Home » Planning a Santa Barbara Wedding, The Ultimate Guide (2023)

Planning a Santa Barbara wedding can have a lot of moving parts – especially if you’re traveling from out of state. This blog is to help you tackle the biggest to-dos first and get organized. Read on for a typical budget breakdown, timeline examples and the inside scoop on Santa Barbara wedding vendors, venues and photography!

What is Santa Barbara like, and what is popular for weddings here?

Typically, you should be planning a Santa Barbara wedding between the months of April and September. Most weddings in Santa Barbara take place outdoors, and these months have the best weather.

It’s popular here for couples to want to highlight the Spanish style architecture and typical California vibes. Decor is usually colorful, fun and boho or summer inspired.

Santa Barbara captures that destination wedding vibe without having to leave the US. It can accommodate a range of events, from activity focused elopements to big, multi-day celebrations. Additionally, its location makes it a great starting point for California road trips. You can easily hop onto the Pacific Coast Highway to other popular parts of California, like LA, or catch ferries to the Channel Islands or Catalina islands further south.

Pros of planning a Santa Barbara wedding:

✅ Destination feel with beaches, wine and mediterranean architecture

✅ Warm, sunny, clean and safe

✅ Popular for weddings; many options for all sizes of events

✅ Outdoor paradise; you can relax on the beach or hike, surf, SUP 

Cons of Santa Barbara:

❌ Expensive compared to other locations in the US

❌ Crowded due to its condensed size and popularity

❌ Wildfires and floods pose occasional risks

What kind of wedding couple is Santa Barbara best for?

Planning a Santa Barbara wedding is for you if the following apply:

✅ you love a sleepy beach town

✅ you’re both pretty laid back

✅ you still want to be in close proximity to luxury accommodations, shopping and activities

✅ you need a place that has something for a variety of guests with their own travel budgets

Santa Barbara is great for couples and their families who want to retreat from the “real world” and celebrate to the fullest. It’s ideal for couples who value an elevated experience, and want to feel like they’re on vacation. There is an abundant food, arts and culture scene and lots of outdoor activities. All that will help you prioritize your plans around having a great time with your guests!

What is the average cost breakdown for planning a Santa Barbara wedding with 50-100 guests?

The average Santa Barbara wedding budget breakdown for local couples is between $30-50k.

The average wedding budget breakdown for destination couples is $50-80k (due to travel and accommodation costs).

Of course, this all highly depends on the size, design, vendor and venue choices for your wedding. Just know that Santa Barbara has a high cost of living, and therefore is a more expensive wedding location.

Here is a very general budget for a Santa Barbara wedding in the summer, including a 5 night stay for the couple:

  • Full day wedding photography: $7,500
  • Florals: $4-7k
  • Flights for two: $2,000
  • Venue, catering and drinks: $25,000
  • Music: $2,500
  • Dress, Tux and Accessories: $3-5k
  • Wedding Planning: $5k+
  • Hotels: $2-7k
  • Misc. Costs: $1k

TOTAL: $50-60k

Areas where costs can vary a lot are with your venue, florals, accommodation and wedding planning. If you need to cut back to meet a specific budget, those are the areas where you have the most variety. 

Likewise, if you really want to splurge, you can end up on the high end of those estimates very quickly in Santa Barbara!

What is an ideal guest count for a Santa Barbara wedding?

50-125 people is the ideal guest count for weddings in Santa Barbara. There are a lot of beautiful boutique venues here which work best with guest counts around 100.

For bigger weddings, larger hotels work best to accommodate everyone.

When planning a Santa Barbara wedding from out of state, how many days are needed in the area for a stress free experience?

For couples and their guests who are traveling to Santa Barbara from outside the state, I recommend staying at least 4 or 5 days in the area. The further you’re traveling from, the more you’ll need to factor in a bit of jet lag and time to get settled.

It’s also crucial to have some buffer days in case emergencies come up, like flight delays and cancellations. Arriving 2-3 days before and staying 1-2 days or more after your wedding leaves you with much more flexibility and much less stress.

Most likely, things will go just as planned and you’ll have all that extra time to relax and enjoy California!

7-10 days is ideal for couples who want to have more of a “mini-moon” or full vacation experience around their wedding. With a few extra days, you can road trip up the coast or into wine country to unwind.

What are the best venues for weddings in Santa Barbara, California?

