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How to Plan a Beach Wedding

How to Plan a Beach Wedding in Santa Cruz


At Visit Santa Cruz County, one of our most frequently asked questions is how to have a wedding at the beach. To some, there’s no more perfect or memorable place to tie the knot, but how does one pull it off and what are some tips to make sure it all works out? Here are some reminders of important things to consider when planning your beach wedding:

Carefully select the beach

In order to make sure the wedding of your dreams translates to reality, take some care in picking the right beach for the atmosphere you envision. It seems straightforward, but make time to think about the season, day of the week, and time of day. For example, if you desire a serene affair, you’ll want to avoid highly trafficked beaches during summer weekends. Think about accessibility for you and your guests… are there stairs or trails to get to the beach? How far of a walk through sand will it be to get to the site? Can all my guests get there comfortably? Are there enough parking spots and restroom facilities? Lastly, be flexible about the exact location… the sand moves and shapes with the tides, presenting a different landscape at different times of year.

You probably need a permit or, at the least, a reservation with beach management

Most Santa Cruz County beaches are public and protected, as these beaches are along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The beaches are used and loved by the local community, so you’ll want to reach out to the organization managing the beach to ensure your event is not overlapping with other happenings. Depending on which beach and how many guests you expect, this could be as simple as making a reservation with the City, County, or State Parks. For a more complex affair, the reservation process may involve fees, applications, and restrictions. See here for specific instructions about contacting the right department for the beach of your choice.

Be aware of the beach rules 

Since most of the beaches are protected by State Parks, there are certain rules to uphold that keep Santa Cruz County beaches healthy and safe for people and wildlife. Alcohol, glass containers, fires or flame of any kind, and amplified sound are not permitted at many beaches. You’ll want to be informed of the specific rules for your beach of interest when making plans for your special day. Also think about your setup – on most beaches, everything must be hand-carried. Vehicles are not permitted on State or City Beaches.

Choose time of day wisely

Are you sensitive to bright sunlight? Do you loathe the idea of your wedding photos featuring you and your loved ones squinting or hidden behind sunglasses? Try a morning wedding when the light is less harsh and follow up with a lovely brunch reception. Alternately, a sunset ceremony with an evening celebration can help you avoid harsh mid-day rays. Be sure to use sunscreen all times of day to prevent having a sunburn while on your honeymoon.

Put thought into the comfort of your (and your guests’) attire

Ascending down an aisle of sand takes a knack to do elegantly. A constricting or heavy dress can make this special moment awkward or uncomfortable. Also, consider the train of your dress. A strapless gown shouldn’t have a heavy or long train that will create drag, or you’ll be constantly re-hoisting and adjusting. If you have a bustle, make sure you do a test run with whoever will be fastening it that day, to ensure it’ll be a quick and fuss-free process. Also, stilettos are pretty much out of the question for a beach ceremony… but, by all means, break them out for the dance floor later! Get some cute slides to slip off before going barefoot in the sand. Be sure to provide guidelines for your guests about expected attire for your special day. If you have a wedding website, this would be great information to include!

You’re subject to the elements…

This may seem to be a minor issue, but even the most casual of affairs can be thwarted by the surprise of inclement weather. The California Coast has a temperate climate, with comfortable temperatures year-round. That said, being in close proximity to the ocean allows an element of unpredictability. Humidity and wind can make it feel colder or hotter than it really is. Wind in particular, can make eyes water and blow sand onto the skin. Be ready for anything and ensure your makeup and hair are low maintenance or set with strong hold products. It’s also a good idea to have your maid of honor (or other appointee) keep an arsenal of beauty essentials in your Beach Wedding Survival Kit, see our recommended list below!

…And the birds!

In addition to tissues, you may want to have some handy-wipes to recover from whatever the local wildlife may, ahem, drop onto you or your guests. Hey, it can happen!

Your Beach Wedding Survival Kit

You don’t need to drag a bursting duffel bag to the ceremony and reception in order to be prepared! Travel pack size is best for most items and you should be able to fit these into a mid-size purse or bag. Keep the bag sleek and coordinated, and preferably with compartments and a zipper or snap closure (not an open tote bag that items can spill out of.

Here’s what you’ll need to be pretty much unstoppable and amazing for your beach wedding:

  • Tissues
  • Q-tips
  • Handy-wipes/makeup remover wipes
  • Your makeup essentials (gloss, liner, mascara, makeup sponge, blotting papers)
  • Hair essentials (bobby pins, hairspray)
  • Toothpicks, floss, mints, and/or water-less mini toothbrush
  • Dish towels (for cleaning up sandy feet before you slip into those stilettos)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY – your smiling, happy self!


On the big day, scout your spot early

Send out some helpers to make sure your ceremony space is clear from any debris, kelp, or otherwise undesirable items. While you likely won’t be able to rope off your area, the presence of your caring scouts and set up will set the tone for other beach-goers to respect the space and commencement of such a special occasion.

Have a good attitude

You probably picked the beach for your wedding because of the carefree vibes and warm memories you have of the location. Don’t let wedding stress overcome this joyful feeling! With a little preparedness and the right tools, you’ll be ready to roll with anything mother nature throws at you and enjoy your special day! Sometimes the unexpected things can become the most memorable. Cheers!

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