California Wedding Planning Tips

Build your dream west coast wedding with Zola’s top planning tips for a wedding in California.

By The Zola Team

California Wedding Planning Tips
Photo by Shaunte Dittmar Photography

The First Look ✨

  • In California, your wedding options are infinite. Between its north, central, and south regions, this large and diverse state has countless venues to fit any style.
  • Depending on your location, California’s weather can be quite seasonal or warm all year.
  • You’re going to need either a strategic or generous budget—California is the eighth-most expensive state for weddings.
  • California is one of the country’s food capitals. Bring West Coast flavors to your menu with local favorites across California fusion, Latin, Asian-American, and seafood cuisines.

Sunny beaches, sprawling forests, chic cities—whatever you’re looking for, California has it. This massive state feels like its own country, spanning climates and cultures down its miles of coastline. If you’ve always dreamed of a West Coast wedding, there’s a spot for your celebration across California’s diverse landscape.

Curious about planning a rustic NoCal forest wedding? Or a boho SoCal desert reception? With Zola’s guide, your California dreamin’ can become a wedding reality. Read on to learn our best tips for planning a wedding in California, including:

  • When to get married in California
  • Popular California wedding locations
  • Budgeting for your California wedding
  • California-style wedding decor
  • West Coast food and wedding menus
  • California marriage laws and licenses

When to Get Married in California

For states with four distinct seasons, the typical peak wedding season runs from May to October. But across California, your best wedding dates are a little more flexible.

California isn’t just the most populous state—it’s also the third largest state, covering over 840 miles of west coast shoreline. And that means from north to south, you have incredibly different climates. To pick a wedding date, you’ll have to take your location and other factors into account. Let’s take a look at California weddings across the seasons.

Winter

With its chillier temperatures, winter isn’t usually the top pick for wedding dates. Luckily, the state’s diverse climate welcomes a fabulous winter wedding (even outside).

Depending on your location, winter weather can be pleasantly mild or pretty cold. While Northern California temperatures can drop to the low 30s, Southern California cities stick to the low 60s. Whether you want a holiday reception or a unique celebration, consider a winter wedding if any of these conditions apply:

  • Lower Budget: Even in the Mediterranean climates down south, winter is still considered the wedding “off-season” in California. For couples, that means lower prices. Outside of holiday weeks, you can score deals across California wedding venues and services during winter (even up to thousands of dollars).

  • Indoor Venues: Anywhere above Los Angeles, winter temperatures are typically too chilly for an outdoor celebration. Keep your guests comfortable with an indoor-only celebration. There are plenty of indoor spaces across California that still deliver gorgeous views and killer style.

  • Festive Cheer: The winter holidays are easily the most romantic time of the year. Capture the season’s festive cheer and cozy intimacy with a holiday wedding in California. It’s the perfect time to indulge in the beautiful lights, rich colors, and lush textures that only come around wintertime.

  • SoCal Location: For a budget-friendly outdoor wedding, go for winter in Southern California. Mild temperatures, low humidity, and sunny skies make for pristine outdoor California wedding venues across this region. Get all the gorgeous coastal or desert views, minus the extreme heat.

Spring and Fall

By far, spring and fall are the most popular wedding seasons across California (and the entire country). Across the state, temperatures are warming up after chilly winters or cooling down after steamy summers. Spring brings budding flowers, while fall gives beautiful turning leaves. In short, it’s a picture-perfect time for any celebration.

However, even in this massive state, you’ll face a decent amount of wedding competition during these peak seasons, If you want to book a wedding during the spring or fall in California, check that these factors apply to your plans:

  • Higher Budget: During peak season, wedding vendors know that demand is high. So to match, they raise prices. To land that spring or fall wedding date, you’ll need to factor in all the potential higher costs—everything from florals to venue rentals.

  • Outdoor Setting: During the spring and fall, temperatures across California range from the mid-60s to low 80s with little rain. Basically, it’s the perfect outdoor wedding weather. If your heart is set on a garden ceremony or beachside reception, a spring or fall date in California practically guarantees good weather.

