When you begin your search for Bay Area wedding venues, you might feel overwhelmed with all the considerations to take into account.
In this article, I’m going to touch on “local destination weddings,” discuss the benefits to a wedding venue outside of the metro Bay area, budget considerations, venue considerations, climate considerations, and so much more to get your wheels turning.
Mountain House Estate takes you into a completely new world, far from the city’s hustle and bustle, and allows you to relax and have an exclusive wedding experience.
Jillian + Justin fell in love with wine country & are San Francisco residents.
Let’s define a local destination wedding.
Let’s first define a destination wedding; any wedding that you and your guests have the choice to stay overnight because you are 1-3 hours from your home. So having your wedding in the North Bay, East Bay, or South Bay can technically be a destination wedding, depending on the traffic.
A local destination wedding near the Bay Area allows your guests to choose to stay overnight or not.
What if you want to have a wedding a few hour’s drive from San Francisco? You don’t have to stay overnight here. Wedding guests who aren’t dancing the night away can get home at a reasonable time.
However, we think that reserving a block of rooms in a good hotel and giving your guests a fun list of local activities before or after your wedding can give them the ultimate experience.
You can let them know what you plan to do before or after your wedding day and even include them in the activities.
A local Bay Area wedding allows you to create unforgettable memories with your closest wedding guests.
A local destination wedding near Sonoma offers you coastal and inland experiences, so you get the best of both worlds. Here’s a quick overview of some of our favorite things:
Our favorite things to do on the Sonoma Coast
– Visit historic Fort Ross
– Check out the rock formations and beach at Sonoma Coast State Park: Schoolhouse Beach, Portuguese Beach & Goat Rock Beach
– Hike at Bodega Head
– Whale watching between January – May
– Hike at Sea Ranch
Our favorite things to do in Inland Sonoma County
– Visit Florence Avenue in Sebastopol
– Walk through the Sonoma Plaza
– Tour the Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma
– Gawk at the redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
– Visit Cornerstone Sonoma (Marketplace offering shops, casual dining, picturesque gardens & winery & distillery tasting rooms)
– Take a stroll through downtown Petaluma (Victorian-era buildings, antiquing, riverfront dining, etc.)
– Go wine tasting and antiquing in Healdsburg (excellent restaurants, wine tasting rooms, boutique shopping, antiques, spas, museums, etc.)
Our favorite places to eat in Sonoma County
– Oakville Market for a great deli lunch
– The Barlow (an outdoor market made up of over 30 restaurants, cafes, and other merchants in Sebastopol)
– Fishetarian Fish Market (Fish & chips, chowder & other favorites, served with beer in a waterfront market with picnic tables.)
– The girl & the fig (upscale and diet-friendly)
– Diavola Pizzeria
– Amy’s Drive-Thru (yes, like the brand of vegetarian mac & cheese that you either love or hate at your local California grocery store)
– Catelli’s (upscale Italian with a twist)
And we can’t talk about Sonoma experiences without talking about wine country.
Some of our favorite areas to go wine tasting are Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Yorkville Highlands. There are tons of tasting rooms within the city and bay views, but it doesn’t compare to a few days in wine country (just our opinion 😉).
Metropolitan Bay Area event spaces usually aren’t “event only.”
Event spaces that aren’t venue only (hotels, wineries, golf courses, museums, restaurants, etc.) make your wedding an afterthought. Their real reason for hosting weddings – to sell your guests their primary business – for wineries, get your guests on their wine club list.
For hotels, it’s to sell rooms. For museums, it’s to increase their guest count. Each has its own priorities, and it’s not your special day.
Metro wedding venues may not be the most distinct or breathtaking backdrop for your wedding photos.
Something else to consider is your wedding photography. After your wedding is said and done, your photography is the most important and visual way to look back on your wedding. You could hire the best wedding photographer in the world, highly rated by Wedding Wire, The Knot, and Martha Stewart Weddings.
But if you don’t have a beautiful backdrop, your wedding photos will look just like everyone else’s photos taken at that location, such as San Francisco City Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts, or the San Francisco Mint.
Most venues in the Bay Area simply can’t prioritize your big day (and they aren’t as experienced in weddings).
And here’s yet another consideration: because these businesses double as Bay Area wedding venues, places like the San Francisco City Hall are essentially “wedding mills” AKA afterthought venues, AKA the Walmart of weddings.
In other words, you’re given an exact time to be in and out.
If you’re running late or stuck in traffic, or a vendor is late, tough luck. It’s no different than the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas; wedding couples in and out, one after another.
