There’s no need to look beyond the sand at your feet and the venues on our streets to plan a wedding in Laguna from start to finish.
By Lisa Marie Hart
“We get to live and work in Laguna Beach. Why not get married here, too?” asks Gregory Gilliland. He and his wife, Lavinia Homoreanu, recently orchestrated nearly every detail of their nuptials right here in their favorite beach town. “We met in Laguna Beach and that’s where our relationship started, so we thought it would be great to bring our family together and show them how beautiful it is,” Lavinia explains. And, Gregory adds, their 40 guests of 10 nationalities all agreed that Laguna has an international sophistication.
Laguna has become a knot-tying hot spot, so book the venue early, consider a professional planner and take advantage of the unique vibe that permeates this relaxed locale.
“We have a charm that sets us apart,” says Laguna Beach native Christina Lomonaco, owner of Ciao Bella Events. “In addition, our vendors are personable, grateful and available. I find they are quick to respond, friendly and accommodating, which makes planning easier.”
“It’s totally realistic to have a Laguna-centric wedding,” says Shannon O’Neil, owner and creative director of event planning company Cargo Creative. Shannon, also a Laguna resident, adds that some venues come with almost everything you need; the rest should be easy to acquire through local vendors.
Popping the Question
Shannon sees extra effort going into proposals as people get creative and partners become more equally involved in all aspects of a modern wedding. The first step is often to find the perfect ring, and Laguna is home to plenty of glittering options. Rock Martin Custom Jewelry, a lovebirds’ local landmark for more than 40 years, favors rare gemstones for the shop’s personalized designs. Gregory purchased his wedding band at Joshi & Baca Laguna Beach, which also showcases bridal baubles and custom work featuring yellow diamonds.
When you’re ready to pop the question, Laguna offers romantic proposal locations, from modest to elaborate. “The arch at the south end of Bluebird Beach is amazing, especially if the tide is low,” says event stylist Barbi Walters from The Lynden Lane Co. “And it’s close to Surf & Sand [Resort] for a post-engagement celebration.” For a scenic engagement shoot, she suggests any of the local coves for a stunning backdrop.
Consider a Montage Laguna Beach proposal on the lawn for a more extravagant option. The event could mirror the resort’s epic location with a full floral arrangement and classical guitarist, followed by a multicourse meal with wine pairings.
Christina, however, finds beauty in a Heisler Park proposal followed by fun photos on the boardwalk under the lifeguard tower or by Forest Avenue’s London-style red phone booth.
“Wherever you choose, be sure to hire a photographer who stays hidden to capture the big moment then joins you for the day,” Christina advises.
Dress to Impress
Style stays local amid the custom bridal gowns created by designer Jessica Barkley. Although she recently closed her Laguna atelier to accommodate frequent travels to France, she still offers a personalized experience for local brides (and mothers) seeking one-of-a-kind dresses. The designer describes her signature look as “simple yet elegant,” and she enjoys working with brides to bring their dress dreams to life. The timeline for a custom creation, which starts at $3,000, is typically three to four months, depending on the bride’s schedule and the fabric availability.
Another local option for evening gowns—whether for moms, bridesmaids, brides or a sophisticated rehearsal dinner—is Fierce Clothing. Formal collections by designers such as Sherri Hill make a knockout statement.
Lavinia’s mother found her ensemble for her daughter’s big day at Louise’s Place, a boutique with styles that run the gamut of formality. “She did not want a dress and was specifically looking for an evening elegant blazer,” Lavinia says. “She purchased a very chic silver and black blazer that had a very unique design and shine, a pair of black jersey pants that were very comfortable and that she could dress up and down, and a black top.” She completed the outfit with silver pearls.
Sima’s Tailor & Tuxedo takes care of the gents with rentals and alterations. Or, have their formalwear delivered, care of theblacktux.com. A convenient new concept in groom and groomsmen attire, designer-style duds and all the trimmings arrive via FedEx—simply ship the suit and accessories back when your “I do’s” are done.
Laguna brims with talented masters of the bloom. “We loved Anita from The English Garden because she was familiar with our church, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, and knew all the rules,” Lavinia says. Even unassuming stands like Petal Pushers and The Flower Stand produce swoon-worthy wedding decor. Cargo Creative specializes in floral design, too, but owner Shannon also admires Florals by Jenny.
“She has a fun, colorful style and more of a ballroom look, while I’m more outdoorsy and organic,” she says.
Petite Laguna Beach weddings often seek out Yoshi O’Connor at Floral Fete. For those considering a DIY approach, her workshops and private parties can help budding flower-arranging skills bloom.
