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Everything You Need To Know To Have A Beach Wedding


Life's a beach until you try to get married on one

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

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.

beach wedding tips with couple on beach in southern california

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.

3.

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.

4.accessibility

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.

5. Amplification

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!

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Cindy Brown | Atlanta

    I love a beach wedding.

    Another thing to remember is that rain can appear in no time out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Florida is known for its afternoon showers. Granted most people won’t melt, and a couple running through the rain to take shelter makes great photos, but most folks would prefer to stay dry during their wedding ceremony.

    A local should be able to give you a heads up on when/if afternoon showers are the norm.

    • FL Memories

      Ha ha ha. When it rains in Florida, it may be brief, but it’s often a monsoon. I loved the rain when I lived there.

    • A.

      We got married in Florida and we had a massive thunderstorm while we were getting ready, then actually quite delightful sun showers during our vows (it was HOT so no one minded). We didn’t get married at the beach, but it was an open garden so a rain plan was an absolute MUST…and we had to plan for it way in advance, since our planning was the opposite of an all-inclusive resort (they usually have rain plans built in, as far as I understand.) We were biting our fingernails up to the hour, with designated people watching the radar. It all worked out for us, but if you’re someone who gets stressed about unpredictable weather, Florida shouldn’t be your top pick!

    • Bethany

      Agree about Florida. The afternoon rain showers are definitely a summer thing, but they can be super intense. I live in Florida and have been to a few outdoor weddings/receptions that were lovely with perfect weather… but they were during the dry season. A summer beach wedding in Florida sounds like a recipe for disaster. Plus it is super hot/humid anyway, so a lovely view of the beach (from an air conditioned space) might be a better option. :)

  • anon

    Throwing in a plug for the Alabama Gulf Coast. Much quieter than most parts of Florida, though potentially more difficult to manage logistically.

    • FL Memories

      Yes! The Gulf Coast from Alabama to the Florida Panhandle are the best beaches. Sugar white fine sand made of 99% pure quartz that washed down from the Appalachians.

      I always feel a little sorry for the tourists that head to the Atlantic side of Florida. The Gulf side has the best beaches in general, with the Panhandle being the finest – especially the Destin – Fort Walton area. Gulf Shores in Alabama is similar with maybe the sand slightly less blindingly white.

      It’s like this:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT_NozLS06k

  • Amy

    Massachusetts beach wedding tip: Cape Cod and Cape Anne (on the North Shore) are really really pricey. I booked with a place on Sailsbury Beach that’s all inclusive, on the water with options for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies!

  • Eenie

    For those who hold the personal belief that sand is one of the worst things every created (but obviously keep that notion to themselves during beach weddings): baby powder does a great job of removing it from your feet, a lot better than water.

    • Amy March

      And it would be lovely to provide a place to store your shoes and clean your feet for couples having beach weddings. For those of us who have actual nightmares about sand.

  • We got married in a church and we still had random people show up during the wedding. Just people wandering around the parish who had wandered into the church. There were at least 5 that I noticed, including the lady who very enthusiastically high-fived me as I was leaving after Mass (I have also wandered accidentally into weddings before, especially at cathedrals and such where you want to go in and check out the architecture and then BAM there’s a wedding). It was totally fine, but just amused me that some people just wandered in and thought “cool, I’ll stay through this extra Mass since I’m here anyway. Might as well go to Communion and everything.”

    Basically, people might wander into your wedding if it isn’t a beach-wedding (or even an outside one). But it isn’t really a problem a lot of the time.

    • Elizabeth

      Same! I had a church wedding and a lady in a neck-brace walked right up beside me as I was about to walk down the aisle, noticed I was in a wedding dress, and went “OH!” and took a ton of pictures. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit… distracting.

