MUST TRY wedding recipe: Sweet Cheeks Baking Co. & San Diego Safari Park

MUST TRY wedding recipe: Sweet Cheeks Baking Co. & San Diego Safari Park

A saccharine adventure to say the least, Stephanie and Samuel recently took the cake for this year’s spectacular wedding, thanks to their ultra-fun personalities, desserts by Sweet Cheeks Baking Co., and their majestically daring venue, the Kijamii Overlook at San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Sweet Cheeks and I combined forces to support Stephanie and Samuel in starting an amazing adventure together, beginning with a beautiful ceremony and ending in sentimental sweetness. This couple made the fun at their wedding, where free-roaming giraffes, cheetahs, and rhinos painted an extraordinary backdrop for their relationship and many more years of happiness. The Sweet Cheeks crew crafted personalized desserts for the couple, embodying the exotic yet tasteful fun of the wedding’s location. Samuel and Stephanie noted that their guests “devoured” the goodies provided.

A couple more outstanding vendors at this wedding included entertainment master Music Phreek with Vynce Pham, who ignited the dance floor and painted an exquisite reception ambiance, and wedding planner team Nicole George Events, who weaved together an unforgettable, wrinkle-free wedding and reception full of meaningful details that complimented the overall theme of the wedding.

This wild-yet-whimsical wedding made such a lion’s roar (and a few elephant trumpets, too) that it even caught the attention of, for its creativity, desserts, and even sweeter memories. Consider these “ingredients” for the ultimate San Diego matrimony recipe, when you plan your wedding day in San Diego. Great job to all vendors that helped bring together Stephanie and Samuel, two amazing individuals, and a special shout out to Sweet Cheeks and their incredible-edible work.

Vendor credits: Event Planner: Nicole George Events | Venue: San Diego Zoo Safari Park in the Kijamii Overlook | Florist: Simply Adina Florals | Hair and Makeup Stylist: Susie Beyer McCartney | Caterer: San Diego Safari Park | Cake & Desserts: Sweet Cheeks Baking Co.  | DJ: Music Phreek DJ & Lighting


Wedding photo inspiration: where do you go for it?

Wedding photo inspiration: where do you go for it?

Wedding photo inspiration can come from anywhere.

Brides-to-be scour the globe, usually via internet, for ideas on the perfect event. And while every bride has her own unique vision of matrimony perfection, millions of examples can be found of how it will look with a click or tap of the finger. Those examples are almost always in the form of images, so you can imagine how important wedding photography is in the idea-gathering process. Many of my clients specifically utilize the power of wedding websites, Pinterest, and Instagram for their wedding photo inspirations. Here are the details of their searches:


Instagram is another great wedding photo inspiration source. It offers the added bonus of getting to peak into your potential wedding photographer’s best work not seen on his/her website. Popular wedding-focused hashtags, like #weddinginspo hold all the topics: dessert trays, reception sparklers, altar decor, seating signs, and more. Instagram’s interface makes scrolling through images a breeze, so surf a hashtag until you find the photo that ignites your wedding inspiration. I guarantee you you’ll find it.

Wedding Websites

Wedding websites are great ways to look at broad topics that shape the specific vision you’re dreaming of. If you are looking for inspiration specific to your area, check out local wedding inspiration websites for the best and most feasible ideas. Many of my clients check to see what has to say about wedding trends, colors, venues, etc. For example, top sites like and contain a surplus of wedding blogs and photos specific to their styles, like rustic, casual, and modern. Reviewing these sites can help you determine the kind of wedding photos you want to collect during your wedding.


Couples utilize Pinterest for inspiration two times more than any other social media platform ( Why? Because Pinterest covers it all, from napkin rings to entire venue locations. Searching the small things such as “wedding table settings” will bring as many relevant photos as wide-ranging topics like “wedding photo ideas.” Wedding photo inspiration is easily found here, where you can mold your own thoughts on your wedding photos with Pinterests’ detailed search results.

Bernardo Winery: a wedding venue as timeless as you two

Bernardo Winery: a wedding venue as timeless as you two

Where love flourishes, so do grape vines.

