The First Step: Where will the wedding be?

by Elizabeth Conner


Wedding Rock, located in Patrick's Point State Park, Trinidad.

On a brisk morning last August, about 40 people trudged through the darkness onto Clam Beach. As a flute played a wistful melody, they gathered in a circle and held hands while Cindy and Pete Carlin became husband and wife. The couple kissed just as the sun rose above the hills to the east.

"I've always had a vision of getting married on the beach at sunrise," said Cindy. "And luckily, Pete loved the idea, too." After some singing and a toast, the party headed to their McKinleyville home for a breakfast reception.

Whether you want to get up at dawn and get married on a chilly, windswept beach or plan something more traditional, you'll discover a wide array of venues, indoors and out, in Humboldt County.

Some couples, like Cindy and Pete, have something specific in mind. But most will need to think through a few questions to find the right location. Deciding how much you can or want to spend is the first consideration. You'll also want to know: Do you prefer indoors or outside? How many guests will you invite? Will you want live music and will the band need electricity? What kind of food do you plan to serve? Would you like a formal setting or a more casual one?

It's not hard to find spectacular outdoor settings in Humboldt County. About 40 couples a year follow local tradition and head for the ocean view of Wedding Rock in Patrick's Point State Park.

"During the summer, we usually have several weddings each weekend," said Alan Wilkinson, public information officer for the park. "If you just go up to the rock with a minister or justice of the peace and a few friends and do basically what a normal visitor would do, you won't need any permits or have to pay any fees. If it will be more than that, you should talk to the park staff.".

Others who hold their nuptials at Patrick's Point use the Red Alder group day-use area. Aside from being out of the wind and on flat terrain, it offers a kitchen, restrooms, lots of tables, rain shelter and a large grassy area for $150 a day. You'll need to reserve early as the site fills quickly.

One more nice spot in the park is Ceremonial Rock. Though it does not have a kitchen or rain shelter it has a beautiful view and large grassy plain. "A lot of couples get married at Wedding Rock and then come down to Red Alder or Ceremonial Rock for the reception," said Wilkinson. For more information call 667-3570.

Another popular outdoor site is Fortuna's Rohner Park. "Many couples go up to the scenic loop and get married at the top of the hill under the trees," said park staffer Joy Murphy. "Later they may have a reception in the large group picnic area."

Along with seating for 400, there is a cook shack with a stove, refrigerator and serving window, and a large open outdoor fireplace. Included in the $75-$200 rental fee is a ballfield, volleyball area, playgrounds and tot lots. For a bit more, you can rent the adjacent roller skating rink either to skate or to set up for a dance. Call 725-7620 to learn more.

Pamplin Grove, a county park about 10 miles inland on Route 36, is a favorite not only because it sits right on the Van Duzen River, but because it offers warm weather. If you start early enough, you can reserve the whole campground for about $200. One couple reserved the camp an entire weekend for their wedding 10 years ago, and they rent it every year for an anniversary celebration. For information, call 445-7651.

Redwood Park in Arcata is host to dozens of weddings each year, most of them very informal. A few rent the lodge (not available in the summer) for $100, but most just have a picnic-type ceremony in the clearing or in one of the groves in the Community Forest above the park, according the city staffer Lona Bates. Contact the city at 822-7091 if you want to rent the lodge.

A few other locations where Humboldtians hold small, casual weddings are Freshwater Park, Moonstone Beach and Elk Head Bluff in Trinidad, Big Lagoon, Fern Canyon and Prairie Creek in Redwood State Park and other unnamed spots along the Trinity and Eel rivers, and various mountain tops. To use Freshwater Park you'll need to be there to hold the first-come-first-served spots early in the morning.

If you're thinking of getting married outdoors but want a more formal location with staff and, in some cases, catering, there are several facilities to select from.

Fern Cottage in Ferndale is a good choice for a western or English garden wedding with its pastoral fields, gazebo and 130-year-old Russ family farmhouse. They don't cater but there are kitchen facilities. They accommodate as many as 400 and as few as 15, and charge $250 plus $1 a person for the facility. To learn more, call Virginia Dwight at 786-4735.

If you'd like to wed right on the beach, or on a patio directly overlooking it, and then stroll over to a catered meal, you may want to look into Merryman's Restaurant on Moonstone Beach. There are several different spots to tie the knot on the property and also a beach house the reception and meal. Meals can be catered for up to 250 guests. The cost starts at $350 for the site. Call 677-3111 to find out the particulars.

Arrington Apples Orchard got into the wedding business by chance. "Some good friends wanted to hold their wedding in the orchard and of course we said okay. During the wedding, and for months after that, people kept asking us if we did weddings here. After a while we decided it would be a good idea," said owner Janet Arrington.

