11 Things to Look Out for When Touring California Wedding Venues

Answer these 11 questions for yourself when searching for California wedding venues

Your wedding venue is likely the first (and most important) choice for your wedding day. What look and style do you want to achieve on your wedding day? Your venue is one of the most critical roles in this. When you’re looking at California wedding venues, all have one thing in common – they will likely account for nearly half of your budget. 

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A beautiful moment during a mother-son dance

What are the most sought-after types of California wedding venues?

Whether you’re traditional or like to take your road, there’s a wedding venue to match your taste. In California, most wedding couples will choose a wedding venue style from these options below:

  • Hotels/Banquet Halls
  • Barns/Farms/Ranches
  • Beaches
  • Wineries
  • Places of Worship
  • Country Clubs
  • Historic Areas
  • Destination Venues
  • Museums & Galleries

While you may not have your theme picked out during your California wedding venues’ search, you’re likely narrowing down your list of venue types. If you’re finding this difficult, start by narrowing out what you don’t want. And here’s a hint from us: choose an “event only” location to avoid a disaster.

Seeing a venue firsthand is the best way to make a decision or narrow down your list. Once you can picture your wedding, those other details will fail into place. 

If you’re starting to hunt for a venue 1-1.5 years (or even earlier) before your big day, you might not have much more than a ballpark budget and a date in mind. If you’ve never had to pick a venue for an event before, you may feel unprepared. But we’re here to help guide you with expert advice, provide resources and recommendations to you, and guide you throughout your planning journey. 

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The bride, mother of the bride, and flower girl in the Oasis (Bridal Suite)

For starters, read this blog and when you start going on-site tours, answer these 11 questions for the California wedding venues you’re seeking.

1. Will this venue help me to stay within my budget?

Surprises are great for proposals but not so fun with it comes to your wedding venue cost. In your venue search, make sure that your venue is entirely upfront about budgeting and any added costs.

You may opt for an all-inclusive or wedding package option from your venue or may want something more customized. Make sure the venue is open to adjusting packages to suit you.

If you’re on the budget-conscious side, look into these options:

>>And if you’re considering a backyard wedding or similar DIY venue, read up about the pros and cons of a DIY wedding here.<<

Not all venues offer the same inclusions. If there were an analogy for wedding venues to quality, it’d be something like, “are you getting a Range Rover or a Toyota Corolla?” (Will my guests be using porta potties in a barn, or are there quality bathroom facilities?)

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 For instance, if your venue is at a barn, do they provide restrooms? Will you need to provide climate control, lighting, and generators?

  • If your venue is outdoors, will you need to shell out extra money for a tent, permits, dance floor, or high-powered sound system?
  • If you’re marrying at a hotel, will you have to pay extra for corkage fees, external vendor fees, power drop charges, and overtime?

What about the damage caused by guests, alcohol-related instances? Yes, these can affect your budget down the road.  These are just a few examples of hidden fees or surprises that can come later from California wedding venues.

At Mountain House, we cover everything from generators to restrooms and lighting. We’re so comprehensive; we might even be a little overboard because we’ve seen it all. We consider events such as wildfires, earthquakes, other natural disasters, and even human-disasters (such as your Uncle Frank who drank too much and is starting a fight on the dance floor). We prepare for everything to make sure your day is seamless. And those things we don’t cover (such as event insurance that we’ll recommend you to purchase in case Uncle Frank does indeed cause a scene) will be factored into your overall budget, so you aren’t overwhelmed or surprised.

And for more ways to save money upfront at our venue, check out this article.

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2. Is the venue sharing all facts with you upfront?

Look out for venue limitations and restrictions when researching and on your site tour. You shouldn’t sign a contract with a venue until you feel completely comfortable and knowledgeable about the venue’s guidelines. When you’re on tour, you’ll likely be in awe at some of the unique features, but don’t forget about essential facts such as bathrooms, payment options, weather issues, and security needs.

Make sure you know exactly when your reception needs to end. If you want to party late, not all venues allow that. At Mountain House Estate, we encourage you to throw an after-party off-site, and here’s why.

