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The Essential Guide to Planning a Beach Wedding

Expert advice on everything you need to consider while planning a beach wedding.
Hannah Nowack The Knot Weddings Editor
by Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Editor, Real Weddings
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah oversees engagement content on The Knot's partner brand How They Asked.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Apr 15, 2021
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No matter the venue, planning a wedding takes some hard work. And while planning a beach wedding isn't necessarily harder, it does involve a few unique considerations and specific beach wedding ideas that couples at traditional venues likely won't encounter. Whether you and your partner spend a week with family at the beach in Hawaii or the Caribbean every summer or your first date involved an evening stroll along a white sand beach in Florida, whatever the case, a beach wedding is a great idea for surf-and-sand-loving couples. To get you started, we connected with Erica Benson of SoCal Standard to share some must-know tips for a beach wedding. As a photographer in San Diego, Benson regularly hits the sand to capture couples' love stories and her expert insight will ensure your oceanside nuptials go off without a hitch. 

Budget Advice for a Beach Destination Wedding 

Having a well-constructed budget is the key to ensuring all your perfect beach wedding ideas come to fruition. As is the case with all wedding planning, setting the budget should be one of the first things you and your partner do when planning. Setting the budget goes hand-in-hand with finalizing your venue since which beach you choose will impact your budget. Many oceanfront resorts have beach wedding packages that take a lot of guesswork out of planning, however, if you're saying "I do" on a public beach and plan to rent out a beach house, you'll need to map out your spending accordingly.  

"Cost-wise, beach weddings are monumentally cheaper than venues," says Benson in regards to DIY beach weddings on public beaches. "To have a beach wedding (at least, for most places in California) all you need is a city permit which is typically $100-$250 depending on the beach and amount of people you plan on having attend your wedding. Obviously, you have to get creative with decor and things like audio so you will have a few more additional costs for chairs, tents, and generators, but you're still looking at an overhead venue cost of about $1,000 compared to $5,000+ at a traditional venue." While a public beach is going to be cheaper than a private beach or resort, as Benson pointed out, you'll incur other costs associated with DIYing the day, since nothing will be provided but the sand. 
 
Although it's another investment, a wedding planner is invaluable when it comes to planning a destination beach wedding. They'll be able to help you create a budget that takes into consideration generators and other equipment you'll need to rent while also helping you stay on top of all your normal wedding to-dos. "Have your coordinator or someone assigned to stand guard of your setup. A lot of onlookers like to crash your wedding spot for pictures and sit in your guest's seats. This happened at my own wedding so take my word for it," advises Benson. 

Date and Time Tips for a Beachside Wedding 

Whether you're having a sunset ceremony or exchanging vows earlier in the day, finding out what the weather will be like and when the sun will set on your chosen wedding date is especially important. Along with knowing the sunset time, it's important to look up how the tides will be affected and what time high tide will be at your chosen beach spot. Benson encourages couples to "position the ceremony altar close to the beach but far away enough from any high tide," so you don't have to worry about the water getting too close. 
Additionally, the best months for Florida beach weddings are going to differ from an ideal date for a beach elopement in Hawaii so do a little research before locking in a date and sending save-the-date cards. For example, November through March is considered Hawaii's rainy season while Florida's hurricane season is June through November. 

Creating a Wedding Day Backup Plan for Your Big Day

No matter how much time you spend crafting Plan A, chances are that some things won't go as planned on your big day. To ensure everything runs smoothly, work with your wedding planner ahead of time to iron out a Plan B, and even Plan C in case inclement weather rolls in and a beach wedding ceremony is no longer feasible. Beyond simply crafting a wedding backup plan, it's important that those details are communicated to your officiant, wedding planner and all other wedding vendors, in addition to friends and family who are involved in the planning process
 
In addition to a rain backup plan, it's important to test out all A/V equipment before the wedding so you have time to fix any issues that may arise. Benson advises all couples to "test your mics, audio and generators the day before. Some Bluetooth items don't have a great signal on the beach and won't sync." Small details like relying on Bluetooth seem foolproof, but on the off chance that something goes awry, it's best to know about it a day or two before so you have time to pivot. 

