Tips for Brides

Mendocino California Wedding Photographer | My Favorite Wedding Venues

Hey friends! I am often asked for my favorite wedding venues on the Mendocino Coast. Honestly, that’s a loaded question because I love them all, but like anyone, I definitely have my favorites. I decided to give you a little glimpse into a few of my favorites. So here they are in no particular order:

best wedding venues on the mendocino coast

The Inn at Newport Ranch

Driving up to this property, you will instantly feel like you have stepped onto a movie set. You may be greeted by a cow in the driveway, but most definitely by your hosts who will likely offer you a water or glass of wine. With breathtaking ocean views, gorgeous architecture, stunning interior design, and love in every corner, this is the perfect location for an intimate wedding. As if that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget the redwood lined ridge-top and coastal views. We can explore the redwoods together for your bridal session and then you can be married overlooking the breathtaking pacific ocean. This is also a perfect place for a Mendocino Honeymoon or even a quick lovers getaway. We’ve had our own staycation there and can not say better things about it!

photo courtesy of  theinnatnewportranch.com

photo courtesy of theinnatnewportranch.com

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Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Although it has been an incredibly long time since I have photographed a wedding there, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. I had the honor of photographing a proposal there over the summer (oops a little behind on blogging, coming soon!) and wowza, look at those colors! This place is a treasure trove of color, texture, and most importantly will save you a boat load in decorating costs. Home to the Dahlia Garden and best known for their Rhododendrons, the garden is beautifully fragrant and will entertain all the senses. Oh and did I mention the ocean views? Yes, this is your all inclusive choice on the coast. Mendocino Coast Botanical has it all!

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Switzer Farm

Located 20 miles north of Fort Bragg, California, this venue boasts breathtaking ocean views, a beautifully manicured garden, and a centuries old victorian farmhouse. The farmhouse home can accommodates 20 plus guests, and for those not staying with you, there are several Bead and Breakfast’s to choose from just up the road in Westport. This is the perfect place for the couple who wants to bring their family along for their big day!

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Ellie’s Farmhouse

A country home is nestled among 40 acres with meadows & majestic redwoods, Ellie’s Farmhouse is a perfect place for your intimate wedding or gathering. The most unique and possibly my favorite feature of this property is the old fashioned Fire Engine from Mendocino Fire District that sits on the lawn. It’s a perfect prop for photos. The house can accommodate up to 7 overnight guests, and there is a bonus Glamping Tent that could serve as your place to snuggle up after your wedding day! There is a beautiful kitchen that is perfect for your caterer or family to prepare a meal. Every nook and cranny is full of perfect details for your wedding day!

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A Few additional Venues on the coast for your consideration:

(click the words below to be taken to the venue website!)

Albion River Inn

Caspar Community Center

Elk Cove Inn

Holly’s Ocean Meadow

Jug Handle Creek Farm

Macculum House (I am excited to be working with Elope Mendocino on a wedding here this summer)

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Philo Apple Farm (discounts apply for anyone booking a wedding with me here)

Red Barn Ranch

Spring Ranch

Stanford Inn

Yokayo Ranch (I am excited to be working with his venue this summer, keep a lookout for a blog post sometime in June)

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Some of my favorite Wedding Planners:

Elope Mendocino (Elopements are my jam, and I love working with Vanna, let’s make magic together!)

Mendocino Weddings & Events

Mendocino Wedding Witch

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No matter where you decided to exchange nuptials on The Mendocino Coast, you are sure to have beautiful views and unforgettable memories!

Brides, what do you look for when you are considering from a venue? Tell us in the comments below! and for all my Wedding Professional Friends out there, What are your favorite venues here on the coast? Drop a comment and give us your best tips!


Chelsi is a destination wedding  and portrait photographer based in Fort Bragg, California. She loves to travel and will go anywhere to capture your life's sweet moments. She lives for seeing the world, capturing authentic love, and making people feel fabulous. Her style is authentic, real, and emotional. She believes in laughing too much, singing too loud, and most importantly living life to the fullest and prefers capturing every single authentic beautiful moment that evoke emotion over perfectly posed photos.

Top 3 Reasons to Have a First Look on Your Wedding Day

You’re planning your wedding and it’s likely that you have heard of couples opting for a “First Look” and photos together before the guests arrive. This isn’t a new trend and I believe that it’s just how weddings are evolving in order to make way for new traditions. The idea of the bride hiding herself from her groom before the ceremony is such an antiquated tradition.

