Not everyone loves a wedding. Blissfully engaged couples may not realize it, but some of the people they plan to invite are secretly scheduling minor surgery that directly conflicts with the big deal. The way to combat this tendency: Choose a wedding destination so seductive, even Scrooge would happily anticipate a conga line around the cake table.
Once you’ve chosen your resort, the biggest challenge will be finding a gown that can match the scenery for splendor. These should do the trick.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Each summer, polo-shirted families with deep pockets pack their monogrammed Boat and Totes for this classic island of colonial villages, manicured beaches and impeccable golf courses. In recent years, the Clintons and Obamas made it a regular stop during presidential time-off, and beach reads tend more toward David Sedaris than Tom Clancy. If you’re dreaming of an al fresco reception with lobster bibs and pitchers of Cape Codders, this is the place.
Where to marry: The Beach Plum Inn, on the less-traveled side of the island, combines a romantic setting atop the Vineyard Sound with spectacular sunsets and equally memorable food by chef John Thurgood. Simple accommodations include inn rooms, private cottages and homes.
What to wear: Marchesa Notte Bridal combines lightness, movement, and texture in an English rose-inspired gown with a deep V neckline and tiered skirt. The spot-on Vineyard accessory: a floral head-wreath.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Today’s reality stars might gather in Aspen, but for old-school types, Sun Valley is still the heart of the mountain west. While the U.S. ski scene started here in 1936, the town may be even more enjoyable in the summer. Fly-fishermen, hikers, and mountain bikers flock to this resort area in the Sawtooth range for the type of high-octane adventures denizen Ernest Hemingway wrote about.
Where to marry: There’s nothing hip about the Sun Valley Lodge, where the biggest art statements are the vintage photos of notable visitors. But there’s plenty of room for guests, and if you want to kick off your marriage on a high note, you can marry in the Roundhouse Restaurant, a gondola ride up the mountain.
What to wear: For a look that’s equal parts strong and sweet, this A-line Mikado coat dress from Sachin & Babi comes with silk charmeuse palazzo pants. No need for extra flowers: The sash of oversize blooms can replace a bouquet.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
In downtown Santa Fe, all the clichés are true: turquoise jewelry, burrito trucks, street performers, crystal healers, and block after block of adobe buildings. It’s like Disneyland for bohemians. The town attracts highbrow visitors who prowl the galleries on Canyon Road, nature-lovers who revel in the juniper forests, and margarita savants who greet every sunset at a rooftop bar.
Where to marry: The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado combines sophisticated southwest style with five-star service and a gaggle of wedding possibilities from a lavender-scented terrace to a lush poolside lawn. Fifteen minutes from downtown, it feels, sounds, and smells like another world.
What to wear: Artsy and completely unexpected, Oscar de la Renta’s ivory tulle ballgown is light as cotton candy, with a high-low handkerchief skirt completing the fantasy.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
Plenty of Charleston’s elite have second homes on Kiawah, but it also draws visitors from much further afield with spectacular golf (including the Ocean Course, a bucket list fave), a network of paved bike roads, and miles of white sand beaches. The private island has a country-club vibe, but because so many visitors stay in rental homes, there’s also an anything-goes attitude: Load up the fridge, put in a case of wine, and you may never unpack your shoes.
Where to marry: The island’s only hotel, the Sanctuary, can accommodate weddings in ballrooms, on a grand lawn, or right on the beach. This is truly one-stop shopping: they’ll do everything from fetching your guests at the airport to organizing a spa day and staging a post-reception marshmallow roast.
What to wear: For the bride who nods at tradition while embracing contemporary flair, Romona Keveza has just the solution: Iridescent organza creates a transparent ball gown over a short underskirt.
The T-shirt-and-marlin-trophy image of the Florida Keys gets a major upgrade on Islamorada, a series of islets known for bonefishing and Tiki bars. Netflix’s Bloodline was shot here, and it explored the darker side of paradise, but for visitors the area’s charming and chic resorts are the real draw. This is the sophisticated side of the Keys, with some of the best food in the state. At night, Tiki lights mark the way to frozen daiquiris.
Where to marry: Cheeca Lodge is an elegant, low-slung compound with a Pinterest-worthy fishing pier. George H.W. Bush used to come here to catch bonefish; today it’s just as well known for its weddings. The staff will lay a woven runner down to the water for a beach celebration, but if you’re doing a smaller ceremony, try to snag that pier—it feels as though you’re walking right into the Atlantic.
What to wear: Effortless and edgy, a crepe A-line slip dress from Christos feels as fluid as the setting. The soft train and intricate detailing at the waist make it wedding-worthy.
Laguna Beach, California
The good life doesn’t get any better than in this SoCal enclave of celebrity homes and surfers beaches. The town itself maintains a rep as an artists’ colony, with Thursday evening art walks, a fine museum, and the annual Pageant of the Masters, when citizens pose in tableaus that re-create famous works of art. But for wedding-goers, the real thrill is watching the surfers over your morning coffee, exploring tide pools home to ocean critters, and sampling seafood with a sunset view.
Where to marry: Montage Laguna Beach is a go-to wedding locale, with a pair of ocean-view lawns for a sunset ceremony. The Arts-and-Crafts architecture works beautifully on the Pacific coastline, the food is exceptional (local oysters and Gold River salmon), and eco-conscious couples will delight in the on-site composting.
What to wear: A fairy tale temptress could wear this Monique Lhuillier gown, with crystal embroidery that looks like luxurious spider webs on long, illusion sleeves. The full-gathered skirt invites serious swirling.
A marketing executive currently living in Arizona, Sally Kilbridge spent 20+ years as an editor at Brides Magazine. She indulges her love of travel and romance on her website, a definitive guide to destination weddings.