Over the past two years, many people had to postpone their weddings until the end of the pandemic was in sight, making 2022 the year of weddings. You might feel like everyone and their sister is getting married.
Guess, what, they are! In 2019 there was an average of 2.02 million weddings. There was a significant drop in 2020 with an average of 1.68 million, and now in 2022, one of the largest wedding seasons in recent history, has a projected 2.6 million weddings. With this increase in weddings, traditional wedding venues and catering services are quickly being booked up. However, this does not mean you need to push back your celebration another year. Nontraditional wedding planning is the new fad. You might even discover that these alternative options far outweigh your original plans.
We are all familiar with the traditional church wedding: stained glass windows, wooden pews, and an altar decorated in flowers, but that is hardly the only option for a picturesque wedding. In the Boulder area, there are numerous romantic, nontraditional options for you to choose from.
The first step in determining your alternative wedding venue is to decide on the theme of your wedding. Are you looking for a rustic, homey feel with beautiful views and the flexibility to create a formal or informal reception? Are you more of a rollercoaster, adventurous couple? Do you two love nature and the outdoors? Would you like your guests to sleep, eat, and enjoy your celebration in one place? Once you have decided on your wedding theme, you can find the perfect location without ever leaving Boulder.
Ranch: Old Elm Farm
The Old Elm is a beautiful, rustic farm from the 1800s just five miles east of downtown Boulder. Theresa Schuller, who currently owns and operates the farm, bought it in 2019 right before the onset of Covid-19 and used the 2020 lockdown as time to restore and renovate the farm.
Schuller grew up in Boulder, and after many years of self-employment experience, she is excited to bring her love of Boulder, its history, and local and organic food together through The Old Elm Farm. “Coming to Boulder is coming back home,” she said.
While searching through different ranch venues for this article, I was instantly attracted to The Old Elm. It is not just a venue for events. It is a working, organic farm.
The rental fee includes the entire five acre-farm and all of its vicinities: a two-story barn, the machine shop that has been converted into a bar, the courtyard with a firepit and lights, two silos, the dairy barn, and two massive chicken coops.
The Old Elm has a limit of 18 events per year with no more than one event per week. These restrictions allow your event to be the only one occurring at the farm on your special day.
The Old Elm does not provide in-house catering. “However,” Schuller noted, “every event that happens at The Old Elm will include something that is grown locally or produced locally at the farm. This could be fruits, vegetables, honey, […] duck eggs, herbs, or flowers. We have a really wide variety of things here.”
One of Schuller’s favorite parts of the farm is the huge, old elm tree for which she named the farm. “This elm is estimated to have been planted in the 1890s,” Schuller informed me. “It is very unusual for an elm tree to be that old because elms across the United States died due to Dutch elm disease in the 1930s and 1940s. People didn’t replace them because they didn’t want these trees to grow for decades and then die. So this tree lived through that, and it’s at the center of the entrance to the farm.”
The Old Elm Farm still has slots available for this year and is open for 2023 bookings. The current capacity is 100 people, but Schuller hopes to expand the farm, allowing for potentially 150 people next year.
Amusement Park: Elitch Gardens
Wedding photos on a rollercoaster? What adventurous bride wouldn’t be excited about that opportunity?
I spoke with Cindy Hann, the director of marketing at Elitch Gardens, about the opportunities this local amusement park has for brides and grooms. For someone planning a big wedding as Hann explained, “There really is no limit. We always say for conventions and such, the capacity is 10 to 10,000.” It’s an easy venue to section off, so no matter what your guest count is, you are guaranteed to have the perfect venue size.
The amusement park is very flexible based on your desires. They provide in-house catering that allows for a more formal take on traditional amusement park favorites. However, you can bring alternative catering options, like food trucks or traditional caterers. If you would like to serve alcoholic beverages at your wedding, Elitch Gardens will provide the drinks and may even include a signature beverage to top off the event.
The location of your wedding can be anywhere in the park. Most weddings use the front entry pavilion for the ceremony and section off parts of the park for the reception including the Big Wheel, carousel, and even some roller coasters. “Riding on a ride in a wedding dress is pretty cool,” Hann noted as one of the highlights of having a wedding at Elitch Gardens.
There are still plenty of openings for weddings this year at Elitch Gardens. Hann explained that they try to schedule weddings on days when the park is not open. This allows for a no-stress atmosphere for staff, the wedding party, and the guests.
When I asked Hann what makes Elitch Gardens a unique wedding venue, other than the fact that it is an amusement park, she explained that they can do just about anything any other venue could do with the added fun of an amusement park. “You can still make it very beautiful here,” she added. “It’s a celebration. I think that’s what’s great here is it’s just so much fun added to that celebration with adding some rides and adding that unique venue.”