But where does this tradition come from?

Ok, so back in the day, there were arranged marriages, it was more of a business transaction between families than it was a matchmaking. It was customary for the couple to spend the morning of the wedding apart, but wasn’t uncommon (and often expected) for them to never have met at all in the first place.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that your parents didn’t buy your fiance’s love and that this isn’t an arranged marriage! Ok then, why not consider ditching this tradition? Plus, who believes wedding day superstitions anyway? * carefully considers whether her marriage is doomed because she didn’t wear something blue .*

Ahem.

In all seriousness though, there are a number of reasons for couples opting for a first look. I will give you the top three reasons why I wish every single wedding that I photograph included a first look.

Full disclosure: I am a wedding photographer, so this post may be a tad biased towards making photography a priority on your big day, but that is only because I want to capture the most important day in your relationship in the most beautiful and authentic way possible. I also want you to receive all the photos that you always dreamed about. Oh, and I’m all about laid back, stress-free wedding days. Of course, if you are all about traditions and believe in wedding day superstitions, I can respect that. I am not here to tell you how to believe or pressure you into something you don’t want on your wedding day. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you all the wonderful reasons you should consider it though. Right?!? In the paragraphs that follow, I will make the case for a first look, and in the end, you will choose whether you believe it is right for you on your big day. Because ultimately, your wedding day is about YOU!

Ready? Ok, here we go!

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#1 Ditch The Wedding Day Jitters

“Cold feet”, “nerves”, “jitters” call it whatever you want, but every single person I know gets nervous on wedding day. Perhaps it’s the thought of being with one person for the rest of their lives, or maybe it’s the fact that they are about to stand in front of a large group of people and vow their love to their person, but no matter the reason, even the most laid back couples get jittery as their ceremony approaches.

It is common for my couples to mention that they were really nervous but after the first look they were relieved and ready to get on with their day. This can be especially helpful if you or your partner is prone to general anxiety or nervousness. During the first look, all that anxious anticipation melts away and a feeling of joy and excitement is left in its place, once you see each other. Honestly, it’s the most magical moment of the day, every single time.

Brides, I know you may be fretting about the fact that you have been dreaming of that “walking down the aisle” moment your entire life. You may be wondering if seeing each other before the ceremony will make that moment less special. My educated answer is “no”. I have witnessed so many authentically emotional moments from the groom even after a first look. I promise that the enchantment is not lost because he’s already seen you. In fact, because you have gotten past all the anxiety, it is more likely that he will be able to feel all the emotions more strongly. and here’s a secret- now that he’s seen you, he’s likely even more excited to marry you! I have seen all the beautiful tearful moments happen during the ceremony, even after the first look. And here’s the thing, we get to capture the moment twice because you’ve already experienced all the feels once before, during your first look. I mean, who doesn’t love a good BOGO deal?

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#2 Intimate Moments Spent Alone

The first look is as intimate as it gets. You have spent so much time planning this day to be magical for both of you. Don’t you think that spending some time alone with the person you are about to marry sounds like a dream? Trust me, the time passes quickly on your wedding day. You’re going to be surrounded by tons of people all day, with little time to spend alone together. Before you know it, it’s time to cut the cake and you’ve barely said two words to your better half. If your love language is quality time and/or you want to spend an intimate moment with the one you love, on your big day, a first look is definitely for you!

Along the same lines of time spent alone, you won’t spend the majority of the day hiding from your future spouse. Truth: I have actually helped hide a bride behind a tree stump while she was on her way to the restroom (we were out in the boondocks) in order to keep her hidden from the groom. It all sounds a bit crazy when you stop to really think about it. Instead of spending the majority of your time trying to hide from each other, you could be spending magical moments together and with your family and friends (who by the way, came from far and wide to celebrate your day with and celebrate you). You could spend more time reveling in the fact that this is your wedding day instead of trying to escape your better half’s gaze. You will be able to relax and enjoy every single moment together.

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#3 You’ll get MORE photos

And lastly, but absolutely not least, Weddings are excessively expensive and I know that hiring a wedding photographer is a huge investment (and if I’m blessed enough to be offered the opportunity to photograph your wedding, I know that you value your photos). Guys, there is really no better way to say this, so here it is: scheduling a First Look into your wedding day is the best way to capitalize on your investment. It’s that simple. There will be so many more portraits of just you and the love of your life. You are going to value and love all the photos of your wedding day, but the ones that will end up printed and hanging on your walls forever, will be the ones of the two of you alone together. These are the photos that you will end up showing off to your children and they may even share with their children someday. What could be better than MORE photos of the two of you together?

