Our $35K Los Angeles River Center & Gardens Wedding

’90s music for an endless dance party

Kim, Public Health Professional & Naylene, Public Health Professional

sum-up of the wedding vibe: Awesomely queer ’90s throwback LA botanical garden dance party

Planned Budget: $30,000
Actual Budget: $35,000
Number of Guests: 115
Location: Los Angeles, California

Where we allocated the most funds:

We went over budget because our estimated guest count increased. Everyone and their mamas wanted to attend their first gay wedding (people literally asked to bring their moms)! How could we say no to that? We initially wanted to have our wedding in the Santa Monica Mountains/Malibu area surrounded by nature, but the venues turned out to be pretty pricey and had too many restrictions. Luckily, we stumbled upon the LA River Center and Gardens and thought it was perfect because of the greenery, it was only minutes away from our home in Silver Lake, and we loved that it was owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which funds some of our favorite hiking trails. We also thought it was important to have an awesome photographer we could vibe with, so when we found Michelle from Rad + In Love, it was an easy decision! Michelle was fun to work with, and we’re so stoked we found her!

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Where we allocated the least funds:

Wedding favors, save the dates, and transportation.

What was totally worth it:

Photography was totally worth the splurge! We love Rad + In Love and would highly recommend to anyone and everyone! They are so great at what they do, perfectly capturing all the little moments and expertly capturing the big ones. We’re also fans of candid shots, which they’re great at! We couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Getting an expert wedding coordinator like Marni from So Smitten Events was also worth the splurge. We had no clue what we were doing, and her guidance was super helpful!

What was totally not worth it:

Sweating the small stuff. We spent way too much time deciding on utensils and wine selection, but realized after the wedding that most people never even noticed the difference.

A few things that helped us along the way:

Having the support of our family and friends meant everything to us. Marni from So Smitten Events did a great job coordinating our vendors and making sure everything ran smoothly. Angelena from Shindig Chic was awesome with the design/decor and floral arrangements. Every time we found ourselves spinning in circles, they kept us calm and we really needed that kind of energy around. Rev. Dawn Camacho was also super helpful in customizing our ceremony and gave us great insight on how to do a spiritual ceremony that felt both unique and traditional. Aside from having great vendors, lots and lots of wine also helped us along the way!

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Sometimes you’ll wish you could elope because it can get so overwhelming. You’ll have debates about the whole institution of marriage and you’ll grow to have a love/hate relationship with wedding reality TV shows. This is normal; taking frequent breaks and making time for date nights is key. On some days, we banned using the “W” word (“wedding”) to keep us sane. Start saving money early. As soon as we got engaged, we opened our first joint bank account and set aside money from each paycheck. By the end of our year and a half engagement, we managed to save enough money to pay for the wedding ourselves. When your fiancx wants to watch the hundredth episode of Say Yes to the Dress, remind yourself that everyone has their own process and that you love them exactly for who they are.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Goofing around with our bridal parties while getting ready really helped us shake our wedding jitters. We danced and sang to ’80s and ’90s classics like Whitney Houston and the Spice Girls, and that was one of the most memorable experiences for us. Our vows. We wanted our ceremony to be authentic to us, so we wrote our own vows, customized our wedding ceremony to pay homage to the fight for same-sex marriage rights, and included a modernized Vietnamese tea ceremony.

Gettin’ down on the dance floor with all our loved ones! At one point, everyone formed a massive conga line/dance train when Quad City DJs’ “C’mon Ride the Train” came on. It was totally unexpected and watching our older Asian relatives dance to hip hop was so much fun.

Something else We’d LIke to Share:

Our top priority was to have fun and make sure our guests had fun. You could have all the coolest decorations, the nicest flowers, and yummiest cake, but what good is everything if you can’t have a blast with your partner and loved ones? We just wanted to have one big, gay party; celebrate with loved ones; and take in every moment. At the end of the day, that’s all that really mattered, and I think we achieved that with flying (rainbow) colors.


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