Kristin Rakas, of Bowling Green, stands in the Great Hall of the Toledo Zoo, overlooking the tables set up for her wedding reception.
A public park, a city garden, a metropolitan zoo.
These aren’t usually the first places that come to mind when thinking about a wedding venue. Most people choose to marry in a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, chapel, or courthouse, but others prefer a place beyond the traditional. While Toledo may not have a reputation as a wedding destination, trendy couples seek out unique local places to tie the knot, and offbeat venues are at top of their minds.
“It’s their special day and they want it to be unique. They want people to remember it,” said Erica Emery, visitor services supervisor at Toledo Botanical Garden. “With the Internet and sites like Pinterest, everybody is getting new ideas.”
The city-owned garden is open all year and holds about 50 weddings annually. With 64 acres and almost a half-dozen ceremony sites, the garden can host up to six weddings a day. The numerous spaces allow for flexibility and short-notice requests. All of the sites are outdoors, with some including views of the pond, gazebos, and sculptures. Prices range from $200 to $2,000.
“When you’re here, you feel like you’re hundreds of miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” Ms. Emery said. “You’re surrounded by unique flowers, award-winning plants. It’s something different.”
Around town, other nontraditional venues that have hosted weddings include the Toledo Museum of Art and Fifth Third Field. Couples often choose uncommon venues based on their interests, uniqueness of the venue, and even location. For some brides and grooms, the sites are close to home, and for others they are a compromise for traveling guests. Lack of religious affiliation is also a selling point.
“A lot of people utilize our [facility] because they can just use an officiant,” said Julia Meltzer, events coordinator at Maumee Bay State Park. “When people are torn between religious or not religious at all, it works for them.”
Maumee Bay has been hosting weddings for more than 10 years. With two ceremony sites, the park can host up to six weddings per weekend and holds 45 to 50 a year from May to October. Prices range from $750 for a ceremony only to more than $25,000 for a ceremony, reception, food, and bar service.
This year, the park will host couples from Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, and Las Vegas. The park’s biggest selling point is its Maumee Bay/Lake Erie backdrop.
“A lot of people want to get married on a beach, but there’s no beach around,” Ms. Meltzer said. “So, a lot of people treat us as a destination location. This is the closest you can get to the beach without sand in your toes.”
The Toledo Zoo has four main wedding locations to choose from, in addition to several reception areas. The Iron Lady of the zoo's Formal Gardens is a popular location.
The Toledo Zoo has been hosting school and business events for decades, but didn’t start hosting weddings until 2004 after a number of inquiries from guests.
“A lot of people were asking us about weddings,” said Colleen Tankoos, group sales manager at the zoo. “We’d been holding corporate events, picnics, and all sorts of events for much longer than that [and] we weren’t doing weddings, but people kept asking.”
The zoo has more than a half-dozen spaces for weddings and receptions and holds an event almost every weekend. The zoo is a full-service venue and events are held after regular business hours when the zoo is closed to the public. Costs start at $54 per person, with a minimum of 20 people.
Event spaces are both indoors and outdoors and include a formal garden, African-themed lodge, and an open-air pavilion. Backdrops can include everything from plush green grass and beautiful blossoms to a Greek statue and even wildlife. At the Arctic exhibit, for example, an indoor enclosure offers views into the polar bear and seal habitat. Couples can also opt for a rides on the train or carousel.
“You have an experience here. You take a childhood memory and turn it into a warm, fuzzy experience that leads up to the next stage of life,” Ms. Tankoos said. “It’s obvious that traditions have changed and people are really into personalizing things. This gives you that whimsy. That fun.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.