Top 12 Favorite Wedding Venues in Upstate New York
This post has been on my mind for awhile now. Being a wedding photographer serving all of Upstate New York (and beyond), I’ve seen it all! Whether you’re the more simple couple desiring an intimate backyard wedding OR a couple who wants all the bells and whistles of a formal black tie event, there are so many different options out there. With 70+ weddings completed, I have tons of knowledge/experience of what I liked the most from different wedding venues.
My perspective is more from a photographer’s point of view since I haven’t had the experience of being a bride, BUT this should help bring attention to what different locations have to offer. I’ll share a little bit of everything I love about each venue - the staff, food, lighting, space, tips/tricks etc. Yes… I’m from the Rochester area, but I couldn’t restrict my list to only my hometown since there are incredible locations within a 150 mile radius of Rochester, NY. I decided to include all of my favorite wedding venues in the Rochester, Finger Lakes, Syracuse, Buffalo AND Central New York area.
So let’s begin the countdown!!!
#12 — Shadow Lake
First on the list is Shadow Lake. Located right in Penfield, this venue has a ton to offer and with their brand new renovations it may even move up on my list in the near future! CLICK HERE to view their new Clubhouse space! I know there are a ton of golf club venues in the Rochester area, but the easy access of their water feature is a huge plus!!! It’s literally a few steps away from their back entrance and can be seen from both reception spaces. No need to go super far to take your wedding photos - great for me and everyone else! If you are unsure of which space is better for you, take a look at their website, but be aware the outdoor space has no air-conditioning if you’re planning a summer wedding.
The only downside to this venue is that is offers two reception spaces meaning there could be two weddings on the same day. I always prefer a venue that only holds one wedding a day (or if you’re lucky… one a weekend) because you won’t have to share the space with strangers. If a ceremony is happening during your cocktail hour in the Garden Tent or you want to take pictures near the lake and the other wedding has their ceremony outside… you may have to get creative!! Just remember to be respectful and not to distract away from the couple getting married at the time!
Although Shadow Lake is my favorite wedding venue of the golf clubs, there are many other options in the Rochester area. Here are some other venues to consider if you are leaning towards a golf club/park: Ravenwood Golf Club — The Clubhouse at Durand Eastman Park — Waterfront Lodge at Abraham Lincoln Park — Webster Arboretum
#11 — Woodcliff Hotel & Spa
Next on the list is Woodcliff Hotel & Spa. What I love about this venue is the view! It sits way up on a hill overlooking parts of Rochester. It’s probably one of the best views in the area in my opinion. In case of poor weather, there is a space indoors to hold your ceremony.
Another great thing about Woodcliff is it’s a hotel AND spa!!! That means your wedding guests from out of town can stay right at your venue and the suites make a great space for getting ready photos! There are even on site bridal services for hair + makeup, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. You can always bring in your own hair/makeup artists to your room if you prefer someone else. If you need help with finding some, I have a list of my favorites in the area.
Besides the beautiful outlook by the outdoor ceremony space, Woodcliff also has other great photo ops closer to the building. This includes multiple arches, a gazebo, pond and water fountain. Powder Mills Park is right around the corner if you wanted to sneak away for some photos off the venue. Here’s an engagement session where I went to both locations!
If you like the idea of choosing a venue with an incredible view and hotels attached, be sure to check out: the Inn on the Lake (Canandaigua) — The Finger Lakes Hotel (Farmington) as well! Both are just a little outside of Rochester.
#10 — Jerris Wadsworth
Another favorite of mine is Jerris Wadsworth. It’s considered a wedding “barn”, but it has a variety of spaces making it really one of a kind! Did I mention they also have barn cats?!!! YUP, IT’S TRUE!!! Secretively the reason why I love this place so much.
On a more serious note, it’s unlike some of the barn venues around because this one has air conditioning!!! I can’t tell you enough how important this is for your sanity and to make sure everyone else is comfortable if you are planning a wedding in June-September in Upstate NY. Another wonderful thing about this location is it has a groom’s suite and bride’s room. The bride’s room is very dark so you may want to consider a nearby Airbnb with better natural lighting. It being such a large space, there are many options for a ceremony location… my favorite being by the huge willow trees!
If you are looking for more of a wedding barn vibe, the owner of Jerris Wadsworth also runs Cobblestone Wedding Barn in Scottsville. Here’s a few other favorites with a rustic look: Avon Century Barn (Avon) — Wren's Roost Barn (Naples) — John Joseph Inn (Groton)
#9 — Casa Larga
Next on the list is Casa Larga!!! Two reasons I love this venue… #1 it’s a winery (and I love my wine) and #2 they get killer sunsets!!!! I mean just take a look at that photo!!! And of course, I love my sunsets too.
