The Ultimate Beach Wedding Checklist: Complete Bridal Guide

Are you dreaming of being a beach bride? If so, join me in giving a shout-out to timeless supermodel Cindy Crawford!

Nicknamed the “OG Beach Bride” for her wedding on the aptly named Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Crawford, and hubby Rande Gerber (they own a Tequila brand with BFF George Clooney) looked so enviable and effortless that they’ve inspired newlyweds-to-be for decades since.

So, how easy is it to recreate that breathtaking beachy experience for your wedding day?

beach wedding decoration
Photo by Alysha Miller Photography

While it takes some know-how, a “go with it” attitude, and definitely a “Plan B,” we created this ultimate guide to cover everything for the beach wedding of your dreams.

Say “I do!” to the sand and sea with your beach wedding checklist!

bride and groom beach wedding photoshoot
Photo by Alysha Miller Photography

Here’s What Your Beach Wedding Checklist Covers:

  • L Stands for Love (and Logistics!) With Your Preparation Tips and Timing Guide
  • Beach Wedding Catering
  • Plan B for Bad Weather Situations
  • Beach Wedding Etiquette and Guest Travel Tips
  • Hottest Trends in Beach Wedding Fashions and Beauty
bride and groom kissing at beach photoshoot
Photo by Kanoa Photography

Your Beach Wedding Preparation Tips

Wouldn’t it be great to simply plunk down folding chairs in the sand and get married on any beach your heart desires?

The great news is that your beach wedding dreams are possible! But in most (if not all) cases, you’ll need to get the proper paperwork and give yourself the time necessary to obtain permits and other legal documents.

If you’re planning a destination wedding at a beach resort, you may have the services of an onsite wedding planner to assist you through the entire process. 

But if you’re planning it on your own, the scheduling and preparation part of this guide should come in handy.

We’re talking about:

  • Any permits required and other important stuff, like who can legally perform your ceremony or when you can’t get married on the beach.
  • The time you need to get this vital paperwork and wedding details confirmed.
  • Guest safety and comfort tips.

In addition, here’s a great tip on important stuff like photographing your beach wedding, so click on that link to ensure your photographer is ready to capture one of the best days of your life!

Your Beach Wedding Timing Guide

There are fewer hassles when you follow a schedule to plan your dream wedding. Check out Wedding Pioneer’s great wedding schedule here!

In many ways, a beach ceremony has a similar process and timeline to any wedding. Still, there are specific things to do for a beach event, such as selecting your best beach location at least a year before your wedding day!

Beach Wedding Permits

Use these tips to help you access what you need specifically for your beach location:

  • For example, if you want to get married on the beach in Lido Key, Florida, do an internet search for the jurisdiction that controls the beach, such as “beach wedding permit + Sarasota” or “beach wedding permit + Sarasota Parks and Recreation.”
  • You can also go directly to a local government website. For example, click on this Sarasota County link and put in the search term “beach wedding permit” to be directed to the registration and reservations page—you can search this way for your wedding beach.
  • Remember that a permit and a marriage license are separate documents, and you always need a license to prove your marriage is valid.
  • Permit costs vary by location. For example, the cost of permits for most California beaches averages from $100 to $150.

Permit Timing: obtain your beach wedding permit no later than one month before your wedding.

Does Your Beach Wedding Need Insurance?

When applying for a beach wedding permit, you should also find out if special event insurance is required and if coverage extends to injuries sustained by guests or property damage occurring during your ceremony and reception.

Wedding Insurance Timing: obtain special event insurance at least two months before your wedding.

Who Can Legally Marry You?

While your beach bash will be beautiful, true love isn’t quite enough if the person performing your ceremony isn’t official!

It’s best to know the specific laws for wedding officiants required in the beach area where you’re getting married.

But, no worries, this great link, state marriage laws, has the information you need—click on your state to see what’s legally required to be a wedding officiant.

Officiant Timing: give yourself plenty of time and try to book your legal wedding officiant up to one year before the big day.