A few other examples of questions you should ask include:

If the venue has restrictions, make sure they’re sincere and upfront so you don’t face disappointment down the road. Talking about your wants and needs on your wedding day will open up the dialogue, and the venue may be flexible on some policies or rules in place. 

Don’t be afraid to ask. A venue should be willing to consider your request or provide you with a reason for their answer if your request is within reason. Some things that may be fun at a party with 10 millennial friends (Beer Pong), can go terribly wrong with 150 wedding guests of various ages.

Our goal is not to lock you into a contract; we want to give you the perfect place to celebrate your love. We’ll disclose the deposit cost, cancellation clause, conditions, and other policies so that you are entirely comfortable with signing an agreement with us. And we’ll do everything in our power to go above and beyond your wedding day expectations.

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Wedding ceremony at our favorite spot, the Oak Tree Terrace

3. Does the venue provide you valuable resources to make wedding planning easier for you?

When searching for California wedding venues, you should want to work with a venue that provides resources to make your life easier. Expect them to be a wedding expert and nothing less.

We want to provide valuable resources to you, from relationship advice to your wedding checklist and beyond. Here are a few useful resources on our website that we’ve written:

If you want more, head over to our blog page to check out our other resources, such as information about our venue, real weddings at Mountain House Estate, and martial advice. 

Something else we provide on our tour is a comprehensive look at what the foliage and outdoor areas will look like at the time of year your wedding will take place. We want you to be able to picture your wedding and know exactly what to expect.

Speaking of, check out some of our favorite photo opportunities at our wedding venue here.

And if you want to get an idea of what the property looks like before you commit to a tour, visit our 3D/360 tour page

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The bride and father exiting for the ceremony

4. Is the venue completely honest in its communication?

This ties into question #2, “Is the venue sharing all facts with you upfront?” but it also has to do with a gut feeling. Always trust your gut and if you feel that the venue is hiding something from you, ask and don’t avoid it.

We know that you want the location to look the same on your wedding day (unless booking in another season) without any unexpected changes. For instance, is the venue planning on upgrades, remodeling, or landscape changes before your wedding? Make sure you talk about any of this upfront, so you know if a feature will be removed or changed.

Is the wedding venue for sale or lease to others?  Will you be dealing with the person giving the tour, or some other person in the corporate entity when planning your wedding?  If the venue does sell, what happens to your wedding?  It’s an important question with the effects of Covid on wedding venues.  Some in Sonoma County and Mendocino County venues have gone out of business, others are in escrow, a few are actively listed on the MLS for sale, and some are having severe financial problems that may lead to closure.  Who will you be working with for your wedding day – a newbie venue owner, or an experienced venue owner?  If they offer you a big discount for booking or want ⅓ or more of the venue fee upfront, you might want to think about why they need the cash?

When we talk to our wedding couples and planners, we communicate all limitations as clearly as possible, so you have no surprises down the road. Our venue is very accommodating, from food trucks to BYOB and late-night snack options. Still, we also don’t allow certain things such as fireworks and sparklers (due to wildfire danger in Northern California, and California law).

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Jillian & Justin taking their post-ceremony photos while their guests enjoy a cocktail hour

When speaking to venues, make sure they share details about electricity needs, lighting, sound systems, and setup procedures required for events. You might want to these questions:

  • Do you have a footprint limit for outdoor tents?
    • Hint: we can host up to 250 guests.
  • Does the County require a permit for tents and governmental inspections?
    • Mendocino County doesn’t require a permit, but our Fire Marshal does inspect for safety.  We have never failed an inspection.
  • Will the outdoor electric setup accommodate the caterer’s refrigeration and stoves? Will there be enough space for my caterer to prep the food?
    • Hint: we have two kitchen facilities for your caterer’s ease of access. No extra costs from your caterers end because of our lack of facilities.
  • Will there be other events taking place or strangers walking around during my wedding (Think hotels, wineries, tasting rooms, equestrian facilities, golf courses, fairgrounds, etc.)
    • Hint: never. It’s your day. And it’s all yours here. 
  • Is the venue handicap accessible? What adjustments can be made if not?
    • Hint: We are handicap accessible.
  • What is your capacity for my ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, and dance floor?
    • Hint: we can host 125 indoors seated at tables, 200 for the seated reception, and 250 standing indoors. Outdoors, we can host 250 guests.  You get both.
  • Speaking of, do we have to “flip” the room, or can we have our ceremony, reception, cocktail hour, etc. in separate locations?
    • Hint: We have many locations for you to choose from, and you will never have to “flip” a room for the next event—NO work on your wedding day.  Our belief is you should be a guest at your wedding.
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Our venue is situated on 40+ acres of rolling hills, Redwood and Oak trees, and gorgeous views

