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Wedding Planning 2.0: All Roads Lead to La Jolla!

Um, where did we leave off? …oh right. I wanted a small, intimate, laid-back wedding on a remote beach catered by a taco joint. Like this:

Welllllllll – what did Bud used to say? “Honey, wish in one hand & sh*t in the other and see which one comes true first.” BAAAHAHAHAHHAAH #snort

So many of you have asked how planning is going, and if I’m “so overwhelmed” – and the answers are great! and not at all… (though there are a bajillion more decisions and a bajillion more dollars involved than I realized).  I haven’t done a post or an update since this one right after we got engaged, and a LOT of planning has gone down since then. I’m stupid excited about the wedding and it will be SO FAB – but it’s def shaking out a little differently than I’d imagined. Probably all for the better but we def got funneled (in a decision flow chart sort of way) from said-remote-exotic-beach wedding w/ tacos to a slightly larger affair in La Jolla, California (where I lived when I met good ‘ol Chris Driscoll). WHO KNEW THIS QUOTE WOULD EVER COME TRUE:


1. Passport or No Passport? Well… as anyone who knows us knows – it’s really all about Gus. Any wedding in Mexico, the Caribbean or anywhere outside the U.S. wouldn’t be somewhere we could bring our right hand man, so that meant we needed to find a venue stateside. #gusgusforpresident just became #gusgusforbestman.

2. San Diego or Charleston? Doing a beach where it’s warm (and in a place where I have enough connections to manage a lot of the planning) gave us an east coast option (Charleston) and a west coast option (San Diego). I lived in San Diego for 4 years and Charleston for 10, so I have a leg up in either place.

The weather on the left coast, however, is just so much more temperate and SO much more predictable. 68-72 and sunny with no humidity and a snowball’s chance in h*ll of rain is basically what you can expect out of San Diego 362 days out of the year. Whereas Charleston is HUMID – swassy, if you will, about 9 months out of the year. And there are also hurricane seasons and higher chances of rain to contend with, which doesn’t give me any warm fuzzies when it comes to an outdoor wedding. Plus, the thought of sweating through my clothes or my hair looking like Whitesnake on my wedding day was not too appealing, so San Diego won out. Not that this wouldn’t have been super hot wedding hair.

Also… you can obviously always make your wedding whatever you want, but when I was researching venues in both places, I just felt like Charleston (one of the most fab cities on the planet) inherently lends itself to a little more fuss & formality – cuz it’s the South. And I just don’t want ANY of that for this particular day. Also, everyone + their mom + their mom’s brother’s uncle’s cousin gets married there. For good reason, because it’s a beautiful, charming place, but give me laid back SoCal crisp air that smells like saltwater or give me death.

3. November or April?  Um.. exsqueeze me who knew venues book out LIKE TWO YEARS IN ADVANCE. It is insanity. I swear that betrothed toddlers the world over lifted their little legs and peed on some dates. For example, as of today (July 17, 2019) this is what the 2020 calendar looks like for one of the venues we considered. Geesh, good luck with your Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmastime nuptials next year folks!  Cuz those are just about all the Saturdays that are left. Forget 2019 – it was booked in 2016. Fer Fox sake.

A good friend of ours who got married last year told us NOT to waste time picking a venue; she said they waited a few months to “just enjoy being engaged” and during that time, a lot of the venues they wanted got nabbed. Between November (only Fridays available, anywhere, but it’s off season and rates on everything are better) and April, Chris felt like November was “too much of a rush” (and on the inside I was like PSSSSHT puh-lease, I have had this planned in my head since birth, give me 10 minutes and I’ll have it together. Wanna see my Pinterest boards???  fjkdl;sjfldjsflkja)… I can write that in this blog because Lord knows he doesn’t read it. And I should probably be thankful for that.

In the end, April won out: so that we could do a Saturday, so we had time to kind of chillax and enjoy being engaged, but in large part so we’d have more time to save more cheddar, because there are few certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and the fact that Weddings are highway robbery.

They just are, and I know everyone who’s ever gotten married knows that, but why was I confused? I’m finding a *few* clever ways to save (ditch the cake! …monobotanical flowers or in season anything… cut the guest listliterally just googled “DIY Milk Glass Votives” 15 minutes ago… and naturally, baking cookies and showing people my boobs….. kidding!!), but ye know.

At some point the cost of a wedding with 100 or so people just is what it is, and I actually think it’s tacky to talk about money – BUT – how do you blog about the wedding process and NOT talk about it? It’s such a huge consideration for anyone planning one, and it plays into every single decision. So whatever I can pass along that’s helpful, I will. Everyone else’s wedding blog I read I’m all: “JUST &$^# TELL ME HOW MUCH IT REALLY COSTS SO I KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.”  Who knew a damn chivari chair was $8, a bistro + cushion $12, and a ghost chair $20? …and other mind-numbing insanity. But I HAVE to say this because it’s actually true: I’m obviously trying to be super smart about wedding spending, but I really am completely at peace with the fact they’re just expensive parties to throw. And this one is really important because it is the ONLY time in our entire lives that we’ll get to have all our closest friends & family all in the same place. Yolo, yo.

