8/5 {Real Bride: Carrie} Location, Location: Debates on What State

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I’ve got this dream wedding location in my head, and I’m hoping it’s not imaginary.

You see, we have a really small budget.  But we still really like to party.  We’re not opposed to DIY.  And we want to spend as much time with our friends and family as possible.

So, our A+, #1, ideal wedding venue would be some kind of camp, B&B, or conference center that we could take over for a whole weekend and have everyone stay in the same place!  Someplace that included a beautiful outdoor ceremony site, a kitchen we could use to self-cater, someplace for people to eat, drink, and dance, and cabins or a lodge that everyone could stumble off to after partying all night.

Courtesy of Whitney Martin Photography

I know, we dream big.  But I can’t help hoping that if the amazing Sara and Matt of 2000 Dollar Budget Wedding (a HUGE inpsiration to me!) can do it, than so can we!  So that’s the goal right now.

With that in mind, the first thing we had to do was decide which state to get married in!

Option #1: Ohio. 🙁 See, Zach and I are both from Ohio and so our families naturally assumed we’d be getting married there.  However, while we both agree that Ohio was a great place to grow up, we’ve since broken away and don’t intend to live there long-term again in the future.  Honestly, it’s just kind of (REALLY) boring.  However, most of Zach’s friends and extended family still live in Ohio.  AND wedding stuff is significantly cheaper there.


Option #2: California!  Although we’ve been working summer jobs in Ohio this year, the weeks are quickly ticking by and our planned move to San Diego, California is getting closer!  We both love San Diego, the sun, the waves, the perfect temperature, the proximity to Mexico!  This is where we can finally see ourselves “settling down” (which, for us, may only mean staying somewhere longer than a year, who knows) and where we’d like to get married.  It will be so much easier to plan a wedding close to where we are living.  Plus, I have a lot of friends and family scattered around the country.  When I sketched out my side of the guest list for our wedding, I realized that more than half of my people will have to get on a plane, whether the wedding is in Ohio or not!  Do I really want to make those poor people pay for a plane ticket and take time off to go to Ohio?  Heck no!  The downside to this, however, is that a lot of Zach’s extended family may not be able to afford to come to California.  The brutal-but-true upside to that downside: it would definitely help keep our numbers in check since his family is HUGE.

California, here we come!

Option #3: The Arizona back-up plan.  Before we left on our long Latin American odyssey trip, Zach and I were living in northern Arizona.  See, his parents bought a house out there that they are planning to move to when they retire.  But, they haven’t retired yet!  So we got to live there for a year and house-sit for them!  During that year, we really grew to love the area.  The house is within an hour of the Grand Canyon, Sedona’s red rocks, mountain climbing, swimming holes, and tons of other awesome stuff!  Plus, the house is pretty big and we could definitely clear a section of the yard for the ceremony.  The problem here would be that we’d still be long-distance planning, we’d have to rent all the tables and chairs, and people would have to stay in hotels that are at least 15 minutes away from the house.  But it’s a good backup plan because we know it won’t book up and it’s still an awesome vacation spot.

Arizona: a retiree's paradise

What do you think, people?  We’re clearly leaning towards having the wedding in California, and hoping to find a great venue there.  If you were in our situation, what state would you choose?

  • Ellie

    Hocking Hills could be gorgeous and just what you're looking for, even if it is in "boring" Ohio… http://www.hockinghillschapel.com

  • Tabitha

    As a native 'Ohioan' i vote Ohio. Plus i'm sure there are way more cabins and whatnot that you could choose from to rent out versus california and arizona.

  • Lauren

    I would recommend doing research on venues (cost, vendors, etc) in all states. I understand you may be leaning to California, but being naive to San Diego I know how expensive it is! San Diego is not small budget friendly; I have done research on all types of venues here form the typical to the unheard of, and most "inexpensive" places have little room and huge restrictions on everything!
    I'm no trying to discourage you from the west coast, but it is always a great idea to have a clear picture of the benefits and drawbacks and see what you value the most.