Weddings hosted at Elitch Gardens are “Instagrammable” Hann said. There are lots of great spots for pictures and so many options for fun reception games. You can have cornhole at your reception or even use some of the park’s game booths with prizes for your guests. “Traditional is great,” Hann said, “but some people don’t want that, and for a high energy event, that’s what we would bring.”
Park: The Colorado Chautauqua
The Colorado Chautauqua is a place of beauty, history, and lots of outdoor fun. Wanona Tara, the director of sales and experiences at the park, provided me with some interesting history behind the Colorado Chautauqua.
Chautauqua Park opened on July 4, 1898, along with many other Chautauquas across the country. Chautauquas were a place where people could get educated and have community events. The Colorado Chautauqua, Tara explained, “started as a campus tent town, and then they turned into actual cottages as time went on. …We are the only one this side of the Mississippi that’s open year round. We are very much the same model as the original Chautauquas, meaning that we have public events here.”
The park has an abundance of offerings for brides and grooms and their guests. From experiences to lodging and venue options, no matter what your particular style and taste are, Chautauqua will create the ideal atmosphere for your event. While explaining the opportunities for the wedding party and their guests, Tara said, “They could extend their stay to come early and do some fun stuff. They could do the wedding, stay late, do some fun activities, and they could stay here for their honeymoon. We really have created more of a destination.
“We also have experiences that we can offer to the wedding groups,” Tara noted. Some of the many experiences they have available include: making flower mandalas, group hikes, and mindfulness classes. “We are continually adding more artistic offerings,” Tara added.
In addition to experiences, Chautauqua offers packages to help with the planning process. There is a wedding package for small weddings and courtesy blocks for on-campus lodging for the wedding party and guests.
The in-house caterer specializes in Colorado bistro, but the catering packages are customizable based on your specific desires. Tara pointed out that their caterer will make just about any type of food you request. The food is intentionally planned around what is available locally. “The operator owns Three Leaf Farm in Louisville, so a lot of the produce comes from the farm,” Tara said.
Another exciting offer that Tara and her team are working on is an engagement package where they set up a picnic for the couple at a beautiful site for the marriage proposal.
When I asked Tara what makes Chautauqua such a special place, especially for weddings, she emphasized the natural beauty and abundance of opportunities. “Chautauqua itself feels like it’s in the mountains, but we are ten minutes from Pearl Street, so you really get the best of being in the city and being in the mountains. To me, that’s a very beautiful thing about this site. It’s very quiet up here and to me, it feels very different than it does downtown.”
Chautauqua has over 40 miles of hiking trails, various-sized lodging facilities, and several indoor and outdoor venue options for different-sized ceremonies and receptions. There is a general store onsite that “does coffee, homemade ice cream, and little grab-and-go snacks.” Groceries can be delivered right to the doorstep of your lodge, so there is no need for you or your guests to leave the little haven of Chautauqua.
Hotel: St. Julien Hotel
St. Julien Hotel, located in the center of Boulder and a Forbes four-star, four-diamond hotel, is a beautiful wedding location for locals and non-locals alike. “We are the only four-star hotel in the area,” Kristin Snodell, the director of catering and conference services at St. Julien informed me.
St. Julien has an abundance of offerings for wedding parties and their guests. “What sets us apart from most venues, especially other hotels,” Snodell explained, “first and foremost is our amazing outdoor space. We have a lot of couples who have weddings with us. We have a beautiful lawn with a gazebo overlooking the Flatiron Mountains.”
There are many event spaces to choose from, including the outdoor veranda, red garden lawn, terrace, and ballroom. If you are planning a large wedding, St. Julien can host up to 250 people. There are three all-inclusive packages to choose from that are customizable based on your desires for the ceremony and reception.
“Another thing that is unique to St. Julien,” Snodell added, “is we only host one wedding a day. We have full focus and attention on the one wedding.” St. Julien provides wonderful options for those wanting to stay overnight, or even turn the event into a destination wedding.
For wedding parties who want professional spa treatment before the ceremony, “they don’t have to worry about finding someone to do their hair and makeup or to get their nails done. We have it all at the hotel.” St. Julien has an onsite spa that can provide wedding day services or pre- or post-wedding spa treatments.
The owners of St. Julien pride themselves on making their business sustainable and community-focused. “We do support local businesses,” Snodell assured me. “We try and source locally first before going national. We are very sustainable here at St. Julien. Our owners are Boulder natives, so they are very involved in the community.”