4. Waterfront Venues? Bueller??  I had this brilliant idea to take a page out of Karrie & Tim’s playbook and rent a big beach house for our families for the week (so chill and so communal), and have the ceremony outside on the beach, and the reception rager on the grounds of the house outside. I found THIS HOUSE – on Windansea Beach in La Jolla (my fave) – which would’ve been so, so, so perfect. Not only a place to save some cheese (cuz you’re killing the place-to-sleep + wedding venue fee birds with one stone), but I also have just wanted it to feel less like a bunch of pomp & circumstance, and more like an intimate REALLY FUN dinner party at our house.

Anyhoosit – I can’t say the owner of that property responded kindly to my request. I eventually resorted to begging, offering a huge refundable damage deposit, to sign in blood that we wouldn’t screw up her house and would put port-a-potties outside, etc etc, but girlfriend was Fort Knox. And I found that to be the case with every property owner: literally no one these days will let you host an event at an AirBNB. If they do, they charge you something like $100 a head just to let people in the door. Otherwise, they all have rules that you can’t even have more than like, 3 guests over beyond the capacity of overnight guests in the house. It’s all nonsense but I guess that deters people from throwing a Jake Ryan-esque train wreck party on their property.

Also, a beach rager like this was out of the question, because no beaches in San Diego allow alcohol, even if you have a permit to post up and throw a shin dig there. Long story (never) short, I was striking out big time.

Outside of AirBNB’s in San Diego or posting up on a beach, I found a handful of really stunning waterfront venues, but many of them (like Scripps Martin Johnson House) were already taken (basically through the end of time). So I narrowed to:

La Valencia – this gorgeous pink hotel perched on top of La Jolla Cove where we could do a ceremony in the sand and reception inside…

La Jolla Shores Hotel – not as schmancy but they’d still let us do a ceremony in the sand outside, and reception here…

…and Darlington House – which is a private, historic Spanish property a few blocks from Windansea in La Jolla.

5. All Inclusive vs. Standalone Venue. Doing a hotel wedding probably appeals to anyone who wants to make the planning process easier on themselves: Hotels have all their packages all dialed in: you don’t have to worry about renting tables / chairs / linens / all that noise, because they have it all there.  But to me, I didn’t hear “easy breezy decision making” – I heard: “You mean I get to choose between a white tablecloth or an ivory tablecloth? EHMAHGAH DOES THAT MEAN I can’t do mismatched vintage floral plates or farm tables?” Whoops.

If you go the hotel route, you also don’t have to agonize over which caterer to hire because you’re already married to using theirs (for better or for worse). You also have to get all your alcohol from their bar which means buying all their booze at retail – e.g. $15 per vodka tonic times all our alcoholic friends = I should register for the fanciest cardboard box to install under the bridge we’ll live in after the wedding. But what *really* pushed me away from the hotel idea was what one very wise planner said about the lack of privacy: “Both of those hotels are beautiful, but you WILL have beach goers and hotel guests in wet bathing suits traipsing into your event, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.”

And what NAILED THE NAIL in the hotel wedding coffin was when I priced everything out – (via the longest nerd alert spreadsheet you’ve ever seen that included every fork, knife & spoon):

  • All-inclusive (cookie cutter) hotel wedding, vs.
  • Private standalone venue where you have to bring ALL our own stuff – tables, chairs, decor… hire your own caterer, BYO-booze, etc.

And you wanna know the kicker?!  THEY CAME OUT TO *LITERALLY* EXACTLY THE SAME PRICE.

Then the decision was easy: we can not only do the entire thing EXACTLY how we want and bring so much more character in, but we also have more of an opportunity to control the pricing during the coming months while we carefully select and compare the vendor quotes on things like lounge vignettes, caterers, etc – versus being locked into one huge all-inclusive cost upfront. And, the ability to bring your own booze is HUGE. Hello – Costco lets you return unopened bottles of wine (and I think BevMo does too), plus we’re lucky enough to have some hookups in the liquor industry.

Here are some more pics of the little gem of a venue we booked… What I love is that it’s not huge, has TONS of character, and literally will feel like we had a handful of our friends & fam over for dinner in our backyard. DO YOU EVEN KNOW THE MAGIC I CAN WORK ON THIS PLACE????????

5. Tacos? TACOS?? – The first question I asked Darlington House was if I could have The Taco Stand (best fish taco in San Diego!) cater the wedding. They politely re-directed me to a list of 20 or so “approved caterers” for the venue. That right there kicked me from my pipe dream $20 a head for a casual taco bar to closer to about 5x that for a sit-down dinner… But I get it, and there’s something I’ve always loved about a sit-down dinner as a guest at someone else’s wedding. It seems like it slows down time a bit, which is great, because it lets you hang with the people at your table and get off your feet (aka 4″ heels) for an hour or so… As opposed to mingling in circles for hours, standing in a buffet line, etc. The other shocker about buffets is this: THEY ARE NOT A HUGE COST SAVINGS, if at all.  The caterers actually have to supply more food than usually gets eaten. I priced out plated dinner vs. buffet vs. stations and found the price difference to be pretty negligible. I also clung to my taco dreams till the bitter end – and even had a few caterers price out farm to table Mexican fare – which came out the same as Surf & Turf.  So, surf & turf it is.  OH BUT DON’T WORRY! Because these are still getting passed during cocktail hour. Tuna tartare mini tacos + spicy margs. DREAMS DO COME TRUE, PEOPLE.