  • Emily

    We got married on Lake Michigan and I wish I would have planned the amplification a little better. Apparently it was a little hard to hear our vows unless you were part of the wedding party :(

  • Alexandra

    I live in Hawaii and have been to my share of beach weddings. Even at the most experienced beach venues (there are plenty in Hawaii who have the beach wedding thing dialed in), I have the following genius observations: The beach is HOT. Normally, when you visit the beach, you’re in a bathing suit, not formal wear. The beach is WINDY. Normally, when you visit the beach, you don’t have an updo you worked on for half an hour and false eyelashes.

    Call me sentimental, but I like to be able to sit down and hear a wedding ceremony so I can cry properly and stare at the bride’s dress admiringly. My Hawaii wedding was at a nice, air conditioned church, and the reception was at a nice, air conditioned country club with a lovely view of…the beach.

    • Amy March

      Yes to all of this. I want to sit down in a comfortable climate and hear your vows. Which can absolutely happen on a beach but takes a bit more doing!

      • Leona Parrett

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    • emilyg25

      Yeah, we had an outdoor ceremony (not a beach, but limited shade) and it wasn’t exactly comfortable.

  • AP

    I got married on a beach on the Florida panhandle last fall, and all of this is excellent advice. My husband and I rented a vacation rental directly on the beach, while our families shared a few rentals about a block away from the us and the beach (cheaper and bigger houses.) Total we had around 35 people. We made sure to book our rental right on the beach for two reasons- we wanted to spend our wedding morning in peace right on the water and away from our families, and we wanted to make sure there was bathroom access/parking close to the ceremony site. We held our ceremony directly in front of our house at the water.

    A few things we did that helped make things go smoothly:
    – chose an off season date when we knew the beach would be less crowded but the weather would still be nice (turned out overcast and a bit chilly that weekend, but better than blazing hot!)
    – husband and I scouted out the area where we wanted to get married about 5-6 months before the wedding and coordinated with vacation rental agencies to get a list of properties that were walking distance to each other, then let our families choose the houses they wanted based on size/price/amenities
    – rented a golf cart from a local outfitter for getting elderly relatives and kiddos across the dunes to the ceremony (I think we paid ~$150 for a weekend rental, and we considered it money well spent since we used it for fun all weekend in addition to the ceremony)
    – had a standing ceremony, but brought a few patio chairs/benches down from our rental house to the beach just for the ceremony for the few who needed to sit
    – minimal decorations, just a bamboo arch that we made with some muslin draped around it that we set up that morning
    – kept the ceremony short (<15 min)
    – since it was windier/cooler than we'd expected, we scrapped our champagne toast that we'd planned for immediately after the ceremony and saved it for the reception

    We did get some resistance from vacation rental agencies about using their properties for weddings, because they've had some bad experiences in the past with huge weddings that got out of hand. We knew our crowd- no partiers, a few small kids and grandparents, quick ceremony with minimal fuss- so we started describing it as a "family reunion" style weekend, and that seemed to get the point across that we wouldn't be destroying any houses or annoying the neighbors with tons of cars/loud music/drinking.

    • Kat

      Oooh, where in the Panhandle? Pensacola girl here, all this talk of beach weddings is making me homesick.

      • AP

        Cape San Blas on St. Joseph’s Peninsula! We picked it because we love to camp at the state park there, so after the wedding our families went home and we stayed to camp for a few days.

    • Sara

      Did you have to have a permit? We’ve heard mixed opinions and don’t know who to call to find out for sure.

      • AP

        We did not have a permit, and I can’t remember now if that was because we looked into it and found that we didn’t need one, or if we didn’t think to check to see if we needed one. In any case, it wasn’t a problem. I live in a beach town in a different state, and I think permits for beach-related things (bonfires, etc.) are issued through the county. I would start by calling the county office where you’re planning the wedding.

  • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

    This is reminding me to make sure the PA our friend is lending us is LOUD. Has anyone done a beach wedding with 200 people?

    The summer camp we rented is right on one of the Great Lakes, so it’ll be windy. We decided against putting the benches right on the beach for the ceremony because of the sand factor. It’s got enough open grassy space that we should be fine with the beach in the background.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      We had over 200 people! We did have a PA system, but our guests were, like, 20 deep, so you want to make sure it carries.

