Share Industry Insights
for Navigating the Trends
Know the Trends to Help You
Plan the Perfect Wedding Experience,
Plus Need-to-Knows for Brides & Grooms
By Shannon Brooks | February 16, 2023
Take in the mountains and sea from the Moxi’s Lookout Tower | Credit: ByCherry Photography
Read all of the stories in our 2023 Wedding Guide here.
Pent-up demand for delayed weddings and new engagements made 2022 the “Year of the Wedding,” as many media outlets deemed it. More than 2.5 million couples across the country said “I do” in celebrations of all sizes. With demand off the charts, competition for venues and vendors was fierce. Costs increased due to inflation, while supply chain challenges further raised the price tags on expenses of everything from invitations to catering.
Those hurdles did not slow couples down from racing to the altar — or courthouse. The pandemic experience sparked a newfound sense of urgency to do more of the things that create joy and bring us together. As a result, couples are going all-out when it comes to throwing memorable, meaningful celebrations. Similarly, more guests are inclined to RSVP “yes” when wedding invitations arrive in the mail. Cancellation and postponement fears have been put to rest. The wedding industry is officially back.
Weddings are big business in Santa Barbara, and the local industry benefited from last year’s wedding boom. According to the Wedding Report, 2022 was a record year for Santa Barbara County with an unprecedented 4,848 weddings and $167 million in total wedding-related sales. The average spending on a wedding in Santa Barbara was more than $37,000 — about $5,000 more than pre-pandemic highs. While 2023 is not expected to cross the 4,000-wedding threshold, the forecasted 3,970 weddings set to take place in the region this year will keep wedding-related businesses and services busy and in the black
I spoke with a diverse sampling of local wedding professionals to learn how the “Year of the Wedding” impacted them and how 2023 is shaping up so far. A handful of trends and insights emerged.
The micro-wedding trend that took off as the world reopened from the pandemic is softening, according to local wedding pros. But couples are still eloping, and Santa Barbara sets the perfect backdrop for elopements. In fact, The Knot, a popular wedding blog, featured Santa Barbara on its list of “The Best Places to Elope in 2022-2023.” Proximity to the beach, wine country, and “exclusive Montecito” were among the reasons the writer described Santa Barbara venues as “tailor-made for elopements.”
Shauna Timmons and Armando Martinez of Santa Barbara Elopement specialize in luxury wedding planning and designing experiences for intimate gatherings. “Eloping is no longer about running to the justice of peace in the middle of the night, committing a crime against your loved ones,” they said. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Eloping is celebrating your individuality and not modifying expectations.”
The duo booked 47 elopements in 2022 — nine more than their 2019 and 2020 totals and 11 fewer than 2021, when demand was extra pent-up. Looking to 2023, they said, “We have received over 50 inquiries this year; 15 have booked and we expect more to commit in the next couple of weeks.”
The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a drop-dead stunner of a location and a one-stop shop for elopements. Angeleno Maggie Moon Berwick and her now-husband, Stuart, were attracted to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse for their January 11, 2023, elopement because of its sense of place. “It’s such a dreamy place inside and out,” she recalled. The couple made their own arrangements, securing a reservation a few weeks ahead of time, and found the experience to be incredibly smooth and positive. “Everyone was so warm and sweet; you could tell they weren’t just going through the motions and really cared.”
Big and Splashy
Tracey Morris of ella & louie flowers expected there to be an overall shift to smaller, simpler gatherings emerging from the pandemic, yet that didn’t turn out to be the case at all. “They are happening full-stop: weekend extravaganzas, elopements, family weddings at home,” Morris said. “Santa Barbara continues to host some wonderful beginnings for a lot of people.”
In the first part of 2022, Morris was still producing weddings booked in 2019. “A lot of the couples who had large guest lists had pushed out to 2022 to be sure they could have the celebration they planned on.” The 2022 season was very busy for her, especially September and October, which are reliably the most booked time of year.
Hannah and Ricky seal the sweet deal in in the Mural Room at the S.B. County Courthouse. | Credit: Ali Beck
Lynee Bennett, who oversees private events for Acme Hospitality’s collection of restaurants, also noted the return of larger wedding parties. “We’re seeing a significant resurgence of larger weddings, particularly in the past couple of months,” she said. Acme’s five event venues have 16 event spaces that set the stage for the pre- and post-ceremony celebrations. “We limit a single special event per day per venue to ensure we’re providing the best experience possible,” Bennett said.
According to the Wedding Report, Santa Barbara weddings skew larger than the national average, with guest lists averaging 160 to 170 people, compared to 124. Generally, the bigger the wedding, the more cost per guest will be. Going bigger and making a splash is fueled by that “seize the day” attitude and couples’ desire to bring their people together for an epic celebration. Many are sparing no expense, be it on exclusive experiences, resort buyouts, or elevated food and beverage.