    • Heather

      Co signing this message. Even if you wanted to just have a public park wedding, you're looking at about $1500 in permits and rental fees. That's before you attempt to feed anyone! You really don't get too much bang for your buck here. For a public park wedding, with rentals (chairs, altar) and then feeding 25 people, we were looking at $3k. That's before flowers and dress, or anything else…. Ohio might be the smartest thing.

    • Jennie

      THIS really helped us decide. Figuring out how much each place would cost, figuring out how many months it would take to make that much money, and deciding whether we wanted to wait that long. I had a whole big ol' spreadsheet.

  • Emily Willeman

    Booking plane tickets will eat up a lot of your budget, especially since you'll need to make them round-trip to get back home to California. Yes, stuff will be more expensive there, but in Ohio, you'll have to pay for seating/food/etc. for all the extra family from your hubby's side. You'll also have to pay for those plane tickets! It might end up being about the same cost, so why not just have it where you'll be living so it's easier to plan? Plus, none of the people you'll be inviting can tell you honestly that they've never wanted to come to California. They'll have time to sight-see and I'm sure they'll appreciate that. Yes, asking people to pay to fly out to CA is asking a lot, but I'm sure that your family and friends will be wanting to visit you in your new home anyway, especially if they haven't seen you for awhile. It's a lot to think about, but you don't want to look back on your Ohio wedding and wish that you had just gone ahead and done it in California. And anyway, if after you've done a little bit more investigating once you're in CA for pricing and all that and decide it's just way too expensive, you can always go ahead and start planning for Ohio. (And I'm sure your family will be willing to site walk/handle some things for you, so it won't be as difficult as planning the Arizona wedding!)

    • Carrie

      Exactly!!!!!! I totally understand the west coast is more expensive, but when you factor in the added costs of our flights, more people that end up coming, and the headache of planning from a distance, we're totally willing to make a go of it in CA first! Plus, I know a bunch of our friends are already really excited to make it into a mini-vacay on the beach!

  • 39bride

    Ditto. San Diego is one of the most expensive places to have a wedding. You have to either really pare back on everything from location to decor, food, etc., or have a small wedding just to make it within the budget realm. I'm getting married here in three weeks and my down-to-the-bone budget is still $6,000 for 65+ people. That's with mostly-DIY flowers, DIY catering, DIY reception music & DIY decor (no alcohol), a cheap-but-less-than-ideal church location, no chair/table rentals (do need linen & place-setting rentals), a dirt-cheap $1000 photographer for 4 hours (you can get full coverage for that price but they're not very good), etc. My only splurge was $450 for a string quartet for the ceremony and a dress that I'll be re-selling for half-price (as a classically-trained musician I couldn't bear to go the recording route).

    Seriously, this is NOT the place to have a budget wedding unless you're going minimalist as well.

    • Carrie

      Eek, that's a lot for all DIY! We are planning to go pretty minimalist, self-cater, and use our talented friends for photography. But if prices still are that high, California might not be feasible. We still have to shop around and try though!

      • 39bride

        It's not ALL DIY, just mostly. For example, cake is $300, so is hair & makeup (I am utterly incompetent in this area, and the only ones I could find for under $300 wouldn't do it for less than two or three people, which since I don't have bridesmaids, was still $300 on my shoulders). I also had a pro do the bridal bouquet, two large ceremony arrangements, 5 corsages and 4 boutonnieres for $375 ( a STEAL in this area; we will DIY the reception decor/flowers). We also bought flower girl dresses and a new suit ($150) for the groom since he's lost a lot of weight.

        With a lot of DIY, you can probably do it for about $3000-4000 if you have about 25 guests or really think outside the box (i.e. no flowers, heavy hors d'ourves reception, etc).

  • 39bride

    (Whoops! That was supposed to go under Lauren's comment.)

  • ashleymarie914

    We are currently living in Flagstaff and our wedding is in Sedona. We were originally in a similar jam. My whole family lives in Northern California and all of my fiance's family is in Southern Arizona. We were on the fence about location for the longest time. After doing some online venue searches for both California and Arizona, the first thing I did was picture us on our perfect wedding day. The venue in Sedona really stood out to me. It was somewhere we had been quite a few times before. But California had some runners up.