  • CommaChick

    1. I love the Beach Blanket Bingo link. I can’t believe how often I used to watch those movies.

    2. Is there a reason you chose “wheelchair-bound?” I know AP style [which we use at my work] frowns on this expression as ableist, but I would usually trust y’all over AP style when it comes to inclusive language.

    • Kim

      You’re right, CommaChick. Should be “Grandma who uses a wheelchair,” or similar person-first language.

      This is unrelated, but another beach wedding consideration: try to zone out some kind of ceremony space, if you can. This is particularly a thing with standing weddings. At the last standing-only beach wedding I attended, the guests started slowly inching closer to the couple and into the “aisle.” It was a little claustrophobic. I think flowers or a rug or something similar on the ground around the couple would have helped.

      • HM

        We are using the term “sand challenged” for those wedding guests who may need assistance to their chairs in the sand for our upcoming ceremony.

  • Anonymous McAnonyson

    I live in Florida, and so many people I know and love dearly have beach weddings – I’ve even officiated at one. And dear lord, I FUCKING HATE THEM. Sand. Wind. You can’t hear for shit. Sand. It’s hot and sticky, or cold and damp. Badly-disciplined kids – from the wedding guests, no less – run around in the surf during the ceremony (to be fair, that wasn’t the beach’s fault). Did I mention sand?

    Then again, I’m really not a fan of outdoor weddings in general. Give me some damn climate control and a place I can actually hear what’s happening.

    • Eenie

      Hahaha. We specifically stated that our venue had climate control on our website.

  • Shawna

    Funny story – at my best friend’s beach wedding in Northern California two guys came up on the beach with a little rowboat just as the ceremony was about to start. Her now husband went up to them in his suit and bare feet and (pretty politely given the circumstances) said, “Uh guys I’m about to get married…right here. So could you move the boat down the beach a little?” They should have been able to tell given that about 30 people in finery were gathered at the base of the stairs waiting for the bride to come down (and it is not a deep beach).

    In the end the groomsmen and groom helped the two guys drag the boat a ways down the beach and then smooth out the sand again.

    So…that could happen. As with most mishaps it makes a funny story afterwards!

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  • Srekeab Oyerrac

    This blog of party is fantastic, perfect to plan my wedding

  • Dave Kom

    Don’t forget sunglasses if it’s sunny… We ordered 15 pair from sandysunglasses.com and it saved our pictures from squints and closed eyes!!! Cheap too…

  • Dave Kom

    All I have to say is GET SUNGLASSES… We had a wedding for my 2 daughters on the beach… 1 had no sunglasses 1 had sunglasses… Guess which pictures turned out bad with squinty faces lol… We order 30 pair from sandysunglasses.com really cheap and polarized…

  • Coco Jay

    Can anyone give any good recommendations for planning a beach wedding in Miami?? Has anyone planned a beach ceremony in Miami or know of a good wedding service I could use? I am trying to plan a beach ceremony before a cruise for about 50 guests in February.

  • Derica Lea Idocks

    I don’t know if it has been mentioned yet or not but time of day can be crucial in the full sun of the beach. I know that different parts of the world have different intensities of sun at different times of year, so that is certainly something to consider. For example, the sun that hits the beaches of Maine is less harsh than the sun that hits the beaches of Florida. Being a wedding photographer based out of St. Petersburg, Florida, I know that you will get far less squinty eyes and sweaty guests if you chose a time closer to sunset or sunrise. The light on the beach an hour before sunset is absolutely gorgeous for photography, so if at all possible, aim to have your formal portraits shot at this time. Typically we suggest to our clients to have their beachside ceremony end so that formal portraits can follow immediately afterward, with a corresponding cocktail hour for those guests to enjoy who will not be partaking in the portraits. This way we know everyone is there and ready, and we can release them to something fun to do plus we have the best light of the day. It is a win-win for everyone!

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