Sunday, May 12, 2013

Venue Hunt, Part II: Hometown Pride with a Spanish Twist

As I began looking at venue options in Santa Barbara, I started to feel better. During our drive home from the Bay Area, down the 5, it suddenly came to me that I had the perfect ceremony site, and maybe -- just maybe -- it would be nearly free to use.

Back in December, Jonathan* and I spent some time in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria with his family, and one afternoon went out to UC Santa Barbara for lunch at Woodstock's and to walk Ennis around the lagoon to Campus Pointe. It was then that I snapped this photo of the lagoon (and ocean in the distance) from one of my favorite, secluded lawn areas on campus -- right near the Santa Cruz dorms, where I lived as a freshman.

With this in mind as a ceremony venue, I started to do some more intense searches for reception possibilities in the area. It was easy to imagine getting married here, and how fun it would be to have our friends join us in such a beautiful destination. I figured there had to be a reception site that could compliment the beauty of UCSB.

Word to the wise, if you're looking to hold your wedding in Santa Barbara:

1. Better get your wallets out.
2. If you manage to find something affordable, you better book it right away. The cheap[er] options book up fast.
3. No seriously, you better have a big budget, because shit here is expensive.

I exhausted and crossed-off most of the obvious options first, mainly because they were so beyond our budget, it wasn't even worth considering.

After a few different searches using variants of "affordable Santa Barbara wedding venues" on Google, I found an intriguing -- yet unexpected -- option.

from this lovely wedding by EPlove, via
The El Paseo Restaurant is located in an historic courtyard in Downtown Santa Barbara, and is actually a Mexican restaurant -- widely known for their Happy Hours and Sunday brunch buffets. (Random, right?) Jonathan and I had actually been there for brunch just last August with his parents, and I remembered the space being very lovely, with lots of old character -- and just a hint of Spanish flair, mainly in the adobe architecture and tile work.

It was so different from anything I considered, and I actually surprised myself when I didn't immediately go, "Nope! Next!" I dug a little deeper to find out what their pricing was, and what we might be able to do, if we really considered it. The Website explained:

Renting the reception space would cost only a purchase of $12,000 in food and drinks on Saturday, or $6,500 in food and drinks on Sunday.

... and that was it. Despite the fact that Saturday was, without question, not an option -- price-wise -- Sunday suddenly looked a lot more appealing.

I dug deeper.

No site rental. Cost applies to food and drinks -- catering, essentially. 200 people could fit in the space. They have a dance floor. They have bartenders and waitstaff, and plates, and stemware, and flatware. Tables, chairs, linens. They have an on-site, day-of event coordinator. All for a minimum cost of $6,500.

Needless to say, I had to know more. Given the kinds of prices I had seen before, this seemed like an steal! (For reference: in Coastal California, the venue site rental alone (i.e. just to use the space and get your foot in the door) could easily cost $4,500 - $7,000. Ridiculous! That's before catering, DJ, decor, lighting, and additional staff needs...)

Jonathan and I discussed, letting our parents know and find out what they thought. After some back-and-forth, we all agreed that is sounded like a really fun and affordable option. Low stress. Good plan.

I wrote to the manager, and he was quick to respond. He called and we chatted about some things, and I got my questions answered. He was no-nonsense and matter-of-fact with what they could and couldn't do. I loved that. Everything sounded great, so I told him we'd be coming up that weekend to visit and meet with him in person.

Things started to move really fast after that. It quickly became a known fact among us that -- despite not having booked any venues yet -- Santa Barbara would be where we were gonna get married.

We started looking at lodging and vacation homes for us and my family to stay in.

We picked an entirely new "desired date," fully accepting that our wedding would now be on a Sunday.

We started planning an agenda for the weekend, figuring out how to work in trips to our favorite spots.

Before we took our trip up to Santa Barbara, I called the UCSB Alumni offices to find out about what it would cost/require to rent or reserve the grassy area that Jonathan and I both loved. I was passed around a bit, but eventually spoke with someone who told me that I could actually reserve the space (it's officially called Pearl Chase Park -- who knew?) for free! I would just need to go through the business office in order to deal with some contracts. She gave me the contact information, I contacted and left a message for the business manager, and things were officially set in motion!

The trip to visit El Paseo was a very positive one. The manager met with us while they were in the process of setting up a wedding, and we were able to ask him a bunch of questions. He was just as helpful in person as he'd been on the phone, and he let us roam around, explore, and take as many pictures as we wanted.

Essentially, the overall message he gave us was: "It's your party, it's your space. If it's legal and physically possible, you can do it in here."


