So you want an actual toes-in-the-sand wedding, huh?
Unless you’re getting married at an oceanfront venue or privately-owned beach, there are a bunch of logistics you have to consider before plunking down your chuppah on public sand!
But don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. A beach wedding comes with some unique challenges, so we've put together The Ultimate Beach Wedding Checklist to make planning your "celebration on the sand" a bit easier. Below you'll find the nitty-gritty details and questions to ask—all in one place!
Beach Wedding Permits
A permit isn't always required to have a wedding on a public beach. But, if you have a large guest count or want to reserve a section of the sand for a certain amount of time, you may need to obtain one. Before you set your heart on a particular beach for your wedding, do yourself a favor and ask the following questions:
- Does the beach require a permit to hold a wedding? Some beaches allow small weddings on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, many public beaches require a permit regardless of the guest count.
- If the beach does require a permit, how much does it cost—and are there any other fees? Keep in mind that some permits have a nonrefundable application fee, and some charge additional fees if you have a larger number of guests.
- How is the permit fee structured? Is it a "per hour" charge or a flat rate that covers the entire length of the event?
- How far in advance does the permit need to be submitted for approval? Some beach locations issue permits as far as a year ahead, so start this process early!
- How large of an area of the beach does the permit cover? If you weren't required to map out your desired area during the application process, be sure to ask how much space you'll have reserved (it usually depends on your guest count).
- Will liability insurance be required? Some locations ask you to get liability insurance naming the city/county as an additional insured.
- What is the maximum number of people allowed under the permit? This includes not only you and your guests, but your bridal party, officiant, photographer, and any other vendors.
TIP: If all this permit talk makes your head spin, then we have 4 words for you: Hire a Wedding Planner! They’ll do all the leg work for you in terms of permits and logistical planning so you can relax and enjoy the ride.
Beach Ceremony Logistics
A lot of pedestrian photo bombs is just one of the things you might have to contend with at a public beach. There may also be numerous scheduled activities including cleaning, construction, public events, etc. that could occur at the same time as your ceremony. With that in mind, find out what else is scheduled for that day and then plan your seaside ceremony accordingly. Here are some additional logistical questions to ask:
- Are there any dates that are off-limits? Many beaches don't allow weddings on holidays, like the July 4th weekend.
- Can we reserve a specific time slot for our ceremony? If at all possible, schedule your beach wedding ceremony to take advantage of the best light for wedding photos.
- Are delivery trucks allowed near the ceremony site? If not, are there loading/unloading zones close by? Vehicles are frequently not allowed on the beach, so all items may need to be hand-carried to your ceremony site.
- Is there ample parking nearby for guests?
- Are there public restrooms nearby?
- Is the ceremony site handicap accessible? If not, see if they'll allow golf cart rentals to transport any elderly or disabled relatives.
- Can the site we plan to use be cordoned off? Beach weddings are pretty open to public viewing, so roping off an area might give you at least the illusion of privacy—and keep out any wedding crashers.
- How early can we set up before the ceremony start time? Nothing like trying to give sunbathers the boot as the clock is ticking to ceremony time!
Beach Wedding Restrictions
Public beaches have pretty strict rules when it comes to protecting the oceanside environment. Things like confetti and streamers, helium balloons, glass, styrofoam, rice, and even faux flowers are usually prohibited. Respect any signage along the beach (such as Stay Off The Dunes or Don't Pick The Vegetation) and be sure to find out:
- Are chairs, arches, aisle runners, or other decorative elements allowed?
- Is amplified sound permitted? And is there a limit on the decibel level? Oftentimes beaches require speakers to face the ocean.
- Are there electrical outlets nearby/available to use? If not, can we bring in a generator?
- Is alcohol allowed? Note that most public beaches have open container laws that regulate or prohibit the consumption of alcohol.
- What about pets? Many public beaches have a "No Pets" policy, so if you want Fido to be your ring bearer you better check into that.
- Are bonfires or open flames allowed? If not, consider flameless LED lanterns to illuminate your event.
- Are there size restrictions on tents or canopies? If your wedding is going to take place on a hot and sunny day, think about adding some shade with a wind-proof tent or canopy.
Life's A Beach
Mother Nature can be a beach, too. So be sure to consider the following:
- When is high tide? You'll want to avoid the possibility of your ceremony being dampened by waves.
- What's the forecast? If rain is predicted, you'll need a contingency plan.
- How windy will it be? You may need to windproof and weigh down some of your décor. (And rethink that cathedral-length veil!)
- How noisy will our site be? Crashing waves, rustling breezes, and general beachgoer chit-chat can all add up to a pretty loud environment. Your sound system should be set up so that all your guests can hear your vows.
- How hot will it be, and is there any shade? Wild guess, but you're probably used to wearing a swimsuit on the beach. Now imagine being in a suit and tie, which is what your guy guests will likely be sporting… If there's no shaded area, consider a canopy. But if that's not allowed, giving out parasols can offer some protection from the sun.
- How crowded will the beach be? Again, a beach wedding isn't exactly private. If you really want to avoid the droves of summer bodies, consider an off-season wedding.
- What's the bug situation? There are some nasty insects that hover around seaweed, so try to situate your ceremony away from them.
- Sand. Sand is a beach. Keep some towels and baby powder handy so you and your guests can dust off before the reception.
TIP: Another thing that might need to be weather-proofed? Your bridal bouquet and other flowers. Many blooms don't take kindly to direct sunlight, and the last thing you want is wilted wedding flowers in your photos.
Beach Wedding Receptions
Having a beach ceremony is one thing, but if you're dreaming of a seaside reception as well, you're in for a whole 'nother level of complexity. And in many cases, partying on the beach isn't even allowed. Our advice? Say "I Do" on the sand and then move the celebration to an oceanfront venue. That said, if your heart is set on an actual tables-in-the-sand reception, you'll need to ask the following questions:
- Is a beach reception allowed? Many beaches will only accommodate wedding ceremonies.
- Is cooking permitted on the beach? While you can eat on most beaches, cooking on the sand is oftentimes prohibited.
- Can my caterer bring in food? They may be able to do so if they have a Special Event Permit, but keep in mind that there might not be a kitchen or prep space nearby.
- Are there table décor restrictions? Many beaches don't allow glass, so you may need to opt for plastic vases and cups.
- Is live music allowed? Many beaches don't allow amplified live music, but may allow some background music played via speakers.
- One more time—is alcohol allowed? Probably not, but Google "Best U.S. Beaches to Legally Drink" if serving alcohol is high on your priority list.
- Is there a curfew? Be sure to leave a cushion of time to gather your belongings and clean up all of your trash before the beach closes.
Prep Your Guests
High heels and sand don't mix, right? Find creative ways to let your guests know not only what to wear at your wedding, but what else to expect.
- Create a wedding website to highlight additional details about the day. Include a suggested dress code (e.g. "beach chic" or "smart casual"), along with a note about the anticipated weather. Depending on the forecast, mention bringing sunglasses, sunblock, paper fans, a hat, sweater, etc. You should also give your women attendees a heads-up about the sand situation so that they can opt for wedges or flats instead of stilettos!
- Pick the perfect wedding save-the-dates and invitations to set the stage (and style) for your beach bash.
- Consider giving out beach swag. A welcome basket at your ceremony entrance is a nice gesture. You may want to fill it with mini bottles of water, sunblock, bug spray, parasols, or anything else that might make your guests more comfortable in the beachy elements.