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I hope that this post is helpful to any couples who have been vacillating between having a first look or not. I am obviously 100% in if you choose to have one. On the other hand, I respect that it is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. We all value different things when it comes to weddings. Your wedding should encompass all of your values and be everything you have dreamt it will be.

I will leave you with this one last piece of advise; sit down with your fiance and talk about it- go over the pros and cons of both, think hard about your wedding day and what you value most. and of course, talk to your photographer (if that happens to be me, I’m stoked!) . Ask them all the questions so that you can make a solid decision about what is right for you and your day.

Ok there it is ya’ll!

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts? Was this helpful to you? Do you understand The First Look a bit better after having read my thoughts? if you are a past bride whom chose a first look, would you agree with any of this? If you know a current bride or groom to be and you think this would be helpful to them, please, by all means, share!


Chelsi is a destination wedding  and portrait photographer based in Fort Bragg, California. She loves to travel and will go anywhere to capture your life's sweet moments. She lives for seeing the world, capturing authentic love, and making people feel fabulous. Her style is authentic, real, and emotional. She believes in laughing too much, singing too loud, and most importantly living life to the fullest and prefers capturing every single authentic beautiful moment that evoke emotion over perfectly posed photos.

6 Stress Relieving Tips For Your Wedding Day

Yaaaaasss giiiirrrrrllll, this is real! You are preparing to PLAN. A. WEDDING. And not just any wedding, YOUR WEDDING!

You’ve been dreaming of this day since you were young enough to play with baby dolls and barbies. I mean, how many times DID KEN MARRY BARBIE? Well, the time for dreaming is over, because the day has come!

I’ve been there, so I know, you are so excited to be committing to forever with the love of your life, but it also can be overwhelming, a little stressful, and confusing, and maybe you’re unsure of where to even start. I TOTALLY GET IT! I am here to help, whether you’re one of my own couples that I have sent this post to, or you landed here in a panic through pinterest or google, I am so excited that you landed here. I am honored to be part of a lot of weddings and I help a lot of couples navigate the planning process. Along the way, I have noticed a few things that can help make planning and the whole wedding day so much easier! I will share them with you here in hopes that you have the best experience possible!

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Pop the champagne girl, cuz you gots this! Ok, here it goes:

  1. Budget! Budget! Budget!

Planning an entire wedding is stressful enough and the expenses add up FAST no matter how much you pinch and scrimp. So, before you even open a tab for pinterest, YOU GOTTA KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CAN SPEND. If you’re picking up the tab, sit down as a couple and figure out how much you can afford. If it’s your parents footing the bill, sit down with them and discuss how far their dollar can stretch. It’s not the funnest part of wedding planning, but in my opinion, it’s the most important!

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3. Figure out your MUST-HAVES!

Even though you have set a budget, you will feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions all at once: flatware, dishes, flowers, catering, bridal party gifts, and oooooohhhhh, what about fireworks? It’s gonna happen. So, when couples ask me, I always say, figure out your MUST HAVES try to limit it to two or three. Whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s dress, venue, photographer or venue, table settings, cake. Each couple is different with unique dreams, so whatever it looks like for you, just make sure that you know what your must haves are up front. Book the perfect venue for you, hire the photographer that you can connect with whose work makes your heart skip a beat, and buy THE DRESS that makes you look and feel like THE QUEEN you are! You can cut corners in other places, ask you friends to help with DIY. Maybe there’s someone in the family who makes beautiful desserts, get them on the hook. Heck, at my own reception to save on food, we prepared an entire turkey dinner, OURSELVES! When you know what is important to you, the planning process will become SO MUCH SIMPLER.

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Fort Bragg, California + Wedding + Photographer +-+Cake

3. Time isn’t on your side, unless you schedule it to be!

I think the biggest mistake that I see couples make, is not giving themselves enough time on their wedding day. Understandably, they are trying to pack as much into their schedule as humanly possible, so they budget small amounts of time for each event, so when (trust me, this isn’t an if) run behind schedule, their whole day starts to feel stressful. If the ceremony is scheduled to take 40 minutes, give it an hour. You may start 10 minutes late and go over 10. Scheduling that tiny buffer into each event will give you the peace of mind that you need to relax and enjoy your day. If your guessing family photos will take 30 minutes, give it 50. Trust me, wrangling those family members can be tough! I could give you examples of why each thing that you plan will take longer than you think, but you’re a smartypants so you get the idea!

