I think most of us who plan beach weddings do so imagining a breezy, relaxed affair. Basically the end scene from 27 Dresses, minus all the bridesmaids. In reality, planning a wedding in a non-traditional venue that also happens to be open to the public is anything but breezy.
As I learned the hard way, there are lots of things to consider before setting your sights on the ocean, from permits to personal beliefs about sand (yes, that’s a real thing). So if you’re thinking about getting hitched in a beach wedding, here are a few things to check on first:
1. Public or private beach wedding
There have been arguments over who has the right to sand for decades. But the bottom line is basically all ocean beaches in the U.S. are open to the public. That said, if you’re having a smaller beach wedding (fifty or fewer guests), you may be able to find a private property on a secluded beach with owners who are comfortable hosting events in their space and get pretty close to private. But be forewarned: if that setup is what you’re after, start your search early. Even the most lenient Airbnb hosts are often wary of events, so it can be hard finding someone who both has a secluded beach at their disposal and doesn’t mind letting you use their property as a home base. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though. Just give yourself lots of time to make it happen (and prepare yourself for lots of rejection).
2. Ceremony or reception or both
There’s a big difference between a ceremony on the beach with a reception to follow at a more traditional reception space (hall, restaurant, etc.) and a full-on beach blanket bingo with a hundred of your nearest and dearest. So before you start researching anything, figure out what kind of beach wedding you’re asking for. Permits and ordinances vary depending on what kind of gathering you’ll be having, whether food and drink are involved, if you’re asking to rope off a particular part of the beach, etc. In general, the path of least resistance is to have your ceremony on the beach, and then move the party somewhere that’s better equipped to handle a party. Bonus: that place can still be on the beach. If you’re getting married in the off-season (assuming your beach has one, but we’ll get to that next), beach-front venues might be willing to host an even on a weekend date when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do much business.
permits and ordinances
Beach rules vary by location and often the question you’ll be asking yourself is “Do I need a permit for this?” Check with the local government to see what regulations they have regarding events and gatherings. Some things to consider:
- Are you having a big beach wedding or a small one? Some beaches have regulations about gatherings, so the more people you add to the guest list, the more you’ll want to check what those rules are.
- Do you expect privacy? Hint: everything will be easier if the answer is “no.” But there may be options for roping off a section of the beach. So check your codes and see if there’s an option for obtaining a permit that keeps outsiders… outside.
- Will there be alcohol outside? Most beaches prohibit alcohol consumption, so research your local codes to figure out if yours applies. Or just choose from one of these beaches to start with and you’ll be fine.
- Do you plan on doing anything dangerous? Like starting a bonfire? Some beaches prohibit bonfires. Others simply require that you apply for a permit. In general the rule is if it might be dangerous, check if there’s a code or permit requirement.
Sure, it might be lovely to get married with your toes in the sand. But can your wheelchair-bound Grandma make it to the ceremony to see you put said toes in the sand? Will your guests be standing? Are there options for those who will need to sit? Like any other outdoor ceremony space, the beach can add a layer of difficulty when it comes to accessibility. So consider your guest list and figure out if any additional accommodations will need to be made so that no one misses out.
Waves are loud, y’all. And beaches don’t necessarily come standard equipped with power outlets. So will your guests be able to hear you? Is your wedding small enough that you won’t need amplification? Or are you going to have to figure a portable power situation? Figure this stuff out in advance, or you may end up shouting to be heard in the rafters.
6. Tides and weather
If you’re getting married in a park, there’s a good chance that half the park won’t suddenly disappear and be unavailable to you halfway through the day. But that’s what happens at the beach. So make sure your ceremony start time won’t be engulfed by ocean. Because having guests washed away to sea is a super bummer. And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to check the seasonality of rain in your area. If you’re on the East Coast, hurricane season is real.
7. High season or low season
Beach season varies by geography. In Southern California, you’ll find folks on the beach essentially year round. In Maine, where I got married, beach season is a brief but lovely two and a half to three months. And in Florida, well, be wary of hurricane season. My point here? Figure out if your beach has a high season and a low season. Because there can be benefits and drawbacks to each depending on your wedding date. The upside to high season is better weather. The downsides are as follows:
- More crowded beaches
- More intense patrolling of the beach by local authorities
- More expensive and/or difficult to secure lodging for your guests
The downside of low season is usually crappier weather. But the upsides are:
- More private ceremony
- Cheaper accommodations
- Venues might be willing to cut you a deal if it’s not a weekend they’d normally do a lot of business
If you still want nice weather, but fewer people, figure out if your beach has a shoulder season (between peak and off-peak). But know that total privacy is likely never going to happen. We had about half a dozen random people stop to enjoy our ceremony, and I would never have noticed them if they didn’t show up in the background of a handful of our photos.
The cheater’s guide to getting married on the beach
Looking back, if I had to do it all again, I’d still have a beach wedding but I’d do one of two things:
Hire a coordinator who does beach weddings: Getting married on the beach is just like a regular wedding, but with a ton of unexpected things you probably never considered. So if it’s within your budget, I recommend working with someone who has planned at least one beach wedding. They’ll know their way around the local ordinances, they’ll remind you to bring sunscreen, and they can act as your wedding bouncer if friendly passersby try to walk through your ceremony photos.
Get married at a beach resort: You know who does those private picturesque beach weddings really well? Destination beach resorts. And there’s often a bunch of perks that come with it when you book one. Understandably leaving the country may be out of budget for you and your guests, but there are plenty of beach resorts here in the United States that offer a similar level of inclusion, with cheaper airfare costs (think: Florida).
Have more beach wedding tips? Leave them in the comments!