Where To Tie the Knot

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The Sacramento region is rife with places to say “I do.” Want to get married at a farm or winery? How about a museum or ballpark? Read on.

Saying “I do” is the easy part. Deciding where to say it, or where to party afterward, gets more complicated. 
“I never thought tying the knot could be so overwhelming,” says Kristie Gong, research director at KUVS/KTFK Univision, who’s planning a September wedding. “After hundreds of phone calls and e-mails to different vendors, I consider myself a human ‘Here Comes the Guide.’”

Local wedding venues abound, whether the bride and groom’s tastes run toward eclectic or elegant, intimate or immense. And the list of locales is ever growing, keeping pace with the Sacramento region as it expands and evolves.

Many of the newcomers have cropped up in the bucolic foothills of Placer, El Dorado and Amador counties, from lavender farms and wineries to country clubs. “The population base is moving up there, it’s still affordable to build a [wedding] facility, and brides are looking for ‘destinations,’” says Richard Markel of the Association for Wedding Professionals International.

Back in the flatlands, there also is cause to celebrate, as new ceremony and reception locations come online and as more established players update themselves. But keep a couple of things in mind: The venues mentioned in the pages that follow are just a fraction of what’s out there, and subjectivity rules the day.

Says Sacramento event planner Laurie Schmalzel, “A great location is only a great location if it meets the criteria of the bride and groom, and every wedding is so different. Everyone has an amazing idea in their head.”

Getting Started

Feeling overwhelmed? Take some advice from area wedding consultants and seasoned brides by having a price in mind and a guest list in hand. The latter should reflect a realistic estimate of attendees, not the number of invitations mailed out.

“If you’re looking at 50 or looking at 400, it really focuses that list,” says Schmalzel, who suggests that the bride and groom stay flexible on wedding dates to improve their odds of securing their coveted site.

Kendra Pfeiffer-Wershing of Pfeiffer Event Planning has helped pull off weddings in the Sacramento area for 11 years. She agrees that budgets are essential in the planning stage, especially as most area venues rent for $2,000 and up.

Once Pfeiffer-Wershing gets a feel for the couple’s wedding-day vision, she narrows the list of potential sites to no more than 10, then suggests her clients check each one out in person. “You need to do your footwork and actually see the place,” she says. “Sometimes the written description doesn’t do it justice.”

Jennifer Provenza, an aspiring actress from Davis, found it helpful to grill recent brides and wedding guests about possible locations. She and her fiancé, local set designer Ian Wallace, hoped to secure a reception spot with a Renaissance feel to it, in part to celebrate her Italian heritage.

Eight unfruitful stops later, they were ready to settle for an alternate—until a friend mentioned Grand Island Mansion in Walnut Grove. They were bowled over the moment they stepped inside, booked the place two years in advance and were married there in July.

“We had actually given up that we would get everything we were looking for, then ended up getting exactly what we were looking for,” says Provenza, who appreciates that the elegance of the setting left little wedding-day decorating to be done.

Built in 1917 by a wealthy San Francisco family, Grand Island Mansion provides a host of amenities, from food and lodging to billiards—the latter clinching the deal for Provenza and Wallace.

Destination Loomis?

A “destination” wedding used to mean Hawaii or the Napa Valley, and was mainly a deep-pocket luxury. Now getaway or weekend nuptials are moving closer to home, from the wineries and bed-and-breakfast inns scattered in the foothills along Highway 49 to a growing roster of rustic-chic barns in Placer and Yolo counties.

Amador County’s grape-growing region, Shenandoah Valley, is particularly hot right now, according to area wedding professionals.

“The Shenandoah is the new Napa, and they’re really trying to expand on that,” says Pfeiffer-Wershing, who keeps Villa Toscano winery in Plymouth on her “A list” of venues. “They can still be expensive locations, but they’re definitely cheaper than Napa.”

Event planner Darcy Brewer Goodman relocated from Southern California to Placer County last year and is already smitten with the area’s rustic charms. “There’s no need to go elsewhere” than the Greater Sacramento region, says Brewer, who has already swaged her fair share of local barns with fabrics, flowers and greenery. “This area is completely untapped.”

Bear Flag Farm in Winters, with its acres of lavender and sunflowers, is one of Goodman’s favorites: a Yolo County slice of Provence, she says. Bear Flag only recently entered the wedding market in a limited fashion, mainly to offset the costs of organic and sustainable farming.

Caterers love that they can incorporate the farm’s heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and other produce into their menus. And guests can wander through the vineyard and olive orchards as they segue from cocktails to the reception.

Here are several other countrified recommendations from Goodman and other area professionals:

•  Kirtlan’s Silver Bend in Clarksburg, the venerable Delta pumpkin patch, recently expanded to cater to weddings. The farm boasts a 1916 steam locomotive to transport guests from the ceremony to the reception.
•  Wilson Vineyards, the Old Sugar Mill and Scribner Bend Winery—all in Clarksburg.
•  Crawford’s Barn, a 19th century Sacramento property named after one of its tenants, a prizewinning racehorse; includes a 2.75-acre park, horseshoe pit and playground equipment.
•  The Beda Place in Meadow Vista, a newer
Placer County venue and one of the area’s better bridal bargains.
•  The Flower Farm, a Loomis bed-and-breakfast inn with gardens, a nursery and wedding space set to expand in 2007.

