Disclaimer: This is obviously optimized for throwing a beach wedding in Maine. Specifically Old Orchard Beach (woot woot).
So I always envisioned getting married on the beach in a big hippie love fest, complete with a lobster bake and galvanized bins filled with beer and cheap champagne. (It would have looked almost exactly like this recent photo shoot on Snippet and Ink, actually. If you asked me in high school what I would have worn, I would have told you jeans and flip flops.
But the reality of getting married on the beach is that beaches very rarely offer the same freedoms as private property. Also some people have serious aversions to sand, and consider it a glorified form of dirt. But beach weddings are possible, and not all of them require you to throw a large chunk of cash at an all-in-one beach resort type place. I guess this is the DIY beach wedding in that way.
The following tips won’t guarantee you the best beach wedding ever. They are my tips for getting you the most bang for your buck, in terms of both finances and the amount of effort you have to put in to pull it off.
Enough rambling. Here are the meat and potatoes:
1.) This may seem like a no-brainer, but pick a date in the off-season. I’m not sure what that means to the West Coast, but for us New Englanders that means any time before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. The weather will still be stunning, but you’ll hear a lot more “yes” if you’re not trying to pull off a huge event in the middle of local business’ bread-and-butter season. Also, they’ll probably be more flexible in pricing than if you were trying to get married over 4th of July weekend or something.
2.) Once you pick a date, you’ll need to decide if you’re going public beach or private beach. We searched high and low for someone with a private beach property who would rent us their house for a wedding and most people very kindly laughed at the proposition. This might not be an issue if your wedding is less than 50 people, but if you are going to have any sizable guest list, you might want to consider a public beach.
3.) If you choose a public beach, literally memorize the city ordinances governing that beach. By studying up on the Town Of Old Orchard home page, we learned that bonfires require burn permits, special events only really require permits if you’re going to block off an area of the beach or require sound amplification, and most importantly THERE IS NO WAY TO AVOID OPEN CONTAINER LAWS. I put this in caps because I spent hours trying to figure out a way around the open container laws on the beach. Not. Gonna. Happen. If your goal is to have booze at your wedding, then the next thing I suggest is to have your ceremony on the beach and a separate location for the reception.
4.) Once we decided to have the ceremony on the beach and the reception at a local restaurant, our wedding planning became a cake walk. Because our little beach restaurant was a very popular spot for music and dining during the summer, they already had a setup for sound amplification (yes, you NEED this if you’re going to have more than 20 people trying to hear your ceremony) and they knew how to feed 200+ people. Done and done.
And honestly, that was pretty much it. Those were the big questions we had to ask (the ones that took *forever* to decide). From there, we approached our ceremony like we would approach it in any other outdoor location. And the reception was mostly taken care of by our restaurant venue.
But I know that this doesn’t answer the real nitty gritty questions people have, so I’m going to take this Alyssa-style and have an imaginary conversation with myself:
You: Ok, I get it, ceremony on the beach and reception at a restaurant, but thanks-for-nothing because that doesn’t even begin to answer my questions.
Me: Boo. What else do you need to know?
You: Everything, duh. For example, if I’m having my ceremony on the beach, do I need to rent chairs?
Me: Not really. You know all those beautiful pictures of ceremony setups on the beach with the white wooden chairs and the rose petals strewn on the sand that create a faux aisle? Exactly. I think they look like a lot of work too. We had over 200 guests standing for our 30 minute ceremony and there were no complaints about the lack of chairs. We did have a few benches up front for the elderly and pregnant folks just to be safe and that ended up being plenty. I mean, I’m all for ceremony decor, but you’re at the beach, you know? If decorating isn’t your *thing* then you kind of have the whole ocean to work with. And if you get married at sunset, then Hello! Sunset wedding. Booyah.
You: Cool, but what about privacy? Don’t I have to rope it off or something?
Me. Um, depends on how much you care. We’re not really *private* people, so we just settled for setting up our ceremony really early in the morning to make sure there was enough space for all of our shit. We had about 30 random spectators set up shop with their beach chairs and watch us get married and that was fine for us. If you are going to try and rope off space, you might need to look into filing your wedding as a special event with the town or city you’re getting married in. That way nobody can yell at you later.
You: Go back to that thing about sound again.
Me: Yeah, we got lucky there. Our reception restaurant had a huge deck overlooking the ocean with speakers built in. Which sounds fancy, but basically any restaurant that blasts music in the summer is going to be set up for that too.
You: What happens when it gets cold outside?
Me: Well if you’re not stupid like I was, you’ll ask your band to set up inside and dance the night away in the warm interior of your chosen venue. If you’re a big jerk like me, then your band freezes to death and you apologize by paying their bar tab. And then wonder how they made it through the Styx reprise after imbibing $250 worth of booze.
You: Hm, but what if I’m still outside and it gets cold. What about a bonfire?
Me: That’s actually pretty easy. Most towns have burn permit applications for stuff like that. Look up the specific rules and regulations for your town; the guidelines should be listed.
Me: – I wasn’t done. Because that actually reminds me of something. If you’re getting married close to home and you’re having your wedding on a public beach and you just *happen* to have friends in law enforcement, it doesn’t hurt to give them a heads up about your wedding. My mom’s husband is a fire lieutenant and he put the word out there that there was going to be a wedding on the beach that day with a bonfire. There was no shady palm-greasing or anything; but it gave us peace of mind to know that local officials weren’t going to be crashing our party before it started.
You: Any other advice?
Me: You know, I know there are a lot of beautiful beach weddings out there that are really well put together, but I think the magic of getting married in the sand is the comfy casual nature of it all. You can get away with breaking so many of the wedding “rules” when you get married on the beach. Why not take advantage of that liberty?
Here is a separate conversation that is happening as I write this.
Michael: How many e-mails are you writing over there?
Me: Just one. I promised Meg I’d tell her how to throw a lazy beach wedding.
Michael: Find a beach. Throw a wedding. Don’t have a dress code. Done.
So that’s my super lengthy recommendation for how to throw a kick ass beach wedding on the cheap without having to put more effort into it than you would most normal parties.