5. Is the venue accessible, and does it have transportation options?

Logistics play such an essential part of your wedding day. Transportation options and parking access should be a deciding factor when looking at California wedding venues. At Mountain House Estate, we have a large all-weather parking lot for guests and are located off a highway, not a 4×4 dirt road or something not easily accessible that many “barn venues” offer.  Our roads are wide, and can easily be used by party bus transportation providers.

For example, if you wanted to make your grand entrance in a classic car (see below photo), will the classic vehicle be able to make it down the road to the venue without busting an oil pan?

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We have resources available to get your guests to and from your wedding, from limousine to shuttle services. And you won’t have to worry about your guests getting lost or not being able to drive home after drinking at your reception.

And if you do want to drive, it’s pretty scenic. Check out this google review left by Nadine Alcala:

“The drive from Davis to the Mountain House Estate is just two hours, but each mile takes you away from the more congested Highway 80 to a quieter and more scenic ride heading north on Highway 101.  Just tune in to the San Francisco classical musical station and enjoy the scenery as it gradually shifts from rounded hills and ranches to patches of forest and vineyards under wide expanses of cloud-filled sky.  The last half hour is a 10-mile climb above Cloverdale to the cooler mountain top vista.  As you leave the city stress behind, you’ll relax into the deep quiet of the country and arrive refreshed. The natural beauty of the oak woodland welcomes you, and life slows down.  Ahhhh.  What a perfect spot for a wedding or special event.”


Jillian & her bridesmaids posing for a group photo

6. Does the venue work with you to help you visualize your wedding day?

A venue should be able to paint a clear picture of your wedding day. When planning your wedding, the venue should take great care of you to make things less stressful. But don’t be blinded by “special treats” at venues such as champagne, lunch, or other treats. Keep the logistics and your wedding day vision in mind – although an excellent snack or drink is ideal for keeping your brain thinking straight during a tour!

When touring the venue, make sure you’re looking at all of the different photo opportunities, backdrops, ceremony spaces, reception spaces, and gardens if applicable. The venue should also show you their top portrait locations and discuss lighting and weather (read our article about sunset photography at our venue here). From here, you can figure out your “must-have” pose list at the venue to discuss with your future photographer.

Speaking of, here’s our best advice on how to choose a wedding photographer

In the event of inclement weather, will the venue be able to accommodate your guests indoors? Better yet, can you make the most of a bad weather situation at this venue? We can help with that. Check out these photos below.

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Ensure the venue shows the confidence and ability to meet challenges that may arise during your wedding day. If the venue doesn’t offer, ask them to snap some photos of you as you tour the venue so you can keep it in your planning journal (or on Instagram if you choose the venue!)

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A father-daughter dance on our Patio

7. Does the venue have fantastic references and rave reviews?

We know you want us to have your most significant desires for your wedding day at heart, whether you are looking for a venue to honor your recycling policy or a solid backup plan in the even tor rain or snow.

And we can tell you all about why we are the best of all California wedding venues all day, but we think our couples say it best.

And did we mention we are the only wedding venue, let alone wedding industry business that is Diamond Certified?

You can check out other recent awards, press, and news on our website here.

Many of our wedding couples were guests at a friend’s wedding at Mountain House Estate. We love having you come back to celebrate your love, and it means so much to us that you choose us time and time again.

And we also have excellent referrals from vendors who have worked here:

“From a videographer’s perspective: this place is a beautiful backdrop for filming a love story. From the bridal sweet to the dance floor...every scene is lovely. It’s a versatile place, looking grand in the day and night, and the style is rustic modern, easily accommodating almost any wedding theme. The view is stunning around the venue. The place is well organized, spotlessly clean, and the management is superb. John and Lane are awesome!! I would recommend this venue to couples in the area.” – Katie B. Images.

