Destination weddings are typically set in exotic, tropical or luxurious locations (or some combination of all three). But, for soon-to-be newlyweds who want their big day to be off the beaten path without breaking the bank, there are locations in the United States that are perfect for destination weddings.
Think Europe or the islands have a lock on delivering a culture-drenched backdrop for your destination wedding? Think again. Here are 10 locations ideal for destination weddings in the United States, along with tips for letting each one’s spirit shine into your celebration.
Key West, Florida
Why It’s Special: Key West’s vibrant sunsets and turquoise water are legendary. The tiny isle’s wacky party atmosphere and sultry Cuban soul add a free-spirited tone that ups the energy at any celebration, making it one of the best places for U.S. destination weddings.
Only-In-Key West Touch: Save Mallory Square’s nightly sunset carnival for the welcome party. For all of the scenery but none of the crowd, hold your sunset ceremony at the end of the pier at Ocean Key Resort or on the semi-private, offshore island at Sunset Key Guest Cottages, a Westin resort.
Inside Tip: Be mindful of peak hurricane season (mid-August through early October). With it comes lower rates but with a small potential for snags in your plan. So, consider purchasing trip insurance. Also, beaches here aren’t as expansive as those in other parts of Florida.
San Diego, California
Why It’s Special: Fab weather all year round matched with any mixture of cool sophistication, and boho-chic style make SoCal weddings a breeze, making San Diego one of the best destination weddings in the U.S.
Only-in-San Diego Touch: The San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the country. Set up a private VIP tour for you and your guests, or, better yet, say your vows onsite under a grove of shady trees with rhinos, giraffes and gazelles roaming in the background.
Inside Tip: San Diego has plenty of beaches, but, due to restrictions, there aren’t many where you can marry easily, says wedding planner Rachel Peniche. For saying “I do” with your toes-in-the-sand, Peniche suggests the private beach at the historic Hotel de Coronado on Coronado Island. Or try a sand-free, oceanfront alternative like the deck or Pacific-facing lawn at the Robert Paine Scripps Seaside Forum, part of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Why It’s Special: Boasting miles and miles of weathered, wind-swept coastline hemmed by massive sand dunes and scattered with lighthouses, this coastal region has been luring families for generations. Wild horses still roam the beaches at the north end, which has become a popular site for weddings.
Only-in-the Outer Banks Touch: Hit the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The 100-foot-tall sand dunes – the tallest on the East Coast – are perfect for sandboarding, kite-flying and launching hang gliders.
Inside Tip: Consider a mid-week wedding, especially during the spring and summer seasons. The one road that accesses the Outer Banks can get super-congested on the weekends.
San Francisco, California
Why It’s Special: Gorgeous views of the bays and bridges, distinctive neighborhoods and world-renowned food make this hilly city a traveler favorite, especially for those in search of a California wedding destination. The coastal climate means sunshine is never guaranteed, but watching the fog cascade in can be downright romantic, making San Francisco one of the best destination wedding locations in the U.S.
Only-in-San Francisco Touch: Marry at Cavallo Point or Eagle Point with the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco’s skyline as your backdrop. Since both venues are located in nearby Marin outside the fog zone, you’ll have a better chance of sunshine (there’s also parking). Rent cable-car trolleys to provide whimsical transportation from your ceremony to the reception.
Inside Tip: Summers can be cold, and winters can be rainy, so shoot for September or October, if you’re looking to hold any events outside. Be sure to have an indoor option just in case.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Why It’s Special: Laid-back nature-lovers flock to Maine for its cool summers, rocky coastline, quaint towns and easy access to mountains, lakes and beaches. And did we mention lobster?
Only-In-Bar Harbor Touch: No one can pull off a lobster bake like a Mainer. Since the one-pot combo of corn, steamers, potatoes and lobster tastes best outside, have your bake catered at picturesque Frenchman’s Bay or on your own sandy cove. Pair it with blueberry ale from Bar Harbor brewery Atlantic Brewing Co.
