The bride wore silk and sandals. The groom wore a tie and sneakers. The 20 guests stood. The music was the ocean. And in 15 minutes, it was all over. Married.
Elaine Mashburn, 29, and Mark Mezta, 28, of San Diego got hugs, congratulations and photos as their non denominational minister, the Rev. Grant Daversa, packed up his little folding tray in the sand and headed for his next beach wedding that day.
Why did Mashburn want to get married here, and so simply?
"It's pretty. It's Coronado. It's local," she said, beaming and as radiant as any bride ever was.
In the middle of winter, it is easy to dream about running away, eloping, or just getting married on a beach somewhere warm and beautiful.
But in San Diego County, it's not that hard to make it come true.
In California, there is no waiting period for a marriage license. You just make an appointment at the county clerk's office, get your license and, bingo, you are good to go.
In addition, there are so many inspirational spots with grand views to host a simple wedding here, including San Diego's Sunset Cliffs on the ocean and Cabrillo National Monument with its incredible vistas of San Diego Bay and the Pacific.
"People come from all over the country and all over the world, and they want to get married in the sand," says the Rev. Renate Daversa, Grant Daversa's wife and fellow minister. Ten years ago, the two of them eloped to Catalina Island, so they understand the romantic impulse, the grand gesture of the sweet small service.
"Our company is flexible," she says. "We are last-minute specialists."
The company, A Beautiful Wedding, does weddings as simple as a service only ($300) or as complex as a beach wedding with chairs for 24 guests, music, a wedding arch and more ($1,950). In California, you need only one witness.
Many couples, like Mashburn and Mezta, don't want anything too fancy. Their $850 Memories package included the service, bouquet, boutonniere and photographer.
San Diego has several wedding officiants who specialize in small beach, military and elopement weddings.
Not to throw cold water on anyone's romantic dreams, there is some controversy about beach weddings.
In November, the Coronado City Council discussed whether too many weddings were disrupting traffic with trucks, guests and elaborate set-ups.
The issue is being studied. Right now, no permit is needed for weddings of 24 people or fewer.
However, at the same time, the nearby Cabrillo National Monument across San Diego Bay is looking to expand its outdoor wedding business. The park allows only daytime weddings, no more than 100 people, no chairs or set-up, and only at a spot called Wedding Bluff, a breezy spot near the lighthouse. ("We don't recommend hoop skirts," warns Ranger Bob Munson — it would be bad form for the bridal party to blow over the edge.)
However, this spring, Cabrillo plans to expand hours, allow couples to shoot wedding photographs in the park, and loosen some regulations to attract more weddings, says Ranger Marty Lane.
Another famous wedding spot, Sunset Cliffs' Luscombs Point in San Diego's Point Loma neighborhood, is a broad stony plateau near Hill Street. On the flat stones jutting out into the ocean, there are three white benches. The coast turns to gold in late afternoon as the sun sets. The downside? Surfers use the spot to slide into the ocean, and there is a constant stream of runners, walkers, dogs on leashes and cars passing by.
Still, the charm of a simple wedding is that it does not have to be perfect.
Back at Coronado Central Beach, the Saturday afternoon wedding of Mashburn and Metza happens to be on a warm, perfect day. The wedding party is small, dwarfed by sun worshipers pitching umbrellas, shouting children, women in bikinis and swimmers toting boogie boards.
But during the modest service, distractions fade. Here is the bride, walking through the sand on the arm of her father. Here is the groom, taking her hand.
Here are two people getting married, with their earnest faces speaking their heartfelt vows, their loved ones standing close by, their warmth encircling the new husband and wife on their path together. And you know, I get a little teary.
HOW TO SAY I DO
MARRIAGE LICENSES: Nonresidents can get immediate marriage licenses in California ($70), but in San Diego County, you must have an appointment at the county clerk's office. Book up to two months in advance at 619-237-0502 (follow the prompts for marriage licenses). Details: http://arcc.co.san-diego.ca.us.
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego: Wedding permits on a sliding scale, up to 100 guests; for 1-10 people it's $100 plus a $75 application fee. Weddings can be held 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Wedding Bluff near the lighthouse, with no chairs or set-up allowed (exceptions made for disabled guests). However, regulations may soon be loosened, so contact Ranger Marty Lane (firstname.lastname@example.org) or see http://www.nps.gov/cabr for more information.
Coronado Central Beach, Coronado: No permit needed for groups of 24 or under, and you can set up chairs (regulations are under city review, so check to confirm on the parks and beaches page at http://www.coronado.ca.us or call 619-522-7342).
Luscombs Point, Sunset Cliffs, San Diego: Permit is $273 through San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. Check availability and information at http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation and search permits, or call 619-235-1169 . You also can book permits for other county-owned shoreline parks here.
WEDDING OFFICIANTS: There are many. The Daversas can be reached through their website (www.abeautifulwedding.us). Others include Elope San Diego (www.elopesandiego.com) and Elope to San Diego (www.elopetosandiego.com).
Ellen Creager: email@example.com