Possible Limitations of a Beach Wedding

Understand the limitations of your beach wedding permit. For instance, this Maui beach wedding link explains that seating, wedding arches, or chuppahs aren’t allowed on public beaches in Maui, and some famous beaches on the island (such as Kaanapali) don’t allow weddings on hotel-facing beaches.

Checking seasonal limitations and daily time restrictions for beach weddings is also essential!

Some states ban beach weddings on busy national holidays, and many beaches have a daily time limit (for instance, small beach weddings in Palm Beach County must occur before 8:30 am or after 5 pm and be no more than 20 minutes long).

How Many Guests Are Allowed at a Beach Wedding?

Still using Maui as an example, a beach wedding permit is only valid with 20 people or less in attendance, including the bride & groom, officiant, guests, and vendors like your wedding photographer.

Photographer Timing: it’s best to book your photographer between nine months to a year before the big event, and you can book your wedding when you get your engagement photos done!

There Are Exceptions to Beach Wedding Permits and Guest Limitations

On the flip side, I was pleasantly surprised that weddings on public beaches in Santa Monica, California, don’t require a permit!

Instead, weddings can be held on a first-come, first-served basis and include seating, tables, archways, and even a canopy (under 400 sq. ft.) for up to 150 people.

Safety (and Comfort!) First for Your Beach Wedding Guests

You may have found the ideal slice of beachfront heaven for your big day, but always ensure that the location is accessible to every guest (including gram-gram and your toddler nephew).

Here are other ways to let your guests enjoy your beach wedding to the fullest!

Take Care of Their Toes

This thoughtful party favor for your guests is a shoe travel bag to store their footwear while they’re on the sand.

With this selection, you get eight travel bags, and I love the pink color against golden sands and blue waters!

Have Flip Flops on Hand

This bulk selection contains 52 pairs of various-sized flip-flops for your guests’ comfort. It’s a great idea, especially on hot days when the sand temperature can get unbearable.

If You Can, Raise a Canopy

Some guests may have health issues, or they’ll prefer a shady spot to take in your beach ceremony.

A quality product like this steel-frame pop-up canopy comes in a wheeled carrying bag. It’s UV and water-resistant and built to last for other outdoor events or as a patio shelter in your newly married home!

Other Sunscreen Suggestions

You can also provide a sunscreen table for guests to dab on some protection against damaging sun rays.

For those allergic to typical chemical sunscreens, a mineral formulation like this is fantastic, and it’s tinted, so your guests don’t get that pasty white look after they apply it.

A Refreshment Station Is a Huge Hit

It’s a delicious and refreshing idea to have a beverage station at the entrance to your beach wedding, so guests can sip on lemonade, sweet tea, or good ol’ bottled water, while they watch you get wed in the sun.

While it might sound fun to include a dispenser with an alcoholic beverage, make sure alcohol is allowed on the beach where you’re getting married.

If in doubt, or you can’t find your beach on any list, save the mixed drinks for your reception venue later.

Beach Wedding Catering

If you’d like to hold your wedding reception on the beach too, be sure to know in advance about any restrictions on consuming alcohol on a public (non-resort) beach, as we mentioned above.

Some couples decide to serve a light lunch or appetizers in the gazebo on a public beach before heading to their reception venue.

Make sure to discuss refrigeration requirements with your caterer, or if you’re handling the beach appetizer portion yourself, look at portable food storage and serving items like these.

Portable Insulated Food Pan Carrier

This professional food-grade pan carrier keeps your beach appetizers separate and safe until you’re ready to serve!

Inflatable Serving Trays

These inflatable trays hold ice cubes that keep drinks and appetizers cool and tasty for you and your guests!

Beach Wedding Catering Timing: choose a shortlist of caterers within nine months of your reception and book tastings. Confirm your catering company (or reception venue) at least six months before your wedding.

Every Beach Wedding Needs a Plan B

While a steel-frame canopy can withstand a sprinkling rain shower, every couple needs to have a backup plan in place for more intense weather conditions, especially lightning storms that can pose a safety hazard to you and your guests on the beach.

