Planning a Wedding in San Diego
San Diego is one of the most popular beach wedding destinations in the world, thanks to its gorgeous year-round climate.
Five Beautiful Places in San Diego for Your Beach Wedding
Interview with Leila Oberdorfer: An Insider’s Look at Planning a San Diego Destination Wedding
Leila Oberdorfer didn't always dream of weddings.
Coming to San Diego from Miami, where she worked as an interior designer for some of the swankiest nightclubs and lounges, Leila was a self-made woman with a fast-paced daily life. But after meeting the man of her dreams, she decided to start a new life in the Golden State.
After going through dress sizings, cake tastings, florists and caterers for her own nuptials, she found her second love: wedding and event planning. Leila currently runs Brilliant Event Designs in San Diego.
With a city as diverse as San Diego, Leila has helped plan weddings for brides and grooms of all stripes - her main goal is to channel the couple’s vision and love story into their special day.
“San Diego's such a great place for [a wedding] because the weather is amazing. Whether it's a mountainous wedding or bay or beach wedding, you've got amazing museums and unique properties to get married. We [also] have some choices in the middle and some very high end, [as well as] and some lower,” Leila said.
So what do you need to get started? Here are a few of Leila's top tips for brides-to-be honing in on a sunny San Diego wedding ceremony or reception:
Coronado Beach: this long stretch of golden sand is divided into South Beach, Central Beach and North Beach. The historic Hotel del Coronado faces the beach and makes a great place for drinks and an informal reception after the event.The Lowdown: Permits are only required for groups of more than 25 people. Apply to the San Diego Park and Recreation Department or visit www.coronado.ca.us at least 30 days prior. You can set up chairs, flower arches and decorations to your heart’s content.
Keep budget in mind when planning a destination wedding
Airfare may be the first thing you think of when planning a destination wedding, but other costs can quickly creep up on bridal parties and their families. While some splurges are necessary for convenience, Leila believes that there are two costs that need to be reigned in as much as possible:
1. Venue: “You want to shop around and find the right venue for you that gives you the feeling and vibe that you want,” Leila said.
A few of her favorites are:
- Darling House: This historic property is found in La Jolla not far from the ocean. It boasts tons of outdoor areas, unique features and privacy.
- Blue Door: This spot in Little Italy overlooks the bay, yet won't break the bank. You can also have your rehearsal dinner or reception here.
2. Guest list: “Keep your guest list a little bit more intimate,” Leila noted. "Cost astronomically goes up when you're talking about a lot of guests." Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to weddings, especially destinations celebrations. Keeping the guest list smaller cuts down on costs for the reception dinner, favors and open bar.
"In general, focusing on things that are going to make the most impact and not on things you think you need that maybe don't add to the whole feeling," adds Leila.
Located in the charming area of La Jolla, Windansea Beach has incredible sandstone rocks that make a beautiful backdrop for photographs. It is a great choice for smaller groups, has several natural spots for a wedding and, if you time it right, incredible sunset views. The Lowdown: All weddings at this location require a permit from the City of San Diego. Contact the Park and Recreation Department or visit www.sandiego.gov for permit info, giving at least 30 days notice.
Consider themes for your wedding
The old adage, "when in Rome" doesn't just apply to vacations - Leila believes this works just as well for destination weddings, and has seen an increasing number of brides follow this sentiment.
“I did a wedding last October where the couple met while walking their dogs, so because their dogs were such a big part in how they met and their relationship…we brought that in and made it a theme.
“I think people are coming to experience San Diego in a bigger way for the wedding, not just having the reception and it's done,” Leila said. "You could go up to Temecula and do some wine tasting. You've got SeaWorld, you've got the zoo, [which is] one of the best in the world, a lot of great cultural pockets - from that beachy surfer vibe to La Jolla, [which is] very high end."
Themes may also help wedding planners get a better idea of what you are looking for. You can always add your own personal touches to any theme.
A few of the very San Diego themes include:
- Beach glam: Great beaches and properties are peppered along the San Diego waterways, meaning there are plenty of great beachside locales to choose from.
- Whole weekend weddings: Instead of just having a day, brides and grooms are planning a whole weekend of events that end with the big day. In San Diego, friends and family can enjoy each other’s company visiting wineries in Temecula or hitting the beaches in La Jolla in addition to the rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception.
Mission Beach is a popular one-mile stretch of gorgeous sand between South Mission Beach and Pacific Beach, close to the oceanfront promenade and Belmont Park. The Lowdown: Permits are required for all weddings on Mission Beach, and they are only issued for weddings taking place before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Contact the San Diego Park and Recreation Department or visit www.sandiego.gov at least 30 days ahead of time.
Check out these San Diego engagement and wedding photo hot spots
Why not give your wedding guests a sneak peek at San Diego's beauty by getting your engagement photos snapped here?
Three locations that Leila recommends are:
- Torrey Pines Beach: The Lodge here is a stunning Arts and Crafts-style building overlooking a golf course. Stroll down paths with your soon-to-be spouse that lead to views of the ocean or go all the way down to the beach. Leila’s now-husband even proposed here on the beach at sunset, so she knows firsthand how romantic this place can be.
- Sunset Cliffs: In this Point Loma community neighborhood, you’ve got amazing California architecture on one side, vibrant greenery and ocean views down a quaint path on the other. Sunset Cliffs also offers some privacy for a special moment to steal a kiss.
- Mount Woodson: Grab your honey and take a hike up Mount Woodson to see the famous Potato Chip Rock, which is shaped like the salty snack. It’s a postcard-worthy spot that's popular with visitors because when you sit on it, it sort of looks like you’re levitating. The amazing powers of love…
Overlooking La Jolla, the Cuvier Wedding Bowl is the most popular beachfront wedding location in La Jolla.The Lowdown: This beachfront location books up quickly for weekends and only one permit is issued per day. Permits are required for all weddings, and can be obtained by contacting the San Diego Park and Recreation Department or visiting www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/shoreline/cuvier.shtml. Permits are for a maximum 40 people, and are for wedding ceremonies but not for receptions.
Find a place to stay in these San Diego gems
When the big day arrives, there are plenty of awesome areas for the bride and groom and their guests to stay in San Diego.
- Downtown San Diego: Features tons of restaurants, bars, shops and more to enjoy during the trip.
- Fishing Wharf: Located on the bay with plenty to see - it’s a great place to just walk around.
- Mission Bay: Great for outdoor and water activities including paddle boarding, jet skiing and more.
- Coronado’s: Here you can rent rickshaw-like bikes to ride around and explore the area including the restaurants and boutiques.
Make your guests feel at home
The most important aspect of any wedding is the people, and San Diego makes it easy for your guests to come to and from the airport to your venue.
"The airport is so conveniently located. Accessibility is great," explains Leila. "The airport is [super close to] downtown, so there are so many venues right there."
To ensure that you and your guests get the most out of the love-filled weekend, consider booking a vacation rental during your stay, which can add a little more accessibility and comfort to your big day. Your wedding will begin and end without a hitch, having all the luxuries of home at your fingertips. Plus, you can rest assured that your guests are well taken care of after the party in a unique fashion
This lovely cliff top spot near Point Loma vacation rentals is a top beach wedding site in San Diego with a superb Pacific Ocean backdrop for photographs. Ladera Street lends itself to smaller weddings (under 50 people) while Luscombs Point is ideal for larger gatherings (under 150) with plenty of space for chairs, music etc. The Lowdown: Being on a cliff top, this location is not ideal for guests with small children. Permits are required for any number of people. Contact the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department or visit www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/shoreline/sunset.shtml, giving at least 30 days notice.
source: interview with Leila Oberdorfer