Expect to be pushed and rushed.
Or like a hotel or some other venues, there may be other events taking place during yours, which can get hectic.
Recently we heard about two events with timelines ending at the same time. This dumped everyone into the parking lots together, where the resulting traffic jam resulted in fists flying.
Our recommended photographers will go above & beyond to get the perfect shot!
Here’s the harsh reality of having your wedding at a golf course, banquet center, or other public outdoor wedding venues in the Bay Area.
Their main focus will always be their members. At a golf course, for instance, they’ll force you to use their in-house catering.
All-inclusive wedding venue/catering packages reduce your wedding planning time expenditure, but it also reduces your ability to customize and match your wedding vision.
If you get married at a venue such as a golf course in the Bay Area, will it be closed to the public and members during your wedding?
The Oasis (bridal suite) at Mountain House Estate
Here’s the harsh reality about winery venues in the Bay and elsewhere.
First and foremost, their focus is on making and selling wine. Your big day is not their main priority.
Most wineries are owned by a giant, multinational corporation that makes tens of thousands of wine cases under multiple brand names. At wineries, dozens of people are working to make tens of thousands of wine cases that are then forklifted into semi-trucks and shipped across the country. It’s busy and noisy.
When you tour a winery for your wedding, you’re unlikely to be meeting with a person who specializes in weddings.
This person is usually a winery employee with the title of event manager, or wedding coordinator, who has to check with their managers if you have any special requests or needs for your wedding day.
A great photo opportunity outside of our Oak Tree Terrace
Food trucks at our wedding venue
A winery wedding venue wants to sell wine to you and your wedding guests (which is a no-brainer when you think about it).
So why do wineries host weddings? They want to sell wine to you. Most wineries will quote you a low wedding venue fee but require you to buy their wine to serve your guests. And many don’t allow beer or any outside beverages.
How do you feel about wedding crashers?
Winery weddings are famous for them. There are dozens of stories about the public innocently crashing expensive weddings at wineries.
More photo opportunities at Mountain House Estate
Yes – another unique photo opportunity on our property!
Here are some climate considerations – because crazy high winds and your hair/makeup won’t get along. 💇🏼♀️
Okay, this section might be a tad boring to some of you. Still, we’re serious; the weather is so drastically varying in all parts of the Greater Bay Area that we want you to know what you’re getting yourself into, from the smell of garlic lingering in the air to wild gusts of wind.
If you want to skip this section, the gist is that fog, rain, cold weather, congested narrow roads, smog, and other factors can interrupt or ruin your special day.
Because of the greater Bay Area’s proximity to the ocean and mountains, hills, valleys, and other geographic features, every part of the greater Bay Area has its unique microclimate. Here’s what each part of the greater Bay Area is known for.
Bay Area Peninsula
The days are typically warm and mild, but the cold, damp fog moves into many areas at night.
Known for its cold foggy nights when the wind blows in through the Golden Gate Bridge.
Along the waterfront are Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Hayward, Fremont, Martinez, and Alamo. These areas are subject to the Bay’s coastal influence, so breezy and chilly evenings are a reality.
San Jose and Santa Clara get some coastal influence from the finger of San Francisco Bay that touches the South Bay, but this coastal influence is cut off by the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south, except along the Hwy 101 corridor.
Highway 101 goes through a mountain pass towards Morgan Hill, Hollister, San Juan Bautista, and Gilroy to the Greater Bay Area Southern Inland.
The further down this valley you go, the dustier and warmer it will be in the summer.
It goes from warm to scorching hot because it’s further away from the Bay and ocean influence.
It’s dustier because the fields are tilled in the summer for the crops in this agricultural area.
Hollister and the surrounding area are famous for their earthquakes, averaging about two per day of a magnitude 1.5 or higher.
Coastal Marin and Sonoma County offer scenic rolling hills and some ocean views. But with the ocean influence comes the colder evenings and damp fog. The Highway 101 corridor from the Golden Gate Bridge to Petaluma influences The Bay.
Petaluma was once known for chicken ranches and dairies – and still has a few. You can see the cows grazing on the hillsides. But remember, with cows comes odor and flies.
Napa has its coastal influence due to the Napa Valley.
Because of the Napa River and the Napa Valley that runs up to Calistoga, fog can get trapped in the valley; it’s the reason they planted grapes there in the first place.
But moisture and condensation may not be great for your hair, makeup, and wedding photography. As you move up the Napa Valley to St. Helena, Rutherford, and Calistoga, the coastal influence moderates.
