Santa Cruz Wedding Venues

January 18, 2020

Awesome places to get married in Santa Cruz County!

People have been flocking to Santa Cruz for holiday weekends and getaway trips from everywhere in the Bay Area and beyond for decades. And that’s not surprising, we have gorgeous beaches, cliffs, and redwoods. It’s for that reason it’s quite popular as a wedding destination too. I’ve been photographing weddings in Santa Cruz since 2013. I figured it’s time to put all my favorite venues into one place in an effort to catalogue all the options and hopefully make someone’s life a little easier when planning. None of these locations are sponsored, but I have photographed them all!

This list will be updated as I continue to have weddings at new sites. If you are a venue and want to be added to this list, reach out!

List Arrangement

Order is arranged from North County to South County. Private Property Venues are first, County Parks second, and State Parks are third. Elopements and intimate weddings without reception on site are fourth.

What is there to do in Santa Cruz?

In Santa Cruz County, the fun only begins at the beach. With over 14 state parks, wineries, museums, farmer’s markets, and outdoor activities like hiking, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, canopy tours and mountain biking, there is plenty to choose from. Visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Roaring Camp Railroads, the Santa Cruz Wharf, UCSC, and lots more!

What is the weather like?

Santa Cruz has mild weather throughout the year, experiencing a warm-summer mediterranean climate characterized by cool, wet winters and warm, mostly dry summers. Due to its proximity to Monterey Bay, fog and low overcast are common during the night and morning hours, especially in the summer. Santa Cruz frequently experiences an Indian summer, with the year’s warmest temperatures often occurring in the autumn.
Source: wikipedia

What’s the Santa Cruz vibe like?

Santa Cruz is known for its moderate climate, natural environment, coastline, redwood forests, alternative community lifestyles, and socially liberal leanings. It is also home to the University of California, Santa Cruz, a premier research institution and educational hub, as well as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an oceanfront amusement park operating continuously since 1907.
Source: wikipedia

Santa Cruz Wedding Venues – Best Places to get Married

Private Property Venues – Santa Cruz County, CA

1. River House – Ben Lomond, CA

A private yet easily accessible forest getaway; a blend of rustic and country estate with gardens, grass, an epic barn, and redwoods

I had been driving past River House for years and never even realized it was there because all the trees, it’s a true hidden gem and part of what makes this the perfect forest wedding venue. Awesome privacy, convenient location, redwood forest paradise, what more can you want? Last year I had the opportunity to photograph a gorgeous spring wedding there. It is a totally great option for Santa Cruz wedding venues. It is fantastically beautiful, the gardens on the north end feel almost tropical, there are flowers of every kind and color and huge green ferns. There is a magical redwood grove on the south end of the property. It is also completely secluded from passersby. Ceremony location options include the vast insanely green 10,000 sqft. lawn with gazebo between the gardens and the house, the epic 3,500 sqft. barn next to the redwood trees, or even the redwood grove itself. This venue is best for a guest count for up to 250. An exclusive venue of The Wedding Connection.

Pro tip: If you have a large guest list, or just don’t want to drive on windy mountain roads, arrange for a shuttle for efficient people movement

2. Felton Guild – Felton, CA

Easily accessible intimate redwood grove, with lawn reception area and on site restaurant catering

Felton Guild is always magical. You can fit a decent amount of guests into a pretty intimate area, which is great so there’s no huge lengths to walk between locations. There is a small bridal room available to store your stuff. There’s a cool fountain with a cobblestone garden area. Guests walk up a few stairs to get to the ceremony area. There’s a great redwood grove with raised stage so everyone can see, guests are seated on benches surrounding. A short hop over to the extended redwood area for cocktail hour, there’s ample spots for hanging out, grabbing some awesome food, and plenty of cute little areas to sit. It’s another short hop right over to the lawn area for the reception. This area gets full sun until mid-afternoon, then the light streams down through the branches. One of the great Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Bonus: Felton Guild is right across the street from Henry Cowell Redwoods (in case you want to take more extensive forest photos)

Pro tip: Even in summer it gets cold at night under the trees, arrange for some heat lamps

