Santa Cruz Wedding Venues / Where to get married in and around Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz has long been a weekend getaway destination for the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. It’s no wonder why it’s also a great place to get married!
There aren’t many great or unsponsored resources about Santa Cruz wedding venues. Many of the resources available don’t even have nice images that capture the spaces well. So I have compiled a few of my favorite wedding venues in the Santa Cruz region in hopes that it will offer some useful guidance to folks looking into getting married here! I’ve tried to give a candid description of each one instead of merely sensationalizing them.
This post is being routinely updated. Last update in September, 2021!
REAL QUICK: Why Getting Married in Santa Cruz is a Good Idea
First of all, let’s talk about what makes Santa Cruz and the surrounding area really special!
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.
Santa Cruz and the surrounding county has dank redwood forests. We have incredible beaches. We have amazingly refreshing coastal weather that is rarely too hot nor too cold. Fun fact: Santa Cruz is on a sun belt in Monterey Bay, meaning that we get a lot more sun, more warm weather and less fog than our neighbors to the north (Half Moon Bay) and south (Monterey). It’s an amazing place for a getaway whether you are from far away or just “over the hill”. If you want to make a whole weekend out of your wedding, you’ll have endless beauty to enjoy and endless activities for your family and guests to be entertained with.
Redwood Forest Wedding Paradise
Real fast, let’s dig a little deeper into the situation about the redwood forests: WE HAVE SO MANY BREATHTAKING FOREST AREAS AND VENUES. Seriously. Big Basin State Park, Nisene Marks State Park, Henry Cowell State Park, Pogonip, and Land of Medicine Buddha to name a few. Not only are these great places to explore (or maybe even elope in) but these wooded areas create an amazing backdrop for portraits. Many people who come to visit our awesome town only associate Santa Cruz with the beach but I think the forests are the best kept secret.
1. Sparrow Valley Retreat in Aptos, California
Vibe: Intimate woodsy retreat with cathedral-like redwood ceremony space
Sparrow Valley Retreat is one of Santa Cruz County’s newer wedding venues. It very quickly became one of my all time favorites!
Redwood trees tower around the ceremony deck in a fairy ring, hand built by the owners themselves. Guests may sit on rustic benches built into the small hillside that looks down on the ceremony area. Walking into the wooded ceremony space feels like entering a lush cathedral of earthy fragrance and sunbeams.
The rest of the venue is truly an intimate retreat that highlights the natural environment. Couples who book this venue get overnight lodging in a beautiful house that the owners built themselves. There are other “habitats” on the property as well, and more being built as I type! While you’re there, why not take a hike down to Valencia Creek, sunbathe on the lawn, or relax in the sauna or bathtub jacuzzi?
2. Roaring Camp in Felton, California
Vibe: Old-timey steam train, sunny park-like reception area with giant barn, spectacular redwood grove ceremony options, experience-driven
Roaring Camp is a unique, rustic venue that combines your wedding ceremony with a train ride adventure. Wedding party and guests board a 100 year old steam train to journey through a beautiful old-growth redwood forest up to the ceremony location among the trees. The reception happens back down by the train depot in a gorgeous, enormous barn. The grounds of the venue are huge and have a park-like feel. If you’re looking for a way to offer your guests a truly unique experience, this venue has it built in. There are a few different ceremony spots to choose from and I personally recommend the “New Grove” because of the beautiful lighting conditions it has in the afternoon!
3. UCSC Cowell Ranch Hay Barn in Santa Cruz, California
Vibe: Modern barn on a sunny hillside near town, modestly sized grounds but beautiful open surroundings
The UCSC Cowell Ranch Hay Barn is a gorgeous new barn right here in Santa Cruz on the westside of town. It sits on a sunny hillside on the front edge of the famously beautiful UC Santa Cruz campus. Just up the road are stunning views of the Monterey bay, the campus farm, and lush green redwoods (hint– beautiful, accessible places for portraits!). I especially love this venue in the springtime when the surrounding fields are still green! The barn is spacious and conveniently close to all the hotels your guests may be staying in. There isn’t a lot of natural shade around the outside of the venue, but the barn itself creates a nice shady backdrop for an afternoon ceremony. Couples can also rent out a portion of the adjacent farm for their event too, which is a a walk away. The barn itself is beautiful and modern with plenty of space for dinner and dancing.
4. Waterfall Lodge in Ben Lomond, California
Vibe: Elegant and peaceful redwood forest retreat with an upscale feel, lodging options
The Waterfall Lodge is a newly transformed venue with complete summer camp vibes! A gorgeous lodge made of salvaged wood serves as a dance zone. Receptions and ceremonies are held outside beneath huge redwoods. A patio with a fire pit is the perfect spot for cocktail hour. One of my favorite aspects of this venue are the little A-frame cabins dotting the property. They were built in the 70s and are the perfect way to bunk up all your tipsy friends after the party. Larger, nicer cottages are also available for guests who’d like more room to spread out. I love this venue so much that I held my own wedding here in 2019! Check out a full post about Waterfall Lodge here.
