Out of Town - Great Wedding and Honeymooning Spots in California
When the California State Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in May 2008, the Golden State quickly became one of the nation’s leading destinations for same-sex weddings and honeymoons. In fact, even before the ruling, plenty of inns, resorts, and hotels around the state encouraged same-sex commitment ceremonies and romantic getaways. But now with the ruling, gay couples are flocking to California. Of course, the state’s stunning scenery and wealth of sophisticated, luxurious hideaways has long made it an excellent choice if you’re planning a romantic vacation.
California has an abundance of inviting accommodation options, from 400-room hotels offering gay-wedding packages and assistance with planning to intimate B&Bs that ooze charm and are ideal for smaller, low-keyed nuptials and celebrations. Here’s a look at a dozen noteworthy wedding and honeymoon spots around the Golden State - from affordable, secluded inns to over-the-top, posh resorts.
Black Bear Inn, Lake Tahoe
California’s premier four-season destination, the Lake Tahoe region exudes romance whether it’s covered with fresh snow in January or abloom with flowers in July. Among the area’s many ultra-romantic accommodations, consider the gay-owned Black Bear Inn. The airy, contemporary main lodge (which has five guest rooms) and three private cabins contain river-rock fireplaces, beamed cathedral ceilings, and stylish rustic-chic furnishings and fabrics. Although the Black Bear is an intimate property, the owners enthusiastically welcome small weddings for the extremely reasonable rate of $300.
Groveland Hotel, Groveland
Anchoring the small mountain town of Groveland, not far from Yosemite National Park, the rambling Groveland Hotel opened in 1849 during the region’s gold-mining heyday. Friendly owners Peggy and Grover Mosley bought and completely renovated the property several years back. The mood at this charming, pet-friendly property is easygoing and informal, but two things make it notable as a romantic retreat: the inn’s restaurant serves astoundingly delicious contemporary American fare (with an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients and well-chosen regional wines), and there are few more naturally stunning settings in California than Yosemite and the surrounding mountains and forests. Weddings at the Groveland can take place in the restaurant or, during the warmer months, outside in a picturesque garden courtyard.
Hacienda at Warm Springs, Palm Springs
Long one of the most luxurious and romantic gay-exclusive mini-resorts in Palm Springs, the Hacienda is more couples-oriented and low-keyed than some of its more festive, playful neighbors, and that makes it a fine choice for a honeymoon hideaway or even a small wedding. The inn’s helpful staff can assist guests with wedding arrangements (from finding an officiant to perform your ceremony to helping you order a fantastic custom wedding cake), and the Hacienda offers a lavish three-night Honeymoon Package that includes rose petals, breakfast in bed, complimentary bathrobes, and dinner at two of the city’s top restaurants.
Honor Mansion, Healdsburg
In recent years, the dapper Sonoma County town of Healdsburg has become one of California’s most esteemed wine destinations, its countryside rife with fantastic wineries (Seghesio, Gary Farrell, Passalacqua, and Porter Creek among them) producing superb pinot noirs, zinfandels, and sauvignon blancs. Close to Healdsburg’s attractive town green, the stately Honor Mansion rolls out the red carpet to wine-loving gourmands with its truly magnificent suites and rooms. You might book the Tower Suite, fashioned out of a historic water tower and with a loft sitting area with a fireplace and a wet bar, or the four capacious Vineyard Suites, all with private patios that hold spa tubs for two. Lavish breakfasts, which you can enjoy on a picturesque sun deck in warm weather, complete the experience.
Hotel Palomar, San Francisco
Same-sex couples planning a wedding or honeymoon in the Bay Area can’t go wrong with any of the nine stylish boutique hotels operated by Kimpton Hotel Group, which ranks among the most gay-friendly lodging brands in the world. But the artfully cosmopolitan Hotel Palomar, located in the trendy SoMa neighborhood just a short walk from Union Square’s famous shops and eateries, might be the most romantic of the bunch. Dashing color schemes and furnishings - from alligator-print carpets to handsome persimmon-wood headboards with geometric patterns - lend a whimsical look to the guest rooms, and hotel amenities include the Fifth Floor restaurant (with its memorable California-meets-South-of-France cuisine) and a terrific range of in-room spa services. The hotel enthusiastically welcomes same-sex weddings and receptions of up to about 40 guests, and Kimpton’s solicitous, highly personal service can’t be beat.
Le Rivage Hotel, Sacramento
The only hotel in California’s capital that sits directly on the picturesque Sacramento River (and its lovely bike-and-strolling trail and 25-slip marina), Le Rivage opened early in 2008 and has quickly become a hit with discerning travelers. The three-story property contains 100 tastefully decorated rooms with Tuscany-inspired furnishings and earthy color schemes - each has a marble bath with a deep soaking tub and separate rain shower. Amenities such as the serene Spa La Le and upscale Scott’s Seafood add to the romantic vibe, and gay-friendly Le Rivage boasts one of the city’s most appealing wedding spaces: a neatly manicured lawn overlooking the river.