Mary and Anthony officially tied the knot at one of San Diego’s most dazzling hidden gems, Bernardo Winery. Tucked away in inner San Diego, the winery is a local must-book for couples aspiring to a one-of-a-kind wedding that takes guests on a extraordinary ride back in time. Operating and family-owned since 1927, this wedding venue offers aged wine barrels, lush vineyards, romantic privacy, and authentic heritage. See for yourself in the gallery below.


wedding at winery brant bender photographyCan you say holy shiplap? Bernardo Winery is as current with the times as ever, by maintaining its vintage wine-country appeal and showing off its historical roots with its wooden build and wrought-iron decor. Anthony and Mary complimented their surroundings by hanging bright lanterns from exposed beams, using aged wine barrels as table tops, and dancing in the gleam of vintage patio lights.



sun hitting bride picture at bernardo wineryThe winery’s romantic element may be its biggest draw. Vines equipped with blossoming grapes let just enough sunlight in so that visitors glow during the twilight. Wine-soaked barrels resting in their antique storage rooms bring out a mysterious yet sultry aura that creates an intimate getaway for bride and groom. This stunning bride stuck with a form-fitting yet intricate dress that completely embodied the romantic vibe of the venue, Meanwhile, her handsome groom sported a more modern blue suit, but held on to a gentlemanly look with complementary white and red floral tones. Both of their ensembles epitomized the romance of the winery.





bernardo winery photo boothWhile the winery has held hundreds of ceremonies and receptions, each celebration has and always will be unique and fresh. Bernardo Winery is constantly growing its vineyards, so depending on the season, the weather, and even the wine stains, every wedding has its own special look and feel. These two utilized eclectic nick-knacks as table toppers and accessories throughout the venue, and modeled a vibrant color scheme of dark cherry red and royal blue to create a classy, romantic mood at their Bernardo Winery wedding.


candid bride and groom dancing bernardo wineryOriginally founded in 1889, the winery has withstood over a century of societal changes and technological shifts. Yet, it forever remains a popular place for visitors to forget what time they live in. People from all over the west coast come to trek through the vineyard, sip some wine, and fall in love. Bernardo Winery is a sought-after wedding venue, but no celebration is forgotten. Each wedding burns its memories into the floorboards, leaves its dancing footprints in the dirt, and carves its story into the barrels. Mary and Anthony aimed for a laid back, fun, and dance-filled celebration. With this venue, they hit the bullseye. Enveloped in greenery and lights, the two and their guests felt at ease, smiled brightly, and poured their joy out on the dance floor the entire night. You can bet not a single person checked their phone or watch during the reception.



For those looking for a getaway that is as rustic as it is beautiful, check out Bernardo Winery. Whether stopping in for a casual glass of Cabernet or adding it to your list of potential venues, it’s one of San Diego’s most prized destinations. Mary and Anthony, and their guests, will reflect over the many sweet memories made from their time spent at the winery. Will you two?

Want to learn more about a Bernardo Winery wedding? Email directly or call 858-487-1866.

Wedding planner: Terry Lowrey

DJ/Band: Sunset Mobile, Dominic Meyer

Florist: Branches (Onsite)

Make-up: Desiree Delatrre

Hotel: Rancho Bernardo Inn

Perks to a small wedding

Perks to a small wedding

A small wedding can make big impacts.

There are endless perks to having a small wedding and reception.

Lynn and Steve are still enjoying the benefits of their small wedding, which took place on the top floors of the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. With their intimate guest list and the expertise of event planner Sara Brown (Sara Brown Events,) these newlyweds had an outstanding, stress-free celebration with every one of their guests.

older bride and groom wedding

A small wedding gives the bride and groom a chance to…

…give more to your guests. 

Instead of using your budget to serve a long guest list with cheaper food, entertainment, and hospitality, you can treat your modest guest list to nicer, higher-quality accommodations. Quality over quantity applies to weddings in a big way. Providing a small group of guests a memorable experience will take the (wedding) cake over a crowded wedding/reception any day.

…have a personal moment with every single guest.

bride and groom at alter smiling brant bender photographyA small wedding enables the bride and groom to actually talk with each of their guests. Not only do you get to personally thank your best friends and loved ones for coming, but you get to make them feel important to you/your spouse as well. That level of intimacy is more difficult to achieve with larger weddings, where the bride and groom run around the reception dinner with no time to waste, thanking guest after guest with every breath.

…save money for the more important things.

Each guest’s attendance can cost up to $300, depending on where you are or what your wedding has planned. The bill for each guest’s meal alone can push your budget over the edge, which is why a more intimate wedding can be a major money saver. That money saved can be used on a better venue, nicer accommodations, your honeymoon, or even towards a down payment for a starter-house.

small wedding manchester grand hyatt brant bender photgraphy…be yourselves with the people that know you the best.

rooftop wedding manchester grand hyatt san diegoThis is your day, and you should surround yourself with the people you are most comfortable with. These are the people who have seen your entire love story blossom, grow, and flourish. Each of your guests will have played a roll in your and your partner’s journey together, and understand your relationship. Moreover, you can each put your guards down and truly enjoy yourselves with the people you know and love most.