In addition to sourcing much of their food locally, the in-house caterer offers alternative options for people with special dietary needs. “We offer vegetarian and vegan options at all of our events. This is very important to us.” Snoddell said.
This year has been one of the largest wedding seasons that St. Julien has ever seen. However, if you are desiring a wedding at this venue, don’t worry, they still have openings for 2022.
Food Truck Catering
Food trucks—what’s not to love? Fun atmosphere, great cooking, alternative setting, and possibly best of all, cheaper than traditional catering!
Food truck catering has grown in awareness and popularity over the last few years for its convenience and social distancing options. Food trucks don’t just provide food at events. Each truck and cook brings along a unique and fun atmosphere.
There are several food trucks available to book within the Boulder area. For this article, I chose to feature two trucks that I think will bring extra unique qualities to your wedding along with delicious food that even your picky cousin will enjoy.
Bowls by KO
“Allergen-friendly, nourishing food that you want to eat.” This is how Katelin Overton summarized the food she provides in her truck.
Overton started Bowls by KO in 2019 as a small food delivery service to provide people with healthy, whole food meal options that were satisfying. “My intent from the very beginning,” Overton explained, “has really been to make delicious food that you want to eat that’s healthy and allergen friendly and really fueling and nourishing.”
Overton taught herself how to cook at age 12 by watching “Food Network.” Cooking for and serving others has always been a passion of hers. After struggling with an eating disorder and trying a paleo diet and Whole30, Overturn wanted to give others the ability to fuel their bodies and eat intuitively without agonizing over food.
Bowls by KO grew rapidly over the pandemic with many people needing food delivered to their homes. With the addition of the food truck, Overton has been able to watch her business and dream of cooking for a living flourish.
Overton is intentional about serving whole, organic, local foods. “During the summer, I am able to source almost 100% of my produce locally. I build my menu very thoughtfully on what is available locally.” Overturn also explained that all of her beef is sourced from Colorado farms.
Overton makes it her mission to provide food that is safe for people with even the most extreme of food allergies. “I make everything on the truck 100% gluten-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free, so everything is Celiac friendly. I use all my own cooking equipment. Nothing ever touches gluten.” For those who are lactose intolerant or who have a dairy allergy, “Everything is dairy-free at a base level.”
Something that stood out to me about Overton’s truck is the chalkboard. “I painted the whole bottom of my truck with chalkboard paint. I always write, ‘Congratulations’ to the bride and groom, all pretty on the chalkboard, but then I leave chalk out, so people can come out and write messages and take pictures.”
Overton does offer traditional buffet-style catering, but she is focusing on food truck events. “I just think the truck is so much fun. It’s very intuitive and easier to just get set up with the truck, and I think it’s really fun for the guests. Being able to go out to the food truck, stand in line and talk to people, and order your own food… It’s an extra little fun experience, and you can get whatever you want. I always have build-your-own bowls available, so you can really get what you want, and ultimately it is cheaper for the bride and groom.”
Rocky Mountain Slices
“Really good food, really good service, at a really affordable price,” said Ben Acton, the owner of Rocky Mountain Slices. Acton started Rocky Mountain Slices in 2013, and it has grown to be a very popular food truck in the Denver area. After being inspired by the food trucks in Nashville, Tenn., Acton moved to the Denver area to start running his own business.
Acton enjoys catering for weddings. With an average of 20 to 50 weddings a year, he has quite a bit of experience bringing some classic food truck fun to celebrations. “The whole traditional sit-down dinner is kind of gone. People just want a more laid back atmosphere where you can eat as you want, and at the end of the day, it’s a lot more affordable, and everything that has to do with weddings is expensive, so anywhere where you can cut down cost and still get a good product, people go that route.”
Acton and the staff of Rocky Mountain Slices are very flexible in how they cater for weddings depending on the specific client’s desires. “A lot of times it’s us cooking in the food truck and setting up a buffet out front to help speed up the process,” Acton explained.
Rocky Mountain Slices offers different food packages, but their classic package is pizza and salad. For those who have dairy allergies or gluten sensitivities, Acton makes sure to have options available. They will make vegan cheese pizza or gluten-free dough as needed.
Acton believes in high-quality food sourced from quality locations. “We use some local herbs, and we have a local vegan cheese maker. We make all of our sauces, and we make our own dough. If we can do local produce, we try our best,” he explained.
A lot of people are wanting the fun vibe that food trucks bring to events for their weddings, and Acton and his crew are sure to provide that. “We just put a lot of love in our food. We make a really good slice of pizza. I’d put it up against anything in Denver I think. We take time. There’s a lot of pride in it. Very friendly service. We like to have a good time.”