Venues, Venues Everywhere…

…and not a drop to drink! Well, not yet, anyway.

As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, this past weekend marked my first active foray into active wedding planning activities: venue visits!

This might seem like a super fast development to a lot of you (and, hey, maybe it is!) but my reason for hitting the ground running with looking at venues is twofold:

1) Without a venue, you don’t have a date, and without a date, you can’t really plan, um, well, anything else. After al, the kind of venue you choose can have a big impact on what kind of wedding you end up having — maybe you thought you’d be planning a cute, Etsy-chic DIY-style wedding, but end up falling for an elegant and luxe-feeling hotel venue. Or maybe you figured you’d have an autumn vineyard wedding, but the winery you fell in love with is only available in the Spring. You get the picture.

2) I’m a crazy person and I’m just really, really, really excited to be engaged. (You already knew this one, methinks.)

Plus, as many of you know, I plan a lot of events as part of my job for Yelp, and have thus been able to familiarize myself with a fair number of event venues — restaurants, hotels, and unique spots — in the Northern Virginia/DC area. So I already had a mental list of some of the places I would want to take a look at when the time came not for planning an Elite Event, but any personal events as well, including but not limited to My Big Day™.

I looked at three venues over the weekend (one on Friday with my sister-in-law Taylor and my mom, and two on Saturday with Sean), and I have a few more visits scheduled this week. I will admit, I have mixed feelings on the whole venue search process thus far, because I’d definitely classify it as one of the “less fun” aspects of planning… but, of course, it’s arguably one of the most important ones at the same time.

It’s just that I can already see how much time and coordination venue hunting involves — just to figure out a time to go check out a place, let alone the time it takes to do the actual checking out. And I say that knowing that I’m already at a huge advantage given that I work from home, so I have a lot more flexibility in being able to go see places, whereas I’m sure many brides have to squeeze in like five back-to-back venue visits a day on the weekends.

I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that with all those years spent dreaming about my future wedding, I totally romanticized it. So now that it’s here, anything that requires rigorous scheduling, back-and-forth communication, or basically anything less than those totally overwhelming, tears-of-joy experiences you see on WeTV is just kind of depressing.

And because I didn’t immediately have a “Hallelujah!” moment at the three places I’ve seen, I’m guess I’m just feeling a little more cautious now about the additional visits I have set up this week (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I realize.) I’m sure I could write paragraphs about each of the places we saw this weekend, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet for ya, just in case you’re curious to know my thoughts:

The Woodlands at Algonkian: Probably very beautiful in the late spring/summer, but without leaves on all the trees the landscape is only so-so. The ballroom is very pretty, and I liked the bridal getting-ready room, but the entire space was a LOT smaller than I would have thought, and the cocktail hour space is really not big enough for a large wedding.

Airlie: Beautiful grounds and absolutely perfect if you’re a rustic country-chic kinda gal, which I am decidedly not. I did like the idea of being able to have an entire wedding weekend in one place (rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, next-day brunch), but all of the buildings except for the main house and event pavilion smelled very smokehouse/fireplace-y, which I didn’t like.

Hotel Monaco Alexandria: My favorite of the three by far. I LOVE Kimpton hotels and I love Old Town Alexandria, so it was already primed to be a favorite from the get-go. Great, unique decor, with a recently renovated bridal suite that was oh-so-beautiful. BUT the ballroom is kinda small and the pricing puts it at the high-end of our budget. It’s still in the running, but I’m trying not to get too attached, haha.

Hard though this may be to believe, I never have really thought of myself as a particularly picky person. I’m the kind of person who never sends things back, who is patient when waiting in long lines, who is pretty understanding when someone is running late or an accident happens. Which is why it’s a little weird for me to acknowledge how picky I’m being with this. I fully recognize that it’s unreasonable to want it all, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from wanting it all the same. I want a super unique venue with great natural light and nice house chairs and linen options and 8-hour rental period and, oh yeah, still falls within my budget.

I know, I’m pretty much the worst.

I’ll admit though, it was a pretty good reality check for me to go on my first site visits and not fall head over heels immediately, given how prone I am to get carried away with excitement (shocking, I know). Anything to keep myself slightly more down to earth, right?

And anyway, there is certainly no shortage of great venues in the Metro DC area. Now, great venues that are also affordable might be a different story, but we’ll tackle that when we have to, hahaha. Onward!

What was your wedding venue like? Or, if you’re not married yet, where do you see yourself getting married?


  1. I have no idea what city I’ll get married in, maybe my hometown? maybe duluth? maybe the cities? But I do know that if you don’t have everything in one spot, make sure you provide enough travel time to account for traffic, and give really good specific directions for church to reception. It really sucks getting lost and missing cocktail hour. (especially if its a cash bar after that).

