by Fiorella Calderoni
I am from Vancouver, BC, and my husband is from Klamath Falls, Oregon, but when we moved to Ventura two and a half years ago, it didn’t take long for it to feel like home. Near-perfect weather, a pristine coastline, endless palm trees, and a community with a big heart -what’s not to love? Although our idea was always to have a destination wedding in Mexico, as we got to know all of its nooks and crannies, Ventura, California, earned a special place in our hearts and became the best place to bring our family and friends together for our wedding.
After a little bit of brainstorming, Ethan and I decided that we didn’t want to have our wedding at a hotel -not that there’s anything wrong with ballrooms but we just knew that we wanted our venue to be unique and to reflect Ventura’s charm. With that in mind, we chose to have our ceremony and reception at San Buenaventura City Hall. This Beaux-Arts style 1920s building sits perched atop California Street with views all the way down to the water. Its white terracotta walls and marble staircase give it a majestic flair without the need for many adornments. This was important to me because I’d read that wedding decorations contribute to a substantial amount of waste that weddings produce. Another convincing factor was that renting City Hall for our event allowed us use of both indoor and outdoor spaces. That way we could have a plan A and a plan B, and didn’t have to worry about the weather catching us off-guard. Also, while many hotels require food and beverage contracts, City Hall allowed us to bring in all of our own vendors. Since we had specific ideas in mind, this was a must. Last but not least, San Buenaventura City Hall makes an amazing photo backdrop. From its grandiose white columns and regal staircase to its beachy palms and streetside lawn, it gave our photographer lots of textures to play with.
Every couple of months, RG Canning (who hosts the famous Rose Bowl Flea Market) hosts the Ventura Flea Market at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. It’s one of my favorite places to hunt for one-of-a-kind finds but I never expected that’s where I’d find my wedding dress. Having finished our treasure-hunt, we were walking toward the exit when my husband stepped into the restroom. While I was waiting on him, I spotted a wedding dress hanging on a side-mirror of one of the vendor’s trucks. Curiosity led me to check it out and I was mesmerized by layers and layers of lace. I looked for a tag to see who designed it and what size it was but all I found was a safety pin holding a tag from a women’s sewing cooperative dated in the 1950s. The vendor spotted me and I explained that we were leaving and I had no intentions of wedding dress shopping at the time, besides there were no fitting rooms around and I had no idea what size the dress was. “What if I give it to you for $20? You can take it home, try it on, and if you don’t like it, it was only $20.” Done deal. I took it home, tried it on, and it fit. A totally amazing find.
Ethan and I love cheese. One of our favorite date ideas is making a cheese plate to take to The Jolly Oyster or one of Ventura’s BYOB-friendly beaches and watching the sunset with one of our favorite bottles of wine. When we saw the idea of a cheese ‘cake’ we simply couldn’t resist. Ventura’s go-to cheese man is Fritz Leon, owner of Coastal Products Specialty Foods. We pitched the idea to him and he loved it. He worked with us to find local cheeses that were the right size and hardness and after a couple of cheese tastings, he made our vision come true. To bring it all together, we ordered an adorable pair of custom-made bride and groom mice that truly topped it off.
Of course, we couldn’t leave guests with a sweet tooth hanging. We reached out to Nancy Pedersen with Sunflowers on the Square. While she had her bakery in El Jardin Plaza in downtown Ventura, her limoncello cookies, blueberry scones, lemon loaf, and Caribbean rum cake were impossible to resist. Although she no longer has a brick and mortar bakery, she continues to bake sweets that our guests were bound to enjoy. She created a dessert table for us with a variety of delicious bites including an amazing Guinness Stout cholate cake with Bailey’s frosting and a whiskey ganache that we only wished we’d ordered an extra of to eat ourselves the next day.
Booze and music are essential parts of a fun wedding. Ethan was in charge of stocking the bar and after lots of beer tasting decided to include Surf Brewery‘s Aerial IPA. The “Brewed in Ventura” label was important for us. We kept the wine local, too, sourcing it from Lucas and Lewellen, one of our favorite wineries in California’s Central Coast. One night, we gave ourselves a night off of wedding planning (or so we intended) and bought tickets for a dueling piano show at Ventura Harbor Comedy Club (totally recommend this!). It was there that we discovered The Blazing Pianos. They are incredibly talented pianists who take requests and play songs from any era. We had such a fun night singing and dancing and we knew that if they had the chance to see them, our family and friends would love them, too.
This decision was more expensive than a DJ but when we saw all of our guests singing their hearts out, it was totally worth it. Ethan and I chose Moondance for our first dance. Scott and Tom played and sang it for us and though I may be a little bit biased, it was an absolutely beautiful dance to the tune of their pianos.
Since most of our guests were coming from out of town, we wanted to offer a room block at a hotel with affordable beachside accommodations. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start researching a room block but Visit Ventura is a great source of support. They work with many large groups coming to Ventura and can facilitate the entire process by talking to all of the hotels to find the one that best suits your needs. For us, it was the Ventura Beach Marriott and the Best Western Plus Inn of Ventura. Both provided wonderful customer service.
The night before the wedding, we chose to host a brindis, an event to cheers to friends and family, at Ventura Coast Brewing Company. We embraced a casual vibe with craft brews, pizza, and trivia. Ventura’s newest brewery was an awesome setting to catch up with family and friends that we hadn’t seen in a long time. They have beers for all different beer preferences and allow people to bring their own food and nonalcoholic beverages. We chose to order Toppers Pizza. It has been rated the best pizza in Ventura for 16 years in a row and their carnitas pizza was a huge hit with our guests.
It was an amazing day if I do say so myself. Thank you, Ventura, for providing all the inspiration we needed for a special day that we’ll never forget.
Photos provided by Candice Marie Photography.