There's nothing like sitting down to a leisurely Christmas lunch and watching all the engagement announcements roll in via social media—my cousin (age 26) counted four among her friends this year. I assume it's even more exciting when a proposal under the tree happens to you, but I wouldn't know—I got engaged on Labor Day, truly the most romantic holiday on the calendar (not).
What I do know is that all these new fiancées are probably going to run out and buy Brides and other $10 wedding guides, only to discover that most of them are basically advertising boards, listing only the properties and vendors that pay for inclusion. Which is fine, and not entirely unhelpful. But it means there's a whole world of beautiful Houston venues—often owned by non-profit organizations, or government entities—that are a little harder to find. Here's six to start your soon-to-be-overflowing Pinterest board.
Julia Ideson Library
This stunningly restores downtown library is the perfect spot for an elegant vintage wedding, or for those whom Carrie Bradshaw's almost-nuptials at the New York Public Library is still a dream. But just because the Ideson is publicly owned doesn't mean it comes cheap. For events like weddings, the entire premises must be rented all together (no sticking to one room or wing), which costs a pretty penny.
1880 Garten Verein
A relaxed Galveston wedding doesn't have to happen at a resort or on the beach. A charming alternative is the historical Garten Verein, built as a garden club and dancing pavilion in 1880 and now run by the Galveston Historical Foundation. The ornamental, octagonal building itself is quite pretty, but the panoramic views will make guests swoon.
River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics
You've probably driven by this slightly hidden structure at the corner of Westheimer and Kirby a million times without knowing what loveliness hides behind its brick walls—unless you've stopped in for the Azalea Trail, perhaps. This modest structure started as a schoolhouse nearly a century ago, and the building is surrounded by U-shaped gardens, including a recently updated pergola structure on one side. The Garden Club is gorgeous and green year-round, but you can land it at just the right time in the spring, the grounds are a riot of pink blooms. (Full disclosure: I got married here and am totally, totally biased in its favor.)
The Historic Heights Fire Station
This is another building that boasts vintage charm, though there are a few drawbacks—the lower level is not much to look at, for one. A few years ago this venue was a certified steal, but rates have gone up so now it's just reasonable. If you want more outdoor space, you can rent a couple hours at nearby Marmion Park (both properties are managed by the Houston Heights Association) and hold a ceremony at its Kaiser Pavilion.
McGovern Centennial Gardens
This new addition to Hermann Park is a dramatic destination, and while you can't claim the entirety of the Centennial Gardens—that hill is for everyone—the open and modern Cherie Flores Pavilion at the base of the lawn is available for rental, as is a small self-enclosed garden space fittingly named Celebration Garden. This is a pricier option (especially if you combine both the indoor and outdoor rental), but imagine the photo ops!
Sylvan Beach Pavilion
The Sylvan Beach Pavilion in La Porte has long served as a local dance hall, but when it fell into disrepair after Hurricane Ike, Harris County directed a restoration by Kirksey that in 2014 earned it a Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston. Unlike many of the previous spaces, this one can hold a ton of people and has a panoramic view of the ocean in addition to some unexpectedly cool Googie-style architectural touches.