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Bay Area wedding on a grad student's budget

My fiance and I recently relocated to the Bay Area from New York City. We are new to the area (7 days young!) and looking for wedding/reception venues in wine country, East Bay or SF. The challenge is, we're foodies on a grad student's budget. For most of our guests, this will be considered a destination wedding as most will travel from the midwest and east coast. Food, beverages and venue are key!

I'd like flexibility on catering, if possible, and to rely on the venue itself to create ambience so less money is needed on flowers, etc.

We're pretty non-traditional and open a variety of venues although a winery or urban venue would be our top choice.

Aesthetic is anywhere from modern elegance to rustic mediterranean.

Recommendations welcome!

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  1. We did a low budget wedding renting out the house in Stern Grove, decorating ourselves and spending all our money on a decent caterer.

    1. Stern Grove was the first thing that came to my mind too! What's your budget?

      I got married at Byington in the Santa Cruz Mtns. Wineries are expensive (base price to rent venue, you have to buy their wine, plus everything extra like a dance floor, wine pourers,etc). Oh, and most will want you to use one of their "approved" caterers. I think the caterer alone for my wedding 8 years ago with 120 guests was about $10k.

      Good luck with your search!

      1. If you want specific recs, you'll need to provide specifics about your wedding. Number of guests and overall budget are key.

        1. Oakland Hills has some pretty sites. I've been to weddings at Joaquin Miller park and they were nice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: myst

            They do, and they're very reasonable. Most of them allow you to choose your caterer, instead of having an approved list.


            My sister got married at Sequoia Lodge: http://www.oaklandnet.com/parks/renta...

            The Oakland Zoo has a lovely facility as well: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/zoo-info/fa...

          2. You have a grad student's budget but a millionaire's taste, not a good combination. Please tell us when your wedding is going to be, how many guests, and what's your per guest budget.

            One cheap way to go would be to rent a public venue (e.g. public park, community halls, etc.) and self cater.

            7 Replies
            1. re: PeterL

              You're absolutely right. It might be the demise of me. Looking to have around 200 people. Budget approx $50k.

                1. re: oaktowngirl

                  Agreed. That is not the figure I was expecting either. $50k would have paid off more than half of my grad school loans.

                  1. re: artemis

                    Mutter, mutter, yeah I thought we were talking about $5K or less.

                2. re: renujain

                  First off, welcome to the Bay Area.
                  Wow! For $50K you can have a REALLY nice event at one of the many wineries in the area. Well, it depends on how much your relatives drink ; )
                  Heck, my wedding 9 years ago, dress, kilt, rings and honeymoon included was under $5K for about 125 people. We had the ceremony and an appetizer reception at our local UU church with my Mom doing the food as our gift and stayed at our friend's ranch in New Mexico.

                  Fall weddings out here are beautiful and if you choose a winery, many of the vines may have turned color by then. Popular venues book up a year or more in advance, so hopefully we're talking next year or so.
                  More questions:
                  Did you need a hotel close to your site for all of your out-of-town guests?
                  How much would you like to budget per person for food?
                  How much would you like to budget per person for drinks?
                  How much did you want to pay to rent the site?
                  Any preferred styles of food and wine?
                  How far from SF would you be willing to travel for the right venue?

                  And if decide it's just too much of a hassle and your parents wouldn't absolutely kill you, I agree with Wolfe. Plenty of amazing foodie destinations around the world where for a few K can go a looong way and you can still come home and find a nice place to buy. Ya know, you could bring the parents along at least for the ceremony so they feel included and then head off to delicious places on your own. Could be fun... : )

                  1. re: renujain

                    Wow grad school has certainly changed a lot. With that budget forget about renting public spaces. Check out the Claremont.

                    1. re: renujain

                      See, this is why we ask people to be specific.

                      You must have meant "same budget as it would cost to go to grad school", not "budget for someone squeaking through grad school".