    Next, I did a rough draft spreadsheet of the prices of everything we would need for a wedding in each state. Sedona still won!

    Lastly, I, too, was worried about how guests would travel to Sedona, but a little research showed that the airport offers shuttles up here and there are hotels/motels/resorts everywhere. I had guilt about making all these people travel hundreds of miles to some secluded place. My worries seemed silly to me when I noticed a bunch of people have "visit Sedona" as one of their bucket list items on Pinterest. I remembered how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful place and I really envisioned us getting married there because we love it there (and its beautiful).

    Go with your initial gut. I saw pros and cons for both California and Arizona. But in the end Sedona was it for us. I am not saying for you to choose Az just because I did. Choose the area that will make you happiest in the long run. This day is about you and your man and that is what matters.

    Good Luck!

    • Carrie

      I'm sure your Sedona wedding will be gorgeous!!! Honestly, I'll be fine with having it in Arizona, if that's how it works out. It's a beautiful state, lots of people want to visit there anyway, and we'll still be closer for planning than we will be to Ohio.

    • Carrie

      Do you mind if I ask you what venue you're using?

  • Ana R.

    I'm from California but moved to Kentucky 10 years ago, I got married last year and we had a pretty tight budget so I knew that a California wedding would be out of the question (I have a huge family) we did what we thought was best and had our wedding in Ky, it was intimate,beautiful and we didn't go broke. I was sad that my huge family and friends in CA couldn't make it, but we did what felt right for us. Good luck in what ever you decide.

  • KatieF

    I would look at Red River Gorge in eastern Ohio. It's stunning, you can camp there and you're going to get so much more for your money. My photographer is actually getting married there this weekend. If you want I can put you in touch with her for advice.

    The more people have to travel, the fewer of them will be able to make your wedding. You said the half of your guest list will already have to travel, why make the other half travel too? It really depends on what your priorities are. Is location most important to you, or is it more important to have the most family possible there?

    I definitely don't agree with the Ohio-bashing. I'm not sure what part you're from, but I moved back to Cincinnati after living in Paris and traveling extensively in India for a few years and I love it. I really appreciate that young people are so politically active in the city, and so creative and entrepreneurial. Because it's so cheap, people are so supportive, and there is such a high concentration of creative industries, it's so so easy to start your own business or make a living as an artist and build whatever life you want and still have money left over to travel the world. Before I left, I didn't realize how rare that was. (Plus, the architecture is fantastic, which doesn't hurt).

    • Carrie

      I'm in no way trying to bash Ohio! It WAS a great place to grow up and it has so many good things, like you said! It's just that my fiance and I are really into a lot of outdoorsy stuff (hiking, climbing, surfing, etc) and while Ohio does have some nice trails and parks, you just can't beat the western US!

  • When you talk about your ideal venue with being able to self-cater and have grounds to yourself, etc…the only place on your list that seems to match that is Arizona (sans guests having to stay in a hotel offsite), so that would have my vote.

  • Chelsea

    As a San Diego bride to be (in November), I would say it is worth a little more to have it in San Diego. We have been planning for almost 2 years now and have had to pay for everything ourselves on a not very big budget. If you're having less than 150 people, you should check out our beautiful downtown venue, The Ultimate Skybox. The views of Coronado and downtown pretty much cover all the decor you would need!

  • Jessie

    We had a similar delima. We moved to Arizona from different parts of California so our families are going to have to travel no matter what. We are going to have it at the campground in hualapai mountain park. It’s beautiful and affordable! We’re renting cabins for people to stay in that night as well 🙂 might not be a convenient location for you, but something like that does exist!

    • Carrie

      Hey, thanks for the tip! That park sounds like a great place for a wedding!

