Cover Story / Lifestyle

Offbeat Wedding Venues

East Bay nontraditional settings for ‘I do’

Offbeat wedding venues like UC Botanical Gardens make for an unforgettable ceremony.
Near-centenarian trees bear witness to a ceremony in Stephen T. Mather Redwood Grove at UCB Botanical Gardens.

Where to tie the knot is one of the biggest decisions couples face when planning their weddings. For some, it’s easy. The church they both attend. The park where they met. The dream resort on Maui.

But for those wanting to stay local, and still pondering, here are some ideas for offbeat wedding venues that might just be the solution for an unforgettable—and unique—ceremony. Be aware that pent-up demand during the pandemic has meant a flood of weddings, so be prepared to book any of these offbeat wedding venues as far in advance as possible.

The Mega-Bash Wedding

THE CRANEWAY PAVILION, RICHMOND

Your wedding is you and 2,199 of your closest friends? Then the 45,000 square-foot Craneway may be just the ticket. Part of the 1931 Ford Assembly Plant Building on the bay at Richmond, the venue can accommodate really large events, up to 2,200 seated. 

The adjoining 20,000 square-foot open-air patio can blend indoor and outdoor spaces, accessing spectacular views. In addition to being an historic landmark, the Craneway is also state-of-the-art technically, as it often hosts concerts, with a world-class sound system. There is ample parking, and guests can also arrive by ferry, if they prefer.

The venue will provide an in-house event manager, but couples must provide their own wedding planner or coordinator. The Craneway is the exclusive alcohol provider, and on-site Assemble Marketplace is the default caterer, although outside catering is allowed under some circumstances. Noted the Craneway’s Spenser Dill, weekends at the Craneway are already booked through most of 2023, so the mega-bash will need to be scheduled even further out.

The Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way S, Richmond. 510-735-1133,

www.craneway.com/book-an-event/

The Family-and-Quite-a-Few-Friends Wedding

CHILDREN’S FAIRYLAND, OAKLAND

Many Oakland kids grew up asking to go to Children’s Fairyland at Lake Merritt. Now’s your grown-up chance to have a fairyland wedding, if your guest list is between 100 and 300. Children’s Fairyland has been back hosting weddings for more than a year. 

Its 10 acres of gardens and whimsical settings will host a canopied amphitheater, both indoor and outdoor seating options, an expansive lawn, water features, and a number of themed areas for receptions and sit-down dinners. Guests can rediscover childhood with a pirate ship and dragons or take a ride on the Jolly Trolly train. The Chapel of Peace offers a picturesque backdrop for wedding and engagement photos.

Although booking at least three months in advance is recommended, the wedding venue does have some flexibility, and has accommodated weddings which have lost their first venue. It does not do catering, but can provide a list of suggested caterers. Some alcohol and amplified music restrictions are in place. The package will include unlimited pre-event site visits, an event manager, a front gate manager, parking and security.

Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. [email protected] or 510-452-2259, www.fairyland.org/birthdays-and-park-rentals/park-rentals/ 

HANGAR 1 DISTILLERY, ALAMEDA

Industrial chic with great sunsets and views of the bay await the couple who chooses Hangar 1 Distillery. The former plane hangar (now an actual vodka distillery) on the Historic Alameda Naval Base is very large, with multiple staging areas, and can accommodate weddings as small as 50 people, or as large as 600. 

There are no cookie-cutter weddings here. “Every single client wants something different,” said events manager Emily Webster, and she goes out of her way to customize each event to their specifications. The idea is to incorporate the place into the wedding, from including tours of the distillery, to offering cheese-and-vodka pairings at the reception. 

Hangar 1 has become a popular offbeat wedding venue, and is already taking bookings for September 2024, although Webster noted that there’s more flexibility at certain times of the year.

Hangar 1 Distillery, 2505 Monarch Dr., Alameda. (510) 871-4950, www.hangarone.com/visit/private-events/

UC BERKELEY BOTANICAL GARDENS

The world-famous, 34-acre UCB Botanical Gardens can be the site for the most amazing garden wedding ever. Home to more than 10,000 species of plants, it also offers numerous lovely places to take your vows, including the Stephen T. Mather Redwood Grove, as up to 200 guests are seated in a demi-amphitheater built into the hill, surrounded by trees planted in the 1930s. 

