the venue, where we can all still have a space to hang out.
-Do they have a Minimum/Maximum guest count allowed?
We discussed the Maximum guest count, as that may be a deal breaker for you…but some venues have a minimum guest count too. Make sure you take that into consideration when looking for your venue. You don’t want to be stuck paying for several guests who weren’t even on your guest count.
*Extra Staff Required
-Does the venue require you to hire extra people?
Venues may require you to have extra staff for the day of. Some of the most popular requirements for staff we ran into were for:
-Bar Tenders / per # of people (ex. must have 1 bartender for every 100 guests)
-Day of Coordinator (This one is a very popular requirement for venues)
-Is insurance included or do you have to get your own policy?
Insurance for the day is actually not as much as you would expect, but make sure to know if they are taking care of it, or if that’s something you have to set up.
-Is there a Plan B for bad weather?
Especially for outdoor weddings. Do they have a plan B in place? Or is that up to you by renting a tent or something similar.
*Ceremony and Reception Spaces
-Do they have multiple ceremony and reception sites to choose from?
-Will there be other weddings going on at the other sites at the same time?
-Is there parking on the property? And is there enough?
Check to see if your venue can accommodate all the cars from your guests, or if you have to get a parking valet, or have some parking off site. Know what their parking situation is.
*Clean Up and Set Up
-Who is responsible for both clean up and set up?
Ideally, you’ll find a venue or staff that will take care of this for you, but we definitely understand trying to save money, so if you’re responsible for clean up and set up, make sure you know the time frame your venue gives you to get it done. Know if there is an extra cost for setting up the day before and cleaning up the day after…etc.
Also, make sure you know if you have to take all the trash off the property.
-How many bar tenders are required to serve your party?
-Is self serve allowed?
-Can you have bottles on the table for champagne toast, etc.?
-Are there certain types of alcohol that are not allowed?
This one will be a little different for each venue. If the venue allows you to bring in your own alcohol, you’ll probably have more of these questions.
Finding your wedding venue is one of the very first things you will do in your wedding planning process. It can be lots of fun, but lots of brides say it is very stressful as well. It doesn’t have to be a stressful process though. Just make sure you know what you want, and don’t bother with venues that won’t offer it. This is the fun part of planning, because you finally get to start!!
If you’re looking for a great outdoor venue in Southern California, be sure to check out Heritage Hill in Murrieta!
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Sara, a seasoned expert in wedding planning and date ideas, brings a wealth of experience to our couples blog. With a background in the television industry and hands-on involvement in a dozen weddings, including working as a wedding assistant on "My Fair Wedding with David Tutera," Sara has an innate understanding of the magic that makes weddings truly special. Growing up with four sisters has given her unique insights into the dating world, making her a go-to source for practical and heartfelt dating advice. Her knowledge and enthusiasm make her the perfect guide for couples seeking to infuse their relationships with creativity and love.