Planning a Santa Barbara Wedding, The Ultimate Guide (2024)

bride and groom embrace in front of florals at the rosewood miramar hotel
Home » Planning a Santa Barbara Wedding, The Ultimate Guide (2024)

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 late April and October. Most weddings in Santa Barbara take place outdoors, and these months have the best weather. Be advised that May and June are notoriously gloomy months here, and late summer or early autumn is typically the best chance for clear skies.

As far as aesthetics go, it’s popular here for couples to want to highlight the Spanish-style architecture and laid-back California vibes. Decor is usually colorful, organic, and spring or summer-inspired, but the range of venues in Santa Barbara can complement a variety of decor styles well.

Santa Barbara captures that elevated, 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 Big Sur or wine country, or you can even catch a ferry to Channel Islands National Park further south.

Pros of planning a Santa Barbara wedding:

✓ Destination feel with beaches, wineries, fine dining, and mediterranean architecture

✓ Warm, sunny, coastal climate

✓ Popular for weddings; many options and accommodations for all sizes of events

✓ Outdoor paradise with something for everyone. You can relax on the beach, hike, surf, SUP, visit hot springs, ride horses, or walk through the downtown promenade.

Cons of Santa Barbara:

✕ Expensive compared to other locations in California and 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 loved ones 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, art, and culture scene, as well as 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 $35-75k.

The average wedding budget breakdown for destination couples is $60-100k (due to travel and accommodation costs).

Of course, this all highly depends on the guest count, design, vendor, and venue choices for your wedding. I've seen beautiful full weddings and elopements hosted in Santa Barbara for well under this price range, but it does take some creativity and DIY at times. Just keep in mind that Santa Barbara has a high cost of living even by California standards, and therefore is a much 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: $8,000+
  • Florals: $5-10k+
  • Flights for two: $2,000+
  • Venue, catering and drinks: $30,000+
  • Music: $3,000+
  • Dress, Tux and Accessories: $4-6k
  • Wedding Planning: $5k+
  • Hotels: $2-7k
  • Misc. Costs: $1k

TOTAL: $60-70k

Expenses where costs can vary the most are with your venue choice, floral design, accommodations, food, and planning services. If you need to cut back to meet a specific budget, those are the areas where you'll 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! There is an abundance of talented wedding vendors here that can bring any vision to life, no matter how simple or elaborate it may be.

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

Anywhere from 30-200 people can be the ideal guest count for weddings in Santa Barbara. There are a variety of venues and accommodations available, but a lot of the smaller boutique venues tend to cap out at around 100 guests.

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, 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 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 that accommodate larger guest counts:

San Ysidro Ranch — a venue with multiple indoor and outdoor event locations that can accommodate large weddings or intimate events. 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; specializes in wine pairings.

Circle Bar B Guest Ranch — can accommodate up to 150 guests with multiple ceremony and reception locations. Also offers views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands, horseback riding, and outdoor pool space; sleeps up to 68.

The Leta Hotel — offers in-house catering, funky decor, and plenty of rooms. Can accommodate up to 200 guests.

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

Hotel Californian — with 121 guestrooms this space is ideal for large weddings. Also has an outdoor, rooftop event space, ocean views, and in-house catering.

The Ocean View Farm — large, working avocado ranch with an open-concept barn and views of Rincon Beach and the Carpintera hillside.

Santa Barbara wedding venues ideal for smaller guest counts:

Dos Pueblos Orchid Farm — a peaceful, serene greenhouse venue with a modern and overgrown boho feel.

El Capitan Canyon — an outdoor-focused event location that immerses you in nature and overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains. Offers cedar cabins and adventure yurts.

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

Villa & Vine — a Mediterranean, villa-style wedding venue that is within walking distance from the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Includes fresh in-house catering, and is available for full wedding days or just receptions.

If you have a smaller wedding party or guest count, another popular option is to have your ceremony at the courthouse gardens and a reception dinner at a nearby restaurant or hotel. The Lark, El Paseo, and Villa & Vine are great options for this depending on your guest count.

What kind of wedding catering is available in Santa Barbara?

I know taste in food can be super subjective, but luckily the foodie scene is vast in Santa Barbara! The “typical” wedding food of meat, side, and cake is usually replaced with unique appetizers, ice cream carts, and specialized cuisine. There are a lot of options for catering, and you can usually find a variety of niche vendors to fit any spread you have in mind. There are always the more traditional main course styles to fall back on, but don’t be afraid to branch out in search of something that fits your personal palette.

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

If you want your wedding to be more of an experience than a party, 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
  • Walk through the Funk Zone
  • Have a beach day
  • Post-wedding brunch and shopping
  • Plan a spa day
  • 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 almost anywhere and be surrounded by Spanish architecture, sunshine, and vibrant foliage.

With that in mind, here are a few prime spots to focus on for photo excursions:

  • Ellwood Bluffs — a beachy ocean overlook trail that boasts groves of Eucalyptus trees, ocean views, and wildflower fields in the spring.
  • Santa Barbara Courthouse — a Spanish Colonial-style courthouse with orange tile roof and tropical foliage. Built in 1929 and offers a variety of locations for ceremonies, elopements, and portraits.
  • The “Funk Zone” — Santa Barbara’s art and cultural district, with lots of colorful murals, local shops, and fun art installations.
  • 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. Currently closed off to vehicle traffic, this promenade is a great spot for candid, street-style photos.

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 and departure. 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 the freedom to explore the area and make longer day trips. Ubers, Taxis, and Lyfts are also available, so if you don’t want to drive you can get around with an app just as easily.

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 and an essential in some cases. If you’re having a smaller elopement or intimate wedding, finding a local photographer who can provide enough direction and basic recommendations for you is an option as well.

Also, consider your guests and the time you want to 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. This also makes shuttles and ride shares easier to coordinate day-of!

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 a creative touch.

Example Timelines for Planning a Santa Barbara wedding:

When planning a wedding timeline, work closely with your photographer. They’ll often know the best flow for pictures 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 couple 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:

Planners:

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  

Florists:

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

Planning a Santa Barbara wedding can feel like a lot! There are so many factors to consider, and there's an added layer of logistics if you're traveling to say "I do".

I've lived near Santa Barbara for my entire life, and all my photography packages include personalized guidance on the area. I’ll help you sift through your options and ideas to pick the best ones 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 that documents your wedding with a mix of film and digital cameras. 

Film is a medium that captures the vintage vacation vibes of California and 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 supplementation captures the high-paced moments that film may be too slow for. This makes sure your entire wedding day is covered and no memory is missed! The artistic mashup of vintage and digital makes hybrid the perfect style of coverage for a colorful, true-to-life Santa Barbara wedding aesthetic.

Santa Barbara wedding planning checklist:

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

  1. Pick a date!
  2. Determine your budget, estimated guest size and invite list
  3. Book a venue
  4. Book a wedding planner (book first if planning out of state)
  5. Choose a theme, style, and colors
  6. Book your photographer/videographer
  7. Book your other vendors (catering, HMUA, florist, DJ, etc.)
  8. Reserve travel
  9. Create a checklist for your traveling guests 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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