5. Fern River Resort in Felton, California
Vibe: Laid-Back, casual campy redwood paradise with a creek, outdoor ceremony & reception areas and lodging
Fern River Resort is a super special wedding venue tucked away in the redwoods of Felton. First of all, don’t interpret the word “resort” as the fancy kind with room service and a swim-up bar. It is more of a summer camp style resort– the kind of place where you might have a big outdoorsy family reunion. You can rent this whole place out for a weekend retreat and have your wedding among super tall redwoods and a creek! There are lots of great places to get married among trees in Northern California, but this one has a uniquely gorgeous setting. I seriously don’t know why, but it seems like not many people (even wedding vendors) are aware of this cool little Santa Cruz mountain venue.
Sidenote: where else can you set up a photo booth inside the base of a giant old tree?
6. Rancho Soquel in Soquel, California / An Exclusive Venue of “The Wedding Connection”
Vibe: Outdoor Barn Venue, Sunny, Lush gardens with an intimate ranch feel
Rancho Soquel is part of a network of venues run by a local wedding planning company called “The Wedding Connection“. This particular venue is for you if you want an outdoor wedding somewhere sunny, gorgeously landscaped with a ranch vibe. The grounds are blooming with amazing gardens. You can follow paths throughout the grounds that wind through large oaks and over a creek. Keep walking and you will find yourself in a number of different little hidden, charming alcoves, each as picturesque as the last. The ceremony and dinner reception area is on a large grassy area in front of an amazing wooden barn. There are also other zones for cocktail hour and a dance floor.
Something I love about this venue is that you can wander around and explore, play bocce ball, admire horses in the pasture, and generally have a mini vacation just being here for the day. There is plenty of space to spread out, too.
Sidenote: why not take advantage of the space and hire the local photo booth company, the Booth Bus to bring some fun into the post-dinner reception?!
7. Ampitheatre of the Redwoods at Pema Osel Ling in Corralitos, California
Vibe: Serene redwood paradise, redwood amphitheater for ceremonies, outdoor and indoor reception spaces, camping cabins and yurt lodging for guests, casual and campy
Amipitheatre of the Redwoods is part of a Buddhist retreat center called Pema Osel Ling, so it’s tucked away in the most peaceful, quiet neck of the woods. This venue is a really down to earth, laid back kind of place for couples who want something made special by outdoor splendor without any frivolity. The feel of the grounds and the kind energy of the staff make it feel like you’re having a backyard wedding at a good family friend’s place in a spectacular forest. The property is pretty huge and you or your guests can easily go exploring on a fun hike. The drive here is a fun and beautiful adventure on its own! Coming from highway 1, you follow a few backcountry roads that wind gently around past orchards and gorgeous forests. If you want a place to host all your friends overnight with a low-key and peaceful camp vibe, this is the spot.
Sidenote: The coordinators at Amphitheatre of the Redwoods are SO GREAT. Eden will take care of you in every possible way with a genuine smile on her face.
8. Seascape Resort in Aptos, California
Vibe: Coastal resort hotel, outdoor ceremony location with amazing ocean views, indoor reception spaces
Seascape resort has a totally different vibe than the venues above. This resort venue is situated on a beautiful bluff overlooking the ocean. Ceremonies are held outside in the most picturesque spot on the property. There are a few indoor reception options depending on the size of your group- each with a balcony overlooking great views. If you are looking for a classic and beautiful place to get married that isn’t too tucked away from civilization, this is it. The resort has plenty of hotel-style rooms, condos, a restaurant, hot tub and beach access. It is the closest you can get to a beach wedding venue in this county.
Sidenote: something I really love about this venue is that you can hold an after party beach bonfire with your guests!
9. Sand Rock Farm Bed and Breakfast in Aptos, California
Vibe: Hidden Historic Farm with Lush Gardens and Rustic Charm
Sand Rock Farm transports you to another world with its seclusion and lush gardens. The B&B itself is an 1800s building that has been astonishingly well-kept. The grounds are expansive with winding paths through green areas. Sand Rock offers a variety of spaces for ceremony and reception sites, depending on your taste.
My favorite part of this venue is the Barrel Room, which is actually not a “room” at all– anymore at least! An arched doorway covered in ivy leads into the space and evokes a “secret garden” feel. Inside is an open air courtyard dripping with ivy and rustic charm. Bistro lights are strung across the space which make it feel more magical toward the evening. When I walked into it I was immediately reminded of the incredible Haiku Mill on Maui (a historic abandoned sugar mill that is now an open air jungle wedding heaven). The Barrel Room used to store wine barrels, but now it’s used as ceremony and reception space for weddings.
Sand Rock Farm is owned by an extremely sweet couple who offer a variety of wedding packages. Jen is a veteran wedding planner and Derek is a chef. Together they know how to give a great getaway experience for large and small weddings alike.
Other Santa Cruz County Wedding Venues:
- Dream Inn
- Seascape Golf Club
- Seymour Marine Discovery Center
- Hollins House
- Sequoia Retreat Center
Wedding Guest Lodging around Santa Cruz region:
- Dream Inn – Boutique Hotel
- Hotel Paradox – Boutique Hotel
- Brookdale Lodge – Newly re-opened famous lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains
- Fairfield Inn Santa Cruz
- Hyatt Place Santa Cruz
MORE VENUES ARE BEING ADDED REGULARLY!
I will be posting more blogs soon about wedding venues in different Northern California regions. I will also be posting a blog on ideas for elopement locations! Stay tuned.
All Images by Melissa Ergo.
Fern River Resort Wedding- Planning and Design by Big Sur Weddings
Rancho Soquel- images by Melissa Ergo for Blake Weber.