Casa Larga had to make my list because I have so many weddings there this and next year! I think my count is even up to six already!! The downside to this venue is there’s no additional space for anyone to get ready the morning of, but there are nearby hotels (like Woodcliff Hotel & Spa). Besides that one negative, the venue speaks on its own!! The patio makes for a great ceremony spot, just be mindful of where the sun will be during your ceremony time. Obviously we all hope to get an overcast with some clouds in the sky, but that doesn’t always happen when we want it too. The reception space is elegant and beautiful and can seat up to 250 people. I’m not one to want that many people at my own wedding, but it’s great knowing it can comfortably seat that many people.
One tip I’d like to share is to make sure you leave enough time during golden hour to get your photos. Plan your time around the opportunity to get gorgeous sunset pictures. If you need help with this please please please ask me!!! Last thing you want is to be doing your speeches when this magic is happening.
#8 — Tailwater Lodge
A venue you may not be familiar with unless you are from the Oswego/Syracuse area is Tailwater Lodge. It’s located in Altmar, NY (about 10 minutes from Salmon River Falls), but well worth the drive. This venue was once used as a school, now converted into a gorgeous rustic lodge.
Tailwater Lodge includes on site rooms for getting ready and your guests. The outdoor ceremony space is covered so rain or shine, you could have it outside. It’s surrounded by acres and acres of land so there are beautiful views around the entire building. Besides this venue, there is nothing really in the area until you get closer to Oswego or Syracuse so make sure you don’t need any last minute things!
Although the space outside is pretty amazing (not to mention the awesome fire pits), the indoor space doesn’t have the best natural light. Not the biggest deal since the decor is the perfect amount of rustic charm. The staff is really helpful and friendly… always something I appreciate.
Another lodgey venue to consider is Bristol Harbour in Canandaigua. I have yet to photograph a wedding there, but have experienced it as a guest. The views are to die for!
#7 — The Wintergarden by Monroe’s
Next up is a venue I’ve been dying to have a wedding at and finally had one last November. That venue is The Wintergarden by Monroe’s — located right in Downtown Rochester! This space is literally a photographer’s dream. The stunning all-glass atrium brings in all the natural light (a huge plus in my book). It’s the feeling of being in a greenhouse, but a damn fancy/high-end greenhouse where you get all dressed up and party hard!!!! There’s even trees growing inside the space giving you a great indoor/outdoor feel.
Can you tell I’m a huge fan of the Wintergarden?! Not to mention how amazing it looks with uplighting after the sunsets. I highly recommend upgrading with your DJ to include uplighting for this venue. I don’t say this for every venue, but it will be well worth the extra cash and completely transform the space at night time. One of my favorite vendors was the man behind the magic for this wedding — Marquee Events (who seems to permanently live at this venue and also got married there earlier this year. Congrats Rick!!!)
Even though I’m super Team Wintergarden, I’m honestly not a huge fan of their “Foyer” space because it’s a completely different vibe from the Wintergarden space. If you can accommodate the ceremony and reception in the atrium… DO IT!!! There is more than enough space and cocktail hour is upstairs anyways.
#6 — Ventosa Vineyards
If you know me, I LOVE my wine (especially Riesling if you were wondering)… so of course I had to choose another winery for my top 12 wedding venues! My absolute favorite is Ventosa Vineyards. It sits on the east side of Seneca Lake, which means they get the most incredible sunset views!! No surprise why I love it so much being the golden hour queen I am.
One thing that stands out to me is their amazing wedding coordinator, RJ, and their staff! These people are on top of their game and extremely friendly!!! Johnny + Emily’s wedding was one of the BEST first impressions I’ve ever had from any wedding venue and I’m so excited to return later this year! Not only were they always checking on the bride/groom and their guests, they always made sure I had everything I needed and even boxed up my meal to take home. I know this seems like nothing, but I’ve never had a venue genuinely care as much as the staff at Ventosa! For golden hour, we had a driver take us all down to where we wanted to be for photos (super helpful since I’m terrified of driving one of those things hahaha). I’d say this venue is very similar to Casa Larga, but the views are just a step up having the lake in the background.
