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“I feel the most present and in tune in nature—I wanted us to be connected to that,” says Marina Michelson. Although she and her husband, Billy Scafuri, first met 10 years ago through their work at a catering company in New York City, they’d eventually settle down in sunny Los Angeles, both working steadily at their longtime dreams: hers as a filmmaker and actor, and his as a TV writer. Southern California, with its natural beauty, seemed like the perfect spot for their nuptials—until they started to seriously weigh the costs.

After a few weekend trips in and around Mexico, they began to consider an unlikely solution: A destination wedding could—surprisingly—be more affordable than one held in their new hometown. And most important, in addition to all that dreamy foliage, it would most certainly include the couple’s second top priority: great food. Here, Marina and Billy explain how they devised their perfect day while staying within their budget. 

Your Budget Might Just Help You Find Your Dream Location

One of the first steps in planning a wedding—booking the venue—is often the hardest. Working with a budget of $30,000, the couple was stumped as they searched in and around Los Angeles. “We just kept getting priced out whenever we asked for quotes,” says Marina.

A bit of research led the pair to discover that a destination wedding could, surprisingly, give them the best of both worlds: an unbelievably beautiful setting at a reasonable price point. As the couple started visiting different locations in Mexico, by chance they stumbled upon the restaurant Fauna and its adjoining hotel. Located just a four-hour drive from Los Angeles in the Valle de Guadalupe region, it’s an area flush with wineries and sprawling green landscapes—well worth all that time in the car.

Persistence Can Pay Off

Although the couple visited Fauna several times to suss out the location before settling on it, it was pretty much love at first sight. “When we ate at the restaurant for the first time, I felt so at home,” says Billy. The catch was that the venue had hosted only a handful of weddings before, so booking wouldn’t be so easy. Marina eventually got advice from a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook who had her reception at the restaurant, and after months of discussion and persistence, both the restaurant and the hotel were officially theirs for the chosen weekend. The venue, food, and drinks cost them $16,700, leaving plenty more room in the budget for everything else. 

While planning a destination celebration from that point on was still pretty challenging, booking a slightly more local wedding planner, San Diego–based Amy Ulkutekin of First Comes Love, proved extremely helpful.  

Play to Your Venue’s Aesthetic

The couple was attracted to the venue largely for its preexisting atmosphere—so figuring out wedding decorations was more a matter of honoring the natural elements and traditions around it. After looking at photos of local food festivals and parties in the area for inspiration, Marina and Billy chose vibrantly colored accessories to wear, along with a mix of similarly bright florals for their tabletops—which complemented Fauna’s earthy, desert-inspired color palette of browns and tans.

Connections Always Help

“Our greatest natural resource is our friends and their talents,” says Billy. “We’re close with a lot of really talented artists, writers, and thoughtful, sensitive people.” So they looped them into their ceremony—not just as onlookers. Adam Block, an expert woodworker, made their chuppah out of wood and moss, to honor the couple’s Jewish heritage, and James Thacher, an animator, designed the programs. 

And at the ceremony, too, Billy and Marina eschewed tradition in favor of something a little more intimate: All of their married friends walked them down the aisle to ease them into wedded bliss. With their nuptials, the couple proved that a happy partnership can be even happier with a little help from friends. 

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