The One-Stop Shops

Places like The Sterling Hotel and Vizcaya in Sacramento and Lake Natoma Inn in Folsom have earned their stripes throughout the years as venerable (and sizable) wedding spots, replete with full-service catering and swank digs for overnight stays.

Arden Hills Country Club & Spa, which has catered to Sacramento-area brides and grooms for 20 years, will unveil its own bridal suite and a handful of other hotel rooms this year—along with several new amenities for wedding parties.

“What we have found lately is that when brides are looking for properties to choose from, all of them have pieces of what they want,” says Rick Francis, Arden Hills’ director of sales and marketing. “This will be the first time a bride can come to a property and have everything she needs.”

What’s “everything”?
•  Three ballrooms (the largest accommodating 400): check
•  Caterer, photographer: check
•  Florist, wedding coordinator, cake: check
•  Day spa (billed as Northern California’s largest): check
•  Cabochon beauty salon: up and running since midsummer
•  A second ceremony site, set amid fountains and lush tropical gardens: also new this summer

Getting Married at Home

You’ve decided to hold your wedding at home, and you think you’re going to save money in the process, right? Wrong.

The costs quickly mount, and the most obvious are for basic party rentals: tables, chairs, tents and dance floors. The less obvious include porta-potties, electric generators, ice trailers, parking and garbage disposal service. And don’t underestimate the time and resources needed to get the yard in order.

While tying the knot chez Mom and Dad—or simply holding the reception there—is not always cheaper, there are hefty personal payoffs, wedding professionals say.

“Home weddings are so much more work, but they are so much more rewarding,” says Schmalzel, who enjoys the challenges of family dynamics and the flexibility of décor.

“Each is unique and typically special to the bride,” Pfeiffer-Wershing agrees.

Novel Nuptials

Katy Baker’s in-basket is filling up with files of brides and grooms at one fairly offbeat venue: the Towe Auto Museum.

Baker is the events coordinator of the museum in Old Sacramento. The Towe recently reprised weddings after a brief hiatus; business is picking up. The museum’s reception area can seat 300. The Education Center doubles as a dressing room, and the stage accommodates a car on each side: a 1931 Model A Deluxe Roadster and a Model T Wagon in the case of Sandy Roberts and Cameron Jones, who held their reception at the Towe this past March.

The couple—both El Dorado County corrections officers—were married at St. John’s Lutheran Church in midtown, then drove directly into the museum’s reception hall in Cameron’s orange 1966 Dodge Charger.
“Everyone on his side of the family loved it,” says Sandy, who married into a family of car-racing aficionados. “My side, they were less excited. But once it got set up with cars parked on the stage, the lighting, the cake, they were like, ‘That was an awesome wedding.’”

Raley Field hosted its first wedding in mid-June, moments before the Sacramento River Cats squared off against the Tacoma Rainiers. Gabe Ross, assistant general manager of Raley Field, expects the West Sacramento ballpark will find its niche on the wedding circuit now that the first couple has taken the plunge. The two had their guest book signed by players for both the Rainiers and the River Cats, then joined their guests in a luxury suite to watch the game.

The River Cats won. “We’re 1–0 when it comes to weddings,” Ross says.

• Behind The Lens

By the time most brides call wedding photographer Beth Baugher, they’ve already selected their location and are moving down the list of things to do.

But if they’re angling for the most photogenic site, it might behoove them to check in with Baugher first. With 300 weddings to her (professional) name, the owner of True Love Photo has plenty of advice.

Baugher has several picks for backdrops. The west-facing rooms at Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills make for superb sunset shots. Capitol Park offers up an urban and picturesque mix of greenery and architecture. And the nearby Hyatt Regency, with its 16th-floor Capitol view rooms, is one of her favorite reception spots.

“There are wonderful views of the park, the Capitol dome and the skyline,” says Baugher. “The glass windows reflect the candlelight beautifully . . . . This is a great property for out-of-towners, considering the tourist angle and the convenience of the hotel.”

Baugher also is partial to two public jewels: the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria and the Julia Morgan House & Gardens, the latter designed by the Hearst Castle architect and owned by Sacramento State. (The Julia Morgan House also prompts some degree of creativity from its wedding parties, who get around the outdoor amplified-music ban by bringing in mandolins, harps, Celtic bands and, in one case, kazoos.)

But even the most photogenic locations can be affected by timing. A 4 p.m. outdoor ceremony invariably means that the light will be poor, Baugher says. And a 6 p.m. wedding in late October means even the loveliest of outdoor spots will be obscured by darkness.

“The equation of good lighting and good weather is important. Consult with your photographer first,” Baugher says.

• Adding It Up

Renting a ceremony or reception spot can take a sizable chunk out of a couple’s wedding budget. The range is expansive: from $110 for the famed McKinley Park rose garden to upward of $5,000 for the Crocker Art Museum.

The vast majority of local favorites fall somewhere in between. But as any experienced bride or wedding planner will tell you, the rental fee is often just the starting point.

Most of the cheaper sites come without tables, chairs or other rentable necessities. And some of the more public venues, such as the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in downtown Sacramento, require security guards.

Looking to cut costs on flowers? Then the McKinley Park rose garden—with 1,300 rose bushes and more than 200 different varieties—definitely deserves consideration. The East Sacramento garden accommodates up to 200 guests per wedding and offers four daily (three-hour) time slots from which to choose.

Maintained by the city of Sacramento’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the McKinley Park rose garden plays host to about 200 weddings a year.