Like some of the other venues on this list, Ventosa doesn’t offer a great space for getting ready. Not a deal breaker, but it’s always nice to have it as an option. Geneva does have a ton of hotels, inns, and Airbnbs to consider. I’m a huge fan of Geneva on the Lake and Maison at the North Farm, but that’s just two of many!!! If you find something you like, be sure to book it ASAP so you don’t miss out. Certain locations also may be wedding venues, so make sure you reserve a timeslot if you wanted to use their outdoor space! I can help you figure out what time we should start here and there, but it’s not my job to call and book things. Last thing we want is a crazy coordinator kicking us out (yup… that has happened before *cough* Belhurst *cough*)
#5 — Arbor Venues
Number five on my list is Arbor Venues! This includes The Arbor Loft, Arbor at the Port, and the Historic German House (a new venue owned by Agathi + Co). So far I’ve only had weddings at the Arbor Loft so this will focus on their Downtown location that I’m OBSESSED with!!!
The amazing thing about the Arbor Loft is the SPACE. If you have a vision and want a beautiful blank canvas to create your magic… this is definitely a venue you want to consider. It has white curtains that can easily divide certain sections of the venue to keep out wondering guests until the big reveal! The wall of windows brings in so much natural light, but if you are having your ceremony at this venue, make sure your guests are facing the wall with less windows behind you like the image above! Nothing is worse than being backlit inside a venue. You’ll literally be a black blob and no one will be able to see you unless you have artificial lights lighting you up (not the most ideal). Another benefit of selecting the Arbor Loft or any of their venues are the wedding coordinators! They are super passionate in what they do and help everything run smoothly the day of.
Since the Arbor Loft is located in the heart of Rochester, there are several photo opportunities surrounding the building. Just walk around the streets and explore! There is also a parking garage nearby if you want to take a little stroll. It being a Downtown location, you’d think there would be no where to take pictures outdoors, but there is so much!!! And nothing is better than getting all the cheers and car honks by strangers celebrating your wedding day!
#4 — Pomona
An up and coming venue that’s a little outside of Rochester is Pomona!!! It’s owned by Blue Barn Cidery (which is right next to Pomona). This gorgeous venue is located in Hilton and only about 15-20 minutes from Downtown Rochester. It’s kind of crazy that I’m putting them at my #4 spot because they are officially opening Pomona in May 2019 for weddings, but I promise it’s going to be one of the most popular wedding venues in the near future!
Why do I think this?! Two words…. WHITE. SHIPLAP. It’s EVERYWHERE!!! AND they have a groom’s suite AND bride’s suite. How amazing is that?!! Some venues don’t even offer a space for the girls and this location offers a space for everyone. I haven’t photographed anything in Pomona (since they aren’t even open yet) so for this I will include images surrounding Pomona from a wedding I did at Blue Barn last spring.
Later this year I’ll have three weddings at Pomona so you’ll just have to patiently wait to see my pictures in September. Their Instagram does share a few glimpses if you want to take a peek (CLICK HERE to view their Instagram) or check out their open house on Sunday, May 5th!!! The only negative is you can’t choose your own caterer. Not sure if that’s really a negative since Forest Hill Catering is really good!!! I’ve had several things visiting Blue Barn Cidery and everything was delicious! But for couples who wanted to bring in their own catering/alcohol… this venue isn’t for you. A small sacrifice to make if you love this venue and were dreaming of Thai food at your reception. That might just be my dream.
#3 — Sonnenberg Gardens
Ahhhhhhh! We finally made it to a venue I’d consider for my own wedding…. Sonnenberg Gardens!!! The reason I say consider is because I really want a destination wedding after being to so many weddings in Upstate New York. This is one of the only venues I literally jump out of my seat when I get a wedding inquiry. Yes, John + Allison…. I jumped out of my seat and danced a little!
My reason behind that is the vast amount of photo opportunities this venue has to offer. You better be planning a first look if you are getting married at Sonnenberg because you’ll seriously miss out on so much if you don’t. Don’t know what a first look is? CLICK HERE to learn more about them! Without doing a first look you’ll have to cram in all your family, bridal party and your photos in an hour. That makes it super hard to get to all of the different gardens and locations. Staying close to the mansion for group photos is probably more ideal, but we can go wherever once it comes to bridal portraits. The staff has golf carts to take us around the property. I’m all about getting my steps in, but this venue is ginormous!
I can’t even choose a favorite area because they are all so different from one another, but equally as amazing!! If I had to choose, I’d probably pick the Italian Gardens or Japanese Gardens. The greenhouse is amazing too… so many options. There is a bride’s room and separate space called the Carriage House for the guys to get ready. On the downside, the bride’s room is a little tight. If you have a larger bridal party, I’d consider a nearby hotel or Airbnb if you think you’ll be uncomfortable. Speaking of tight spaces, the indoor reception space doesn’t fit a lot of people. Larger weddings will need to be outside in the tent so you’ll have to cross fingers for comfortable temperatures.