A wedding in Napa creates many other challenges. (← 🍷 You need to read this if you’re considering a Napa Wedding Venue).
This area is essentially a bowl rimmed by mountains. Overall, it has a lovely climate and there’s great diversity from Redwood trees to sandy beaches.
Santa Cruz, Aptos, and La Selva Beach
Anytime you get close to the coast, you get coastal influence. This is great because it moderates temperatures. Some areas are known for, and love, their fog – La Selva Beach, for instance. In the afternoons, the fog will come in full force across Highway 1.
I hate wildfires, but it needs to be mentioned here.
Much of the area above Santa Cruz burned in 2020, including Felton, Boulder Creek, and Ben Lomond.
Side note: having a wedding anywhere around Santa Cruz, and you’ll have to deal with the substantial homeless population. Most aren’t aggressive but don’t walk alone if you are female.
Monterey County is home to Castroville, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Cannery Row, Big Sur, and Monterey.
Carmel Valley has the best climate of all of these locations because it’s a valley that doesn’t empty into another area.
The wind isn’t an issue. But, there are two downsides to consider:
It’s a tourist attraction that results in many tourists wandering around with cameras; with that comes bumbling, oblivious foot traffic. You’ll know what I mean when you get trapped behind them on the one-lane roads.
It’s where the rich and famous live – it’s expensive—hotels, food, experiences, and everything costs extra. Fill up your gas tank before you get to Carmel Valley, or you’ll be reaching deep into your pockets.
Just follow Highway 101 north, through Santa Rosa, Larkfield, and Windsor, where you will enter Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.
This area’s is close enough to the Pacific Ocean for temperature moderation but not affected by inland valleys that cause daily wind as you see at the Altamont Pass, as evidenced by the wind turbines.
Even better, the area hasn’t been overrun by corporate wineries like Napa. And you can still find reasonably priced hotels. Unless you want to get fancy and stray at the Macarthur Place (around $700/night)
Mountain House Estate has one of the best microclimates in the area.
Before you even set off for a wedding venue tour, google the average temperature, rainfall, wind, and other climate factors. When you arrive, ask the venue to see how knowledgeable they are. For instance, you’ll notice that our climate information is for Yorkville here at Mountain House Estate.
Our address is Cloverdale, but our weather is more similar to Yorkville.
You see, our mailing address is Cloverdale, but as we are almost 1,000 feet in elevation above Cloverdale and are located right on the mountain pass (Mountain House – get it?) between Alexander Valley and Anderson Valley.
We have a unique microclimate that is most like Yorkville to our west, rather than Cloverdale, Geyserville, and Healdsburg to our south.
On a hot summer day, we’ll be 10 degrees cooler than those down in the valley.
Having your ceremony and reception at Mountain House Estate is a breeze, literally.
It wasn’t until we lived here that we understood the uniqueness of our microclimate. As Mountain House Estate is the mountain pass at 1,220’ in elevation on Highway 128, from here to the Mendocino Coast is downhill.
It’s a 1.5-hour drive to Mendocino’s artist community.
It’s a gorgeous drive and a winding valley the entire way. This provides a cooling breeze on many summer afternoons.
And we’re far enough away from the coast that we don’t get much fog at all.
How do we know so much about all of the different microclimates within the Bay Area?
Hi, John here, owner of Mountain House Estate wedding venue :) So how do I know about these different areas, why do I give this advice? I grew up in Santa Cruz County, Watsonville, and Aptos (Corralitos).
My grandparents lived in Santa Cruz. We rode horses into Felton, Corralitos, through the Santa Cruz mountains, and up to Loma Prieta.
Later in life, I got a job in Livermore and commuted to San Leandro – ick. I traveled weekly through a significant portion of the state.
Later, I had real estate offices in Marina, Monterey, and Carmel, where we serviced Big Sur, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Laguna Seca, and Seaside. I lived in Carmel and Marina – just north of Fort Ord.
So later in life, I had a choice, where do I want to live?
I got out a map, crossed off areas I had visited and didn’t care for (high humidity, tornadoes, snow, metroplexes, desert), and decided I wanted to stay in the Bay Area, specifically in Mendocino county. And here I am. Don’t tell anyone; I’m trying to keep the secret of this beautiful place to myself.
A wedding at Mountain House Estate is the best way to have the ultimate wedding experience without compromise.
You will be happy and walk away with a lifetime of memories. That’s why we don’t have to use crazy sales tactics, slash pricing, or other desperate measures that some venues do to lure you in.