                  2. OK, I see the $50K & 200 guests numbers, and I say "whoa, is there some other detail we're missing?" That's enough to do more than an average wedding.

                    UNLESS you're planning this to be a multi-day celebration? I bring that up b/c I'm guessing from your username that you might be of Indian descent (South Asian)? If so, that could be a relatively "low" amount if it is supposed to cover multiple ceremonies across multiple days and venues.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Eugene Park

                      One day only! no multi-day...

                      Still taking in everyone's advice...don't get me wrong, would love to come in lower than said budget but I really have no concept and just want good food, wine and energy...to give you an idea of random places I saw online and liked, El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen and Casa Real winery....don't know anything about them but they struck me.

                    2. Welcome to the Bay Area and congrats on your upcoming wedding! I can highly, highly recommend the venue and caterer that my husband and I used last fall.

                      With similar criteria to yours, we chose Hans Fahden Winery in Calistoga -- it's a small, family-run winery on absolutely breathtaking grounds with amazing facilities. A few points of differentiation: (1) The dinner itself takes place in a stunning wine cave, which is an incredible surprise for your guests. (2) Unlike a lot of wineries, the site fee gives you access to the entire property, so you can have your ceremony down by the pond, your cocktail hour in the tasting room, your dinner in the caves, and so on. (3) Because it's a small-production winery, they don't require that you only use their wines. You are mandated to buy one case of their wine (we loved their cab), and after that, you're given a 50% discount on all additional cases or you can bring your own wine in with no corkage fees. (4) Finally, we loved the Calistoga area for its proximity to both Napa and Sonoma and its incredible beauty. Almost all of our guests were out-of-towners as well and they loved the venue and the location.

                      Our caterer was Caridwyn & Sons and we could not have been happier. The food was fantastic (local, seasonal, unique, and delicious) and both Deana (the coordinator) and Chad (the chef) were friendly, responsive, accommodating, and fun.

                      We also used Sweetie Pie's in Napa for pies in lieu of wedding cake and were very happy.

                      Best of luck!

                      Sweetie Pies
                      520 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: shoop

                        Would you mind sharing how many guests you had and a ballpark cost? Your wedding sounds wonderful.

                        1. re: artemis

                          Sure! We had around 90 guests (although I think with a recent expansion, the wine caves at Hans Fahden can now accommodate nearly 200). The site fee for Hans Fahden was $5,500 (I believe there may be an incremental per-guest fee above 100 guests) and the catering was just above $100pp, including all service. Caridywn offers several options in terms of appetizers, family-style dinner service, etc., so this cost could certainly go up/down.

                          We agreed up front to spent the majority of our budget on food and venue and to skimp on other areas and we had no regrets!

                        2. re: shoop

                          Thank you for the great info!
                          I look forward to checking it out. I esp. love the Sweetie Pie's rec....

                          Sweetie Pies
                          520 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

                          1. re: renujain

                            They were great and a relative bargain vs. wedding cake. We ordered way too many pies (still have some in our freezer now!) and with delivery fees and everything, it was under $500. Most wedding cake bakers charge around $7-8 per slice.

                            Good luck!

                            1. re: renujain

                              One more resource you might want to check out - Here Comes the Guide: http://www.herecomestheguide.com/loca...

                              It has at least basic info (capacity, site fee, etc.) on most of the venues in Northern California, including wineries, restaurants, etc. I used it as an initial screen of venues and then had a short list of those to see in person.

                              1. re: renujain

                                Try here
                                Ive been to a wedding here and it was wonderful
                                beautiful setting and Michelin starred restaurant
                                Hotel rooms also are great , plus only a mile or less from Healdsburg plaza

                                1. re: celeryroot

                                  I agree! This loations is beautiful! I attended a wedding there a couple summers ago and it seemed perfect. The only thing that keeps me from booking it is there was no dance floor/music allowed and I don't think you can have more than 80 guest.

                                  It is still worth looking at!