How to Plan the Perfect Beach Wedding

If you’re searching for a stunning place to swap vows, it doesn’t get more picturesque than the coast. From the wild and rocky Northeastern beaches to the sunny sands of SoCal, seaside weddings are undeniably romantic.But as beautiful as they are, beach weddings come with a long list of challenges and risks. From things you can’t control — like the tides and weather — to simple decisions that you can, like footwear and chairs, there are tons of details to take into account when planning your seaside soiree.

It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you’ve always fantasized about getting married on the beach, go for it — just be realistic about the road ahead. We’ve provided some essential tips and ideas on how to plan a beach wedding below.

Beach Wedding Venues: Choose Your Beach

Choosing to get married on the beach certainly narrows down your options, but then you have to decide which beach is right for you. You may want to keep it simple and choose an area near where you live, your hometown, or a favorite childhood vacation spot. If you’re more flexible, you can weigh the pros and cons of the varied coastlines of America — and beyond. You can also choose from a variety of beach wedding invitation designs to match your specific beach style. Here are a few beach types to consider when looking at beach destinations:

  • Soft and Sandy — If you envision a classic beach scene complete with soft sand, plenty of sunshine, and reeds blowing softly in the breeze, consider the southern parts of both the east and west coasts. Best Bets: Charleston, S.C. Savannah, Ga. Coronado, Calif. Orange County, Calif.
  • Wild and Windswept — Going for a more dramatic vibe? Look north to the rugged coastlines of New England, Oregon, and Northern California. Best Bets: Big Sur, Calif. Newport, R.I. Bar Harbor, Maine.
  • Beach Paradise — If you’ll settle for nothing less than powder sand and turquoise water, a destination beach wedding may be for you. Best Bets: Maui, Hawaii. Riviera Maya, Mexico. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Beach-friendly Decorations

With a backdrop as spectacular as the sea, there’s no need to go overboard with the décor, but a few fun details here and there will give your event a more personalized feel. Taking into account the wind, water, and blowing sand, here are some décor elements that work well on the beach:

  • An arbor provides a focal point for the ceremony. It can be draped with fabric or flowers — just make sure whatever you use is attached tightly! If you or someone you know is handy with a hammer, you could even build a custom arbor out of driftwood.
  • It’s hard to beat the clean look of white wooden folding chairs for a beach wedding. Because they’re easy to transport and not too precious, they tend to work much better than some of their more formal counterparts.
  • For a sunset or evening ceremony, candles lining the pathway and along the aisle can look beautiful. Place them in hurricane glasses, mason jars, or lanterns to keep them from blowing out in the wind.
  • Think outside the box when decorating the aisle. Some fun ideas: Scatter palm leaves along the way, stick shells or starfish into the sand on either side, or use a long seagrass mat to mark its boundaries.

Make Your Guests Comfortable

If your guests have never attended a beach wedding before, there’s a good chance that may not have prepared properly. Stilettos and delicate dress shoes don’t fare very well in the sand, so it’s a nice gesture to offer your guests a few things to make the experience more enjoyable. A great way to set the tone for your beach themed wedding is to send out beach wedding invitations.

  • Shoe Station — Place a few baskets on either side of the path leading to the ceremony where guests can kick off their shoes. There’s nothing wrong with going barefoot, but you could also offer a basket full of flip-flops in various sizes — in your wedding colors, of course.
  • Sun Care Central — Set up a small table or a few baskets with everything your guests might need to protect themselves from the sun. Include items like sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats. Bonus: These last two can easily be customized to use as favors!
  • Beach Bar — Although many municipalities won’t approve alcohol on a public beach, that doesn’t mean your guests have to go thirsty! Provide water or vintage-style soda bottles so that no one gets parched in the heat of the day — just make sure someone cleans up the leftovers after the ceremony!

Bridal Beachwear

Beach weddings tend to be more casual than indoor affairs, and your wardrobe — and that of everyone else in the wedding — should reflect that.

  • Forget the $50,000 ball gown with a 12-foot train, and reach for a comfortable dress in a no-fuss fabric. This doesn’t mean you can’t look glam on your wedding day! Just know that you’ll likely get some sand between your toes — and in your hem — so choose a dress that you’re comfortable getting a bit dirty.
  • As for accessories, think about items that can stand up to the sand, water, and wind. A barefoot bride is always beautiful on the beach, but if you must wear shoes, make sure you can walk in the sand while wearing them — you may even have to take them on a test run to ensure that you don’t twist your ankle walking down the aisle. If you opt for a veil or delicate headpiece, just know that if it’s super windy, it may not work out.
  • For the bridesmaids, keep in mind one big factor of beach weddings: Wind. A short, flowy cocktail dress may look adorable on the rack, but a windy day at the beach could result in some embarrassing moments for your bridesmaids. Either choose a longer look or outfit your ‘maids with hidden weights to hold down their hems when things get gusty.
  • Unless your wedding is at a swanky oceanfront hotel or yacht club, a tuxedo may look slightly out of place. Instead, the groom and his groomsmen could try on lighter suits with a more casual feel — linen and soft khaki are both ideal. They could even shirk the suits altogether and just wear vests or even plain white shirts.
  • Give guests clear instructions of what to wear by noting the attire either in your beach wedding invitation or on your wedding website — but beware of potentially misleading phrases like “beach chic.” It’s helpful to designate a section on your website to offer more specific advice for attire or include an enclosure card with more information.

Overcoming Obstacles

Like any outdoor wedding, there are many obstacles you might face leading up to your wedding day. Be prepared with a contingency plan, and you’ll overcome them without breaking a sweat.

  • Permits — Some municipalities require permits for gatherings on the beach, photos, or serving food or drinks. Square all of that away as early as you possibly can to avoid any disastrous visits from the police or hefty fines on your big day.
  • Rain — Rain poses a serious threat to any outdoor wedding, but at a beach wedding, the addition of wind on the beach will make it difficult to hide out under a tent. Your only real option is to have a backup location planned in the event of rain, or to adjust your schedule slightly.
  • Wind — It could ruin your hair, blow away decorations, or pelt your guests with sharp flecks of sand. Wind is the invisible threat that has wreaked havoc on countless beach weddings. If you can, choose a location that’s protected from the wind — either a small cove or a spot set closer to the dunes. If it is windy, be ready with adjustments to your wardrobe and decorations.
  • Tides — The bad news is, a super-high tide can eat up a small beach. The good news is, it’s easy to find out exactly what level the tide will be at whenever you choose to get married. Before making your date official, check that the tide will be at an acceptable height around the time of your ceremony. Locals may also be able to give you some indication of how the beach changes seasonally, if you’re not sure.
  • Bugs — Sand gnats and flies afflict different beaches at different times of year, so bring the bug spray just in case they’re out and about during your ceremony.
  • Gawkers — Any public ceremony may have to contend with its share of curious onlookers, so be prepared for that possibility. However, you may be able to avoid too many by choosing a more secluded spot. Also try posting a polite sign or two on either side of the ceremony site requesting privacy, and recruiting friends or family members to pull “bouncer duty” in case a couple of bikini-clad tourists decide to set up their chairs in an unfortunate spot.
  • Sound — Because of the wind and crashing waves, guests may have trouble hearing the proceedings or the music. You can do one of two things: Encourage everyone to speak (or play) extra loudly, or get a PA system to help you out.

Planning a simple beach ceremony or destination wedding may not be as straightforward as it seems on the surface, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, either. Bring an easygoing attitude along with your sunscreen and sandals, and you’ll have everything you need for the best beach day of your life.