  • Larger Party Size: There are a few reasons spring and fall work best for large marriage ceremonies. First, the good weather offers way more spacious venue options to hold all of your guests comfortably. Second, there are fewer holidays and vacations to interfere with your celebration, meaning more guests can attend.

Summer

Under the summer sun, it can get pretty heated in California—all the way up to 100-plus degrees in the south deserts and some northern areas. But that doesn’t mean summer weddings are out of the question. In fact, this season is still a popular time for marrying couples across the state.

For a summer California wedding, consider these heat-resistant measures:

  • Covered Settings: The temperature difference between sun and shade is like day and night. Tents, canopies, or free-standing roofs can transform your outdoor summer wedding from sweating to sweet. You can also opt for mixed indoor and outdoor settings. Many venues offer gorgeous outdoor sites for a quick ceremony, alongside nearby indoor reception spaces.

  • Cooling Measures: Even up near Sacramento, California summer weather can hit the 100s. As a responsible host, keep your guests heatstroke-free outdoors with cooling tools. Fans, cold towels, ice water, and outdoor cooling stations are all smart options to beat the summer heat.

  • Beachside, Coastal, and Mountain Venues: In California, certain environments can make the summer heat pretty tolerable. Thanks to the California Current, the beach is actually one of the coolest places to set your wedding during summertime. Similarly, elevated venues across the state’s mountains often provide more mild settings.

California Wedding Locations—Your Top Cities

With over 39 million people and 482 cities, California is far from provincial. This state covers a massive range of cultures, from the beachy and metropolitan Los Angeles to the woodsy rustic Dunsmuir. To pick a wedding venue that fits your style, let’s break down California’s three regional areas—North, Central, and South.

North California

Northern California (or NorCal to locals) is a mix of lush forests, mountains, relaxed cities, and stunning coastal cliff views. The weather is mild but with defined seasons across the year. Whether you pick one of the region’s urban or rural settings, odds are the view will be gorgeous. Some of the most popular wedding cities in NorCal include:

  • Sacramento
  • San Francisco
  • Chico
  • San Jose
  • Oakland
  • Santa Rosa
  • Redding
  • Stockton

Culturally, NorCal resembles the Pacific Northwest more than the rest of California. Between its rustic outdoors and hip cities, you’ll find plenty of tech industry workers, trendy restaurants, misty views, and woodland activities. For the outdoorsy or refined metropolitan couple, it’s the perfect California region.

If interested in a NorCal wedding, consider one of the area’s popular venue categories:

  • Lodges and Retreats: For the rustic wedding of your dreams, head due north in California. NorCal is renowned for its majestic woods, from the infamous Redwoods National Park to Klamath National Forest Park. Say “I do” under a canopy of trees at one of the region’s many cabins, lodges, and retreats.

  • Hotels and Inns: These aren’t your average Holiday Inns. From sleek urban penthouses to charming B&Bs, NorCal’s independent hotels are top-tier wedding venues. Take a chance on an industrial San Francisco rooftop overlooking the bay, or pick a Sonoma County bed and breakfast for intimate celebrations or micro weddings.

  • Historic Estates and Mansions: Across all of California, NorCal has the most historic landmarks. Couples with classic taste will love the stony manors, manicured grounds, and luxury spaces in this region. Create a truly vintage celebration with touches of tradition, from Zola's custom programs to lush rose bouquets.

Central California

Some natives leave Central California out of the conversation, splitting the state into just two halves. But this region has its own distinct culture and landscape that sets it apart from the north and south. Spacious and lush, mid-California is known for its beautiful vineyards, green valleys, and luxurious coastal suburbs. Top cities in the area include:

  • Monterey
  • Fresno
  • Santa Clara
  • Santa Cruz
  • Mariposa
  • Bakersfield

Easily the quietest region, Central California is the perfect setting for a countryside, secluded, or lower-budget coastal wedding. Guests will appreciate the area’s ample room and natural beauty, with excellent venues like:

  • Vineyards: Napa Valley is just one option. Central California has countless gorgeous vineyards, perfect for an authentic West Coast wedding. Formality levels range from shabby chic to downright luxurious, so you can pick the vineyard that fits your style and budget.