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One of the best ways to keep the wedding day feeling calm and relaxed is to spend time talking to your photographer about how long he/she anticipates family photos taking so that you can all breathe and enjoy the experience together! (Although, a good photographer will make it seem like it’s effortless, even if they are feeling stretched for time, ahem, * insert my inner panic here * )

The truth is, It’s better to have an extra 10 minutes to enjoy talking with your loved ones, grabbing a glass of wine, or even adjusting your dress, than to be hurrying around in chaos mode because you didn’t plan enough time.

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4. Empower the #bossbabe in your life!

Seriously girl, empower a bossbabe to coordinate on the day of your wedding. I’m not necessarily talking about a professional wedding planner, I’m talking a friend, family member or loved one who can help round up everyone during photos. The last thing that you or your bridal party wants to be doing during cocktail hour is running around looking for uncle bob or shouting at the top of your lungs trying to get all your family together for the right combinations of photos. The one thing that saves me a lot of time, and you a lot of stress on your day, is having someone (a friend, sister, brother, basically anyone who knows everyone) rounding up the troops for photos so that I can just call out the groups and click the photos. Skip the circus. Assign someone the task of rounding up your college girlfriends from across the room and the boys standing outside smoking cigars. Trust me, It’ll save you so much time and stress on your wedding day!

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5. Hire vendors whose work you LOVE and that you TRUST undoubtedly!

This is probably the toughest part because it will require you to do a ton of research. Vendors play a huge role in the flow of your day. MOST IMPORTANTLY hire vendors you undoubtedly. Let me say that again in case you didn’t get it the first time: HIRE VENDORS YOU TRUST EXPLICITLY.

For example, if you hire someone to create your floral arrangements, make sure that they are someone who understands you vision for the day and creates a sense of ease when they explain their process to you. When you walk away from your first meeting, it should feel like love at first sight.

As a photographer, I would be remiss if I didn’t address this next issue and it’s HUGE: find a photographer who makes your heart explode when you talk to them and look at their work. They will be with you for all the important moments of your day and practically everywhere else, so it’s important that you feel like besties before you ever step foot in front of their camera. You want to make sure that you trust them to photograph your love story in a meaningful way, even if things go sideways (and they will). Thunderstorm? My photographer’s got this. The sun is too bright, no problem, my photographer knows what to do. No one set up the cake, oh yeah, photographer to the rescue. (inside tip: I am pretty much your go to girl when it comes to any emergency that may occur, I’ve set up cakes, bustled dresses, attached boutineers to tuxedos, tied shoes, and even removed stains from shirts). Your photographer will do some much more than tote their camera around on your wedding day. They will pretty much coordinate the entire day for you, especially if you don’t have a wedding planner. So make sure that the sun and moon sets on the fact that you LOVE everything that they have to offer you. The same is true for your coordinator, DJ, cater, etc. Make sure that you are certain they are the perfect match for you! You will be so much more relaxed knowing that your team is there to bring their A-Game on your big day.

6. Your wedding day is about YOU!

Lastly, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, your wedding is meant to about YOU! Make it about what you want. Whether that is eloping amongst the redwoods with just the officiant and your photographer or if that’s a humongous ballroom style wedding, make it be what you want it to be. Usually I would say consider others, but your wedding day is yours and no one else’s. Marriage is the single most important commitment you will ever make to another person, and this is the one time in your life you have permission to be selfish in your desires. While yes, you should honor others by taking their thoughts into consideration, your choices should ultimately come down to what you want. Heck if you want to wear a polka dot dress and striped shoes on your wedding day, even though that may be unconventional, YOU DO YOU! My challenge to the stereotype is WHO CARES? If it makes you happy on the biggest day of your life, GO FOR IT!

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I hope that these few tips save you a lot of stress on your wedding day. If there are any questions that I can answer for you along the way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I believe in your girl! You are rad, and you’ve got this!


Chelsi is a destination wedding  and portrait photographer based in Fort Bragg, California. She loves to travel and will go anywhere to capture your life's sweet moments. She lives for seeing the world, capturing authentic love, and making people feel fabulous. Her style is authentic, real, and emotional. She believes in laughing too much, singing too loud, and most importantly living life to the fullest and prefers capturing every single authentic beautiful moment that evoke emotion over perfectly posed photos.