Locations Range From the Exotic to the Pristine

Oliver is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Big weddings are back in style, but the traditional places--churches, hotels and restaurants--aren't the only spots for fashionable Southland brides and bridegrooms. Many couples elect to combine the traditional with the innovative to create a ceremony that is uniquely their own.

Sharon Mullings, bridal consultant with V.I.P. Fantasy Locations, says the number of second, third, interracial and interfaith marriages leads many to seek neutral turf for their nuptials. While many couples still prefer traditional settings, with a service performed by a priest, rabbi or minister, others opt to recite their vows aboard a ship or in a hot-air balloon.

Brides and bridegrooms with unlimited pocketbooks might choose to be married aboard a luxury yacht or in a fabulous mansion. A wedding in an exotic locale with a catered meal can easily run up a five-figure tab.

Brides on a budget, however, should not despair. Creativity, imagination and enthusiasm can go a long way toward orchestrating a memorable occasion. Museums, public facilities and chapels in such unexpected spots as a Forest Lawn memorial park can be rented inexpensively, while a sylvan wilderness setting in a national forest may be free.

These unusual locales, popular with brides and bridegrooms this season, are but a few of the many possible spots for an unforgettable wedding. Most are so in demand that reservations must be made several months in advance.

The Sundowner luxury yacht, Sundowner Yacht Charter, Fiji Way, Marina del Rey, Calif. 90292, (213) 306-9474, or wedding consultant Sharon Mullings at V.I.P. Fantasy Locations, (213) 475-6122. If you dream of luxury, a wedding aboard the Sundowner, an opulent 88-foot yacht, may be your cup of tea. The bridal couple and up to 125 guests enjoy a four-hour cruise to the entrance of the marina, where vows are exchanged as a covey of white pigeons is released to commemorate the event. Festivities continue at a reception in one of the yacht's salons. Packages start at $6,000 for the champagne wedding and go up to $10,000 for the "Cloud 9" wedding. Mullings will also help couples custom design their services and can arrange ceremonies in castle-like settings or Liberace's 1960s mansion. (Rentals start at about $3,500 for site use; everything else is extra.)

Hot-air balloon, L.A. Balloon Port, 4222 50th St. West, Quartz Hill, Calif. 93536, (805) 943-7676, or (800) 2-ASCEND, or consult the Yellow Pages under "Balloons--Manned."

When Dave Mair and his bride got married, the wedding party ascended in a colorful hot-air balloon festooned with flowers and garlands. Mair, who is owner-operator of L.A. Balloon Port, had one word to describe the affair: "Spectacular!" Mair says: "This is the safest form of flying there is." You can rent a small balloon that holds bride and bridegroom and an ordained minister (who can be the pilot); or you can squeeze a small wedding party of six plus minister and pilot into a larger balloon. The craft flies for an hour over the Antelope Valley. Plan to pay $500 for the small balloon, $1,300 for the larger one. (Mair can also provide flowers, limousines and a reception at additional cost.)

Los Angeles Police Academy, 1800 N. Academy Drive, Los Angeles, Calif. 90012, (213) 222-9136.

People from all walks of life have entered into wedded bliss in the secluded rock garden of the Police Academy in Elysian Park. Cascading waterfalls give a pastoral backdrop that conjures up an aura of serenity. Following the service, guests can toast the newlyweds at a reception in the L.A. Police Revolver and Athletic Club. A catered buffet costs in the neighborhood of $16.50 per person, with a 100-guest minimum.

Forest Lawn, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale, Calif. 91205, (213) 254-3131; Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills: (818) 984-1711; Forest Lawn-Covina Hills: (818) 966-3671 (ask for wedding hostess). When Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan got married Jan. 26, 1940, they chose the Wee Kirk o' the Heather at Forest Lawn in Glendale for the ceremonies. About 25,000 couples have been married in this replica of the Scottish church where Annie Laurie, sweetheart of poet Robert Burns, worshiped. Church of Our Heritage in Covina Hills and Church of the Hills in Hollywood Hills, both American Colonial style, are also popular wedding spots. All are consecrated churches. Use of any of the three churches will cost you $165, which includes rehearsal time and a two-hour wedding.

Buccaneer-Mardi Gras Cruises, Berth 76, Ports o' Call Village, San Pedro, Calif. 90731, (213) 548-1085 or (213) 547-2833. Set sail on the sea of matrimony with a two-hour cruise around Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor aboard the Buccaneer Queen, a square-rig, high-mast sailing ship. The boom of the cannon on the Buccaneer will let the world know you've tied the knot. Afterward, you and your guests can chow down on barbecued steak while a banjo player serenades. The cost is $200 plus $31 per person for a minimum of 55 people, a maximum of 90. For a larger party, take the Mardi Gras Princess, a paddle-wheel Mississippi River boat. From 90 to 145 guests can enjoy a prime rib dinner and dance to a three-piece band. The two-hour cruise also costs $200 plus $31 per person.

Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, Calif. 90078, (213) 851-3588.

If you've enjoyed symphonies under the stars, the Hollywood Bowl may be a harmonious setting for your wedding. The ceremony and reception may be held in the Patio Restaurant and adjoining garden glens. A sit-down luncheon, dinner or brunch will cost $15.95 to $29.95 per person; a buffet costs $8.95 to $24.95 per person. There are live troubadours and room for dancing. Free parking.

Southwest Museum, 234 Museum Drive, Highland Park, (mailing address: P.O. Box 128, Los Angeles, Calif. 90042), (213) 221-2164.

After regular visiting hours are over, a wedding at the Southwest Museum's Casa de Adobe, the antique-filled replica of an adobe ranch home, will take you back to Early California. A catered reception following could feature Mexican or Spanish cuisine. The museum charges $250 for the use of the facilities plus an additional $50 for each museum staff member per hour for security; catering is extra.

Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, Calif. 91101, (818) 449-2742.

In the courtyard at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, a red banner decorated with the Chinese characters symbolizing double happiness flies above the bridal party. Some couples elect to say their vows on the zigzag bridge over the koi pond. The reception can be a stand-up or sit-down catered affair with dancing. An approximate fee for the use of the courtyard and museum staff needed for security is $8 per guest; catering is extra.

Pepperdine University Chapel, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, Calif. 90265, (213) 456-4264.

You don't have to be a student or Pepperdine graduate to pledge your vows at Stauffer Chapel on campus. In the dramatically modern church designed by architect William Pereira, the massive stained-glass window faces the Pacific Ocean. University staff will provide you with the names of local clergymen and musicians. A basic $550 fee includes a four-hour Saturday or Sunday wedding plus a two-hour rehearsal.

Angeles National Forest, Arroyo-Seco Ranger District. For details and permits, telephone (818) 790-1151.

Nuptials alfresco can be as simple or as elaborate as your creativity can conjure. If you want to get married in a national forest, you will need a permit, but first you should trek to the forest to select a spot. Weddings have been staged at Chilao Meadow or Charlton Flats Picnic Area, both about 25 miles above La Canada on Angeles Crest Highway, and at Switzer Picnic Area, about 10 miles above La Canada off Angeles Crest Highway. The wedding party may want to bring a vehicle to use as a dressing room.

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