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Soiree in the Sand

Soiree in the Sand
The Casa Viva beach wedding of Jenny McGrath and Greg Merino included mariachis on the sand. (Photo: Mike Smith,

Crashing waves, ocean spray and a seemingly endless sun-draped horizon … the setting of an oceanside wedding ignites imagination and romance. Be it barefoot in the powder-fine white sands of a tropical island or a few miles from home in SoCal atop a cliff’s edge overlooking the Pacific, taking your vows by the sea is a surefire way to inspire an unforgettable evening under the stars among friends and family. 

Jenny McGrath, 33, and Greg Merino, 33, of San Diego love to surf. So when they got married last February, there was no question that it would be on the ocean. “We’re like fish,” she said, describing how they came to choose the charming eco-luxe Casa Viva in Troncones, Mexico, just a few hours south of Los Angeles by plane. “A close friend had been to Zihuatanejo,” said McGrath, “and came back telling us of this little fishing-village-turned-surf-town that made her think of us.” McGrath and Merino flew down and fell in love with the spot immediately. Their beach nuptials among 50 of their closest friends and family included a mariachi band, fireworks and tequila toasts with their toes touching the emerald waters of the warm Pacific.

According to Casa Viva owner David Leventhal, “many couples seeking beach weddings are coming to Mexico.” He added that Zihuatanejo has sunshine about 300 days a year. He suggested that couples getting married by the sea take advantage of the location with activities like surfing, snorkeling and fishing, not to mention local shopping excursions. 

“Brides are always asking to find a wedding location by the sea,” said Alyson Fox of Levine Fox Events in Los Angeles. “Southern California in general — from Laguna to Santa Barbara — offers many unique venues with views of the water or on the sand itself.” Some of her favorite locations are Bacara Resort & Spa and the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, and the Ritz Carlton and Montage in Laguna Beach. 

In Los Angeles, two popular venues are Casa Del Mar and Shutters On The Beach, both in Santa Monica. According to Bruce Hochberger, associate director of catering for both hotels, the oceanfront location is the major draw for the approximately 150 weddings they do a year. Though some of those weddings take place right on the sand in front of the hotel, he noted that wedding receptions are usually held within the hotels, such as in the Casa Del Mar ballroom with its expansive view of the ocean, or in one of the many seaside rooms at either hotel. “It takes a free-spirited bride not to worry about getting her dress and shoes a bit sandy,” he said, “but everyone seems to love celebrating by the ocean.” 

For bride Jennifer Mandel, 29, of Boston, getting married at the edge of the sea in Nantucket, Mass. was her only choice.

“The ocean has always been a part of my life,” said Mandell, who spent her summers in Nantucket. It was there that she met her fiancé, Neil Hudson, 32, of Toronto, and there that he proposed to her with a message in a bottle in the sand. She described her June 2011 nuptials at the Wauwinet, a Relais & Chateaux island resort, as “dreamlike”: “As I walked over the beautiful lawn and down the boardwalk, all I could see was the ocean, my guests and my husband,” she said. “It was incredible.”

When it comes to the menu, a wedding by the sea usually calls for seafood. At Mandell’s reception, parmesan-and panko-crusted halibut in a saffron broth was served, while the McGrath celebration in Troncones featured local ceviche and fish “Veracruz style,” among other dishes. “I always encourage couples to have a seafood selection,” said Hochberger, “whether it’s crab cake appetizers, Thai red snapper or a traditional clambake.”

Cuisine aside, a seaside celebration is ripe for thematic details, according to Fox. “Bridesmaid dresses in sea-glass greens and blues, a marine-themed wedding cake, a shell chandelier under a chuppah or a bouquet infused with anenomes, pearls and shells can all be understated and gorgeous.” At the Mandell/Hudson wedding, the aisle was lined with starfish and seagrass, wedding programs were displayed in a giant seashell, and starfish with guests’ names made charming escort cards. “For our wedding favors, we set out flip flops so that our guests could grab a set and walk down to our beach wedding,” Mandell said.  

Practical Matters
For couples who want to wed right on the sand, there’s more to it than simply finding a nice spot on the beach. Permits may be needed, and many cities won’t allow receptions on the beach, so you’ll likely be looking for a reception site, too. Both Fox and Leventhal noted that sunset is the best time for a wedding ceremony, followed by dinner and dancing. “You don’t want to have your celebration during the hottest part of the day,” Leventhal said. Gray weather is always a possibility when marrying outdoors, but umbrellas and a good attitude will get you through. If it does sprinkle on your nuptials, never mind — it’s said to be good luck.

For couples who take their vows by the sea, it’s the perfect reminder of true love: vast, deep and never-ending.

Jennifer Evans Gardner
Custom Publishing Writer