Finding the perfect(ish) wedding venue part 1: where to look

Once upon a time, a newly engaged girl named Peg* dreamed of having an intimate, rustic, barn wedding, filled with strands of garlands, twinkle lights, and sparkles - just like all the pretty weddings she had pinned and bookmarked from her most favorite wedding blogs. Then reality set in. Peg realized the venue of her dreams didn't exist - at least not with her budget or guest list! All that remained were rustic barns with very rustic bathrooms, or barns that looked like her high school prom banquet hall...... My dream wedding...until I realized a barn like this equipped with bathrooms, a food prep area, and electricity is hard to come by!

My best friend and bride-to-be recently tweeted, "i realized i like planning other people's weddings better than my own", and I couldn't agree more. When you start planning your own wedding you have to stop dreaming and start thinking about the practical, logistical stuff (boo!). This is especially true when it comes to finding a wedding venue.

I can tell you right now that unless you are super rich, or you are only inviting 20 people to your wedding, the perfect venue doesn't exist. And if you want to have a DIY wedding, or do anything outside of the typical banquet hall-style wedding box, the search is going to be even harder. That doesn't mean you should settle for a barn with porta potties though. You just need to keep an open mind, figure out what you're willing to compromise on, and when you finally find a place, don't be afraid to ask LOTS of questions and get things in writing.

First and foremost, let's talk about where to look. Websites like The Knot, and Wedding Wire have comprehensive lists of venues and reviews. But you'll also find that a lot of the most popular venues listed on these sites are also the most expensive, come with an exclusive caterer, and may even have a host of other pre-packaged offerings that offer little room for you to put your creative stamp on the day. Here are some ways that you can expand your search.....

  • Search wedding blogs. One of the easiest ways to find unique venue options is to visit your favorite wedding blogs and enter your city into the search box. I wanted to get married in or around Philadelphia so I would enter search terms like "Philadelphia", "Bucks County", "Berks County", "Pennsylvania", "Reading", "New Jersey", etc. Weddings that are featured on these blogs have a lot of unique decorations and DIY touches that usually require a lot of setup (and an accommodating venue), and they also feature a lot of venues that are naturally beautiful and unique without much work at all. And if you're getting married in or around NYC, I suggest checking out Brooklyn Bride for venue ideas!
  • Search local wedding photographer's websites. Kill two birds with one stone and look on local wedding photographer's blogs to see where they have photographed weddings. You may even find a photographer too!
  • Weddingbee.com - Weddingbee has tons of forums on every subject imaginable related to weddings. There's probably an entire discussion on "alternative wedding venues on a budget in (your town)" where fellow brides have listed places you didn't even know held weddings!
  • Offbeat bride - This site has a well-vetted list of unconventional wedding vendors, including venues.
  • Partyspace.com - Very useful site to find venues in Philadelphia, Baltimore, South Florida, and Istanbul (I kid you not).
  • Search for unconventional venues. You can find some unconventional options by searching on websites for local parks, The Barn Journal website, which has a list of barns across the country available to rent for weddings, local wineries, libraries, museums, college campuses, and spaces for local societies or clubs (like the German Society of Pennsylvania).
  • Ask a wedding vendor - Some of the most valuable advice about wedding venues you can get is from a wedding vendor - generally if they like working with the venue it's a really good sign. A great way to talk to vendors is by visiting an alternative wedding expo. There are A LOT of new and unique wedding expos popping up all across the country. If you are lucky enough to be in proximity to one, you should definitely go! You'll be able to talk to tons of photographers, planners, florists and caterers, and get their feedback on their favorite wedding venues. Some expos I know of includethe Lovesick Expo, The Cream Event, Borrowed, and The Lab Event.

Anyway, these are just a few ways to help in your search for a unique, perfect(ish) venue. If you have any suggestions not listed here, please share in the comments!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, which will focus on considerations and questions to ask when visiting potential venues.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Photo of barn is from Ruffled and was taken by ASH Imagery.