7 Unique & Affordable SoCal Wedding Venues

Over the past few weeks of wedding planning, we've found SO many wedding venues that look great but we've only been able to visit a few top picks. This has been pretty fun for us as architectural/interior designers! When we started looking, we were definitely on a quest for locations that seemed within our $20k budget and that offered something a little different than the typical ballroom feel.  We're on a quest to really nail our mid-century modern tiki theme in terms of look & feel so our location is one of the biggest pieces to that puzzle. We set off assuming that our ideal venue would be interesting architecturally, have a great view, or would be located in a warehouse (with lots of potential for cool DIY decorations).  We also quickly realized (thanks to the non-stop heat-wave in LA this summer) that our plan to have the wedding in the month of August really necessitates that the dining area will be indoors. Unfortunately, this removed some great looking options from our "must see" list (one of my favorites was the McCormick Home Ranch).  As we've been searching around, we've mostly been trying to envision how the ceremony will feel and how closely the venues will help to facilitate the theming of our wedding.  Of the venues we visited, these ended up being our top picks (listed in order of site visit): 

The Fig House

Before visiting the Fig House, we assumed it might be slightly out of budget but it looked so great that we decided we had to check it out, just in case!  Sure enough, in terms of design, this venue is a dream. It really looks amazing. 

Here's the initial color palette we came up with for our wedding.  This venue matches it pretty well, right? 

It's also close to where we live, offers great indoor & outdoor spaces, has dressing areas/lounges for the bridal party and the groomsmen, and it allows dogs (awesome because our pup, Gatsby, is our top pick for a ring bearer).  

The bridal Suite

the groomsmen suite (or supplemental cocktail bar) 

Really, given our mid-century modern tiki theme, the colors and look & feel of the space couldn't be better.  

When we stood under the tree in the spot where couples usually exchange vows (view to the invisible crowd below), I could picture that being the spot for our wedding day.  It's a test we did at all venues.  Some of them felt "right" while others didn't. 

The major downside to this venue: after crunching all the numbers, it really blows our $20K budget.  There is pretty much zero flexibility really when it comes to catering.  You have to use their bar service, which is much pricier than BYOB. And while Roomforty, their partnering caterer, looks great, we just can't afford their price per person given our $20k budget.  To buy them out, we'd have to pay $2000 and our caterer wouldn't have access to the kitchen. Overall, this venue looks great but the cost of catering is definitely daunting if you don't have a ton of money to spend! 

Our favorite feature: The impeccable design
Runner-up: Great areas for the groom/groomsmen & bride/bridesmaids to prep 

Our least favorite feature: The cost of catering 

The Fig House
Highland Park
http://www.fighousela.com

The Unique Space 

Out of all of the venues we visited, I think the Unique Space had the fewest restrictions when it came to caterers and bartenders.  They don't have any preferred (or required) vendors, which is nice!  You can even have food trucks if you want and the enclosed parking lot outside of the venue is a great space to host that sort of catering.  It's not that obvious in this picture but that parking lot has doubled as lounge space, dance floor, and even the dining area for a lot of events.  In person, it was a little hard to picture especially since the space didn't feel too closed off from the street or the property on the other side of it. Other couples have definitely worked this space well, though, so there's no doubt that it has potential! 

The Unique Space offers that open warehouse feel that we love and it can really be decorated in any way to make the event work.  

It also has a lot of cool design features that would work well for our theme - great shelving to put "tiki" objects on display, a professional looking bar for our tropical cocktails, and little spaces that could serve different purposes for our wedding - photo booth, activities, lounge, etc. 

The rooftop is available for photoshoots - bride & groom only.  It has a great view of downtown, which is a pretty nice feature.

Unfortunately, the area where this spot is located in downtown seems like it would be fairly abandoned at night, which might not give out-of-town guests a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

Otherwise, this spot is pretty funky and cool and has some great looking furniture (to rent) and built-in features.  It's certainly not lacking in character! 

Our favorite feature: Total flexibility with caterers & bartending
Runner-up: Unique areas/features in the venue design 

Our least favorite feature: The neighborhood didn't feel super welcoming so many of our guests would most likely feel uncomfortable entering/leaving the venue

The Unique Space
Downtown LA
http://www.hitchedon6th.com

Huron Substation 

Throughout our search, a lot of "barn" wedding venues seemed really appealing but many were too far away or out of budget.  Huron Substation happens to provide that rustic high-ceilinged  vibe and is conveniently located in Highland Park. 

Overall, the venue has that lofty atmosphere that really appeals to us.  It's definitely unique for a building in Los Angeles!  Unfortunately, its historic nature also means it's lacking AC. The wood tables and chairs are included which is great since they're in a more simple/modern style that we like.  The earthy, darker tones of the venue could also suit well for a tiki theme. 

The space out back feels quaint and serene - perfect for a peaceful ceremony.  It's also a great hang out spot during cocktail hour or when people want a break from the reception happening inside. 

There's an upstairs portion of the venue which accommodates an area for a feature like a photo booth  as well as the bridal suite.  The space is gorgeous but my fear of heights might kick in while heading down that flight of stairs on my nervous approach to the altar! 

Overall, this space is beautiful and offers some unique, rustic charm in the heart of the city.  Given the lack of AC, however, it might not be the best of our options for the month of August. 

Our favorite feature: The lofty, rustic charm of the building
Runner-up: The great outdoor ceremony/cocktail hour/reception space 

Our least favorite features: No AC (ok, and the daunting staircase leading down from the bridal suite) 

Huron Substation
Highland Park
http://huronsubstation.com

SmogShoppe

SmogShoppe captivated us before we even walked through the entrance.  From the exterior, there are lots of beautiful succulent walls and I looooove succulents.  