“I’m a local wedding vendor (DJ), and our company (Nor Cal Pro Sound) has had the pleasure of handling quite a few weddings at Mountain House Estate.  A must say, not only is it a fantastic wedding/ event location with its many options and amazing scenery, but Lane and John (owners) are so great to work with.  They’re always available during each event, and their upkeep of the property is impeccable.  If you’re looking for a unique yet classy venue, this is the place to be!  Thank you, Lane and John, for bringing Mountain House Estate into the wedding and event into the wine country wedding scene.  Here’s to many years and many happy clients!” – NorCal Pro Sound.

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Outside of the Oak Tree Terrace, we have a gorgeous garden and shed featuring antique hubcaps and a vintage tractor

8. Is the venue legally permitted and insured?

Not sure what this means? If the venue you’re looking at is hard to find online, doesn’t have a website, or doesn’t prove that they are a legally permitted wedding venue, you could be in trouble. Mountain House Estate has saved many wedding couples who decided on a venue that was ultimately shut down due to not having the right permits to operate as a wedding venue. It happens more than you’d think. Northern California has hundreds of wedding venues; not only are they not created equally, but yes, some operate illegally. The last thing you want is for your venue to shut down before your wedding or, god forbid, the night before or on the day of.

If you look around at venues, and you don’t see numerous fire extinguishers, ramps for the disabled, ADA bathroom provisions, lighted Exit signs with back up lights should the power to out, and large access and turn around areas for fire trucks and ambulances – they likely do not have the proper permits to operate as an event venue.  It’s worth looking into by simply calling the County Planning Department and asking.  Unfortunately, those that are operating without permits will tell you stories that make the sound legitimate, but stories are just that, stories.  Permits are facts.

We are legally permitted and insured to host your wedding. Before obtaining a building permit, a Major Use Permit UR 2014-0006, expiring in 2034, was obtained from the County of Mendocino in California. Also, Mountain House Estate is licensed and insured. The permit details the approved uses for the site. It includes hours of operation, types of business activities allowed, maximum size, type, and a total number of events.

Speaking of insurance, we also require that your vendors are insured for your wedding and understand our venue guidelines.  All of this is to safeguard you, your wedding, your wedding guests, and prevent any unforeseen circumstances.

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Jillian’s bridesmaids in matching silk robes getting ready in the Oasis

9. Do you feel that the venue will WOW your guests?

We know that your main goal is to share your love and celebrate with your friends and family. So much of that depends on the venue, catering, and wedding planner.

We have a list of hotel, dining, and activity recommendations to wow your guests beyond our venue. Sonoma wine country’s relaxed vibe has so much to offer, and we want to give you the best experience possible. 

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A romantic dance on the lawn under the starlit sky

10. Is the venue flexible to accommodate you and offer inclusions to save you time and money?

Some California wedding venues charge for outside vendor fees, parking, bathrooms, rentals if they don’t offer any. This may come as a surprise (better now than later), but not all services and equipment are included in your rental fee at several California wedding venues. Sadly, you can get nickeled and dimed for outside vendor fees, tables, chairs, linens, a dance floor, cake cutting fees (why is this still a thing!?), corkage fees, required wine purchases, valet service, parking, and so much more. 

All these additional venue charges can add up and destroy your budget, so save yourself a big headache by understanding what’s included in the venue rental fee and before you sign a contract.

Some of our inclusions and amenities are:

  • Two separate dressing areas (The Oasis and the Hangout)
  • a dance floor
  • a podium and stage
  • tables and chairs
  • Custom made lighting
  • full kitchen facilities
  • a large parking lot
  • air-conditioned/heated indoor ceremony and reception locations
  • patio lounge furniture
  • bistro lighting
  • market umbrellas (10)
  • an on-site venue manager on the day of your wedding
  • Landscape and fountain lighting

A few other things we offer are:

  • Late hours
  • Food trucks
  • Spirits allowed
  • No corkage fees
  • No cake cutting fees
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One of our couple’s favorite photo opportunities on our property

11. Can you picture yourself having your wedding at the venue?

This is the ultimate question you have to ask yourself and it may be a gut feeling. But you can also ask yourself these questions (some we already asked and answered above):

