Rustic vineyards, weathered barns, chic downtown studios, clipped garden estates – all of these are wonderful wedding settings. But of all the dream locations to celebrate “I Do,” perhaps none stands out as much as the beach.
Although the essential elements are generally the same – sand, surf, and sun – the details of the beach wedding can vary as much as beaches themselves. Some beaches are meant for crowds, family, and fun; these are usually closer to towns or cities and may be adjacent to a boardwalk or other entertainments. Other beaches are remote, windswept, and sparse, the kind of spot where you feel like you’re at the end of the world. Some beaches have brown sand and rough, dark surf while others are tranquil, with calm cerulean seas and miles of white sand. The type of beach you choose can inform almost every detail of the beach wedding.
Because most people do not live by the shore, many beach weddings are actually destination weddings that take the couple and their guests on a mini-vacation. If you want a small wedding, a benefit to a destination wedding is that the guest list is generally small due to the financial burden of the travel and limitations of the destination. Of course, if it’s a big wedding you want, this is a real drawback. Some locations are so small that hotel accommodations are not possible for a large group, while large resorts and beaches have seasons, and seasonal travel means crowds.
Couples who decide to get married beachside at a large resort will likely benefit from the help of an in-house planner, seasoned staff, and perfect sites for a picturesque ceremony and reception. Logistics, transportation, the marriage license? No problem at an all-inclusive. A white gazebo perched on a seaside cliff? Of course. Resorts in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and at other beach hotspots are well aware of their attractiveness to the newly engaged, and they design their facilities accordingly.
Resort weddings are undeniably beautiful, but for others desiring a beach wedding the only choice is to go off the beaten path. In contrast to a vibrant, highly-orchestrated resort wedding, some couples opt for a simple, barefoot-in-the-sand affair. Private beaches or off-season public beaches are ideal spots for an intimate ceremony and celebration. Sand dunes, seaweed, and wind-worn bluffs create dramatic décor and backdrops for photography – no special lighting or draping needed.
Another style of beach wedding that has recently become popular is the boardwalk amusements wedding. Salt water taffy and skeeball may not strike you as romantic, but couples looking for a little oceanside kitsch and a lot of fun might take their inspiration from the carnival colors and atmosphere of old-style boardwalks like Coney Island or the Santa Monica Pier.
Planning a menu for a beach wedding is pretty straightforward – embrace the bounty of the sea, and keep it simple. Fussy hors d’oeuvres and entrees are generally out of place. Shellfish and local fish are more appropriate, and if the reception is also taking place on the beach, open-air cooking techniques such as smoking, barbecuing, or buried roasting are ideal.
Perhaps the most attractive aspects of beach weddings are the attire options. For the bride, a flowing, gauzy dress and loose tresses perfectly capture the dramatic windswept look. The dress could be super simple like a white caftan, or an incredibly intricate frock of woven, seaweed-like lace. Short dresses and bare feet or flip-flops are equally de rigueur. Men benefit even more, losing the tux for linen or cotton, un-tucked shirts and casual pants – sometimes even rolled up. Crystals, shells, mother-of-pearl, or bits of coral tucked into the bride’s hair bring a taste of the setting into the accessories.
Décor and flowers for beach weddings can range from the very exotic to the very simple. In a tropical setting, it would be a shame to not take advantage of the overwhelming flora available nearly year-round. Exotic tropicals like anthurium, birds of paradise, heliconia, ginger, bougainvillea, and palm are colorful and sculptural, and even a simple arrangement would explode against white linen. At a demure beach wedding, simple centerpieces of raw driftwood and white pillar candles or vintage glass hurricanes filled with sand and votives pay homage to the setting without overwhelming it.
For the variety, drama, and sheer joy they offer, beach weddings remain one of the most popular types of wedding celebrations around, and it’s easy to understand why. As Lancaster and Kerr famously showed us in From Here to Eternity, it’s hard to beat the romance of a sun-drenched, sea-washed beach.
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