California has always welcomed visitors of various lifestyles and backgrounds, and in the wake of the State Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage, the Golden State has even more appeal as a top vacation destination for same-sex weddings, commitment ceremonies and honeymoons.
Visitors are encouraged to check http://www.visitcalifornia.com/lgbt for same-sex marriage locations and honeymoon packages and ideas from around the state. The Web site also includes links to the destinations and accommodations, and will be updated with new package information.
Gay-owned and operated since opening its doors 10 years ago, the Chateau de Vie in Napa Valley’s Calistoga, part of the San Francisco Bay Area Region, has a long history of welcoming couples, groups and families celebrating commitments, anniversaries and birthdays among its vineyards (site fee and accommodations vary depending on size of party). This elegant bed and breakfast is also a favorite of culinary travelers with its wine pairing to seven-course dinners. Since 1999, 10 percent of all the ceremonies at Ardenwood Affairs, a Victorian wedding site in Fremont with an impressive mansion, gardens and grounds, have been by same-sex couples. Many choose to arrive at the ceremony, held in a Victorian-style gazebo, via a horse-drawn carriage. Ceremony and reception rental fees vary from $1,200 to $2,200. Heading east, Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, and from it exceptional views of the San Francisco skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County and the San Francisco Bay are seen. These stunning sights also provide a unique and spectacular backdrop for all types of weddings and receptions. Site rental fees on Angel Island range from $82.50 to $132.50; depending on the location on the island, there may be a special events permit required at an additional cost of $250 to $750. For couples who desire a private ceremony for two, or perhaps to include family members and close friends, Churchill Manor Bed and Breakfast in Napa offers elopement packages for up to 20 people that range from the Simply Elegant (starting at $1,4000) to The Ultimate Intimate (starting at $3,850), as well as A La Carte offerings.
The luxurious Viceroy Palm Springs, located in the Deserts Region, has taken their "I Do for Two" package to the next level, and is now including a wedding, commitment or vow renewal ceremony along with overnight accommodations, champagne and fruit upon arrival, two 60-minute spa treatments each day, romantic evening turndown and breakfast for two in bed, or dining at its restaurant Citron or poolside. Rates start at $449 per night, midweek. Voted by Out & About Magazine as one of the Ten Most Romantic Gay Guesthouses, Casitas Laquita in Palm Springs is a lesbian-friendly, private resort that has offered commitment ceremonies for many years. The property is located on 1.2 acres and its architecture incorporates the "early mission" style that dominated Palm Springs in the 1930s.
Several hotels in the Los Angeles County Region also cater to gay and lesbian weddings. Some are Travel Alternatives Group Approved Hotels, meaning they have developed criteria of policies and services that specifically support the LGBT community. These include the Hilton Checkers, Hotel Angeleno, Sofitel Los Angeles and the Sheraton Universal. A variety of outdoor venues spread throughout the county are also gay-friendly, including The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys (banquet room is $500 for three hours), the Descanso Gardens in La Canada (rental prices range from $1,300 to $2,300) and Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, a 130-acre mountain retreat, which charges between $85 and $90 per person. When it comes to churches and temples, Mt. Hollywood Congregational Church in Los Feliz ($1,000 covers the use of the facility for four hours, plus rehearsal, wedding coordinator, minister and musician), Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, along with the First Christian Church of North Hollywood (sanctuary fee is $1,100 and chapel cost for more than 10 guests is $700), will all offer same-sex marriages. At the stylish Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, same-sex couples staying two nights receive a one-year complimentary Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) membership. Couples can also take advantage of the property’s "Amour" package, which includes full breakfast, a bottle of sparkling wine and 2 p.m. late checkout (prices vary; package valid through December 2008).
In San Luis Obispo, the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, located in the Central Coast Region, is an ideal setting for outdoor weddings with its 100 acres of forest, hills and meadows. The property’s Garden Gazebo is surrounded by a seasonal floral landscape, sparkling grotto water pool and greenery, and provides the perfect space for a sunlit ceremony. Wedding ceremony and reception packages start at $2,500. And for those who want all the wedding details taken care of, the Fantasy Elopement package at the ultra-luxurious Simpson House Inn in Santa Barbara, North America’s only AAA five-diamond bed and breakfast, is a perfect fit. The package includes an officiator, wedding license appointment, flowers, live music, a photo CD, wedding cake and champagne with keepsake crystal flutes. Rates start at $1,395 per night Sunday through Thursday (two nights required). Couples to San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, a historic 500-acre luxury hideaway, can indulge in the Midnight in Montecito package (Sunday through Thursday only, starting at $2,080 for two nights) which includes a two-night stay in a restored cottage or junior suite, a chilled bottle of champagne upon arrival, luxurious couple’s massage and breakfast in bed.