Despite my enthusiasm about the space, I would be lying if I said I didn't have some initial concerns. The set up is a little strange -- at least given how picky I am about symmetry. There is a large fountain right in the middle of the space, which makes things a little awkward, plus trees (pretty and pre-lit!) that were not evenly planted, making things feel a little off-kilter. It was obvious from the way the tables were set up that they were laid out that way because, well, I suspected no one really thought to challenge whether there was a better way.

I assured myself that if anyone could make the tables fit better, it was me. That's what I do.

We took our last photos, talked a bit about linens (their tablecloths are restaurant table clothes, not event table cloths, so they go only to the chair seat and not the floor -- a big no-no, says my wonderful, event planner friend, Carlin), and how much we thought the addition of market lighting would cost us.

All in all, we left happy. Extremely happy. So happy, in fact, that Jonathan's mother was ready to write a check for the deposit and hand it over that very week.

But I couldn't commit yet. Something still felt a little off to me, and I couldn't put my finger on it...

Then, after almost two weeks, we got some very bad news.

The business manager at UCSB wrote me a message, with a simple message about letting us reserve Pearl Chase Park:

Can't do it.

Given my conversation with the event coordinator three weeks before, I was shocked. It made no sense.

I won't go into the back-and-forth that ensued -- where Jonathan got involved, and even my two UCSB girlfriends who I'd told about the spot volunteered to call and make a fuss about it -- because, in the end, it just wasn't going to happen. Unless we planned on having a guerilla wedding by the lagoon, Pearl Chase Park was no longer an option.

Which meant we had no ceremony site.

So that's how the next week went: me searching, high and low, for a viable ceremony site that actually seemed appealing to me. I'm so picky, you guys. We knew there was no hope of finding anything for free like we'd hoped, so I started to look around the El Paseo area. The traditional ceremony site for couples who have their reception at El Paseo is the El Presidio Chapel just a block away. But I knew it wasn't an option for us; a church wedding was not what I wanted, and it was too pricey to make it worth it for a 25 minute ceremony.

After looking at every venue and rooftop terrace and public park in town, I finally decided to consider the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (Beware: apparently their Web site was designed in 1998.) The lawns are stunning, but very public. (The thought of having strangers stop and watch my ceremony is... not my idea of a good ceremony.) But the price was right, and so was the size.

Then I found an option at the Courthouse that I had never seen before. Inside is a little, historic courtroom, now referred to as The Mural Room.

(Get a stunning, 360ยบ tour of the room here.)

It seemed weird, but... I kinda loved it. It was unique, colorful, it went with the style of the El Paseo, and it was just the right size for our guest estimate.

After contacting the courthouse, I found out that it costs only $275 for a two-hour rental. Without question, the price cannot be beat anywhere.

I started to get excited again, and I vividly remember going to yoga and not being able to concentrate on anything about the Mural Room and what it would mean for the style of the wedding if we were to get married there. That first night, I was on cloud nine.

The next day, anxiety set it.

I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing anymore, and my opinions suddenly seemed entirely questionable.

This lasted for days, and though  my mother was very encouraging about the Mural Room and El Paseo (and everyone was supportive), it was Cassie who sort of pointed out that... "Yeah, it seems really pretty and fun! But... is it really you guys?"

It took the better part of a week to really come to the conclusion that my wedding planning had gone entirely off the rails and that what I was planning was a total 180 from what I had always planned and pinned. I tried to convince myself that Santa Barbara was the perfect option because it's where Jonathan and I met, and where he grew up. The "Spanish" and "Mission" styles were just part of the Santa Barbara package. Plus, the price -- the price, you guys. So affordable... but then again... was it really? I started to question. My mind was doing some serious damage control. I could no longer be trusted.

"They would be the perfect wedding venues... for someone that isn't you and Jon," Kim told me, sympathetically.

I knew she was right.

So after one month of ups and downs, nearly putting money down on two places, and changing around and considering so many options that I was drowning in possibilities, I stepped back and decided -- with Jon's input -- that we would move on.

We'd find something new.

We'd find something perfect for us that didn't make me want to run away to the nearest airport and elope to wherever the cheapest plane ticket would take us.

And find something we did.

* So, I figured I should start writing "Jon" as "Jonathan" because, well... technically that's his name and it's what he prefers to go by. I'm still getting used to saying it (since he was always just "Jon" in college, to me), so bear with me while I make that switch! (You're welcome, honey!)


  1. You found something?! When do we get to know??

  2. Teehee, Jonathan. Good to know! (P.S. I totally would have harassed the UCSB people for you, but I'm so happy things worked out in a more Stacy&Jonathan direction!) <3

  3. With this in mentality as a ceremonial venue, I in progress to do some more intense searches for reception possibilities in the area. It was easy to dream in receipt of wedding at this time and how fun it would be to have our friends join us in such a beautiful destination event coordinator. I figure there have in the direction of be a reception site that may possibly flatter the beauty of UCSB.