  • Farms, Barns, and Ranches: Out in the Sonoma and Central Valleys, you’ll find California’s most fertile grounds—and some beautiful rural wedding venues. Take your guests on an unforgettable retreat to one of the region’s laidback ranches or traditional farmhouses. Hanging fairy lights, wildflowers, and wooden furniture give these sites a warm, welcoming vibe.

  • Ballrooms and Banquet Halls: For a coastal or urban celebration, Central California has some spectacular banquet halls. And in this less crowded region, you won’t have to fight for a spot. Explore the chic ballrooms across Monterey, Santa Maria, and Mariposa for a city wedding with elbow room and a view.

Southern California

Beachside cities, beautiful deserts, and a laid-back lifestyle define Southern California, or SoCal. Whether you prefer hitting the trails or hitting the town, this sunny region can fit your style (so long as you can handle the heat). Across the SoCal, the most popular wedding cities and locations are:

  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • Orange County
  • Santa Barbara
  • Riverside
  • Joshua Tree
  • San Bernardino

Dreaming of the ultimate Hollywood-glam celebration? Or perhaps a casual ceremony with a desert mountain view? In SoCal, these popular venue categories can host your warm-weather wedding:

  • Beachside and Waterfront: You just can’t beat Southern California’s beaches. From San Diego’s Mission Bay to Santa Barbara’s Lane Beach, your wedding can look like an oceanside paradise. Better yet, the region is warm enough for beach weddings across the year.

  • Restaurants and Breweries: Casual cantinas, beachside restaurants, and luxurious eateries fill the downtown neighborhoods of SoCal. Not only will your wedding have amazing west coast cuisine, but you’ll likely also get a spectacular view or interior design.

  • Parks and Gardens: When most people think of parks, they think green fields and tall trees. But in SoCal, the parks are an entirely different species. From Joshua Tree National Park to Anna Borrego State Park, these space-like deserts are filled with spectacular Southwest wildlife and unbeatable sunsets. Outdoorsy couples and casual celebrations will love these truly unique venues.

Budgeting for a California Wedding

Whether you’re planning a micro-wedding or the blowout bash of the season, you need a budget—especially on the West Coast. Out of all states, California ranked eighth for the highest average wedding costs, coming in at a pricey $39,000. For some perspective, that’s nearly double the national average.

Most weddings have the same costs, although you can choose how much to spend on each category. Foodie couples might switch abundant florals for gourmet catering, while a high-fashion couple might put their money into attire and decor. Overall, you should consider these categories in your wedding budget:

  • Venue rental
  • Entertainment or music
  • Catering
  • Photographers and/or videographers
  • Florals
  • Decor
  • Formal fees (marriage licenses, permits, etc.)
  • Stationery (invitations, thank you notes, etc.)
  • Attire
  • Hair and makeup
  • Transportation

Despite the high average, California weddings don't have to drain your bank account. You can throw a thrifty and stylish wedding with our top budgeting tips:

  • Choose an Off-Season Date: In California, you can throw a wedding year-round. However, booking a date between April to October will probably cost you more. Stick with the technical off-season months. To really save money, book a weekday wedding. Vendors often reduce prices from Monday to Thursday
  • Pick a Public Setting: Your venue is typically the most expensive item on your wedding budget. One way to cut that price? Marry on a public property. National and state parks, certain beaches, and other public grounds typically require a permit fee, usually less than $200. That’s way cheaper than any hotel ballroom or private ranch.

  • Go Inland: Yes, California’s ocean views are amazing, but in nearly all coastal cities, you’ll be paying top dollar for that view. For a lower-budget wedding that’s equally gorgeous, choose an inland venue. Certain parks, farmhouses, and historic estates are just as beautiful yet much cheaper.

  • Use On-Site Decor: In places like Joshua Tree National Park or Monterey Beach, you don’t need much to spruce up the scenery. For style that’s in-budget, let California’s natural beauty take care of the decor.