Sunny Ramirez, events manager at Gainey Vineyard, observed this inclination to splurge with many of their weddings. “[They] were eager to vamp up their celebration to include a variety of wine selections throughout the event. From a business standpoint, the private events allow [us] the opportunity to showcase our Limited Selection, Estate, and Evan’s Ranch wines to the attending guests.”
It’s not just the big weddings that have bigger price tags. “We have had clients spend $80,000 on a 10-person wedding, and clients who have spent $5,000,” said Timmons and Martinez of Santa Barbara Elopement. “Our job is to support and bring a vision to life, maximizing the budget that clients set out for us.”
Dovetailing with the bigger, better, and bolder trend, destination weddings are on the rise as couples want to go all-out for their big day(s). In the wake of the pandemic, destination weddings have become multi-generational family reunions and often turn into full-fledged vacations for guests who want to make the most of their travels.
Yours truly flew to Australia for a friend’s wedding in November. Rather than head off on their honeymoon following the “recovery” day-after brunch, the newlyweds Kristy and Ben prioritized spending time with friends and family who traveled in for the wedding week.
According to the Wedding Report’s 2021 data, 28 percent of the 2,697 Santa Barbara County weddings were considered destination weddings, with couples traveling from out of town — a boon for local hotels and bed tax revenues.
Whether the wedding is in their hometown or a destination wedding, today’s soon-to-be-wed couples want to create an experience for their guests that extends beyond the traditional wedding ceremony. Enter the trend of multi-day itineraries that maximize quality time shared with guests. Bachelorette and bachelor parties are also getting built into the wedding week, so guests only have to travel once for the festivities.
Bennett of Acme Hospitality observed, “Instead of lavish 200-person weddings, people opted to have smaller wedding weekends where they hosted their guests on multiple occasions: rehearsal dinners, welcome parties, wedding dinners, after-parties, and after-wedding brunches. Events remained in the 30-to-75-person guest count, but couples hosted entire wedding weekends instead of a single wedding celebration bash.”
Gainey Vineyard’s Ramirez noted a similar trend. “For the couples who had been planning for two years, we found they wanted to provide a weekend experience for their guests to include casual gatherings on Thursdays, welcome receptions on Fridays, and the big day celebration on Saturdays,” she said. In her seven years with Gainey, Ramirez said 2022 was by far one of the winery’s busiest event seasons. “We were booked most Fridays and Saturdays during the prime event months,” she said. “Some of the events were rescheduled from 2020, in addition to couples who booked out for 2022 wanting to avoid any of the restrictions in place from the pandemic.”
Planners and venue managers note that more couples want to include unique, creative experiences in their celebrations. Acme’s Bennett summed it up well: “Traditional weddings that we used to know are on the outs, and curated experiences are on the rise.”
That can be reflected in the venue itself or the reception activities. In the case of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, they tick both boxes. Angie Bertucci, MOXI’s director of marketing and communications, said their events team has seen a growing number of couples requesting creative experiences to offer during their receptions. “Wedding guests are contracting activities such as glass etching, candle-making, or creating glowing LED items,” she shared. “Seeing guests interact with the exhibits is part of what makes weddings at MOXI so unforgettable.”
MOXI averages two weddings per month, and 75 percent of their private event business is wedding ceremonies and/or receptions. “I think we are tapping into the post-pandemic excitement around the return of in-person weddings, seeing more wedding events at MOXI than ever before,” Bertucci said. MOXI is so popular with couples that they are already fully booked for 2023.
Timing Is Everything
MOXI isn’t the only venue that’s in demand for 2023 and 2024 weddings. “We already have fully booked dates, and we’re getting inquiries and bookings for 2024,” said Bennett. “[Acme Hospitality] still has many open dates for 2023, but they’re becoming limited as we creep further into the new year. We are very much looking forward to creating fabulous, memorable experiences for couples and guests alike, and 2023 is shaping up to be a fantastic year.”
Compared to the banner wedding year of 2022, so far, Ramirez has seen fewer bookings for Gainey’s 2023 dates. “But with the current engagement season, we are seeing an influx of newly engaged couples looking to book our remaining dates for 2023. We are anticipating another busy event season, especially with Valentine’s Day engagements.”
December is the most popular month for engagements in Santa Barbara County, when 14 percent of the year’s “yeses” are declared. The seasonality of engagements tends to influence new business leads for venues and in-demand service providers like wedding planners, photographers, and florists. Morris, the florist, doesn’t plan to push herself as hard in 2023. “So many people in the wedding industry are saying they want to do less this year,” she explained. “The last two years were tough! We have all earned a rest.”