Unfortunately, the timing required to plan your beach wedding generally doesn’t allow you to make last-minute decisions about relocating everything if bad weather suddenly occurs on the day. That’s where your Plan B comes in handy.

Best Way to Plan B

You only need one reliable backup location close to the beach where you’re getting married or your reception venue.

You will probably have to reserve a place for up to two hours, and a fee will likely be involved, but there are ways to save money here, and the reassurance is worth it on your wedding day!

Here are some cost-saving tips:

  • Use the GPS on your phone to check out local community centers close to your beach wedding location for a meeting room or hall with daytime availability.
  • Alternatively, if you’re expecting out-of-town guests, check out a two-hour rental of a meeting room or an available atrium space in the hotel where your guests are staying, you may receive a discount.
  • Ask your officiant if they’re connected with local churches with low-cost (or free) meeting spaces.
  • Choose a caterer with banquet or restaurant facilities and book a section of their venue as a backup location for your wedding. This option works very well (and is more cost-effective) if your reception happens there too.

Plan B Timing: select a backup location at least eight months before your wedding.

Let’s Talk Beach Wedding Etiquette

Couples planning a destination wedding often have questions about beach wedding etiquette, and you may have these same questions, even if your beach wedding is closer to home.

Here are some tips and tricks:

Set Up and Privacy

When you choose a beach location, inquire about permits asap and email the county clerk for specifics on the best areas on the beach for a wedding. For example:

  • Where are your guests’ closest restrooms and parking facilities?
  • Can you rope off a section of public beach to create more privacy?
  • What kind of event decorating is allowed (benches, folding chairs, an arch, canopy, garlands, a runner, or even a small stage)?
  • Make sure your decorating is heavy enough to withstand a breeze, and go light on the flowers or other details that don’t hold up as well to the elements—it’s more thoughtful and safer for your guests.
  • How soon before your wedding can you set up?

If you’re also holding your reception on the beach, it’s vital to have a clear pathway for catering trucks and waitstaff to access your location without traffic or unloading hassles.

Set up Timing: if you’re choosing a caterer, confirm your decision up to six months before your wedding, and inquire if they offer setup and takedown services for your beach decorations.

Wedding Etiquette – Guests

We’ve already mentioned valuable tips to ensure guest comfort, and here is how to handle the most common etiquette questions regarding your wedding guests.

How Important Are Save-the-Dates?

For beach weddings involving guest air travel or long car trips, save-the-dates are crucial to give guests time to book and prepare for your big day.

Check out these Wedding Pioneer articles for more save-the-date ideas and the 28 Best Beach Wedding Invitations!

Should the Couple Pay for Guest Travel?

Whether it’s a destination wedding or a beach close to you, the bridal couple isn’t expected to pay for guest travel.

It is, however, considerate to shop rate discounts for hotel rooms and airfare and offer food, drink, and guest comfort items on the day.

Should There Be a Dress Code?

Beach weddings are supposed to be more casual, but if you’d rather not see guests in swimwear at your ceremony, politely make the dress code clear on your invitation and your wedding website.

Make Sure They Can Hear You!

Without question, it will be harder for your guests to listen to your vows at an open-air beach ceremony unless you have a sound system.

You’ll want a decent unit that doesn’t pick up beach breezes and crashing waves, such as this affordable outdoor sound system:

Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker

With a battery life of up to 10 hours and a weight of under 13 lbs., this 600W PA speaker on wheels is an ideal sound system for a beach wedding ceremony.

Hottest Trends in Beach Wedding Fashion and Beauty

It’s impressive how on-trend Cindy Crawford’s off-the-rack beach wedding style and beauty still looks today—the lacy white shift mini dress she wore and those sunny highlights in her windswept, wavy hair.

The point is that your perfect beach wedding look can be casual and classic, and we’ve got endless summer style tips for beach wedding couples and their guests.

Check out Wedding Pioneer’s 26 Best Beach Wedding Dresses, our Beach Wedding Attire for Men, and 42 Beautiful Summer Wedding Guest Dress Ideas. Enjoy!

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