You have found each other; now you have to find a place to get married.
Los Altos is central to many wedding venues. There are outdoor sites that take advantage of the area's stunning natural beauty, as well as wineries, gardens and historic homes. A town of many faiths, Los Altos is an excellent choice for a traditional wedding in a church or temple. The beach is close by, and destination wedding options are available through travel agencies.
This abundance of choices may seem intimidating at first, but after you answer the key question, your ideas will jell: How much money can you or your parents afford to spend?
If money is no object, by all means spend it on a great party. But if the wedding of your dreams would require plundering your parents' retirement fund or shouldering a major debt yourself, give some thought to downsizing. Spending money you don't have is a bad way to start a relationship that will be concerned, in large part, with finances. Living beyond your income is a fast track to divorce.
After you have wrestled with the financial issue, subsequent questions will be more fun to answer: Do you relish being the center of 250 people's attention or would you rather keep it small? Do you love the outdoors? Do you like to dance? What alcohol, if any, do your friends and relatives want? Are your friends party-hearty types or more reserved? Are you in a hurry or can you wait for the perfect venue to be available? Would you prefer the convenience of a nearby location or the excitement of travel?
Partly because of the array of options, the wedding business is booming right now. Hiring a wedding planner can save a lot of headaches. A professional generally has experience with a multitude of factors that you could never imagine.
Jennifer Voight, special events manager for Satura Cakes in Los Altos and an independent wedding consultant, said the best places to start are books and the Internet. She recommended "Here Comes the Guide," a book and Web site (www.herecomestheguide.com) with details on more than 900 locations and event professionals in California. By Recommendation Only (www.byreconly.com) also lists wedding venues and places to buy gowns and other necessities in Northern California.
Try to find a venue that suits your personality. Are you more comfortable in a fancy hotel or at the beach? If you answered, "Both," consider a beachside hotel, such as the Seascape Resort south of Santa Cruz or the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay.
Couples who want to keep expenses down should consider daytime events, Voight said. "These are usually less expensive because the guests typically will not eat or drink as much as they would in the evening," she said. "And remember, having your event offseason or avoiding Saturdays during peak season is always a good way to trim cost."
Serving the reception dinner buffet style can mean a big savings over hiring wait staff to serve seated guests. And many people prefer buffet service because it allows them to choose what they want to eat, according to Voight.
Having a wedding and reception at home is a great way to save money, she added, as long as your neighborhood allows the level of music you want. "You to have ask yourself how late and how loud you want to party," she said. Amplified music can be a problem in many venues.
"Be sure to consider permit regulations and let all of your neighbors know well in advance," she said of the home option. "Tenting a backyard is very popular to do at a home wedding when space allows. You could even throw a dance floor over a pool to open up more space."
Yet finding the right size tent and adding decor touches and lighting is more difficult - and expensive - than you might think.
A 2,000-square-foot tent that can accommodate a sit-down dinner for 100 people, a dance floor and buffet area with side walls and no lighting could run $1,750-$2,000, according to Voight. Simple up-lighting may push that tent into the $3,500 range. Start adding decorations, walls, flooring and so on, the price could increase to $10,000 or $11,000.
"So it really could be a lot less than a venue, or just as expensive," Voight said. "But the pros for it are that you can have the complete freedom to design it, and you can put it almost anywhere."
Voight has some favorite area venues. She recommended the Westin St. Francis and Mandarin Oriental hotels in San Francisco; the Kohl Mansion, a Tudor-style home built on 40 acres in Burlingame; Ralston Hall, an Italian villa-style mansion built in the 1860s in Belmont; and Villa Montalvo, a 1912 home in the foothills above Saratoga.
Wineries are always lovely options, and Voight noted these as particularly good sites: V. Sattui Winery, a massive stone structure built in 1885 in St. Helena, with manicured gardens and picnic grounds; Ferrari Carano Winery in Healdsburg; Byington Winery, an Italianate chateau in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos; Wente Vineyards in Livermore; and the Mountain Winery in Saratoga with its beautiful views of the Santa Clara Valley.
Making a decision on a site involves pondering some intangibles. Almost any wedding in America these days involves some mixing of cultures. Remember to be respectful of your mate's wedding-culture traditions. For example, if your mate comes from a culture that always has weddings in a church and receptions in a restaurant, you may be wise to follow that tradition.
Another important thing to remember is that weddings are multigenerational family gatherings, an opportunity for family to unite under joyous circumstances and a chance for distant relatives to get to know each other. Deciding whether to invite the offspring of your friends and family is an important consideration.
You don't always have to pay full price for the children; many food providers offer children's meals at a reduced cost. Nevertheless, there may be circumstances under which you would not invite children - a venue that is too small or plans for a late and wild reception. Just be aware that although you are the star, the party is for your guests.
Many magazines exhort you to plan an extravagant wedding, and you may find your dreams expanding as you research your options. Don't forget that "extravagant" means "exceeding reasonable bounds." The larger and more complex an event, the higher the expectations surrounding it.
Be careful not to put that heavy burden on your day. Your wedding is a time to share an important milestone with the people closest to you. Planning with those people in mind will help you have a day that everyone can call a happy memory.