The Important of Guest Experience at an Oceanfront Special Day

From welcome amenities to wedding favors, loved ones always appreciate small tokens of your affection throughout the wedding day. However, when it comes to asking friends and family to sit in the hot sun for your nuptials, it's especially important to consider the guest experience and how you can make their day as enjoyable as possible. Consider dropping welcome bags, filled with sunscreen and a luxe Turkish towel, off to guests staying in nearby beach houses and in your hotel room blocks. "It's cute and fun to add in custom wedding pieces for your guests such as umbrellas, fans, sunglasses, flip flops and blankets to make the wedding day more comfortable," suggests Benson. Although guests came to the beach to see you wed, little details like this will turn their trip into a restful getaway as well. 

Beachfront Fashion and Beauty Advice

As mentioned earlier, the sun and wind on the beach are factors that will affect most components of your wedding day, fashion and beauty included. Deciding on a wedding dress, and attire for your wedding party, that matches the laid-back vibe of the beach while also being practical can be a little tricky. A flowy, off-the-shoulder wedding dress is likely to work better on the sand than a strapless beaded ball gown. Similarly, it's worth considering that loose waves or a low chignon may complement your beach look more than a modern high ponytail would. 

When asked, Benson had quite a few need-to-know tips for beach-ready fashion and beauty. "Wear sunscreen and waterproof mascara and eyeliner. Also, keep your hairstylist and makeup artist on site until after the ceremony. I guarantee you will need a touch-up for photos. Additionally, don't wear lipgloss. I know this one is weird but trust me, the minute there is any wind you'll have your veil and sand sticking to your lips—wear matte lipstick if you can. And lastly, ditch the stilettos and opt for sandals or go barefoot."

Permit Consideration for Your Big Day

While standard venues may handle permit paperwork, if you're getting married somewhere public like a public beach, a National Park or even your local neighborhood park, you'll need to put in some extra leg work to make sure your wedding location is legally squared away. Even if you're celebrating on a private beach, there may still be city ordinances and permits you need to research and adhere to. As a first step, spend some time surfing the web to see if your local government website outlines requirements. If things are a bit unclear, consult your wedding planner for advice and maybe even head down to city hall or make a visit to your convention and visitor's bureau to get more information. 

Decor and Rental Tips for a Beach Wedding Ceremony and Reception

Planning out the decor for your beachfront destination wedding is a bit more involved than simply selecting a color palette and floral arrangements. Assuming you're exchanging vows on a public beach and now at a resort whose beach may have amenities like boardwalks and lighting, you're working with a completely blank slate. Notably, "generators and lighting are the two biggest things that venues have that a beach is simply not going to provide," highlights Benson. Even with a small guest count, it's imperative that you have a microphone for guests to hear the outdoor ceremony over the waves and generators that will meet the needs of all entertainment and catering vendors. 
 
Once you've gotten the logistical side of your wedding rentals out of the way, you can have a bit of fun figuring out the visuals of the destination beach wedding. If you want to go the DIY route for decorations, consider foraging for seashells, driftwood and starfish to use as centerpieces. "Get creative with florals and pieces to designate an aisle," says Benson. "Just make sure that your vases are heavy enough to not be blown down by the wind." Wind will be one of your wedding decor's biggest foes so consider a calligraphed wood seating chart instead of paper escort cards that could fly away before guests are able to see their table assignment. Lastly, Benson encourages couples to avoid "any sort of confetti or balloon decor or grand exit. It's bad for the environment and you will get fined most places."

Catering Considerations for Beach Wedding Venues

White sand may be picturesque, but no one wants their dinner, and especially not their wedding cake, to come into contact with grains of sand. For a wedding reception on the beach, it's crucial to work with a catering company that has experience with off-site catering and has worked on a beach before. During your catering tasting ask how the company has handled beach weddings before and inquire about what kind of equipment they would need to bring in. 

Benson notes that the wedding reception is the "only downside" to a beach celebration. "It gets chilly and large tents may not be allowed on some beaches." She goes on to explain that even if you have your outdoor ceremony on the beach, it's totally alright to move the second half of the day indoors to make dinner service a simpler process. Many ocean-view restaurants and venues could work to cap off a stunning beach destination wedding; ultimately, the decision is up to you. 


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