    • Is the venue available for my date?
      • Or is it such an incredible venue that I’m willing to change my date?
    • Does it have a great variety of photo opportunities that I can look back on time and time again?
    • Will my photos be unique to my wedding, or the same as all the other couples?
    • Is the location ideal for my guests and me?
    • Do the online reviews support everything the team and website say?
    • Does it fit my style?
    • Does it fit my budget?
      • Or is it such an incredible venue that I want to create wiggle room elsewhere to host my wedding here?
    • Will it be able to handle my guest capacity? (Hint: we can host up to 250 guests)
    • Was the venue love at first sight?
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A greater photo opportunity on our property at the vintage tractor by the Oak Tree Terrace

Don’t leave it up to chance: pick the California wedding venue that serves your best interest with a dedicated team dedicated to your happiness.

Not all wedding venues are created equally, and we understand that it’s overwhelming to search for wedding venues when you aren’t exactly sure what questions to ask and what to look for. We wish you the best in your California wedding venues’ search and are here if you have any questions or need anything from us.

Although we are not technically a wedding venue in the central Bay Area, Mountain House Estate is a short drive (1.5 hours from the Golden Gate Bridge) and provides the quintessential Sonoma wine country experience in our North Bay Area location.. We know you’re looking at a range of options of wedding venues in Bay Area, but if you’re looking for the best experience possible, Mountain House Estate is ideal for you.

You may also be looking at Napa wedding venues, Sonoma wedding venues, East Bay Area (Oakland, Livermore, Winters, Pleasanton) wedding venues, South Bay Area (Hollister, San Jose, Carmel, and Carmel Valley) wedding venues, and San Francisco wedding venues. Picturing your wedding at the right venue is so much more important than its physical location, so keep this in mind so you don’t narrow your search down to a specific area.

The most crucial distinction in choosing from wedding venues in Bay area is type: barns, hotels, banquet halls, galleries, museums, outdoor gardens, wineries, farms, and much more. And although we think your wedding should be at “event only” (read more here), the decision is ultimately up to you and the type of atmosphere you want at your wedding location.

Some venues are wedding reception or wedding ceremony-only venues.  Making your guests travel between locations, and sometimes, on different days.  At our wedding location, we have multiple areas for the wedding ceremony, where you get to choose the wedding guest experience, and the backdrop to your wedding vows.  We’ve crafted three different wedding reception areas, all side by side, where you can design the day of your dreams.  And this doesn’t even include our over-the-top bar.  No need to rent a converted horse trailer to provide bar services to your guests.

Let us take the stress out of choosing the location or your wedding day; contact us to schedule a tour to discuss everything included at Mountain House Estate. We’ll help you make a confident, informed decision about where to have your wedding, even with all the choices available for wedding locations in San Francisco.

Wedding Venues California

Create the perfect flow for your celebration at Mountain House Estate. On our private, 40-acre estate, you’ll find multiple areas in which to host the celebration of your dreams. With both indoor and outdoor spaces, you can make your day exactly as you want it.

California wedding venues

Located in the California Wine Country, Mountain House Estate is a premier wedding and event venue featuring a rustic barn, sophisticated event center, and multiple outdoor wedding areas.  We offer multiple ceremony and reception locations, including several backdrops on the huge lawn next to the pond, at the picturesque Oak Tree Terrace, on the fully landscaped patio with bandstand, or in the heated and air-conditioned event center. The bar features a 21′ redwood, live edge bar with custom-built lighting.

Get ready in luxury! We have two distinctly different prep rooms – The Oasis and The Studio. Both are awesome.

Mountain House Estate can accommodate 125 seated at tables (included) indoors, or 250 seated at tables outdoors and include tables and chairs to accommodate 150 guests. We have a special area for a 40×50 tent or shade structure, and there’s plenty of parking. Caterers enjoy our multiple kitchen spaces and separate vendor parking. Our pricing is based on your guest count, but we can accommodate up to 250.

Only 30 minutes from Healdsburg, enjoy the Yorkville Highlands Viticultural Area and try the wines. You’ll be amazed at how many stars you can see at night in this rural location. We love it here and think you will too. Video’s and tours available