For catering needs, try the Laguna Beach restaurants. Mare catered for Gregory and Lavinia when their group headed down the block for an after-party. “We had rented three apartments at St. Anne’s Court that spill onto a courtyard for the week as a central location to meet up for happy hours and to barbecue together, since our friends were also nearby at La Casa del Camino and Pacific Edge Hotel,” Gregory says. “After our Mare reception, we had a more casual celebration at our own ‘compound’ under the lights that crossed the patio and lit up the trees.”
See You at the Party
“We have it all here, from a selection of premier luxury hotels and trendy boutique hotels to unique venues and private residences,” Barbi says. “It’s a great destination for out-of-towners because everything in the village is in walking distance or a quick hop away on the trolley.”
In fact, Shannon rented the iconic trolley to shuttle her own guests from the parking lot to the ceremony at what is now called The Ranch at Laguna Beach (previously known as the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course). “I always recommend that the ceremony and reception be held at the same location,” she says. “It’s easier for everyone, and you can repurpose your decor for both events.”
A stunning backdrop of beaches, coves, cliffs, hills and rooftops looking over the Pacific surrounds nearly any venue choice in Laguna. Christina likes Hotel Laguna for couples that envision a ceremony next to the surf, as the hotel has special permission to place chairs on the beach.
“You can have your dream sand ceremony if you play by all the rules,” Christina says. “Laguna Beach is easier to work with than other places, and a good planner can make a beach wedding affordable.”
The water’s edge is also appealing because it offers a family-friendly environment. “It’s always fun to have a welcome party or rehearsal dinner at the beach,” Barbi notes.
“One of our favorites is a bonfire at Aliso [Beach Park]. … It creates such a fun familial feel that, before long, you can’t tell who is from the groom’s side and who is from the bride’s.”
Step off the sand, and a Laguna Beach restaurant might be an ideal (and economical) fit for a more intimate reception. Gregory and Lavinia headed to Mare Culinary Lounge’s courtyard after their church vows. “They were so accommodating with menu and flexible with food options that would please our guests from all over the world,” Lavinia says.
Another restaurant option, Mozambique, offers an exotic hideaway for rehearsal dinners, whether in a private room, on the garden patio or up on the rooftop.
On the other end of the coastal spectrum, large, luxurious affairs can spread out at a Pacific Lawn ceremony at the bluff-top Montage followed by a glamorous, fairy tale reception in the Grand Ballroom.
“Surf & Sand’s Catalina Terrace is unparalleled for the couple that wants a breathtaking view of the Pacific for their outdoor ceremony and cocktails,” Barbi says.
Urban sophisticates appreciate the edgy event space inside seven-degrees—a veritable blank canvas for parties. For a contemporary boutique hotel in the heart of Laguna, peek into Seven4One, Christina’s pick for romantic ambience for up to 100 attendees.
For their wedding night, Gregory and Lavinia holed up in the ocean-view, etnies-influenced retreat at the historic La Casa del Camino, one of the hotel’s 10 surf-theme rooms. But after taking a full two weeks off to spend time with visiting friends and family, the couple opted for a short but restorative three-day honeymoon at Montage. Lavinia visited Spa Montage Laguna Beach two days in a row, relishing every minute of decadent post-bridal pampering.
Other area resorts also cater to newlyweds. Capri Laguna on the Beach’s honeymoon suite boasts a sea-view balcony, fireplace and Jacuzzi tub, while the private cottage at Casa Laguna Inn & Spa mingles its own patio and fireside sitting room with a double steam shower and jetted, claw-foot bathtub for two, complete with ocean and sunset views. In addition to six types of SoCal-inspired suites, Surf & Sand Resort offers complimentary, oceanfront accommodations for the bride and groom on their wedding night (if they book their celebration there).
The about-town fun that entertains guests for a wedding weekend also has a romantic side for active newlyweds. Like their guests, Gregory and Lavinia dove into hiking, mountain biking, stand-up paddleboarding, tennis, art gallery hopping, boutique shopping and dining across Laguna. For a change of scenery, easy day trips to Disneyland, SeaWorld San Diego, Universal Studios Hollywood or LA’s J. Paul Getty Museum round out any local honeymoon. Of course, no matter what regional activities are incorporated in the celebration, Laguna holds a special place in the hearts of couples who exchange vows here.
“A love affair with Laguna doesn’t stop with the wedding,” Christina says. “Couples always want to come back, for a babymoon or an anniversary—they want to continue the relationship for all those life milestones.”
Originally posted in Laguna Beach Magazine.