New and improved: These upgraded wedding venues aim to add ‘wow’ to your vows


Some brides look for the hottest new places for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. Others are interested in staging their nuptials at L.A. mainstays. There are places, however, that offer the best of both worlds — locations that are definitively part of the local DNA, yet have undergone renovations or added new spaces that make them modern and more relevant than ever for today’s brides.

Skirball Cultural Center

The most recent addition to the area’s venerable venues is in the Sepulveda Pass at the Skirball Cultural Center. That’s where bride-to-be Danielle Cohn expects to be the first bride to marry at the Skirball’s ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org), is just as enthusiastic about how the expansive, 17,500-square-foot event facility conceived by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie will expand ceremony and reception options. One of the most stunning features of the project is a fully retractable window-wall that gives a dramatic view of a cascading terraced garden, providing an Impressionistic mural-like feel. The entrance plaza, meanwhile, is accented with coral trees, enamel art panels and a monumental fountain. 

“The Skirball is deeply rooted in both Jewish tradition and the local Jewish community,” Delanoeye said. “We are proud of our history as a gathering place for Jewish families of diverse ancestries. Based on the way the concept of a chuppah has been built into the architecture [an effect achieved with arched ceiling appointments and tiered gardens in full view], for example, wedding ceremonies can take place indoors or outdoors.” 

Guerin Pavilion interior at dusk. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

The facilities also include a bridal suite, rooms that can be used as a private space for the groom and his groomsmen, a room for the yichud following the ceremony just for the newly wedded couple and a family room for gatherings of the immediate family. While there is one caveat — the 4,000-square-foot kitchen is not equipped for glatt kosher events — award-winning chef Sean Sheridan and his team are able to plan menus tailored to the tastes and preferences of the couple using kosher products or kosher-style service. 

“We really look at the total needs of the family and the extended community as well as the couple getting married,” Delanoeye added. 

The Skirball’s Herscher Hall and Guerin Pavilion accepts listings and bookings for up to 18 months in advance, though Delanoeye said that there is a greater demand for wedding bookings between the months of March and October. 

Sportsmen’s Lodge

Sure, the five-star prestige hotels dotting L.A. County have name recognition. But when it comes to historic name-dropping, it’s hard to top Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, which opened in the 1880s and later evolved into a popular “rural” hangout for Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Although Los Angeles’ urban sprawl has since spilled over into the San Fernando Valley, it is still a popular place for Hollywood productions, including the television series “Parks & Recreation.”

Throughout its history, Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center (The Sportsmen’s Lodge has a country charm that makes it attractive for weddings. Photo courtesy of the Sportsmen’s Lodge

Meanwhile, the landscaping and country charm are still major selling points for Jewish couples, down to a gazebo that can be adapted into a chuppah on the north end of the property, said director of sales Angie Groves. 

“It is a unique venue in the Valley, as not too many other places in the area have lush ponds, waterfalls, bridges and century-old trees,” Groves said. “While we don’t have a kitchen, what makes Sportsmen’s Lodge appealing to the many Valley Jewish communities is that we do allow outside kosher catering. 

“While some families love the Hollywood history behind it, others come for one of our two unique ballrooms. We have the 9,550-square-foot Empire Ballroom that features a built-in stage and can accommodate up to 600 guests, while our Starlight Ballroom has windows on two sides of the ballroom that overlook our gardens. The spaces are certainly not the typical four-wall banquet room.”

Other features and amenities include portable dance floors, bars, high-tech audio/visual capabilities, individualized décor and assistance in booking all sorts of live entertainment. While the event page on their Web site promises, “We’ll help you plan an old-Hollywood soiree for the ages,” the staff is also sensitive to the needs and concerns specific to Jewish weddings. Weddings need to be booked up to 18 months in advance. 

The Olympic Collection

Although the Olympic Collection (The Olympic Collection has six ballrooms and a large, open-air terrace. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Collection

As a chuppah is traditionally connected to the outdoors, according to Morea, the large Regency Ballroom includes a garden terrace with a built-in gazebo that can be customized with florals and greenery. For the winter months, the ballroom includes a skylight at the top of a beautiful curved marble stage that opens fully to the sky. The smaller Atrium Ballroom, accommodating up to 150 people, features windows and sliding glass doors for clients desiring natural light during their events. 

The Olympic Collection’s executive chefs hail from Spain, France, Iran, Armenia and Central and South America, and can fully integrate the client couple’s desired culinary style with the dietary requirements of the family and guests. Behind the scenes Morea said there is a separate on-site kosher kitchen under supervision from the Rabbinical Council of California. 

The Olympic Collection accepts listings and bookings for up to 36 months in advance, and its staff of wedding planners can assist couples with the items necessary to fully customize their wedding and reception, including dance floors (with a mechitzah, or divider, if desired), bars, tables, chairs, custom linens, lounge furniture and specialty lighting and even the wedding cake itself.