3. Roaring Camp – Felton, CA

Vintage steam train, epic redwoods, sunny reception area with huge barn

Roaring Camp is sprawling. You will always have enough space here. There is an old west town, barn, huge lawn, steam train, and redwoods. Seriously how much more could you possible pack into one place? Roaring Camp can accommodate wedding guest counts for up to 300-500 depending on which particular location(s) you use. For the cathedral grove ceremony, you ride the steam train up the hill and get married under old growth redwoods. You can also have the ceremony next to the old schoolhouse on a huge lawn. The reception happens back at Bret Hart Hall, which is a huge barn that does very well with twinkle lights. Food is made in house as well. Ample parking. Roaring camp offers many experiences and is one of the great Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Pro tip: Arrange to have water/champagne available for everyone if taking the train, it is quite warm in summer and fall in the mountains

4. Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH)

Great multi level museum in downtown Santa Cruz, colorful courtyard ceremony spot, wandering cocktail, some seated dinner areas, a rooftop garden, and of course ART

The Santa Cruz MAH is one of a kind, a totally awesome space. There are so many options for intimate weddings all the way up to 250. The outside courtyard is artful and inspiring, with cool things to look at in every direction. For a standing ceremony, or maybe seated if a smaller guest count, the courtyard is perfection. Great light, great colors, and an open air space even though you are right downtown. It’s perfect for a wandering dinner, there’s also space for a seated meal. Dancing happens inside on the main level, guests can watch from all around, and even from the three story open staircase. Take in the views from the rooftop garden area for sunset. It’s probably the most central of all Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Bonus: rooftop garden – the only rentable rooftop in downtown Santa Cruz

Pro tip: You can get any local restaurant or taqueria to cater, and it’s BYOB as well – if the party is so jumpin and you happen to run out early, there’s a Trader Joe’s right across the street

5. Laili Restaurant

An intimate space in downtown Santa Cruz, private outdoor courtyard with jungle like greenery and Mediterranean / Afghan food

Laili is a lovely restaurant right in downtown Santa Cruz. For guest counts of 20-100, it’s perfect for an intimate celebration. The ceremony space is outside in the courtyard garden area. With ample ferns and climbing vines, it’s truly a private getaway within the city. The restaurant has a warm, calm mood, with muted soft lighting and tons of seating. And the food! Okay, the food is fantastic. I’ll just say that before I had a wedding here I really, really, thought I hated eggplant. After I had a wedding here, I’ve been itching to go back *just to have their eggplant pomegranate dish*. The hummus, the bread, the Mediterranean salads, it’s a smorgasbord of delights. One of the best restaurants of the Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Bonus: Ample parking in the garage right across the street

6. Hollin’s House

Some of the best views from the hills of Santa Cruz, it’s an elegant 20’s era grand house over the Pasatiempo golf course

Hollin’s House just feels good. Perched a top the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountain, you can see down the golf course, into town, to the Boardwalk, and all the way to the Pacific on a clear day. There’s a small bridal room to get ready in. The ceremony site is under a gazebo and overlooks the grand view of the area. Cocktail hour happens underneath a lovely oak tree, which has been recently decorated with twinkle lights. Dinner happens outside for great views, and dancing happens in the large ballroom complete with chandeliers. There’s an awesome fountain out front, really great spot for sunset photos. Overall one of the top Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Pro tip: Arrange for heat lamps even if getting married in the summer, the coastal climate is variable

7. Cowell Ranch Hay Barn at UCSC

A gorgeously rebuilt modern barn with medium sized grounds, sprawling fields, and epic views from the hilltop ceremony site

The Hay Barn at UCSC is just awesome. I love this area of Santa Cruz. It feels good just to breathe the air and take in the surroundings. Walk up to the hilltop ceremony site and take in the hugely wide views of Santa Cruz, the mountains, and the ocean. Cocktail hour happens outside the barn as the sun sets into the hills. Dinner and dancing happens inside the barn, and can easily fit up to 200 people. Cafe lights perfectly accent the space. Incredibly nice staff, all around one of my faves of the Santa Cruz wedding venues!

Bonus: You can also easily have redwood photos if doing a first look and couples photos before the ceremony, I know all the best spots ;)

Pro tip: You should definitely hire The Whiskey Chaser for all your specialty boozing needs

8. The Dream Inn

Beach side resort offering panoramic views of the ocean, modern meets California coastal vibes, right next to the boardwalk

The Dream Inn is probably THE place everyone wants to stay when they visit Santa Cruz. It’s directly on the beach, and right next door to historic Santa Cruz Boadwalk, as well as the wharf. It’s only minutes away from downtown, and a short drive to the redwoods. Ceremonies happen right on the sand on Cowell Beach. The reception 3,500 sqft. reception ballroom offers great views of the water. The music can keep bumpin till 11pm, and the room can hold up to 200 people.