On a personal note, photographing small weddings is one of my favorite things to do. As someone whose job it is to capture indescribable moments between loved ones, documenting the thoughtful and honest interactions of close-knit family and friends is vibrant in my images. There are many perks to a small wedding, and if you’re fond of giving you and your guests a high-quality experience with a personal touch, a small wedding is for you.

The wedding (venue) of your dreams – Vista Valley Country Club

The wedding (venue) of your dreams – Vista Valley Country Club

The wedding of fairy tales - Mackenzie and Kyle’s wedding, 2017.

Remember the castle you dreamed about marrying your prince, or princess, in? Mackenzie and Kyle lived out the perfect wedding this past year in one of Southern California’s hidden gems. Thanks to this couple’s wedding, I am convinced that castle exists in North County. The Vista Valley Country Club, located in Vista, California, is as close to fantastical as reality can achieve.

Besides the Club being renowned for its golfing and fine dining, it is also a highly sought-after wedding venue. A Vista Valley Country Club wedding makes for a romantic, secluded, and enchanting experience.

Vista Valley’s unique yet timeless building architecture is based on France’s old-world country charm, seen in its hand-laid stone exterior, tall arches, and large windows that are surrounded by trees. The outdoor area showcases more stunning stone features, lush gardens, and dramatic backgrounds that paint a romantic scene for wedding events. And while the most popular photo shoot spots in the venue include its rustic alter and grand wrought-iron gates, every wedding photo taken is jaw-dropping and original–see Mackenzie’s and Kyle’s for yourself!

These features were highlighted and enhanced thanks to Mackenzie and Kyle’s amazing wedding coordinator, Kelsey Smith of Kelsey Rae Events. Not only did she capture the essence of the venue, but she gave the bride and groom exactly what they wanted in their wedding. The event captured who Mackenzie and Kyle were as a couple, and conveyed their story using decorations, color palettes, and ambiance.

Kyle and Mackenzie lived out their dream wedding thanks to the combined efforts of the Vista Valley Country Club and Kelsey Smith. Their Vista Valley Country Club wedding was an event most people dream about, but thanks to this venue and Kelsey Rae Designs, fantasy became reality.



How will you decide your wedding colors?

How will you decide your wedding colors?

Always show your true colors.

I have a quiz for you.

  1. The wedding’s color palette needs to be unique. Something never been done before. True or false?
  2. It needs to match the venue. For example, at a beach or coastal location, ocean blues and sandy hues would be perfect. Yay or nay?
  3. There should be a “his” color and a “her” color. Y or N?

If you answered with a nod to all three, then you’re right! If you answered no to all three, you’re still right. Mix-matched answers? That works too. It is your wedding, after all.

Your wedding palette can go anywhere, regardless of your venue, if it’s been done before, or if the color “fits” your S/O. In Natalie and Cassidy’s case, they would have answered true, nay, and N, which is why their wedding colors made such a beautiful impression on me. I recently photographed this colorful couple. They painted their own perfect summer wedding colors this past September at their local library.

These two brought their spirited summer wedding colors to one of San Diego’s most remarkable and sunlight-welcoming buildings, the Central Library. To fill you in on the importance of this “venue” here are some noteworthy facts on San Diego’s premier library:

  • The library holds more than 5.3 million books.
  • This library values the idea of all-encompassing knowledge so much that it has its own official Bill of Rights.
  • Their Innovation Lab on the third floor offers 3-D printing, laser cutting, a milling machine, and many more services.
  • The Outreach Program provides various services to the diverse groups of San Diego’s people: they help U.S. veterans identify benefits they are entitled to, brings awareness to the state’s sex trafficking epidemic, and much more.

With the help of Barbara Canizales of Bekker’s Catering, the wedding not only had some of San Diego’s most amazing food, but it took place at a venue with high importance to the local community. Surrounded by endless knowledge, Natalie and Cassidy intertwined their ceremony with the unique landscape and ambiance of their venue. The burnt orange, navy, and gold used as their summer wedding colors stood out as unique, timeless, and as vibrant as their personalities.

Those burnt orange, navy, and gold summer wedding colors mixed in with Natalie’s white wedding dress and the sunlight hitting the library’s glass walls created an unforgettable color scheme. The vibrancy of the colors was both elegant and artsy, creating a warm, loving event for those attending. Natalie’s pristine white wedding dress looked especially stunning next to these colors, and the originality of the couple’s combination complimented their personalities.


Natalie and Cassidy didn’t focus on whether or not their colors matched what summer wedding colors should be, and neither should you. Their colors weren’t picked as a his-and-hers color combo. Burnt orange and navy aren’t the first wedding colors that come to most minds, nor do those colors generally represent a library. And yet, their colors looked classic throughout their ceremony, and looked even better in their photos.


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