Inside Tip: “Some families have been vacationing during the same two summer weeks for generations,” wedding planner Krista Carter says. “So if you’re looking to buy out a classic Maine beachfront inn, opt for September.”
Charleston, South Carolina
Why It’s Special: Formal gardens and antebellum mansions rub elbows with edgy art galleries, jewel-box shops and chef-driven cafés along Charleston’s cobblestone streets. Just out of town, you’ll find sweeping tidal marshes, white-sand beaches and plantations perfect for photo backdrops.
Only-In-Charleston Touch: Local wedding planner Tara Guerard suggests tying the knot under a moss-draped live oak at a historic plantation. Afterward, do like the locals, and serve oysters and shrimp pulled from nearby creeks, tiny biscuits filled with slivers of country ham and miniature crab cakes on silver trays.
Inside Tip: Insects are a fact of life in the South, especially in the summer. To keep mosquitoes and no-see-ums from crashing your fete, burn citronella torches, and distribute insect repellent to your guests.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Why It’s Special: Today’s Las Vegas takes campy fun and sexy glamour to new levels, and celebrity chefs attract foodies from all over the world. Bonus: The desert climate almost guarantees a sunny wedding day.
Only-In-Vegas Touch: Poolside cabanas come equipped with flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and butlers. Rent one for a day in the sun with your wedding party, and you’ll feel like celebs, especially if you greet your ‘maids with personalized flip-flops and tees. And go ahead: Spring for that strip-view room; you won’t want to miss a minute of the neon.
Inside Tip: It’s easy for even large groups to get lost in the crowd at some of the strip’s oversized resorts, so request some blocks in the same section of the hotel, and consider booking a party suite where everyone can meet up and hang out together.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Why It’s Special: Life in New Orleans centers on cuisine, music and community. Add in gorgeous architecture and an exuberant party atmosphere, and you have all the ingredients for a “tres joyeaux” celebration. Some nightclubs are open 24/7, so don’t be surprised if your afterparty runs into breakfast.
Only-in-New Orleans Touch: Get the party started with a second-line parade, letting a live brass band lead the procession of you and your guests from the ceremony to the reception site. Create custom handkerchiefs and parasols to let them wave in style, and, if some locals join in, just go with it. Guests not up to the walk can make the trip in horse-drawn carriages.
Inside Tip: The popularity of Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and New Year’s Eve translates into higher rates, limousine-clogged roads and overbooked musicians and caterers, so plan accordingly. Hotels on lively Bourbon Street come with charm but also street noise. If quiet matters, look to the French Quarter’s side streets, or try another part of town, like the Garden District.
Why It’s Special: Scottsdale’s rugged terrain – moody sandscapes, massive rock formations and cayenne-hued Camelback Mountain – draws outdoor enthusiasts. Add swanky resorts, championship golf, a vibrant art scene and bold Southwestern culture, and this casually accessible Sonoran Desert oasis is hard to beat.
Only-in-Scottsdale Touch: Capture the desert’s exotic beauty in your reception decor. At Cactus Flower Events, planner Corrina Chavez-Gomez adds desert succulents to bridal bouquets and reception tables.
Inside Tip: The desert sun can be a scorcher, so schedule your outdoor wedding later in the day. An awning, hand-held fans and bottled water will help keep your guests cool.
Why It’s Special: Yes, the skiing is dinve, as is the sight of snow-capped mountains in the winter. But summer is prime wedding season here, when your gang can go white-water rafting on the Eagle or Colorado Rivers, horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking through wildflower-filled valleys. A family-friendly vibe and a plethora of sophisticated food-forward restaurants round out the offerings.
Only-in-Vail Touch: Perched atop Vail Mountain and overlooking the Mount of the Holy Cross, the Vail Wedding Deck is a natural choice for alpin-eloving couples. (Note: The stunning, high-altitude site is accessible only via gondola.)
Inside Tip: Even with improved air service to Vail, snowfall as late as June can disrupt travel easily, so give yourself some buffer days.