THE DECISION to marry is often not a simple one, and in Southern California there is yet another major consideration on the heels of the original commitment: where to wed.
Prospective partners who want to marry in a church but who do not belong to any particular denomination have many possibilities. There are many chapels available for weddings, from the elegant Chapel of Roses in Pasadena (complete with dramatic staircase for bridal entrances) to the veteran Little Brown Church in the Valley, in North Hollywood, now nearing its 50th year as a nondenominational venue.
The nautical but nice Royal Wedding Chapel on the Queen Mary in Long Beach offers a variety of shipboard wedding packages, some of which include marriage by the captain and an overnight stay for the wedding couple. It would be nice to be able to say that this is the original chapel from the Queen's great days at sea, but the current chapel is really the former second class men's lounge. It's lovely anyway, as is the definitely original Art Deco Lounge for a pre-or-post ceremony toast. (But no receptions can be held in the bar.)
Wedding parties wishing to set sail in earnest can exchange vows and celebrate them aboard one of several harbor excursions available in Southern California. Spirit Cruises at Ports O'Call in San Pedro can accommodate 100 guests on their 90-foot sailing ship.
California couples already living together are eligible for an abbreviated form of the marriage process. By signing an Affidavit of Cohabitation and filling out a standard marriage license application, they can be married that same day sans blood tests. Such short-cut licenses can be obtained at many places throughout the state, including the kitschy but earnest Hitching Post Wedding Chapel on the South Shore of Big Bear Lake. No appointment is necessary, and regular marriages can also be performed provided you bring your own marriage license.
Other Southern California locations ideal for I do's include:
The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove; four wedding sites offered including the Chapel in the Sky at the top of the tower; couples must be married by the church's clergy but their own can assist.
The Buccaneer Queen, Ports O'Call in San Pedro; 18th-Century pirate ship replica has room for 90 wedding guests. The Princess, an authentic paddle-wheel river boat, can accommodate 145 passengers. Bring your own officiant.
The Bahia Belle, Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego; old-fashioned stern-wheeler is a popular wedding vehicle with catered reception. Maximum capacity is 190.
Calamigos Ranch, Malibu; wedding coordinator will aid in planning ceremony and reception for 50-350 guests.
De Benneville Pines Unitarian Universalists Camp and Conference Center in the San Bernardino National Forest, between Redlands and Big Bear; year-round retreat has all wedding necessities including clergy, or you can bring anything and everything yourself excepting food (theirs is home-cooked and legendary). Overnight accommodations available for 116 guests.
Associated Wedding Chapel Information, Las Vegas; a call to (800) 882-3379 provides information on Nevada license procedures and recommended wedding locations for the truly impatient.