Outdoor Weddings

SUMMERS BLOSSOM with couples paused on the doorstep of matrimony, uncertain of whether to make their entrance grandly or simply. And they have a wealth of possibilities from which to choose.

Most popular this time of year is the outdoor wedding. The bride and groom may not necessarily live happily ever after, but there are at least two fairly sure things in Southern California: Rain will unlikely be a guest at the ceremony; the same goes for clouds of mosquitoes.

There's nothing quite as elegant, in the truest sense of the word, as the simplicity of a garden wedding. With nature supplying most of the ambience, the green lawn dotted with traditional white folding chairs and the sound of music and scent of flowers on the fresh breezes are memory-makers.

The magnificent old Hotel del Coronado is the perfect place for a garden wedding. Located in the city of Coronado, the hotel has been synonymous with romance for more than a century (the Prince of Wales is said to have met Wallis Simpson at the famous Hotel Del as it is called by some). Its courtyard is a prized wedding site. Services available at the hotel include reception catering and in-house florist.

Those torn between the beauty of an outdoor celebration and the brevity and privacy of a courthouse ceremony can have their wedding cake and eat it too in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a wondrous Spanish and Moorish edifice covering an entire city block, surrounds beautiful gardens that are just perfect for a wedding. A reservation from the Santa Barbara County Park Department is required, and for groups of up to 200, a $40-$120 fee for the use of the grounds is charged. The county clerk's office will supply a list of judges and commissioners who can be hired to perform the nuptials.

The Los Angeles County Department of Arboreta and Botanic Gardens offers three popular natural wonders as wedding sites: the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia, Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, and the South Coast Botanic Gardens on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Amid flowers, trees, birds and nature at her manicured loveliest, small to very large weddings plus receptions are held each summer. The fee, a contribution of between $200 and $2,000, depending on number of guests, goes toward the maintenance of the gardens.

Point Loma, located on Route 209 in the city of San Diego, is a flat area, with a spectacular view, 400 feet above the ocean. Contact Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego for wedding permits, rules and regulations. There is a $100 permit fee.

Joshua Tree National Monument, northeast of Palm Springs, is a favorite wedding site for campers and other lovers of nature, who can grab such sites as Live Oak and Hidden Valley picnic areas. Only the park entrance fee needs be paid.

Frank Lloyd Wright's desert tangle of triangles near Joshua Tree is a complex that now houses the Institute of Mental Physics, a retreat and teaching center. It offers garden weddings and a reception area.

Lantern Bay Park is at Dana Point, overlooking Dana Point Harbor. A group-use permit is required from the Orange County Department of Parks and Recreation. A fee based on the number of guests is required.

Irvine Regional Park, in Orange, has a special area used for small weddings. Call for information about fees, which are varied but reasonable.

Many if not most city, state, county and even federal recreation areas allow weddings at vastly varying rates--some without charge. Check with local parks and recreation offices, and also your area port authority.

Finding a truly unusual spot for an outdoor wedding is not difficult in Southern California, where the out of the ordinary is all around us. It can actually be a bit more of a task to locate an official who will perform a ceremony on a path less traveled. This is perhaps why a mom-and-popper called Home, Garden, Mountain, Park, Beach and Small Sea Weddings and Affirmations flourishes in Sherman Oaks. It is the promise of retired Naval Reserve Chaplain Rev. James Vander Weken and his wife, Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Swanson-Vander Weken, to perform any ceremony, at reasonable rates, any time, anywhere, and they aren't kidding. Their favorite outdoor wedding: On the beach, the I-do's were exchanged at sunset with the wedding party and the guests standing barefoot in the incoming tide.

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