Santa Barbara wedding venues which accommodate larger guest counts:

San Ysidro Ranch - a venue with multiple indoor and outdoor event locations which can accommodate large weddings or intimate events; property overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez mountains 

The Belmond El Encanto Hotel - another venue with multiple outdoor and indoor locations to suit your guest size; specialize in wine pairings

Circle Bar B Guest Ranch - can accommodate up to 150 guests; multiple ceremony and reception locations; views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands; sleeps up to 68

The Leta Hotel - can accommodate up to 200 guests; in house catering and plenty of rooms

The Santa Barbara Club - full service vintage estate for up to 200 guests

Hotel Californian - 121 guestrooms, outdoor and rooftop event space and catering; ideal for large weddings

Villa & Vine - a mediterranean, villa style wedding venue for up to 220 guests; walking distance from the courthouse, receptions only

Santa Barbara wedding venues better for smaller guest counts:

Dos Pueblos Orchid Farm - a peaceful, serene greenhouse venue with a rustic and romantic boho feel

El Capitan Canyon - an outdoor focused event location which immerses you in nature; overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Sant Ynez Mountains; cedar cabins and adventure yurts

The Lark (located in the Funk Zone) - reception only, perfect for smaller celebrations or rehearsal dinners

If you have a smaller wedding party or guest count, another really popular option is to have your ceremony at the courthouse gardens and a reception dinner at an up-scale restaurant or hotel. The Lark and Villa & Vine are great options for this.

What kind of wedding catering is available in Santa Barbara?

The foodie scene is big in Santa Barbara! The “typical” wedding food of meat, side, desert is usually replaced with fun appetizers, ice cream carts and specialized cuisine. There are a lot of options for catering, and you can find a variety of niche options. There’s always the more traditional main course styles to fall back on, but don’t be afraid to branch out in search of something more unique to your style. 

Two brides hold hands and read their wedding vows in private outside the Santa Barbara courthouse.

What are fun activities to include before, during and after?

If you want your wedding to be more of an experience than a party, then there are tons of great activities to include around your wedding day. Whether you’re local, traveling from out of state or a mix, here are popular things to do around Santa Barbara:

  • Wine tasting
  • Restaurant or brewery tour
  • Beach day
  • Post wedding brunch and shopping
  • Spa trips
  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking
  • Day trips to Ojai, Carpinteria or Montecito

What are the best locations for wedding photos in Santa Barbara?

A huge plus to planning a Santa Barbara wedding is that the entire area is beautiful. You can walk around anywhere and be surrounded by Spanish architecture, sunshine and palm trees. 

That in mind, here’s a few prime spots to focus on for photo excursions:

  • Ellwood Bluffs - a beachy ocean overlook trail
  • Santa Barbara Courthouse - a Spanish Colonial style courthouse with orange tile roof built in 1929
  • The “Funk Zone” - Santa Barbara’s art and cultural district, with lots of great food, local shops and tasting rooms
  • The Santa Barbara Mission - a historical landmark with beautiful architecture, manicured grounds and a nearby rose garden. Read about their photo and video policy here.
  • Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden - a public park with lush gardens, koi ponds and a butterfly garden
  • State Street - Santa Barbara’s “main street” area
  • Butterfly Beach - a sandy beach bordered by flowers which draws lots of butterflies!
  • Shoreline Park - a long, oceanside park with grassy areas, walking paths and beach access
The sun sets on a couple standing atop Ellwood bluffs in Santa Barbara for their wedding photos. The husband is kissing her cheek.

What is the best way to travel to and get around Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara is 2-3 hours from LA and about 5 from San Francisco. If you’re flying in, you can fly to LAX, Hollywood Burbank Airport or Santa Barbara Regional Airport. The Santa Barbara airport is typically more expensive to fly into, but it’s a much more relaxed arrival. If you want to avoid the chaos of LA and the 2-3 hours of mind numbing traffic, it’s worth the premium.

Either way, you’ll likely want to rent a car for your stay. It will give you freedom to explore the area and make longer day trips. Ubers and Lyfts are available, so if you don’t want to drive you can get around with an app just as easily.

I also really recommend packing comfy walking shoes and some activewear for hiking, and beach attire for the coast. There is lots to do around here!

How do we plan a wedding in Santa Barbara that is both memorable and stress free?

For larger weddings, hiring a wedding planner is a great place to start. If you’re having a smaller elopement or intimate wedding, find a local photographer who can provide enough direction and basic recommendations for you.

Also, consider your guests and the time you spend in the area. You should plan a long enough stay where you’re all able to relax! Wedding days are fun, but also hectic, so you and your guests should have a day or two on both ends of the wedding day to unwind and enjoy Santa Barbara.

It’s also a good idea to keep your guest accommodation in one hotel, or all nearby, to eliminate driving around to meet.