Sonoma Orchid Inn, Guerneville
Genial innkeepers - and gay couple - Dana Murphy and Brian Siewert run this elegant yet reasonably priced historic farmhouse inn set on a shaded hillside in one of California’s favorite gay vacation spots, the Russian River. You can choose from cozier, more affordable rooms in the 1906 original inn, or larger and more private suites in separate cottages. Breakfasts - which feature eggs laid by the inn’s own organically raised chickens - are the perfect start to your day in this region known for its acclaimed wineries, funky shopping, and scenic hikes beneath towering redwoods. The inn’s inviting grounds are ideal for wedding ceremonies, and a Honeymoon Orchid Package comes with a two-person aromatherapy massage, a personal vanilla cake decorated with candy flowers, and other fun perks.
Stevenswood Spa Resort, Mendocino
In the tranquil village of Mendocino, which hugs a dramatic stretch of Northern California coastline, the swank 10-suite Stevenswood Spa Resort is acclaimed for its snazzy and spacious accommodations, first-rate restaurant serving creative contemporary fare and local wines, and eco-friendly spa that uses earth-friendly products. This delightful gay-owned getaway actively courts the same-sex-wedding business, and it’s become a favorite romantic hideaway with urbanites from San Francisco (150 miles south) seeking a peaceful break from the city. Mendocino, though tiny, abounds with great restaurants and boutiques.
Sunset Marquis, West Hollywood
Looking to combine romance with the bustle and glamour of Los Angeles? West Hollywood’s gay-popular Sunset Marquis is situated steps from the glitzy nightlife, dining, and retail of both Santa Monica Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. Accommodations at this boutique hotel with discreet service and first-rate amenities run the gamut from rangy suites with marble baths and sleek, contemporary furnishings to super-plush villas with fireplaces, expansive terraces, and even baby grand pianos in some cases. The Sunset Marquis features a gay-popular Romance Package complete with chilled champagne, fresh flowers, a four-course dinner, and a slew of complimentary amenities and services, from valet parking to soft robes.
Surf & Sand Resort, Laguna Beach
In the artsy, gay-popular beach town of Laguna Beach - which sits midway between San Diego and Los Angeles, the luxe Surf & Sand Resort lies just steps from the Pacific Ocean and is notable for its state-of-the-art spa, top-notch Splashes Restaurant, and smartly furnished rooms and suites, all with ocean views and some with Jacuzzi tubs, beam ceilings, and wood-burning fireplaces. Most of the weddings held at this mainstream but gay-friendly resort take place on an open-air patio with unobstructed, panoramic ocean views. But the hotel is also happy to help you plan a ceremony right on the beach, with the crashing surf as your backdrop.
U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego
For a truly dazzling, over-the-top sumptuous urban vacation, it’s hard to beat downtown San Diego’s gloriously restored U.S. Grant Hotel, a 1910 stunner that completed a $56 million top-to-bottom restoration in 2006. Rooms are magnificent throughout, but for a special occasion, book one of the Signature Suites with their 8-by-8-foot showers outfitted with six(!) shower heads. Weddings accommodating up to 270 guests can be held in one of the lavish event spaces, with their spectacular chandeliers and ornate architectural details. The U.S. Grant is steps from the historic Gaslamp Quarter and its wealth of charming restaurants, and a short drive from leafy Balboa Park and the hip-and-happening Hillcrest neighborhood.
Wyndham Hotel Orange County, Costa Mesa
The openly gay general manager of this upscale chain property in Costa Mesa has long marketed to those seeking same-sex commitment ceremonies. Although this is a primarily business-oriented hotel during the week, on weekends the upscale mid-rise hotel offers a wide range of affordable deals that have made it popular with the leisure market. It’s in the heart of the city’s Theater and Arts District and makes a great base for exploring Orange County’s fab shopping malls and stunning beaches. The hotel has a lovely, romantic lakeside plaza that’s perfect for exchanging vows before a group of up to 250 onlookers. Guests at the Wyndham have access to the chichi Spa at South Coast Plaza, just a few steps away.
The Litte Black Book:
Black Bear Inn www.tahoeblackbear.com
Groveland Hotel www.groveland.com/main.htm
Hacienda at Warm Springs www.thehacienda.com
Honor Mansion www.honormansion.com
Hotel Palomar San Francisco www.hotelpalomar-sf.com
Le Rivage Hotel www.lerivagehotel.com
Sonoma Orchid Inn www.sonomaorchidinn.com
Stevenswood Spa Resort www.stevenswood.com
Sunset Marquis www.sunsetmarquishotel.com
Surf & Sand Resort www.surfandsandresort.com
U.S. Grant Hotel www.usgrant.net
Wyndham Hotel Orange County www.wyndham.com/hotels/SNAOC/main.wnt
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides. He can be reached at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.