Surely, we reasoned, there must be a dozen locations that would meet our basic requirements for an outdoor wedding and reception: a spacious patio or garden with indoor accommodations in case of rain, professional catering or no restrictions on food, drink or outside services, and few limitations on having a Dixie-style band at the reception.

It's not that easy. Although the Washington area provides numerous possibilities for combining the serenity of nature with historical settings, the rules and prices vary greatly.

Historic homes, plantations and museums provide a 17th-, 18th-, or 19th-century ambiance. Parks and gardens offer open spaces, some with scenic views of the Potomac. Or couples--instead of gazing at the river--can be married while cruising on it. Also, many restaurants and inns combine reception and outdoor facilities with the convenience of on-site catering.

The decision gets difficult when it comes to balancing not only your budget and personal desires, but the restrictions of many sites. For example, dancing is prohibited in some historical sites and certain musical instruments (usually brass and drums) may be restricted because of zoning laws.

Finding an appropriate site can be time-consuming and frustrating. But the list below will help you at least start dreaming about The Big Day.