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Testing the Waters : Oceanfront 'I Do's' Can, Well, Be a Day at the Beach--If You're Prepared


Getting married on the beach means never having your audience hear you say, "I do."

Some grooms aiming for a career in stand-up would say that's a plus. But exchanging vows alongside crashing waves adds a layer of complexity not found in such traditional weatherproof sites as churches or hotels.

"The beach is a really hostile place to do a party in many ways," says Bobby Weisman, a Los Angeles caterer, in reference to the weather, the water, the shifting sand and the public nature of the site. "It's not practical. What are you going to do? Rope off part of the Santa Monica Pier? It doesn't work that way."

Still, it's the height of Southern California's beach wedding season, which stretches from August through October, says Michelle Mola, who owns the Wedding Day, a Huntington Beach bridal service that helps about 300 couples a month book locales. About 15 of those couples choose the romantic seaside wedding route, then repair to a private club or home for the reception.

"What really seems to be the trend is to have bridal or engagement photos taken on the beach, instead of the wedding," she says.

But couples looking for more than a photo op can still stage the oceanfront wedding of their dreams--for a price. Here is some advice from the pros on what to consider.

Choosing a Site: Unless you plan a quick ceremony with a few family members, you'll probably need a city, county or state permit for the public beach. You'll also need to haul in everything to stage the event, from a tent to power for the musicians to the catering staff. As a result, wedding consultants usually steer clients toward private clubs or homes, with private beaches, where the basics, such as electricity and bathrooms, are in place. (Upscale Porta Pottis or "executive vanities," can add $300 to $1,200 to the bill.)

Renting a home with an ocean view comes with a Malibu-appropriate price tag, averaging about $5,000 to $7,500 for the day's use, says Randie Wilder-Pellegrini, owner of Cordially Invited of Beverly Hills, who stages 85% of her weddings at the beach, usually in private homes. Other wedding consultants put the starting price for a private facility at $2,500.

"Usually, couples want a view of the ocean or to be on a terrace overlooking the ocean," says Wilder-Pellegrini, adding that when weddings are right on the sand, "no one has a good hair day."

If you choose a public stretch of sand, consider hiring security guards to keep beach-goers from wandering through. Hotels often have private expanses of beach that alleviate this problem plus provide oceanfront ballrooms and catering.

The Perfect Time: To take advantage of the sunset, consult a weather table to pinpoint the exact time. A 6 p.m. wedding is probably a good bet this time of year, Mola says. Also take the sun into account when deciding where the bride and groom will exchange vows, so the photographer won't be shooting into the sun. And check the tide charts to make sure guests don't get washed out to sea.

Always Have a Plan B: "Whenever we do any outdoor wedding, we have to do a contingency plan," says Vicki Giannone, whose L.A.-based Creative Weddings has planned ceremonies for 17 years. "I can recall Malibu July weddings, and it rained in the morning." Heat might cause her to bring in generators for air-conditioning or a canopy, and cold or rain could require a tent.

Wedding Wear: Wedding party attire tends to be "more casual than serious, softer rather than stiffer" for an oceanfront celebration, says Patty Ross, owner-buyer of Ron Ross in Studio City. "Some of those more traditional things tend to be excused or lifted, just making it more fun."

A bride will often opt to get married in a color rather than white, while a groom will wear a light suit or sport jacket, often out of linen. Styling for the wedding party tends toward loose-fitting fashions that allow a lot of movement, she says.

One summer trend paired double-faced chiffon stoles with sleeveless dresses a shade lighter or darker than the stole, a look that also lends warmth when the sun goes down.

What to Tell Your Guests: You can't dictate what they wear, but make the site clear on the invitation so guests can dress appropriately and bring cover-ups. Make sure they know where to park, and if the reception is in a different location, allow enough time between events for guests to make their way down Pacific Coast Highway.

Favored Foods: You might want to incorporate the flavor of the beach by serving seafood, but it's more important to consider the party's style, whether it's a sit-down dinner, has serving stations or offers finger food. When planning food, remember that the beach "is a fun place," Weisman says.

Tie the food being served into the elements of the property. For instance, if there's an open barbecue pit, bring in marshmallows on skewers for a casual, post-dessert touch, which Wilder-Pellegrini has done.

The Bottom Line: Don't do a beach wedding to save money, just about everyone cautions. If you choose the tonier surroundings of a private home, you'll have to bear the costs of a caterer as well as the worry of importing everything to stage the reception. Expect to spend $150 to $200 per person for a catered reception for 100 people, says Giannone, who plans 15 to 25 weddings by the beach each year.

A Parting Thought: Book a block of motel rooms near the reception. "A lot of small motels at the beach are well-priced. It's dark there at night. If someone is drinking, you'll know they don't have to drink and drive," Wilder-Pellegrini says.

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