When Mike and I got first got engaged, the very first thing we decided on was what kind of a vibe we envisioned for our wedding day. We quickly realized that we wanted something outdoors that felt sort of like a backyard wedding, with lots of plants and greenery. In spite of the frequent droughts we have here, Southern California actually has a bounty of lush garden wedding venues! As a photographer, these locations are always a delight to capture because they typically provide a variety of photo backdrops and they give lots of shade on a hot sunny day. Since clouds are often hard to come by here, that last part is especially important if your timeline requires wedding party portraits in the middle of a summer afternoon! It’s much easier to get beautifully lit images at all hours of the day if you have a means to diffuse that harsh sunlight.
I’m going to take you through the eleven best Southern California garden wedding venues, or at the very least, my favorite garden venues thus far! These aren’t in any particular ranking; I love them all!
1)The Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert, CA.
The grounds at the zoo are massive, so it definitely helps to scout things out ahead of time. You’ll also need golf carts to transport everyone for photos to avoid spending all of your time walking!
Receptions usually take place in the stunning palm garden, seen below:
There are hiking trails and mountains on the edge of the property, making for an epic photo backdrop!
There are several palm nooks in the gardens, which is a perfect private spot even when the zoo is open to visitors.
The ceremony site is over near the giraffes, giving guests the opportunity to spot lots of wildlife during cocktail hour!
2) Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, CA
These images were all taken in October, and the scenery was so beautiful even though leaves were starting to fall. You can also take portraits at Descanso for a $300 fee, perfect for engagement photos or even a day-after session!
This oak grove is absolutely stunning! It’s an option for wedding ceremonies but also makes for gorgeous portraits.
I’m pretty partial to the rose garden ceremony location! This gazebo is so romantic and classic, made all the more beautiful by some fresh blooms!
Blooming bougainvillea makes for a beautiful romantic backdrop too!
The rose garden reminds me of something straight out of the English countryside. It’s absolutely lovely!
3) The LA Arboretum in Arcadia, CA.
This location is my favorite discovery of 2020! The photography fee is only $50 and the backdrops are absolutely breathtaking. This location is less English countryside, more tropical and desert. My best friends Jess and Steve did a pre-wedding shoot here and we had so much fun exploring!
There is a bamboo forest!!
This bougainvillea wasn’t even in an official “garden,” but I couldn’t get enough of it.
The LA Arboretum is huge, so it helps to have an idea of the layout before you arrive! Mike and I went a few days before this session and stumbled upon a weekend happy hour in the park. Such a great location and wine too?! Sign me up.
4) Adamson House in Malibu, CA
This Spanish-style museum has such gorgeous greenery! Adamson House is one of my absolute favorite places for a wedding because there are stunning photo opps at all hours of the day. This magical tree is nestled in a valley, shielding the lawn from the harsh sunlight even in the early afternoon.
The reception space on the backside of the museum is gorgeous too! Lots of beautiful plants and flowers!
Here’s another bridesmaids photo in front of that incredible tree! The first photo in the list was taken in the middle of summer and this one was shot in the fall once the sun was setting and the leaves had started to change a bit.
There are colorful tiles and trees planted throughout the grounds! So many fun backdrop options!
This might just be my favorite tree in California.
When you rent Adamson House you have the option of renting the interior of the museum for guests to tour during cocktail hour. Pretty cool!
One last Adamson House wedding photo! So fun!
5) Redbird / Vibiana in Downtown, Los Angeles
Redbird is an incredible restaurant on the edge of Little Tokyo in Downtown, LA, and it’s also on the same block as the renovated cathedral-turned-wedding-venue, Vibiana! There are a variety of garden nooks on this shared property, and you’d never know you were in the middle of bustling DTLA!
This table is set for a Redbird garden wedding, and this spot is shaded almost the entire day.
This ceremony location is in the Vibiana courtyard – those olive trees are such a gorgeous backdrop!
6) Houdini Estate in Hollywood, CA
This unique property is nestled in Laurel Canyon and has secret gardens, hidden tunnels, and an air of mystique thanks to its former famous magician owner. As corny as it is, this place is pretty magical! Kristen and Chris’ Houdini Estate wedding was absolutely stunning!
The garden paths wind through the hillside and are so fun to explore!
The reception was on one of the lawns down the hillside from the main house. Be ready to walk quite a bit if you’re at Houdini House!
7) San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, CA
This gorgeous garden includes 37 acres of stunning palms, bamboo, and California native plants. It was a rare overcast day in June when I photographed this San Diego Botanic Gardens wedding, but the colors were still incredibly vibrant!
I absolutely love the reception location! So cute and full of trees!
8) Eden Gardens in Moorpark, CA
This venue is nestled among the trees and is so charming! It’s full of beautiful twinkle lights and palm trees! And if you happen to have a gorgeous vintage VW bug like Melia and Ryan do here at their Eden Gardens wedding, there’s a perfect spot by the entrance to park it.
Eden Gardens is a bit of a maze, but it’s beautiful!
9) Maravilla Gardens in Camarillo, CA
This adorable venue is owned by the sweetest family and has a lovely rustic-chic vibe about it. There’s a picket fence, a view of the mountains, and the gardens are beautifully maintained throughout the year!
10) Quail Ranch in Simi Valley, CA
So far I’ve only had the pleasure of photographing Shelley & Andy’s engagement session on this property, but I was blown away by the landscaping! Blooming bougainvillea, cacti, an avocado grove, a beautiful tree, and a sunny overlook. Doesn’t get better than that!
11) McCormick Home Ranch in Camarillo, CA
Okay, I’m a little partial to this venue because it’s where Mike and I got married! You can see our McCormick Home Ranch wedding here on Green Wedding Shoes! We loved the charming white house, the beautifully maintained grounds, and how the venue was essentially a lovely blank canvas for us to cover with colorful details. Alyssa Marie Photography took the photos below, and I edited them.
These jacaranda trees just happened to be blooming on our wedding day, what luck! I purposefully picked our head table to be set up in this spot so we’d be nicely backlit for photos.
And there you have it, my favorite garden wedding venues in Southern California! To recap, here’s the full list:
– Living Desert Zoo
– Descanso Gardens
– Los Angeles County Arboretum
– Adamson House
– Redbird and Vibiana
– Houdini Estate
– San Diego Botanic Garden
– Eden Gardens
– Maravilla Gardens
– Quail Ranch
– McCormick Home Ranch
Let me know if there are any others I need to check out!