Catering, decorating and even a hairdresser for the bride are available. "All the bride and groom have to do is show up and be beautiful," Arrington said. Aside from the apple orchard and large lawn with gazebo that can accommodate about 300, there is a smaller site for indoor gatherings. The cost: a base price of $650 (less for under 50 guests) plus food and drink. If you'd like to know more, call 443-0210.

Another outdoor venue that will take care of all the details for you is the Fieldbrook Valley Winery. It features a large outdoor garden with ponds and a wine tasting room in a warm, inland location. There are canoes to paddle, croquet sets, and several tree houses for kids to play in.

The winery does not cater, but will help with arrangements. In case of rain, there is a tasting room that holds 40-50 people or, for larger groups, the staff arranges for a back-up facility. The base price of $900 (plus $2 a person) covers wedding planning and rehearsal, personnel and rental equipment. Call 839-4140 for further information.

For less hardy Humboldtians and their relatives, who may not want their wedding duds whipping in the wind, there are dozens of indoor sites from humble to luxurious.

Many couples, of course, get married in their church and hold their reception in a grange, veterans' hall or a lodge. The advantage of such a location is the modest price; the challenge is to transform it into something other than a hall.

One easy way to create a matrimonial mood is to "plantscape" the hall by renting from a nursery. Add some flowers, nice tablecloths and fabric chair covers, adjust the lighting if necessary, and you're ready to say "I do." If needed, the staff may have ideas or can suggest consultants to help you.

The Arcata Community Center, the Monday Club in Fortuna, the Bayside Grange, Trinidad Town Hall, the Adorni Center in Eureka and McKinleyville's new Azalea Hall in Pierson Park all rent their facilities for weddings. Each site has a hall for 200 to 300 people and a kitchen (up to 600 at Adorni Center). The cost: the least is $150, the most is $300. For more details, contact each site by calling the appropriate city hall or parks and recreation department or the number listed in the phone book.

Two slightly nicer venues in this category, which cost only slightly more, are the recently built Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bayside and Arcata's Celebration Hall. The Unitarian facility offers a private outdoor patio with beautiful views and an indoor site accommodating 200 guests, along with a full kitchen, for about $350. Call Barbara Townsend at 677-3296 for details or to reserve the space that books up to a year in advance.

Celebration Hall features a fully equipped kitchen with service for 150, a carpeted stage, candelabras and several smaller rooms for changing, gifts or whatever. The price of about $350 includes consulting services for your wedding. For information, call 822-1070.

For those couples looking for a locale that takes care of the whole wedding package, the Eureka Inn is a popular choice. This year about 190 couples had their nuptials at the historic inn that can accommodate parties of 35 to 400. The cost of $15 per person for a buffet or $20 per person for a sit-down meal includes the ceremony itself, if desired. Talk to Lynn Solomon at 442-6441 to get the specifics.

The Victorian Village Inn in Ferndale boasts 16-foot ceilings and creates a romantic mood with Victorian roses on the tables, real crystal and Royal Dalton English Bone China. Many couples marry before the huge fireplace and later retreat to the Inn's honeymoon suite. The site holds up to 300 guests, with a menu that accommodates both vegetarians and meat eaters. The $16 per person price includes the cake and just about everything else. For more information, call the new owner, Jan Jennings at 786-4949.

If you love redwood, you may want to tie the knot at the Scotia Inn which uses the wood from floor to ceiling in its light-filled rooms. You can hold the wedding indoors or by the outdoor gazebo for a cost which varies from $11 to $20 per person. The staff can refer you to outside vendors for the cake, flowers and other extras. Contact Mary Dishmon at 764-5683 for details.

A bit farther south, the Benbow Inn hosts a wedding almost every summer weekend on its lower terrace that overlooks landscaped grounds and Benbow Lake. The price for the ceremony is $350 to $550 and starts at $20 per person for the reception. You may not want to leave on your honeymoon after a night in the Garden Cottage Bridal Suite with its own fireplace, jacuzzi and private patio. Talk to Yves Hansel at 923-2124 for more information.

Perhaps you seek a nautical nuptial adventure. Half a dozen marriages a year are performed on the decks of the Madaket. You can bring food aboard to serve up to 49 guests, use their bar or not, and even be wed by the ship's captain. The boat leaves from C Street in Eureka and rents for $260 for the first hour and $100 for each hour thereafter. Call Darlene Hills at 445-1910 to learn more.

Or you may simply want to pick a site that has special meaning for you, like Janice and Jerry Peterson, who got married in front of Ramone's Bakery in Arcata's Uniontown Shopping Center.

"Though we'd known each other for years through mutual friends, it was in front of Ramone's that we each found out that the other was available (for romance) again and exchanged phone numbers," Jerry said. "And during the months we were dating, we were often in and out of Ramone's."

During the ceremony, one of the bakery workers came out and presented the couple with a gift-wrapped truffle to the applause of the 20 or so guests. For Janice and Jerry, it was just perfect.

Beyond dishes and sheets


Symphony of selection

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