My uncle is in charge of planning his 40-year high school reunion. It has crept in as his full-time job during recent weeks, and he has become very attached to how the party will turn out and what a good time all of this old friends will have together. He did a lot of planning before he even found an event venue, so I told him to put on the breaks and redirect. After all, his outdoor Hawaiian luau barbecue idea might not fly at certain venues with only indoor space or with catering or other restrictions. Then again, the right venue could help his party theme instantly come to life, especially in Santa Cruz, in spaces that make the most of the sun and fresh air and relaxed vibes.

I urged Uncle Cass to start contacting some venues with a list of questions, so he can compare what the different places have to offer and narrow in on the right one. Here are some of the questions I came up with that are versatile for different types of parties and other special events, and which take into account the quirks and qualities of the Santa Cruz area. Feel free to adapt these questions to suit your event’s particular needs.

Important Questions to Ask Potential Santa Cruz Party Venues

What are your minimum and maximum guest capacities?

It seems like an obvious question, but you wouldn’t want to forget to ask, especially if you’re planning for a party of 30 to 40 people, and they require a minimum of 50 to even make a reservation. Some Santa Cruz venues are pretty versatile, in that they can cozy up to accommodate a small group or stretch out to host a much larger group, but others are best suited for large parties.

Is parking free and for how many cars?

Parking in Santa Cruz can be hectic, and it’s better if partygoers aren’t bound to dealing with that stress. So, inquire with the venue about its parking availability or potential shuttle options from a separate lot if their parking isn’t sufficient for your guest count.

How versatile is the venue’s atmosphere?

It can be a bonus when the venue’s architecture and details provide instant decor, but it can sometimes be a disadvantage if this clashes with your intended theme or party mood. Be sure to ask the venue representative for some of their ideas about transforming the venue for the atmosphere you hope to achieve—be it romantic or retro, classic or cozy, Santa Cruz beachy or Santa Cruz redwood rustic. It’s a good sign if they can give you some creative ideas and solutions off the top of their head. It’s an even better sign if they reference a similar party theme they’ve handled in the past, demonstrating that they have helpful, creative experience to lend. Of course, you’ll also want to visit the venue to get a sense of the atmosphere possibilities first hand, especially if you’re planning for a particularly unique theme or vibe.

Is the party venue private, or will we be feeling the commotion of other Santa Cruz happenings around us during the event?

This can make a really big difference to the feel and success of your party. After all the planning and investment that goes into it, you don’t want to find that holding the party in a public or even semi-private venue invites distractions and dilutes your original vision. There are truly private venues in the Santa Cruz area. Again, it’s important to visit to get a real sense of the setting and opportunities for dedicated personalization.

Does the property’s outdoor venue space make the most of the Santa Cruz scenery?

With the Bay Area’s landscape diversity and microclimates, it’s easy to take a short drive and feel as if you’re somewhere completely new and different. Seize that opportunity for your party, and scope out venues that are uniquely situated to showcase remarkable corners of the world. You might look out for redwood, mountain, or coastal views—or perhaps all at once.

Are you connected with Santa Cruz vendors that I might need to hire for event details?

It’s best to be prepared for the convoy of vendors you may need to engage for your party; it’s better when you’re venue is prepared with certain local vendors they know and trust to do a great job in that space. Actually, it’s even better when you can rule out quite a few necessary vendors because your venue is all-inclusive. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What are the activity opportunities for the different ages in my invite list?

In the midst of the myriad catering, equipment, and entertainment details is the other important detail of the guest experience. In some venues, you’ll be building this experience from scratch, but in other venues, there are already activities and entertainment wrapped into the setting. Ask about those opportunities, especially if you’ll be having children at the party who won’t be fulfilled by meeting and greeting for long.

What’s your alcohol policy?

Don’t assume that all party venues have their liquor licenses or that you’ll be able to supply your own alcoholic beverages for the event. Ask the event representative up-front about what these details might mean for your party. You might even discover an unexpected perk here if any venues are connected with great local wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Is there a mandatory end time or quiet time for events at this venue?

When I let Uncle Cass know that a lot of venues have a closing time based on noise ordinances, it helped him to start thinking more practically about his party’s predicted schedule of activities. Don’t take for granted that you’ll be able to party into the wee hours of the night—unless you’re booking a venue for the whole weekend and you’ve got some wiggle room around continuing the party within the Santa Cruz noise restrictions.

Will I be able to rely on the venue’s event coordinator for ideas and support?

Maybe it hadn’t even occurred to you that you might have access to an internal coordinator who’s already familiar with the venue, its challenges, and its possibilities. Even if you intend to do a lot of the planning on your own, a knowledgeable venue coordinator can be invaluable support, especially as your party date draws near. You may find that you really could use some setup help or some quick advice when some of your guests cancel or other unexpected guests want to add on. Determine which of your local venues stand out because they can offer this extra feature for your party’s assured success and your own stress reduction.

Do you offer any all-inclusive packages?

All-inclusive venue opportunities and pricing are just easier than piecing together the furniture, place settings, food, staff, decorations, and entertainment all through external vendors and coordinators and invoices. All-inclusive means that you can trust all the parts and pieces are already in place and that they know how to work seamlessly together because they’ve been doing so for countless special events in the past. Be sure to ask about these all-inclusive opportunities even if you’re already wary about the price point because you may find that it’s not that different—perhaps even better—than the sum total of all those separate vendor prices and fees with the added assurance of on-site management and troubleshooting.

Are there any hidden costs or fees not yet represented in the price?

This question speaks for itself; just don’t forget to ask it out loud! When you’re caught up in juggling different venue options and all the details associated therein, you want to eliminate any surprises—unwelcome ones, at least. So, probe for any service fees and gratuities involved with catering, any taxes, or other facilities feels that may not be directly represented by the advertised venue rental cost.

The Value of Having Your Questions Answered and Your Venue in Place Early

Once these questions help lead you to your ideal Santa Cruz party venue, then you can go crazy with your party planning and really dig into the details. It’s likely that your venue will open up party possibilities that you hadn’t even considered yet. In fact, Uncle Cass went so far as to revise his Hawaiian Luau theme to a Redwood-Roots theme, reminiscent of the trip his whole senior class took to a mountain summer camp for bonding and nature classes. I can’t believe it’s possible, but he’s even more excited about this idea. His careful logistical preparation paid off, and I’m sure the party will be more memorable for it.

If you have any questions about how to evaluate your venue options for parties in Santa Cruz, CA, we’d be happy to help. Or if you think that Kennolyn might be a good fit for your party, we’d be happy to answer your questions honestly and generously. Just get in touch!

Image Source: Unsplash user Bruno Nascimento

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