Historic Julia Morgan Hall, designed by the renowned architect in 1911, was moved to its current location in 2014, and is ideal for small receptions (82 seated) and rehearsal dinners. A short ways away is the elevated Tour Deck, where the wedding couple can be toasted. “Micro ceremonies” of up to 25 people are also possible.

Because of the sensitivity of the site, there are multiple restrictions, such as no hanging of any materials on trees, light cables, walls, ceilings. No flames, sparklers, embers or candles are allowed in the grove or hall. Pets and animals, the release of birds or butterflies, use of rice, confetti, poppers and fake flower petals are also not allowed. 

The gardens uses a list of preferred caterers, who will understand how to make the most of a truly special, Earth-beloved site. Some 2023 dates are still available (minimum two months in advance), and 2024 bookings open Feb. 1, 2024.

UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, 200 Centennial Dr., Berkeley. 510-642-03352, [email protected], www.botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu/rentals

CHABOT SPACE AND SCIENCE CENTER, OAKLAND

Celebrate the science of love at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, which offers multiple wedding packages. Depending on where the ceremony takes place, “under the stars or just partying among them,” as the center puts it, special experiences await. 

Marry in the Planetarium on a spot-lit stage beneath a 70-foot dome of night sky studded with stars, while guests gaze in comfortable tiered seats. Or, choose the Observatory Complex with fresh air and gorgeous views of the sunset over the surrounding redwoods. 

Some packages include star-gazing through the center’s three historical telescopes. The observatory seats 175, the amphitheater seats 130 guests, the planetarium seats up to 241, and Astronomy Hall accommodates up to 250. 

The center also offers “mini-wedding” packages, including a one-hour Planetarium ceremony and Planetarium show for 50 people, or a two-hour Observation Deck ceremony and one-hour private telescope viewing for 30.

Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7300, [email protected], www.chabotspace.org/visit/rent-chabot/weddings-private-events/

The Wedding on the Water

BERKELEY WEDDINGS ON THE WATER

Perhaps you’d like to cruise happily into married life. Then “Berkeley Weddings on the Water,” offered by City Cruises, can make that dream come true aboard one of their three vessels, the Empress Hornblower (capacity 250), the Pacific Hornblower (capacity 120) or the Sunset Hornblower (capacity 100). 

City Cruises will custom design an event for you, with chef-created menus, and a team of wedding professionals in all-inclusive packages. Glowing views of both the East Bay and San Francisco will be the backdrop for your floating reception.  

The “Elegant Ceremony” package includes the captain presiding. Follow this with a Silver, Gold or Platinum Wedding Reception package. Also offered is the “Sweet & Simple” Ceremony for anyone wanting no frills—but there is an extensive list of possible enhancements for those wanting a treasure chest of frills.

City Cruises/Berkeley Weddings on the Water. 800-668-4322, www.cityexperiences.com/berkeley/city-cruises/ceremonies-receptions

The Intimate Wedding

EAST BROTHER LIGHT STATION, RICHMOND

If your wedding party is limited to 40 people or less, and you are planning at least nine months in advance, how about getting married on an island—a local island? 

Richmond’s East Brother Light Station, a beautifully restored California Victorian, an active lighthouse since 1873, is now a B&B, perched atop an island in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo bays. Guests are treated to spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais and the Marin coastline.

It’s possible to rent all five rooms at the Light Station for the bridal couple and a few guests, and the wedding meal can be catered by the inn, but again, planning far in advance is essential. 

Other things to keep in mind: The journey to the dock where boats ferry guests back and forth is over a winding, narrow road. Boat capacity for each trip is only six guests at a time, so there is a 20-minute wait between trips. The Light Station does not like to do night ferrying, so non-overnight guests need to be ferried back before nightfall. For the right wedding, though, this is a dream choice.

East Brother Light Station, 1900 Stenmark Dr., Richmond. 510-233-2985, www.ebls.org

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