If Canandaigua is your desired location, be sure to check out these hidden gems many people don’t know about: New York Kitchen — Young Lion Brewing Co. Neither are anything like Sonnenberg Gardens, but both are unique spots and walking distance to Kershaw Park/nearby hotels. Super convenient if you ask me.
#2 — SKY Armory
SKY Armory is probably the venue I’m the closest with (which is funny since they are located in Downtown Syracuse), but that’s why they are number two on my all time favorite wedding venues in Upstate NY! Being one of their preferred vendors has its perks because I seriously love this venue!!! I’m not really sure if it compares to anything in the Rochester area (maybe La Luna), but isn’t that far away if you want to check it out or from the Syracuse area.
The amazing thing about this SKY is they literally do EVERYTHING!!!! And when I say everything.. I mean they have spaces for a ceremony/reception, catering for appetizers, meals AND desserts! Unlike a majority of venues in the area, SKY Armory also provides a ton of amazing wedding decorations that their couples can use. Pretty helpful when you have no idea how to decorate or if you don’t want to deal with them after the wedding day is over. It’s attached to a parking garage… amazing for photos for those who dig the urban city vibe!!! This worked well for my winter wedding because we did practically everything on the top floor of the parking garage.
Armory Square is within walking distance if you wanted to go for pictures or you can take advantage of what’s close by. There is plenty for sure!! For out of town guests or for getting ready in the morning, the Jefferson Clinton Hotel is right around the corner from SKY! No need to have transportation to get you from point A to point B. This venue has no getting ready spaces, but being so close to hotels this really isn’t a big deal. You’ll just be going back there at the end of the night to sleep. This location is in the heart of Downtown Syracuse so you are literally on top of every restaurant and bar worth trying. The Marriott Downtown Syracuse is also close by for a hotel option and/or venue.
#1 — Wolf Oak Acres
And last, but not least…. my all time favorite venue, my número uno on the list…. WOLF OAK ACRES!!! This venue is a bit of a drive unless you are from the Syracuse/Utica area, but it’s well worth checking out if you are looking for an outdoorsy/woodsy wedding. This venue has so much space and several different ceremony locations depending on what you like most!! There is also an indoor option in case of bad weather - completely separate from where your reception takes place. Obviously the outdoor ceremony spaces are way better, but it doesn’t hurt to have a second option just in case it’s raining, snowing or hailing (thanks Upstate weather…)
Wolf Oak Acres does have some rooming on site, but not enough for everyone unfortunately. Turning Stone is right around the corner (about a 20 minute drive) so that can always be an option! There are a few options when it comes to getting ready in the morning as well! The cocktail area is a huge open space with great light or there is a room dedicated to the bride! It’s a little small and not the best lighting, but it’s always great to have the extra room. The groom’s room is right next door and makes it a little hard to have both in the same area, but the guys can always stay at one of the cabins up the hill!!!
Luckily I’m also a preferred vendor at Wolf Oak Acres and love the owners of this location! There aren’t many venues I get excited to drive 2 hours there and back, but it’s well worth it in my book. I’m super thankful to have a wedding there later this year! You do need to bring in your own caterer if you book your wedding here. Oh and one thing I forgot to mention is it is climate controlled, perfect for all year round!
There are so many wedding venues in Upstate New York and these are only my absolute top favorites I have been to within the past few years. I’m excited to be visiting a ton more NEW venues in 2019/2020 and one being my first out of state wedding in Pittsburgh, PA!!! Some of these include the following: Studio 180 — Becker Farms —Deerfield Country Club — Cobblestone Creek Country Club — Jack Rabbit Club — La Luna — Traditions at the Links — Emerson Park Pavilion — Double M Schuster Barn — Best View Barn
Remember to check out my preferred vendors and wedding tips. Don’t hesitate to ask me any questions. I’m so much more than just your photographer. I’m practically a part-time wedding planner when it comes to it. I love helping all my couples plan their perfect day so pick my brain and ask away!!! Thank you so much for following along and don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your venue on my list. I’m not aware of every venue out there and this is strictly just my opinion/venues I have been to before. I hope you learned a little something along the way and I’m always here to help.
P.S. A couple venues I’m still patiently waiting to photograph include: Bristol Harbour — The Cracker Factory so if you know anyone getting married there…. please please please send them my way! I’ll love you forever!!!