Location, location, location


Your congregation is there for you when you need it, but there are times when you’re tempted to think outside the synagogue such as your wedding.

Destination weddings in spots like Hawaii or the Caribbean are a romantic way to start a new life with someone, but changes in the economy and fuel prices are forcing many couples to rethink the concept of getting “married away.” While money may be no object for some couples and their families, they also have to now consider how far their invitees will be willing to travel to be a part of the big day.

Couples living in Southern California are lucky to have some of America’s best wedding escapes just a few hours’ drive away. And better still, many of them either cater specifically to Jewish clientele (from kosher catering to sourcing a rabbi and chuppah) or else are just so fabulous that they have boasted a Jewish following for years.

The best place to start and finish is a wedding location that speaks to your shared personality as a couple and respects your faith. Whether your wedding planning is a solo effort, includes family or a wedding planner, you should do your homework to determine which Southern California locations are willing to help you with the essentials, especially as Jewish weddings have different requirements than other faiths.

“The great thing about Jewish weddings today is that except in cases of ultra-Orthodox weddings couples can choose elements to the wedding day that truly represent who they are as a couple, especially when approaching how they want to do the ketubah signing, blessings, kosher food, use of challah during the service and other traditions,” said wedding planner Melissa Barrad, who founded event company I Do…Weddings! in 2003. “You should ask prospective venues and caterers about any specific directions they have with kosher food. As there are more opportunities for better kosher food and caterers in Los Angeles, be sure hotels will either allow you to bring in food from your caterer of choice or have the capabilities and certifications to prepare the meals in-house. Also look into such details as rooms with high ceilings for the raised chairs and the horah, and rent a sturdier chair for the bride.”

Barrad also advises couples not to neglect the issue of raising a chuppah at the site, as the structures can be difficult to find and some synagogues won’t rent theirs to non-members. Also, if some hotels do offer a chuppah for rent, look at it to see if it will fit into your wedding aesthetically.

However, she notes that many couples are making their own; craft stores and home improvement emporiums offer a wealth of materials that will enable couples to make their own design for the same cost as or less than a rental. She also suggests asking venues to provide photos from other Jewish weddings it has hosted and access to other Jewish couples who have exchanged their vows there.

Once you have all the right questions at hand, here’s a short list of exceptional California venues to consider, including several that provide a variety of services for Jewish couples:

Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina

The Sheraton San Diego features a stunning new wedding lawn adjacent to a marina that’s perfect for erecting an outdoor chuppah, as well as an extensive selection of indoor and outdoor event space with panoramic views of the San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. The hotel’s on-site wedding planners will cover every detail required for kosher-style weddings, while all four catering managers on staff are proficient in Jewish weddings and the cultural specialties involved with these events, from the ketubah signing to the horah.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Even with its rock ‘n’ roll spirit and location at the entrance of the buzzing Gaslamp Quarter, the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego has the goods and gear Jewish couples want. One of its unique spaces for a wedding is Woodstock, the hotel’s 9,200-square-foot outdoor urban garden, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people as well as a chuppah, dining tables, lounge area and a large dance floor. Before, during and after the wedding, the couple and their guests can party like rock stars, thanks to the 420 suites, 17 “Rock Star” VIP Suites, nightlife destinations created by Rande Gerber and a Nobu restaurant by celebrated chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

The Prado at Balboa Park

Prado not only offers the splendor of its Balboa Park location, but is owned by a Jewish family (the Cohns). While they don’t offer strictly kosher meals, the management is sensitive to various dietary restrictions and has made a variety of accommodations for the many Jewish couples who have wed there.

The Viceroy

In Palm Springs, the Viceroy is ideal not only for its hip Hollywood Regency ambiance but also its hands-on approach to wedding planning.

Saddle Peak Lodge

Although Saddle Peak Lodge is not specifically kosher, the management notes that about half of the weddings they do are for Jewish couples, and they offer a list of nearby resources and vendors to assist couples with their wedding’s special needs. It is also a fitting place for film-buff couples to start their own personal history. Built in 1880 as a hunting lodge, it became an escape for the elite of Golden Age Hollywood, including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Saddle Peak also takes advantage of nature’s bounty on many fronts, from a kitchen that uses sustainable ingredients from local farms and vendors to a backdrop of trees, waterfalls and the majestic Santa Monica Mountains.

Westlake Village Inn

Halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the Westlake Village Inn is well suited for couples seeking the detail-oriented luxury of a boutique country inn. There are several garden settings to choose from, from the Lakeside Gazebo to The Waterfall. Couples yearning for the look and feel of a “wedding away” in Europe will love the Mediterraneo Gazebo where a slightly raised Romanesque gazebo takes a “chuppah-like” effect, or the Tuscan Garden.

Lodge at Sonoma

Those who’ve dreamed of a wine country wedding should look into The Lodge at Sonoma, offering the perfect balance of country inn warmth, boutique hotel glamour, Northern California architecture and wine country trappings.

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