Yosemite, part of the High Sierra Region, has long been a gay-friendly travel destination. In Yosemite National Park, The Ahwahnee is a National Landmark and one of the most distinct resort hotels in North America. Each year, it plays host to 300 wedding receptions. The AAA four-diamond property, with its balance of history, hospitality and elegance, offers a two-night romance package perfect for those wishing to get away. The package ($1,269 per couple during summer months) includes two-nights stay in a classic or cottage room, dinner for two in the soaring Ahwahnee Dining Room, sparkling wine and flutes, a special keepsake gift and a surprise at turndown. The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, a gay and lesbian-owned business in Midpines, also offers an idyllic setting with its guest house, cabins, main lodge and health spa nestled in the black oak groves just 25 miles from Yosemite Valley. It’s an ideal venue for those couples wanting wilderness ceremonies for under $5,000 for a party of 100 (excluding rooms). In Lake Tahoe, the AAA four- diamond Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, with its towering ponderosa pines and Sierra Nevada backdrop, is also an ideal place to celebrate a very important day. Ceremony site fees start at $2,000; facility rental fees for receptions start at $1,000.
The Casa Laguna Inn & Spa in Laguna Beach, located in the Orange County Region, has been the venue for marriages, as well as same-sex ceremonies, since 2000. The Inn, which was profiled in Sunset magazine’s 2007 feature "Romantic Stay," is also an exceptional destination for honeymoons with its vantage point on California’s coast. The Inn even offers a 10 percent discount from the published rate for any same-sex couples who arrive with a signed California Marriage License. The property’s Elopement Package includes minister, bouquets or corsages, wedding cake, champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries upon arrival and a rose at turndown. The cost is $1,000 with a minimum stay required on weekends and holidays. Located in the heart of Costa Mesa’s famed Theater and Arts District, the Wyndham Orange County Hotel is offering a special "O.C. Love Connection" package ($349 per night; package valid through December 2008), which includes accommodations in a junior suite, two 50-minute massages at The Spa at South Coast Plaza, fresh fruit upon arrival, complimentary transportation to/from John Wayne Airport and breakfast in bed.
In the North Coast Region, the Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino has been offering same-sex ceremonies for years, many of which are performed by the owner, who is a Universal Life Minister. The charming resort is located on a hillside atop a meadow overlooking Mendocino Bay. The rambling lobby, guest rooms and suites are paneled in pine and redwood, and provide a unique haven along the rugged coast. Three miles outside of Mendocino, Sallie & Eileen’s Place is a women-only resort that opened more than 20 years ago. The property is located in the woods and is close to state parks, beaches, hiking, biking and horseback riding. Also in Mendocino is Ricochet Ridge Ranch, which has hosted many gay couples on weeklong and two to four-day vacations, honeymoons, proposals and commitment ceremonies. Six-night vacations start at $2,245 per person, double or triple occupancy, and are all-inclusive. The service, lodging and dining are all five-star caliber, and the company was recently recognized by Outside Magazine as one of the 25 Trips of a Lifetime, right up there with an African safari and a suborbital flight into space.
Downtown and close to the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy, the W San Diego, located in the San Diego County Region, provides a sweet retreat package, "Feel the Wuv," for couples. The package includes a bottle of bubbly, along with a 2 p.m. late checkout and starts at $279 per night. Romance is in the air at the luxurious and hip Hotel Solamar, also located in San Diego, where guests enjoy chilled champagne and truffles upon arrival and breakfast- in-bed the next morning in the property’s urban-decorated guestrooms and suites as part of their Romantic Rendez-Vous package. With a June reopening after an extensive $25 million renovation, the seaside L’Auberge Del Mar in Del Mar will raise the bar on wedding expertise by offering new wedding menus that appeal to all couples, including its Ocean Song Menu ($140 per person) and Sunset Soiree Menu ($175 per person).
Penon Blanco Lookout, near Coulterville and part of the Gold Country Region, is unusual among romantic bed and breakfast inns. It’s so secluded that each room has total privacy, with no adjacent walls, ceilings or floors. This out-of-the-way retreat, just minutes from Yosemite National Park, sits on 200 acres at a famous forest lookout station and offers gourmet breakfasts and fridges stocked with beverages to individual taste. It’s the perfect getaway for couples seeking a private and woodsy venue with amazing views. Romantic getaway packages start at $139 per night (based on a two-night stay).
Davis, located 10 miles west of Sacramento in the Central Valley Region, was voted number six in the Best Lesbian Places to Live by Girlfriends Magazine. With its safe, inclusive community, Davis offers a variety of venues for marriage and commitment ceremonies, including its local parks and the University of California, Davis Arboretum, a public garden with more than 22,000 trees and plants.
In the Shasta Cascade Region, visitors can tie the knot at Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens in Dunsmuir, which encompasses approximately 10 acres of a hilly, wooded area with a meadow and picnic sites bordering the Upper Sacramento River. Spring is an ideal time for ceremonies as the native white dogwood makes a strong showing this time of year. From the moment guests drive through the gates of Chapelle de L’Artiste Chateau & Retreat in the Town of Paradise, they are treated to an upscale, comfortable country experience. The property’s lush landscape makes for an ideal venue for intimate weddings, and guests can choose to exchange vows inside the quaint chapel, on an island in the pond, and opening in July, in their 1,200-square-foot wine cave. Room rates range from $255 to $325 per night.