My darling Mother-In-Law, JoAnn, recently passed on my name to one of her nursing pals as THE person to talk to about weddings in Monterey County. Well, it has been 16 years this month since I have been married, and I did so at my parents home in the central valley of California (in July). Those Modesto locals will know, that the planning of a July wedding in the valley is generally not done, oh and did I mention, it was in the back 40 acres of their ranch? We were lucky, the temperature barely topped the dial at 102 degrees that day. It was a dry heat. Needless to say, I wanted to redeem myself and take the request from my mother-in-laws friend seriously, and when I thought of the prospect of having a wedding in Monterey County the options abounded. Of course, this could also include renewing vows or just getting out in the out back of Monterey County. I would love for those of you that have been married in Monterey County to add a picture or even a brief video of your wedding, send it to me and I will upload it!
Kick the city option and head for the sea, vineyards, greens or redwood groves with Monterey County’s variety of vow options, finding the right setting for a wedding or honeymoon is truly a piece of (wedding) cake. Consider the backdrops: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, 40,000 acres of vineyards, 99 miles of prime Pacific coastline, 24 golf courses and two of the nation’s most romantic enclaves: Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea.
In Big Sur a wedding among the redwoods is option number 1: these 2,000 year-old towering temples always seem to put things into perspective. Prior to the wedding, the wedding party can trek deep into the forest to the largest Big Sur waterfall for a Marriage Purification Ceremony like the Esalen Indians, hundreds of years prior, via Big Sur Hiking Guides. Other Big Sur options include beachfront vows at Andrew Molera State Park, riverside rituals at Big Sur River Inn’s lush perch or a garden grove wedding at Ventana Inn & Spa or Post Ranch Inn with 50-mile views of the Big Sur coastline to seal the deal.
The adventureres can exchange vows aboard a kayak for two on Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary or Captain Dutch’s –30’ sailboat which incidently also offers overnight lodgings, for a wedding and honeymoon all in one. Or above ground, a haven for kite boarders and hang-gliders, Marina Dunes Preserve and Marina State Beach deliver white sand landscape, punctuated with surfers silently riding the horizon. Couples can enter via their favorite craft and then wed on a pristine sand dune. This is also an option for surfers marrying at sea. Nearby, the remote dunes and biking trails of Fort Ord – an impressive network of 86 miles of scenic mountain bike trails and wild flowers – is an ideal backdrop for a casual wedding of biking enthusiasts who can hit the trails en masse for a rip-roaring reception on wheels.
True bliss can be found at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, home to some of the region’s most dramatic seascapes and thousands of seabirds, seals, sea lions and migrating whales. Noted as “The crown jewel of the state park system,” Point Lobos is also home to the only two naturally growing strands of Monterey Cypress trees remaining on earth and a stunning lineup of beaches worthy of film credits. Top picks include China Cove (filming spot of The Sandpiper with Elizabeth Taylor) and Gibson Beach.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is the spot for couples seeking a beachfront wedding, complete with bonfires and a backdrop of Pebble Beach. Carmel Beach and Carmel River State Beach offer their own unique flavor, with the added bonus for being dog friendly. For horse enthusiasts, head to Carmel Valley for a wedding on horseback. Holman Ranch, a 400-acre country estate with breathtaking mountain views and a full stable of steeds, delivers the equestrian dream in style. Garden party options include La Playa a few blocks up from the beach with historic hotel status and a garden that overflows with flowers.
With 40,000 acres of vineyards, a wedding among the vines is a sure bet in Monterey County. Carmel Valley sports two incredible options: Bernardus Lodge and Chateau Julien Wine Estate, a 16-acre French country winery in the heart of the valley. Bernardus Lodge also features a stellar rose garden and arbor to parallel its signature Sauvignon Blanc. Larger vineyard settings are available at the far end of Carmel’s Cachagua Valley, a dense winegrowing area including Heller Winery. Along the River Road wine tasting trek, San Saba Vineyard, Paraiso Vineyards and Hahn Estates Smith & Hook Winery are appetizing options. Nearby, The Holly Farm is the perfect mix for a garden wedding at the lush five acre private estate. Reminiscent of an early California hacienda, the grounds include a collection of restored adobes, cabanas and suites for lodging.
For a true romantic walk on the wild side, couples can opt for a wedding at Vision Quest, a 50-acre exotic animal training facility and safari-style lodgings set deep in Steinbeck Country. This magical site is also home to Wild Things, an exotic animal training facility with 100+ critters. Exchange vows among the African elephants and fall asleep to the sound of roaring tigers, singing their own love serenade.