Significant chunks of most brides’ budget revolve around a few key elements of a wedding: venue, food/booze, and photography.
If you can save on one, two, or all three of these things you can really cut your costs and so Matt and I had a goal of saving on all three!
Originally we planned on having a small wedding somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring of 2012, giving us a long engagement with plenty of time to save! So we spent many holiday visits up in the bay searching for an appropriate venue. We were really hoping some nice friend would volunteer their backyard, but that was a pipe dream. San Franciscans rarely have backyards, and even if they do, most can’t hold 100 people!
If you live in the Bay Area, there are plenty of gorgeous venues for you to choose from, but most venues charge a LOT, even the offbeat, less traditional ones, such as theaters, restaurants and community clubhouses.
After deciding we didn’t want to wed in a church or celebrate in a hotel or banquet hall, and with a budget of $3000 MAX for our venue we realized that this was going to be hard to find unless we compromised on the day, time and/or length of the event. We considered having an afternoon wedding to save on costs but we really wanted an evening dance party. Additionally, there is the whole risky weather aspect to the bay, and San Francisco in particular, so we needed a venue which could accommodate a group of 100 both inside and out in case of rain.
Option 1: The Box SF
This is a gorgeous space on the 3rd floor of the historic 1920s William Randolph Hearst former printing plant. It has huge windows, high ceilings and gorgeous wood throughout, and is located in downtown San Francisco. The negative for us was that they could only fit about 90 people comfortably as the space is relatively small, and having both the ceremony and reception there would require set up and breakdown in order to transition the room. Plus parking is tough. Their evening rate from 4pm-12am was $2400 for the space and they required you to use a caterer off their preferred list. The price was within our budget but still felt like a lot for such a small space. No box for us! Props to Alex the venue manager though, he is a super cool dude.
Option 2: UC Berkley Botanical Gardens
Just over the bridge on the UC Berkeley campus are the gorgeous botanical gardens, with a redwood grove amphitheater. While the ceremony space was perfect, the reception space was pretty disappointing. A small building with a smaller patio left little room for a dance floor, and the UC charges for guest parking (booo). Even having the wedding on a Friday meant a rate of $225 per hour plus $300 per hour for the amphitheater, plus fees like parking, cushion rental and others = $1,800-$2,500 for the total site fee. They also had a preferred caterer list as well as many rules and regulations. Basically, a lot of nickel and diming here. Sorry pretty gardens, not for us.
Option 3: Pie Ranch
Sorry I don’t have a better picture to show you. Pie Ranch is a working educational farm that only recently has opened up as a venue for a few events a year. It’s way down south of SF along the Pacific Coast Highway near Pescadero. They have a large meadow as well as a rustic barn for event use and there are very few rules since they are not a traditional venue. Bring your own food and booze, etc. Plus the site fee goes toward their program for farming internships, win win!
Now the downside: port-o-potties. That’s right, no toilets. Plus, the ranch is quite far from…well, everything. Finding reasonable hotels and easy transportation nearby proved difficult. Also, the ranch was on the high end of our budget (I no longer have the exact quote but it was close to $3000). The ranch is a really awesome venue though and I wish those other issues weren’t such a big deal, but they were for us (Grammy can’t use a port-o-potty!)
We visited several other venues and researched hundreds more! Those three were our top contenders though, and none of them were quite right. Cue despair 🙁 Why couldn’t we find an awesome and cheap venue in the bay area?! By February of this year we started to give up hope…maybe we wouldn’t be able to do the wedding in SF, maybe we should look around LA and consider bumping up the date to late Summer of 2011? (Before we move to SF in the Spring 2012.)
So I began my research and found several venues down here in LA that were much more affordable, but still nothing that was a perfect match. So I turned to my trusty friend Craigslist! After a quick search for “venue” (literally) I found The Tuscan Villa:
(For more professional shots of the venue check out Photography by Charise.)
Our venue is a private estate in Simi Valley, CA which is rented for all kinds of events, retreats, etc. They only host a few weddings a year so they are not listed on traditional venue resources, and mainly advertise through Craigslist and VRBO. (Click here to search VRBO for unique wedding locations.) Lucky us! This place is gorgeous; it features a large house with 4 bedrooms and 3 baths so the entire bridal/groom’s party plus ourselves can stay there. The house has an indoor pool, indoor and outdoor hot tub and a spa! Plus a two bedroom separate guesthouse (which Matt’s parents and grandmother will use).
A landscaped grassy area surrounded by roses and two fountains is perfect for the ceremony, and market lights line the wide driveway and brick entrance with a large tree shading the area, perfect for the reception! They also have a separate building called “the crystal room” which is all glass and can seat up to 70 people inside, perfect for the rehearsal dinner! The estate is rented by the weekend, so we will have it from Friday-Sunday, and they include over 100 chairs, 25 tables, a dance floor, plates, silverware and glasses, heat lamps and a bar! Plus a large parking area just south of the estate. All this for $2750!
For the same cost as 6 hours at a venue in SF we get a private space for the whole weekend, accommodations, and we only have to rent linens! How awesome is that. We can bring our own food and booze, again allowing us to save money, and provide lodging for our friends and family.
Craigslist again for the win!
Did you have lots of trouble finding the right venue at the right cost?
Editor’s note: During this time of quarantine and social distancing, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Learn more here.