  2. Sabrinasays:

    I have another friend who is looking at venues in the area too – it sounds like such a headache!
    Until very recently I assumed I would end up looking at wineries when the time comes, but did you know you can sometimes book libraries for events after hours?!? There’s a small problem with all the super pretty ones being beyond pricey, but but but LIBRARIES!

    here is a venue option. I went to a wedding there.

    • I’m visiting there tomorrow! Great minds think alike, Lauren! 😀

      • Oh awesome- let us know how it goes! How far are you willing to drive for a venue?

        • I think basically an hour in any direction — unless it was ultra special amazing can’t be duplicated anywhere else, and then I’d be willing to go further. But an hour pretty much covers all of Northern VA and DC so hopefully I can find somewhere I love within that radius! 🙂

  4. Alissasays:

    I just got married in January. I wanted a one-stop-shop for the wedding weekend, so we decided a hotel was the best option for us. We checked out MANY DC hotels, but the one we fell head over heels for was the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel. Gorgeous and just renovated, great staff and service, beautiful linens, nice chairs, delicious food – everything! We had our ceremony, reception, Sunday brunch, and a block of rooms all in one place. They do rehearsal dinner options as well.

    • Oh man, Alyssa, I am going to have SO many questions for you — we are looking at a January wedding as well! 😀

      • Alissasays:

        You have my email address – feel free to shoot me an email and I can send you everything I’ve got! We are crazy about all of our vendors and would love for others to have the same great experience we did.

  5. It is NOT too soon to book your venue. We got a HUGE discount for booking our venue really early.

  6. I got married in November on the beach. We knew we wanted a beach wedding, but had to figure out exactly which beach. There are a lot! Once we had that down, it all came together really fast. Good luck picking a venue!

  7. We wound up in a place we did not expect – a historical hotel. My husband and I am both biologists and love being outside so we thought, “right, we’ll do the winery/outdoor wedding route”. But by the time we added in the costs of renting EVERYTHING it was just too much. Plus, we did not want to be hemmed in with only serving the wine of the winery (esp bc we have a friend who sells wine and was able to get us a killer discount on some great Spanish wines). So we decided to get married outside in a park in the town we live in and after doing venue hunting (mostly online and through email, as I did find it tedious) at museums and nature centers and still not finding anything that fit, we followed a suggestion from a friend whose daughter got married in this old hotel one town over from ours. It was in our price range, offered good food and had so much charm that it did not feel like a typical hotel to us. It was actually fancier than I thought we would pick, but it just worked! It was here, if you are interested (for curiosity, I mean, not for you guys, lol)

  8. Honestly, the venue is the FIRST thing you should find. Like you said, it sets your date. It also may come with strings like having to use their caterer, or they may have working relationships you want to exploit (that’s how we found our baker).

    Also, don’t forget that many museums in the area offer wedding services! They range from the ‘Hey, that’s not bad…’ to the ‘Are you kidding me?!’

  9. I’m jealous you live somewhere that has so many venues to choose from! I’m getting married in the fall (yay!) in a wee province in eastern Canada. I have my venue booked ( but I wish venues didn’t need to be booked so early. I’d much rather wait until a reliable weather forecast is released, i.e., two days before, and then decide where everything should be based solely on the expected weather. (I say that now, but in reality it’s nice to have it all sorted so I can move onto other things, like delicious delicious cake.)

    Have fun! 🙂

  10. Pattysays:

    I had my wedding at the Hotel Monaco in Old Town and loved every minute of the process. I had a DIY wedding and brought all my own touches and they were so accommodating in every where, down to my fried chicken and macaroni and cheese bar menu!

    And as a dog lover, you’ll appreciate that they let my parents bring our dog into the festivities at the end of the night! So many fun memories.

  11. Allisonsays:

    I got married 2 years ago at 2941. We had a smaller wedding (90 people), the landscaping there is gorgeous, and the food is fantastic so it hit our two priorities. Plus they work with the Hilton down the road and provide free shuttle service. I really enjoyed working with them and we still get compliments on the food at our wedding. 🙂

  12. Carolsays:

    Congratulations on your engagement! Our venue was a country club (my in-laws are members) that has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the golf course and lake. We were crazy and chose a very short engagement (4 1/2 months), so found it easier to minimize decisions/vendors where we could — ceremony/reception were at same place, very small wedding party. We also did a few DIY things — our invitations were printed by my boss, pretty paper found at a party supply store!! Enjoy the process and choose your must-haves vs what you can minimize/skip. good luck!

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