How much photography coverage is needed when planning a Santa Barbara wedding?

If you’re having a wedding with a wedding party, ceremony and reception, you’ll need a full day. 

Weddings have a lot going on, and lots to cover. If you don’t book a package long enough, you’ll feel stressed and coverage of many things will be cut out. Your wedding coverage should ideally be as long as your wedding day, minus the hours of partying after dinner (dance shots tend to all look the same after a while)

Each part of the day, like getting ready, first looks and portraits, detail and venue shots, ceremony and reception, takes 1-2 hours. A full day ensures your photographer has enough time to document it all properly and with their creative touch.

Example Timelines for Planning a Santa Barbara wedding:

When planning a wedding timeline, work closely with your photographer. They’ll know the best flow for things and when the best light is.

Full Day Wedding Timeline:

1:30pm — photography coverage begins

2:30pm — bride's hair & makeup complete

3:00pm — bride into dress

3:30pm — first look & portraits

4:00pm — wedding party photographs or more couples portraits/details

4:30pm — family photographs

5:00pm — family photographs finish

5:30pm — ceremony begins

6:00pm — ceremony concludes, cocktail hour begins

7:00pm — reception begins, dinner service

8:00pm — sunset time (pull away couple for sunset photos)

8:30pm — reception formalities, dance floor opens

9:30pm — photography coverage ends

11:00pm — reception finishes

Half Day Elopement or Intimate Wedding Timeline

*NOTE: This timeline is only ideal for elopements, smaller weddings, or anything under 30 people.

4:00pm - getting ready photos

4:30pm - first look & couple photos

5:00pm - family photos

5:15-5:30pm - candids and details

5:45pm - ceremony time

6:15pm - time to explore SB or cocktail hour depending on guest count

7:00pm - dinner served, speeches

7:45pm - sneak away for sunset photos

8:00pm - coverage wrapped

Awesome vendors to hire for your Santa Barbara wedding:

Most weddings aren’t complete without a few key vendors. The types of services you can hire are endless, but the main ones are wedding planners, photographers and videographers, makeup artists, florists, DJs and caterers.

To help you narrow your search, I’ve listed some very talented local Santa Barbara vendors below:


Suzie with PacWest Events 

Brooke at Burlap & Bordeaux 

Stephanie at Joy & Design 

Shauna at Santa Barbara Elopement 

Hair and Makeup:

Rachael B 

Sheila Raye Stone  


PacWest Blooms 

Boho Chic Dreams 

Alexis Ireland 

Fleur de Rye 

DJs & Music:

Le Funk Sounds 

Gavin Roy

Patrick Butler

Remember: Santa Barbara is an extremely popular place for weddings, and photographers, venues and DJs get booked up 12+ months in advance! Don’t wait to lock in your dream vendors.

Santa Barbara Film Wedding Photographer | About Me, Morgan

Santa Barbara film wedding photographer Morgan Adelaide poses on a California beach cliff.

Planning a Santa Barbara wedding can feel like a lot! Especially if you’re traveling into the area, there is a lot to consider. I’m based in Santa Barbara and my photography packages include guidance on the area. I’ll help you sift through your options to pick the best one for you. I love being able to chat with you about your vision, and directing you to local vendors I know and trust.

I shoot on both film, digital and Super 8 for that truly vintage California vibe. Contact me and let’s bring your vision to life!

What is hybrid film photography, and why is it the best type of coverage for your wedding?

Hybrid film coverage is photography which documents your wedding with a mix of film and digital cameras. 

Film is a medium which captures the vintage vacation vibes of California extremely well. Moreover, it also tends to be a more candid and artistic style of photography, which means you’ll get a more unique set of photos. Analog focuses on the mood and overall feeling (rather than hyper curating the perfect shot) and is loved by couples who value a more non-intrusive style of photography.

In contrast, the digital half captures the high paced moments which film may be too analog for. This makes sure your entire wedding day is covered! This artistic mashup of vintage and digital makes hybrid the perfect style of coverage for a true Santa Barbara wedding aesthetic.


Santa Barbara wedding planning checklist:

The first 10 things to do when planning a Santa Barbara wedding:

  1. Book a wedding planner
  2. Book your photographer / videographer
  3. Determine your guest size and invite list
  4. Choose a theme and colors
  5. Book a venue
  6. Reserve catering
  7. Reserve travel
  8. Book your other vendors (HMUA, florist, DJ etc.)
  9. Create a checklist for your guests traveling in on what they’ll need for the wedding and any other activities planned
  10. Pick up your marriage license, or figure out how to get legally married in California


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