Bonus: Dinner menu is all sustainable food, vegetarian and vegan options available too

9. Hotel Paradox

A modern alternative to traditional

Hotel Paradox offers a great space for wedding receptions. The poolside lounge offers casual elegance for your cocktail hour and reception. With several fire pits and many unique sitting areas, your guests will love the chill vibe. Inside there are several ballrooms which are perfect for dinner, and dancing into the night.

Pro tip: Arrange for some colored uplighting for the reception area and dancing, it looks super cool and enhances the whole feel

10. Chaminade

A blend of old world and contemporary, high on the hill overlooking the ocean with mountain views

Chaminade is beautiful. The ceremony spot overlooks a grassy hill and the bay. Stand under a flowering wisteria and rose arbor to say your vows. Cafe lights are strung over for ambiance. A babbling fountain provides a cool area for photos. Cocktail hour can be on the outside patio, it feels almost retro Hollywood. Choose from several rooms for your reception.

Pro tip: Do some colored up lighting in the reception space, it can transform the space to match your vibe and looks great in photos

11. Kennolyn – Hilltop Hacienda

Elegant Spanish style estate in the mountains overlooking the bay

Kennolyn’s Hilltop Hacienda is amazing. This venue is incredibly unique, with Spanish-style architecture, fountains, courtyards, an expansive lawn, and terraces that overlook the ocean. There’s also a variety of garden paths, and redwoods surrounding. Options for ceremony include the fountain area, lawn, or even redwoods. Have dinner on the outside terrace overlooking the ocean. And dancing in the front courtyard with fountain.

Pro tip: Float some flowers in the fountain for an awesome and stylish vibe

12. Shadowbrook Restaurant

Totally unique park like setting with cable car entrance, waterfalls, palms, ferns, gardens, and even a waterfront patio

Shadowbrook offers romantic ambiance along Soquel Creek. For 20-100 guests, everyone will love the old world charm and extensive lush hillside garden areas. Just a short jaunt to Capitola Village and beach, this place is hidden yet close to everything. There are three options for ceremonies at Shadowbrook – inside at the rock wall, outside at the Redwood Deck, and outside at the Creekside Patio. No matter what you chose, every direction you look there is something beautiful.

Pro tip: Arrive for couples photos when the restaurant is closed for a more efficient and private experience in the garden and hillside areas

13. Monarch Cove Inn

Historic English estate along the cliffs of Capitola, ocean views, gardens, and privacy

Monarch Cove Inn is the perfect place to have a garden wedding perched overlooking the Pacific. Tucked away above Capitola Village, this venue ensures total privacy. Have your ceremony on the lawn with a backdrop of coastal pines, beaches, and of course wide ocean views. Outdoor dining compliments the setting, adding a tent is always great as the weather can be variable in spring and fall.

Pro tip: Taking an Uber or shuttle might be best depending on the season as street parking can be limited at times

14. Sesnon House

Vintage summer home with true California vibes, sprawling lawn and small gardens

The Sesnon House on the Cabrillo Community College campus, is a classic historical venue. Originally a built as a summer home in 1911, it is a mix of Spanish, Moorish, and American styles. Available now for events and weddings, you can fit 50-225 guests. There is a bridal room upstairs with beautiful light. The ceremony is held outside in the backyard on the lawn, facing either the trees or the back of the house. Dinner is usually held outside around sunset. There are many spots available for photos in the surrounding gardens. Dancing happens inside in the main grand room.

Pro tip: Overflow parking can be found across the street, you can even leave your car overnight on weekends if neede

15. Ampitheatre of the Redwoods at Pema Osel Ling

Sprawling grounds set deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, remote location with redwoods and warm sun

The Ampitheatre of the Redwoods at Pema Osel Ling is just stunning. Deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the journey there is an experience in itself. You’ll pass a river, many ferns, and tiny waterfalls. This is the Santa Cruz Mountains. The venue itself is high up on the mountain top. You can have an entire wedding weekend, there are options for guest camping, and even a swimming pool. The ceremony takes place on a deck underneath the towering redwoods. Reception can happen nearby in a small wooden lawn area with cafe lights, or down the hill in a sprawling field past a pond, fountain and Buddhist shrine and stupa. There are ample spots for photos, including of course many many redwoods!

