where to start: finding a unique wedding location


We all love pouring over unique weddings on blogs where details reign and a wedding day seems to perfectly play out in an unrivaled setting. Occasionally we may have the honor of attending such a wedding, enjoying the variety the dessert bar has to offer and warming up besides the fire with marshmallows and cocoa at the end of the night. While the details are there – no doubt about it – it’s the location that sets the stage for the event. Which is why when it’s your turn to plan a wedding, you have to start with the location.

You can have a wedding anywhere (relatively speaking) but what it really comes down to is the amount of work you want to do. The good new is as the wedding industry continues to emerge from the stagnancy of previous decades there are more non traditional venues popping up; places that regularly host weddings but allow you to opportunity to arrange the rest of the details. Still, those places can be hard to find especially if you are looking for a venue in a particular location. So, to point you in the right direction, here is my round up of unique wedding locations – or where to look to find yours. I hope this is helpful and feel free to add your suggestions!

State Parks, baby!

I’m going to start with the location you see in the photo above, the amphitheater at Andrew Jackson State Park in South Carolina. It was the most unique location I’ve ever photographed at and right up my alley. It had plenty of space and a few different buildings including, obviously the amphitheater that was perfect for the ceremony. I would get married there if I could.

Plenty of state parks have the space for weddings but the certainly will have more restrictions. There is always an office + number to call so get on the phone to see if there is a park near you and what their polices are on having an event. You will definitely have to bring in almost everything you need, but it will allow you to customize the day to your heart’s content.
M+L used the picnic tables already in the park to create unique extra long seating for their guests at the reception. They rented the amphitheater and nearby chapel building (only used for getting ready + in case of rain) for a grand total of $300. yep, $300.

Advantages: natural setting, inexpensive, gorgeous

Disadvantages: ultimate DIY, other people in park, noise/time restrictions

State Parks, the easy way.

Many state parks have historic buildings within them and these locations regularly host weddings. If you still want the natural setting with out all of the work, look for a place like our very own Letchworth State Park. I shot Brendan and Stephanie’s wedding here (among others) and they enjoyed the gorgeous views of the park + falls and the ease of working with the Glen Iris Inn to host and cater their day.

Advantages: natural setting, less work for you, gorgeous

Disadvantages: less control over details


shh… we’re in a Library.

I had my own wedding reception in a Library – the Detroit Public Library to be exact – and it was fabulous. While I know for a fact that DPL doesn’t regularly host weddings (though they should) it’s the old story of knowing someone. It’s worth it to check your local library (or a library you love) to see if they would be willing to let you have a wedding there. There is so much character and history in old buildings and libraries are usually among the oldest of buildings in each town. Photos below by Anne Ruthmann (ps that’s me on the right when you click on the link to her website)

Advantages: unique setting, beautiful architecture, downtown location

Disadvantages: difficult to book, carry in carry out policy (you will probably have to bring in everything you need and take it out at the end of the night)


any evening of culture: Museums

Contrary to Libraries, Museums are more frequently in the business of hosting weddings. There is a certain amount of style and culture gained simply by using a museum as a venue since you will be surrounded by art and architecture that is often unrivaled. If clean & elegant are two of the words you want to describe your day, start looking at art museums, if contemporary & edge are your think check out art galleries or newer modern art museums (MOCAD comes to mind for me- I know, I live in New York now but what can I say I still love Michigan). While I have yet to photograph a museum wedding I have a few links to keep the inspiration flowing:

Weisman Art Museum

Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago

Advantages: elegant modern setting, downtown location

Disadvantages: more difficult to book, limited to large cities

sticking with the theme of cultural buildings and attractions here are a few other places to consider: conservatory, aquarium, zoo

a part of the Club

Country clubs are always a wedding option, but some of the lesser known and smaller clubs host events as well. Think athletic, women’s & hunting clubs to name a few and most likely you will have to find someone you know who belongs. I photographed Becky + Matt’s wedding at the Women’s Club of Glen Ridge in New Jersey a few years ago and like similar venues it had a the feel of an estate or country house.
not just any Winery

At this point I’m sure you recognize Matthew + Caitlin’s wedding – what can I say, it was fabulous. They held their reception at a winery but it wasn’t just any winery. The unique stone barn at Freedom Run Winery in Lockport, NY was the perfect mix of rustic + restored. M+C brought in all the right details to make the barn their own on their wedding day, and there is so much potential for other couples to do the same. Chances are you have a winery nearby and if you want to have a barn wedding but don’t already live on a farm, a winery would be where I would start looking.

Advantages: variety of locations + types of wineries, outdoor/indoor possibilities

Disadvantages: difficult to find the exact winery you’re looking for (I’m sorry I can’t come up with any other disadvantages – someone help me out!)


there’s no place like home

When it comes down to it, a wedding at home is the original unique wedding location. Everyone’s home is different, and being able to enjoy such a momentous day at the home you grew up definitely adds sentimental value. It generally requires an “all hands on deck” type approach – and hopefully there are enough hands to help with all of the different aspects of the day. Re-doing the barn or renting a tent is usually the way to go to ensure cover in case of bad weather, and of course there are the usual issues like renting or purchasing every last detail from tables to napkins to lights to heaters etc… but I know how creative you all are and if you want to make it happen, you will. Right?

Advantages: sentimental+personal, close to home, ability to customize everything

Disadvantages: purchasing or renting everything, lots and lots of work


whew! so, that’s my round up. How did I do? I hope that put you on the right track and if any one has ideas to add let me know!

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  • Caitlin - It’s so fun to see pictures from YOUR wedding!
    Oh, and if there must be a disadvantage to an old barn, I would say heating (but I guess that only applies in the colder months)
    Great post!

  • Sarbob - thumbs up to weddings at home…i loved my backyard reception! too bad all the pictures were taken with real film so I have no digital images to share (real film only? crazy I know!). all great ideas…and its fun to see your wedding pics Marbob!

  • Mary Dougherty - hey maybe I’ll share more from our wedding soon… perhaps our anniversary? true the heat was a concern but only in fall/winter months. other than that I don’t know what to say you had a great wedding – sar you had a great byard reception. all film isn’t crazy, it’s who takes your pictures :/

  • A. Steph - Mary,
    Such a great post – I loved being able to see a few photos from your wedding – and I went to Anne’s site – just to take a quick look at my all-time favorite wedding photo: you with the butterfly – in fact, I was telling someone about that photo, just the other day (I realize you didn’t take the photo yourself – but it’s a beautiful photo of you!!)

  • Sarah K - You really have shot in some unique & creative venues! I’m sure there will be even more to come:)