A Casual, Joyful Wedding on the Beach with Views of the Golden Gate Bridge
They thought it was set in stone: Jennifer Benz and André Anderson had an elaborate wedding weekend planned for 150 people in Pasadena, California, where André grew up. "We had family and friends flying in from four other countries and at least eight other states," says Jen. "The wedding and reception were going to be at The Fig House, a gorgeous venue in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles." And then then the pandemic intervened—and they found themselves postponing their formal wedding and planning a simple vow exchange in the Bay Area, where they reside, instead. "We wanted something that was iconic San Francisco, and you can't get much more iconic than having the Golden Gate Bridge in the background," says Jen. "We settled on China Beach because it has an area that feels private at low tide, and we loved the idea of having our feet in the sand."
The overarching goal? To have a beautiful, intimate, and safe celebration. "Initially, we were thinking of something much simpler than how this turned out," shares Jen. "But that's the beauty of having a best friend who does planning and design for a living! We deferred to Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events for her expertise and vision, just like we did for our original big celebration. She turned our rough picnic idea into a gem in no time."
The pair researched their options—their event needed to be legal and safe—and as soon as California cleared picnicking during shelter-in-place, they got to work. "Ultimately, we decided that doing something outdoors where we didn't share food and drinks would be safe and could still be fun and festive," says Jen. "We had a separate picnic basket for every couple and we wore masks when we were close together. The location was just beautiful, and we had such a sunny, lovely day."
The color palette for Jen's bouquet was kept mostly soft, with a bright pop thanks to extraordinary tree peonies. "The overall shape was loose and the bouquet was textural and a little wild," explains their florist, Jenny from This Humble Abode. "Since we were sourcing from local farms, we used the best of the season: garden roses, digitalis, ranunculus, clematis, sweet pea, pieris, nigella, honeysuckle vine, and nandina." As for the bride's outfit? She chose a flowing white pantsuit from BHLDN—it suited the beach better than her original wedding dress could.
A Sweet Ceremony
The bride's good friend, Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events, both orchestrated and officiated the couple's ceremony on the beach. After André entered the beach accompanied by his aunt and uncle, Jen—who walked alone—followed; then Alison launched into the spiritual service. "We both wrote our own vows and they were very much about our relationship," explains Jen. "André paraphrased a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt and said that our meeting was a 'rendezvous with destiny.' We laughed a lot during the ceremony."
André shopped his closet for the big day, donning the very same navy blue suit he wore when he proposed to Jen. The finishing touch? "His favorite blue bow tie," says the bride.
Toes in the Sand
Jen and André went barefoot for the day—they both loved the idea of tying the knot with their toes in the sand, on China Beach.
Following the short service, Jen and André joined their guests on the sand. Each couple enjoyed their own beach blanket, petite centerpiece, and picnic basket filled with delicious food from Betty Zlatchin Catering.
Inside each individual picnic basket, guests found a cheese board with charcuterie and accompaniments; a Mason jar salad; a trio of entrées that included salmon, Wagyu steak, and a melange of spring vegetables; and an assortment of cookies and chocolate bites.
A Grand Old Time
The couple—and their guests—didn't let the pandemic steal this tiny pocket of joy. "We're so glad we still got married, even though it wasn't anything like what we initially planned," explains Jen. "Celebrate in any way you can!"
Jen and André's loved ones inscribed their names in a heart in the sand, which made for a sweet photo-op.
Dancing on the Beach
Although the couple took dance lessons, they saved their choreography for their upcoming formal wedding. Instead, they swayed casually in the sand to the sounds of a jazz guitar, courtesy of Elan Artists.
Let Them Cut Cake
Guests took home tiny cakes from Butter& to cut and enjoy with the couple on Zoom later that evening. "Our ceremony was Friday, in the late-morning, and the Zoom cake cutting was held at 5 p.m., after we had returned home," explains Jen. "This was a fun way to help our family and bridal party feel included—we sent all of them cakes. We worked with Nicole Bakes Cakes in Los Angeles (who we planned to use for the original wedding); she delivered small wedding cakes to all of family in town. We used a small cake shop in Denver and another in Wisconsin, and we sent Baked by Melissa cupcakes to some folks who are spread around the country." As for her best Zoom tip? "Deliberate use of the 'mute all' feature kept the Zoom meeting under control," she laughs. "We cut the cake and drank Champagne with everyone."
This was arguably one of the most meaningful moments of the day, shares Jen. "Feeling everyone's love and excitement was so powerful," she explains. "We have a video of that call and a ton of screen captures with everyone's expressions and excitement. Many friends and family shared that it was a glimmer of hope and love during a really hard time."
Tossing the Bouquet
Before everyone returned home, Jen tossed her bouquet to the (small) crowd, while waves crashed in the background.
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