To help you find perfect California venues and vendors, trust the experts at Zola. Zola’s catalog of pre-screened wedding vendors and venues will help you design your perfect California wedding.

Popular California Wedding Decor

If you dream it, California can be it. Almost every wedding style is flattering in this incredibly diverse state, from whimsical retro to beachy romance. Spark some inspiration with our top eest coast decor styles:

  • Vineyard Visions: California’s vineyards are the closest you’ll get to a French destination wedding inside the US. Add some rustic romance to the wine country with flowing white tablecloths, strings of fairy lights, and a vine-woven altar or gazebo.

  • Beachy or Coastal: What’s more beautiful than an ocean sunset to complement your ceremony? If marrying along California’s coast, infuse your celebration with beachy touches. Starfish, seashells, blues and whites, sandy textures, and even our favorite beach stones from Zola’s Boutique all set a marine mood.

  • Urban-Industrial Chic: For the modern or downtown couple, bring your contemporary style to California’s urban settings. Go more industrial with wrought-iron furniture and exposed Edison light bulbs, or take a sleek minimalist route with geometric glass stands, all-greenery botanicals, and colored lights.

  • Southwest Splendor: Take advantage of SoCal’s unique climate with a desert chic wedding. Succulents, rug prints, unfinished wood, and crystals will all pop against the Southwest’s neutral tones.

West Coast Cuisine for Wedding Season

The food of California is just as diverse and delightful as the state itself. From high-end eats to influences from around the world, your wedding bites from the best wedding catering service will be as memorable as your tear-jerking vows:

  • Nouveau California: Take a page from Alice Waters, and build your menu around California’s farm-to-table, fusion cooking. Mixing American, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and other cuisines, the modern Californian menu is diverse enough to please anyone’s palette. Items like extra-thin California pizza, oysters with yuzu sauce, tiny skewers of Persian fusion kebabs, or locally-grown green beans could all fit on your menu.

  • Latin Roots: California has the largest Hispanic population of any state, creating a rich Latin food scene. From Americanized favorites like mission burritos to authentic tripas tacos and mole, a South or Central American menu will feel right at home in California.

  • Asian-American: Channel the Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean influences on California cuisine for your wedding. Sushi bites, bao buns, and Korean rice cakes are all tasty and easy-to-pass hor’s d'oeuvres. And for a sit-down reception, go for a Chinese hot pot or an omakase-style menu.

  • Pacific Seafood: Along the Pacific coast, you’ve got some of the country’s best seafood at your fingertips. Build your menu around seasonal marine life, from fresh albacore tuna in summer to Dungeness crab in the winter.

California Marriage Laws, Licenses, and More

There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you want to get legally married in California, you and your partner must receive a state marriage license.

Like all states, California has its own peculiarities and rules for marriage licenses. Let’s break down the exact requirements, process, and details of applying for this crucial document. To start, you and your partner both must be:

  • 18 years or older
  • Not married or in a civil union with another party
  • Not related as siblings, parents, children, nieces, nephews, aunts, or uncles
  • Physically present at the application and marriage

Once you clear those requirements, you can head to a local California county office to apply for a California marriage license. Every country has slightly different application rules, but the state of California requests these items and information from all couples:

  • Photo ID with age (driver’s license, passport, state ID, etc.)
  • Application fee (anywhere from $35 to $100)
  • Death certificates of former spouses (if applicable)
  • Dates of divorce or divorce decree for previous marriages (if applicable)

If approved for a California marriage license, you and your partner are free to say “I do.” Just remember that you must marry under a legal officiant, have at least one signing witness, and return the signed marriage license within 90 days of its issue.

Zola—Your Key to a Stress-free California Wedding

The saying goes “West Coast, Best Coast.” And for weddings, that just might be true. From redwood forests to beachy sunsets, California has a picture-perfect place for everyone’s dream wedding. And with our handy tips and tools, that dream is more than a possibility.

Let Zola bring that laid-back west coast ease to your wedding plans. From customizable websites to stylish stationery designs, we’re the one-stop-shop for all of your wedding needs. With Zola, you can say “I do” under the California sun without breaking a sweat.

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