  • JennMarie

    In all honesty, from your comments, it sounds like you would really prefer getting married in California. If that's your heart's desire, then why not go for it? If something is still holding you back from fully committing to California, then really examine whatever it is and have a frank discussion with Zach. Sometimes it takes some digging, but when you figure it out, it's a complete relief!
    As for a venue, maybe you've already thought about this, but what about a park, B&B, campground, etc, in a small town just outside of San Diego? Maybe a site that doesn't get a lot of publicity or traffic. Could you offer to write a post or a feature about them (free advertising) in exchange for a discount or something extra, such as linens, etc.? If people are having to travel anyway, a reasonable site a small distance away from San Diego wouldn't be that much further. As long as you don't mind traveling a short distance to do the planning, then you could really rock a more affordable site with your California wedding desire.
    If you are still worried about family getting there, you may want to create a priority list. Really look at the people you must have with you on your wedding day, such as parents, siblings, etc. Can those people afford, physically and financially, to travel to California and stay there? Can you afford to help them out in those areas if necessary? This examination can really help guide you in one direction or another depending on the results. If you can get your absolute must-have people there, but can't get your extended families there, consider doing a second reception back in Ohio to include those people. Perhaps you could have a themed event that you decided against for your actual wedding, but would still love to do. You could have a slideshow with your wedding pictures and honeymoon pictures, show your wedding video (if you have one), have finger foods and simple sandwiches, and really visit with people in a relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps hosting the 2nd reception could be a gift from some of your family members. My step-sister and her husband did a second reception like this in our hometown and it worked out really well. As a guest, I enjoyed sitting and visiting in a much more relaxed atmosphere too!
    I realize my reply has been very lengthy, but I did want to leave you with two more thoughts. First, no matter what you do, someone will not like it for whatever reason (maybe because they got up on the wrong side of the bed that day). It can be painful and hurtful when they express their opinion, but hang in there and make your day special and meaningful for you and Zach. Someone in your family or friends may let you down or disappoint you, but you will always have each other. Second, at the end of the day, You Will Be MARRIED! Yay! From your posts, you both seem very creative and good at problem-solving, so whatever you come up with will be awesome! 🙂

    • Carrie

      Thanks, JennMarie, for such a great and helpful comment! When I say San Diego, I guess I really do mean the whole SoCal area. We definitely don't expect to find a venue within the city and are in fact hoping for a camp or B&B-type venue just somewhere in the SD proximity.
      Also, the second reception is a great idea! It would be a way for us to celebrate with the extended family that probably won't make it, and would give our parents a chance to maybe invite some of their friends who won't be invited to the real wedding. Sound like an amazing compromise and a way to celebrate with everyone!

  • WOW, these are remarkable photos. Such a beautiful bride, the details are elegant and the venue is unreal. Love, love, love
    the fine attention to detail at the reception, and I especially love the image – must have been a memorable wedding

  • Julia

    We had similar issues with location, and I know several couples who've had to deal with this. What parts of your venue dream are a must, and what parts are ok to pass up? You know what, theknot.com has a great tool that gives you estimates of what expenses you'll have based on your overall budget.

    Anyway, a friend had a second reception back home but it was organized by a family friend (so no pressure on you guys) at that person's house and it was potluck. Very low key and a good way to see family/friends who didn't get to go to your wedding. You can show pictures and even a video if you want. Another friend is getting married on a campsite and guests can camp out….cheaper than cabins.

    You should go with your gut. You'll find that there are a lot of people in your lives who are willing to help out and it will work out whatever location you choose. Anyway, I know I'm biased but I love SoCal 🙂

  • We've photographed some AMAZING beach weddings in Melbourne, the couples have put together really quite cheaply.

    Another great idea is to rent a really nice house for a long weekend (and self catering or having a local restaurant come by)

  • Sara

    I'm a little late to the comment party, but I am long-distance-planning so thought I could help out a bit. I actually wanted a similar wedding to what you are thinking at first (my fiancé and I met while working at a summer camp, enough said.), but fi wanted something a little more formal. For me, the distance has really helped me sift through vendors that aren't worth my time, and also removes the temptation to keep searching for a better vendor at a better price. If I find someone that we can work with, and if that person fits in the budget, we go for it.