Griffith Park Observatory wedding

There are fantastic wedding venues in southern California that don't cost a cent.

Looking for a way to save money on your wedding? Since the economy has set people back, low-cost (or no-cost) wedding venues have become an increasingly attractive option for many couples. In fact, the majority of weddings I have officiated this year have been at free locations.

My last three weddings — all within the last two weeks — the venues have all been free to the couples.  One was in Santa Barbara, another in Glendale and a third near Pasadena (Temple City). The first two were small, private affairs/elopements that didn’t require large venues, the third involved around 40 guests.

Griffith Park Observatory. Michael and Jessica were married on St. Patrick’s Day on the roof of the Griffith Park Observatory overlooking Hollywood and Los Angeles. It was quite the surprise for their unknowing friends who flew in from Florida earlier in the morning. Jessica greeted them at the airport in her wedding dress and a sign, “Will you be our witnesses?”

According to Michael, the good folks at Griffith Park Observatory told him it was okay as long as they it wasn’t too long. Moreover, they couldn’t rope off any areas – they would have to take their chances finding a location that would work. The roof offered the most privacy and best view. Outside of the wedding party and friends, there may have been three or four onlookers, all polite and supportive.

There was an interruption during the ceremony when the public address speaker announced times for an upcoming program in the Observatory but it really didn’t seem to at all interrupt the joy of the festivities. We all simply smiled, waited until he was done, then continued. It was all consistent with the unpredictable spontaneity and authenticity of the moment.

This wouldn’t be for everybody, of course. The couple could have found a far more private, secluded setting – there are plenty of beautiful spots throughout Griffith Park and even up by the observatory. But for the fun-loving Michael and Jessica, it was perfect!

Santa Barbara free wedding venue

Jeanette took pictures for a private wedding Thursday here overlooking beautiful Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Courthouse Tower. Even more beautiful is the Santa Barbara Courthouse Tower, site of a private wedding I officiated for a lovely Hollywood couple last Thursday (what’s with all these Thursday weddings?). I have to tell you it was one of the most beautiful, intimate weddings I have ever officiated. The couple had a lot to do with that. But the setting simply was perfect, as was the weather (80 degrees in March is pretty special).

There’s a floral shop just across from the Courthouse grounds, convenient for picking up a last-minute bridal bouquet or, in this case, an orchid for the bride’s hair. Best of all, you may pick up your license right next door in the county clerk/recorder’s office, then walk a few steps across to the tower elevator for your private ceremony.

There are beautiful views overlooking the Pacific Ocean as well as Santa Barbara and the lush, beautifully-manicured Courthouse grounds. The tower has room for perhaps 20 people. The two drawbacks are that it is a public facility open to the public and that it is only open until 5 pm weekdays.

Backyard Weddings. But what if you need something a little larger and more formal? An increasingly popular alternative is the backyard wedding. That was the case last Sunday for a happy couple last Sunday. They rented a tent covering because of a threat of showers (which never materialized). The DJ’s sound system didn’t require much room and the catering truck was parked on the street with their serving tent next the back yard wedding covering. It also happened to be a beautiful, quiet neighborhood

Backyard weddings may not have all the extravagance of hotel or resort weddings but there can be a simple beauty and authenticity that is remarkably intimate and endearing. It feels like a home so people are relaxed and, for lack of a better word, more “real.” Back yard weddings can have such a human, personal touch that can make up for sometimes tight spaces. Additional potential disadvantages to be aware of include limited number of restrooms, the need for at least minimally attractive, colorful landscaping, and neighborhood interruptions (car stereos blaring).

These are three attractive options for southern California wedding venues that do not cost a penny yet still deliver the experience of a lifetime.


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Rev. Charles W. (Chuck) Laird Wedding Blog and Ceremony Tips