The sign going in is pretty retro looking too.  

Inside, the venue is a converted mechanic's shop (hence the name SmogShoppe).  It's got even more lush-looking vegetation inside that would play well into our tiki theme.  The "shop" itself is a wide open industrial space for the reception. 

Ceremonies at the SmogShoppe are held against this succulent wall backdrop outside.  Not bad if you ask us! But wait, there's a catch!  No pups allowed :(  So Gatsby couldn't be part of the wedding at this venue.  

Inside there are all sorts of nice design details, a bridal suite in the loft above the space, lots of plants, great objects, etc. 

One of our favorite features is the large projection screen wall.  Our visits to the Coconut Club have shown us the wonders of playing themed footage during dinner and this would be the perfect spot for that. Also pictured are the included wood tables & chairs. 

We were able to watch the space transition from day to night during our site visit.  At night, the space lights up and looks quite magical.  

Our favorite feature: Just about everything about the atmosphere
Runner-up: The projection wall so we can enhance the space even more with our theme

Our least favorite features: No dogs allowed (which would mean no Gatsby in the ceremony!) & the need to hire a babysitter for more than 3 children attending the wedding

SmogShoppe
Culver City
http://marvimon.com/smogshoppe

Malibu West Beach Club

We looked at a few beach venues and, out of all of them, Malibu West Beach Club seemed to be most aligned with our budget, style, and determination to theme our event.  It's located in an interesting building - perhaps a little dated looking to some but the mid-century styling of the roof was interesting to us.  

Inside, the venue is really a blank canvas with lots of potential to be decorated in our style.  Jacqui, who showed us around, was incredibly helpful in terms of really helping us envision what we could do with the space and understand all of the logistics.  

The ceremony site would be out on the deck - providing a gorgeous view of the beach for the backdrop. The view also provides atmosphere throughout the night as it's really the focal point of the dining area. It seems pretty appropriate to be close to the water given our tiki theme.  After dinner, the balcony provides a great lounge area for guests.  Definitely a treat for out-of-towners!  

Overall, this venue offers a beautiful ocean setting, is fairly cozy, and is pretty white and minimal, which means it could really be decorated to suit our needs. 

Our favorite feature: The beach setting
Runner-up: The potential for really customizing the venue to our liking - especially given the helpful nature of the venue director 

Our least favorite feature: The space felt a little less stylish compared to other options 

Malibu West Beach Club
Malibu
http://www.malibuwestbeachclub.com

Malibou Lake Mountain Club

Malibou Lake Mountain Club  was by far the most serene and secluded location we visited.  It's tucked away up a winding road in Agoura Hills. It used to be a hunting lodge so it understandably still has a little bit of that rustic/campy feel. 

The ceremony is held on the large lawn outside the main building.  The lake offers a beautiful backdrop to the wedding.  It's hard to imagine that this place could be anywhere near LA! 

Following, the ceremony, cocktail hour is held out on this porch.  

The reception is held in the ballroom below.  It's definitely not your typical ballroom (something we're trying to avoid) since it's more light and airy and offers great views of the property.  Still, it's not as unique as some of the other reception sites we've seen.

In case it's not obvious from the pictures, this place is pretty sprawling.  There's even a whole extra room in between the ballroom and the porch that could be used for the photo booth, activities, etc. 

One thing to note is that Malibou Lake Mountain Club, like the Fig House, has an exclusive partnership with its catering company, which means no flexibility there.  On the plus side, Truly Yours is relatively affordable compared to other caterers and there's the awesome option to BYOB (much cheaper than having someone else provide it).  What's awesome is that this venue offers a hard-to-beat deal on its Friday venue fee. 

We really love how peaceful this location feels and we both think that our families would really appreciate an event held at Malibou Lake.  We do have a concern though - since this venue is pretty far from the city, Uber is probably less likely to swing by...and the drive home down the mountain could be treacherous (especially given lack of lighting).  Nonetheless, this venue is definitely relaxed, spread out, and really unexpected for the LA area!  

Our favorite feature: Serenity up in the mountains by the lake
Runner-up: Three dedicated areas for ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception

Our least favorite feature: The drive leaving the venue is pretty dark & curvy so we'd be concerned about people getting home safely

Malibou Lake Mountain Club
Agoura Hills
http://www.maliboulakeclub.com

Casino San Clemente 

Casino San Clemente was by far the most interesting site historically.  Casinos back in the day were dance halls (not gambling halls) and this was one of the big ones in Southern California.  It was built in 1937 and so many people performed here including Judy Garland.  It was also technologically advanced at the time with it's unique ceiling that provided certain acoustics in the ballroom as well as its "floating" dance floor which was one of the first of its kind.  

Beyond the great history, this venue is really ideal because it offers three distinct (and gorgeous!) areas for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception (shown in order below).  

Casino San Clemente also offers lots of flexibility in terms of arrival time.  It would allow us to set up & get ready early which is awesome because so many venues have very limited timeframes. It is also one of the only venues we visited with ample parking nearby.  One other bonus feature: it's super close to the beach - perfect for photos!  

The only thing we really don't like about this option is its distance from LA. With so many people flying across the country for our wedding, it's a lot to ask to have them drive an hour and a half further down to the venue.  

Our favorite feature: The unique architecture & layout that provides
Runner-up: The venue's ease and flexibility in terms of parking & setting up 

Our least favorite feature: The long drive down from LA

Casino San Clemente
San Clemente
http://casinosanclemente.blogspot.com

So...

Which venue do you think would be best for us?  

We're in the process of coming to a conclusion this week so we'd love to hear your thoughts.  Stay tuned for our decision and to hear all of the things we've learned throughout the course of our scouting process!