One of our favorite wedding venues in San Diego is the Japanese Friendship Gardens in Balboa Park. Rick and I are a little biased, since we had our wedding reception there, but we just really love the natural beauty and peaceful vibe of the gardens.
Since we were married there over ten years ago, the gardens has gone through a renovation and expansion to now include a 12-acre park, with multiple wedding venues with options for both indoor and outdoor weddings. There are so many gorgeous spots, which we’ll tell you all about below. But first, a little history…
THE STORY OF THE GARDENS
A hidden oasis in the middle of Balboa Park, the Japanese Friendship Gardens was created as an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city, Yokohama. The colorful trees, sculpted foliage, and stately bamboo are softened by the lush color of seasonal flowers and serene water features to create a space that feels like a secluded retreat for you and your guests. The Japanese-inspired garden is the perfect setting for any couple who craves the feel of a destination wedding right here at home.
There are several options for ceremony locations in both the Upper Gardens and Lower Gardens. In the Upper Gardens, we love the really unique setting with the traditional Japanese ceremonial gate that’s surrounded by trees. In the Lower Gardens, the Plaza can hold 200-250 guests but still has an intimate feel, as it’s tucked alongside a tall hill that acts as a beautiful, natural green backdrop for couples as they marry in front of their friends and family.
Some of our favorite spots to shoot in are in the Upper Garden area, near the Koi Pond and Moon Viewing Deck. We just love the trees and bamboo, and the late afternoon light that shines through them is just magical. In the Lower Garden, we especially love the Garden Paths and Earth Bridge that crosses over the running water.
The Inamori Pavilion (Lower Garden) is a really great indoor option for a wedding reception. The large open building is surrounded by a viewing deck that is the perfect place for guests to cool off, chat, and sip cocktails while enjoying the picturesque landscape complete with a waterfall. The building’s wall-to-wall windows make the outdoors feel indoors, so even when the doors are closed, your guests will feel like nature surrounds them. And the Reception Plaza (Upper Garden) is an open-air patio under the stars bordered by a long arbor covered in wisteria vines. If you’re lucky enough to book your wedding in the Spring, you and your guests can enjoy the cascading purple blooms as you dine. We’ve seen couples hang paper lanterns or draping for a more intimate feel.
One of the things we especially loved about this venue when we were getting married was the flexibility to choose our caterer and bring in our own beverages. They also allow pets to take part in the ceremony, so if you had your heart set on your pup being the ring bearer, this may be the perfect venue for you. Lastly, because it’s not in a residential area, you can party til midnight! There’s no 10pm curfew, which was a HUGE bonus for us!