6. Beach Ceremony dreams, however, don’t always come true. We could have totally done a beach ceremony + a Darlington House reception, because they’re only a few blocks apart. But there ended up being so many reasons why that just wasn’t the best idea.

  • First, all the schlepping. There’s also a pretty steep staircase down to Windansea, and lots of big rocks & tide pools, which makes it not only tricky for the rental folks to drag chairs up & down, but for old folks to drag themselves down.

  • Beyond that, we would’ve had to double up on chair rentals – cuz it’s not like the rental folks would wait for everyone to leave the ceremony, then schlepp the chairs back up said stairs, run over to Darlington & set those up… They could, but as one wedding planner cautioned me: “It’s inelegant.” HA. It’s also just a fuss, but if we’re not moving ceremony chairs –> dinner chairs, then renting double the chairs = a cool extra $1200. No spanks.
  • Windansea Beach is STUNNING – but the waves are huge and therefore loud – so loud that you can’t hear much.  And there’s also really no way for a sound fella or gal to get electrical down there.
  • Probably most importantly, it’s just the timing and the flow. Changing venues would’ve cost us precious time and made for a more disjointed evening, which we didn’t want. We also would’ve needed to hire transportation to move everyone from one location to the next (despite their relative short distance apart). We just want people to come in and be able to relax. So, I resolved to take some pics down on the beach and do the whole da*n thing at Darlington.

So, that’s wassup and it’s gonna be pretty rad. The venue is super intimate and works best with about 120 guests, so that’s kind of where we landed – which for SURE pains us, because even though we thought we wanted to do something smaller, it’s REALLY HARD to sit down and write out a guest list, hard to tell people that we’re not having any kiddos at the wedding (the most eloquent I’ve seen it on an invite is: “Kindly, this is an adults-only affair“), and it’s even harder to wrap our heads around the fact that we won’t be able to include everyone we love, and everyone who’s had a place in our lives at one point or another.

I also have a different perspective now as a wedding guest – it’s not even the cost side of things, it’s like – dayyyyyuuuummm, this is the MOST important day of your life, and you guys had to sit down and agonize over who to include in it, and you sent US an invitation. Not that I haven’t before, but I will now feel so extra honored and humbled to be invited to anyone’s wedding. And so not offended when I’m not, because I know it’s just not always personal – you never know what kind of budget or criteria someone is dealing with.

That’s enough outta me today, but I have SO MANY OTHER THINGS to kick around another time. These posts will probably be more of a stream of consciousness for me and hopefully a help to anyone else planning a wedding (‘spesh in San Diego). But if you made it this far without a bathroom break or a nap, then I commend you, my friend. Other stuff I would love to dig into another time is:

  1. Where is the “fab rehearsal dinner outfit roundup” post? Oh right, it doesn’t exist. Don’t worry – I’ll make one.
  2. Where are all the non-depressing / fabulous Mother of the Bride dresses?  This is partially a PSA for Jayne.
  3. Wedding Websites: why Zola is so bad ass, and why I don’t have early onset arthritis, thanks to free recipient addressing at Minted.
  4. Wedding hashtags – why they sound stoop and trivial but actually aren’t, and how to come up with a good one.
  5. Catering: what to serve, how many options to give people, and why I got the whip cracked on me for wanting to give options at all (and why she was totally right).
  6. Things you need to BUST A MOVE on as soon as you have a date set.
  7. Rentals – renting aka lighting $$ on fire vs. schlepping things there myself.
  9. Wedding Dress Shopping – tips and tricks to save, fab designers, etc. I hit the best ones in Chicago, Denver, LA and Indy.
  10. Where is the objective “review” of all things people register for?  e.g. I should already know, but I need someone to tell me things like which great quality towels we should register for. Not that the tattered beach towels with holes we have aren’t cutting the mustard. I’ll also do a few sample registries (like the one I did for Rent the Runway a few years back). Cuz those are fun. 
  11. Bridesmaid Dresses – how to do something super unique.
  12. Planners – what questions to ask and how to vet them, what they take off your plate that I promise you DO NOT want to do, the ones I met with in SoCal and loved (I was sad I couldn’t hire all of them, though I do love the one we did for month-of, Lisa Friesen), and how to make the decision when it’s a dead lock.
  13. Photography (and videography): The ONLY TANGIBLE THING YOU TAKE WITH YOU. We hired Anni Graham and I am so thrilled I can’t take it. Will also list all the videographers whose style I think is killer.
  14. DECOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is how she’s shaking out so far… and imma tell you all about it one of these next times.

Chris and I are heading to SD this weekend (for legit 36 hours, with Gus in tow) and are BLOWING thru catering tastings and (for me), hair & makeup trials, so I’ll have that to yap about next time too.