Santa Cruz Wedding Venues – Best Places to get Married

Santa Cruz County Parks

Affordable options in gorgeous settings

1. Highlands Park

Highlands Park is probably the most popular county park for weddings. includes a lovely mansion with beautifully landscaped grounds and a grand room with hardwood floors for dancing. You get one or two upstairs rooms to get ready in, one has a private bathroom. The lawn offers privacy in a park setting for a ceremony or reception. Dancing usually happens inside the house, you can play music for the duration of your rental. It is located in San Lorenzo Valley just 15 minutes from Santa Cruz or Highway 17. There are some great spots in the park for photos, with many lush green areas and river access. One of the easiest to find Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Pro tip: You can fit up to FOUR separate types of food trucks at this location for those looking for some variety in their dinner

2. Quail Hollow Ranch

Quail Hollow Ranch is my personal favorite county park. This charming ranch is historically significant and ecologically notable for rare and diverse habitats. The ranch house and spacious lawn offer scenic views of the orchard and wooded hillsides. It is located 15 minutes from the City of Santa Cruz in the hills of San Lorenzo Valley. It’s the former home of Sunset magazine’s Lawrence Lane. With sprawling fields, front gardens, a pond, horse stables, and miles of trails there are endless options for photos here. Perfect for those looking for a 100% outdoor experience, for up to 100 guests. One of the most beautiful Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Pro tip: You can bring in a taco truck or pizza oven truck very easily to this location

3. Aptos Village Park

Aptos Village Park is a hidden gem. The setting is a lush, beautiful park with a clubhouse, large patio, gazebo and BBQ. Ceremonies are held on the lawn with stately trees as background or in the pretty gazebo. You can explore the area for photos, there are redwoods and river access. Best for up to around 100 max guests, can fit up to 200 on the lawn. It is nestled between the beaches and hills of Aptos just five minutes off of Highway 1. One of the great Santa Cruz wedding venues.

4. Valencia Hall

Valencia Hall is a restored historic building resonating with charm. A lovely covered porch welcomes you to the beautifully restored hall. An orchard and towering redwoods border the facility. Have the ceremony out front and the reception inside. It’s perfect for up to 60 guests. It is located five minutes from Highway 1 in rural Aptos. The most hidden of Santa Cruz wedding venues.

Santa Cruz State Parks

For those looking for something a little wild…

1. Big Basin State Park

When you want to feel like you’re in Fern Gully, go to Big Basin. Officially Santa Cruz County has two state parks in redwood settings that allow weddings. Big Basin is on the north end of the county, it’s a favorite in early spring before crowds arrive. Explore 80 miles of trails in the oldest State Park of California. You’ll drive 25 minutes north of Santa Cruz into the San Lorenzo Valley. When you reach the small town of Boulder Creek you turn left and head up the windy 236 to the top of the mountain. There is an abundance of trails, redwoods in every direction larger than you’ve ever seen, rivers, waterfalls, and even mountain top views at the right time of year. Receptions happen in the picnicking area. There are options for tent camping. One of the most rugged Santa Cruz wedding venues.

2. Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell State Park is a favorite. Explore 40 acres of old growth redwoods. It offers many trails through the redwoods, fields, rivers, and seasonal tiny waterfalls. There is an intimate ceremony spot among the old growth redwoods at the end of the accessible loop. Standing space only, perfect to get in and out quickly, and onto exploring the area and then the party. Reception area is to the right of the tollbooth in the picnic area. Easily accessible from HWY 17, it’s very close to downtown Felton, 10 minutes to Santa Cruz. The most easy to get to forest area for Santa Cruz wedding venues.

3. Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach is one of the most popular in Santa Cruz. It is increasingly full of visitors even through winter, so plan accordingly. There is an awesome rock structure right off the beach in the water. It’s a popular hangout for seagulls and sometimes seals. Great sunset light. There’s a BBQ and picnic area on the north end. One of the best known beaches and Santa Cruz wedding venues.

4. Seabright State Beach

Seabright State Beach is probably one of the warmest beaches in Santa Cruz. There is plenty of space here, and even fire pits on the north end. On the south end you can walk along the harbor and out onto the jetty with the lighthouse. No reception area, best for elopements.

Elopements and Intimate Weddings

There are many other more wild locations available, if you are interested in an elopement or intimate wedding (up to 20 people) with no reception on site, email me with the type of setting you are looking for and I’d be happy to work with you and photograph your day!

Santa Cruz Wedding Venues – Best Places to get Married

Other Santa Cruz wedding venues worth checking out:

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