This Couple's Guests Pitched in to Give Them Their Dream Ranch Wedding in California
Although Alicia and Taylor grew up together—they met in third grade, remained part of the same group of friends through high school, and even their mothers are close—a romantic relationship wasn't always an obvious next step. "When our romance started, we kept it a secret for the first few months, just given how intertwined our lives were—we had to give each other code names!" says the couple. "Eventually, we realized what we had was more real than anything anyone could have imagined—plus, people were starting to catch on—and embraced it." After Taylor proposed on a hike on Mt. Tamalpais in 2019, he shocked Alicia with an engagement party at their favorite restaurant that night. "It was the most magical surprise I've ever experienced!" she says.
For their 300-person wedding in Ojai, California, Alicia and Taylor decided on September 19, 2020. "Alicia comes from a large Chinese family, and the date was a special one since it was considered a 'Blessed Day' where, in Chinese superstition, marriages should aim to occur on one of these days of the year for a lifetime and marriage of good prosperity," says the couple. When COVID-19 made it impossible for them to continue with their original plan, they opted to host a 36-person event on the same day, moving their location to a ranch property owned by Alicia's family and calling on their closest friends and family to help organize everything from a Saturday morning workout class to the reception place cards. The couple implemented careful COVID-19 compliance efforts that included a cleaning attendant to wipe shared surfaces throughout the day, private bathrooms for high-risk guests, and pre-event testing and quarantines required for each of their loved ones. "We took as many precautions and safety measures that we could think of...and it worked!" says the couple. "All attendees of the event were COVID-free, healthy, and safe afterwards."
Alicia and Taylor plan to host a larger event at their original venue in 2021, but found that their smaller wedding had just as big of an impact. "We wanted something unique to us, sweet, and warm," they say, noting that they "wanted to save some traditional pieces for the 'big one'—but still had all the key elements and characteristics of a marriage celebration."
After the ceremony, the couple—and their guests—were ready to celebrate several unforgettable weeks of hard work. "Our friends helped build a wire harness to hang lights from the roof of the ranch house, arranged the tables and chairs the hour leading up to the wedding, and set up the hay bales, blankets, and altar that morning," says the couple of the group effort. "It was a lot of fun to put the wedding on with all our friends and family pitching in to make it such a special moment for us."
Home on the Range
The couple chose Alicia's family's property for their ceremony and reception. "It is a very special place for us where we've made lifelong memories and built incredible relationships," says the couple. Alicia and her brother host friends on the property throughout the year for summer parties, Friendsgiving dinners, and birthday celebrations, which made it a familiar—and fun—spot for many of the big-day guests. "It's a big space that can sleep a lot of people in individual rooms," says the couple. "While it is quite dated to the '80s, it's super functional for big groups and as young adults in San Francisco, it is an amazing oasis for us to escape from the city—think of it like an adult summer camp. Everyone always pitches in to help, whether it's cooking, cleaning, or activity planning, since it's such a remote and secluded place that we have to be self-sustaining for the most part. We knew we could pull off another event, this time just themed to our wedding."
Guests stayed on-site in individual camping tents, a safety measure (one that eliminated a necessity for hotels) that played right into the landscape and the vibe of the celebration.
Lovely in Lace
Alicia chose a floor-length wrap wedding dress in delicate white eyelet from Marjorelle—a departure from the gown she bought for the original ceremony. She knew the sundress was the one, she says, because of "how perfectly it spoke to my personality and personal style, as well as how it suited the venue—elegant, yet low-key and sweet." She added heirloom jewels—including pearl earrings and a diamond bracelet from her mother—and a baby blue garter Taylor's mom provided. Instead of changing into a second gown later in the evening, she says, "I added a fleece!"
Autumn in Bloom
An understated, natural bouquet from Expressions Floral included creamy cosmos, bright pink-and-orange strawflowers, richly-colored dahlias, cheerful zinnias, citrusy ranunculus, and classic white daisies.
Instead of formalwear, Taylor embraced the "ranch lawn party" atmosphere in a custom white shirt with a mandarin collar, light blue shorts, and tan loafers. His navy watch was an engagement gift from Alicia, and his colorful boutonnière included peach strawflower, bronze amaranthus, and red zinnia.
Field of View
The hilltop where Alicia and Taylor planned to exchange vows offered breathtaking views of the ranch and nearby mountains. Benches covered in white fabric were topped with cozy pillows to create comfortable seating, while an antique rug set between two wine barrels holding towering floral arrangements created a focal point for the ceremony.
On the Road
Instead of booking transportation, the couple accepted the help of neighbors and family friends, who offered a lineup of colorful Jeeps to help guests navigate the ranch terrain; choosing open-air vehicles helped minimize the time spent in close proximity without ventilation.
A Joyful Moment
The couple opted to pose for portraits after the ceremony, saving their official first look for the moment Alicia walked down the aisle with her father. As she rode to the ceremony site with her parents, she says, "My dad and I were silent, holding each other's hands in the car and staring out at the property as we drove up to the hilltop. He didn't have to say much, but I could feel everything he was feeling and it hit me then that I was about to be married and he was going to have another son." As he escorted her to the top of the hillside, "It was so surreal!" says Alicia. "But never in my life had I felt more elated. Rounding the bend and seeing all of my closest friends and family staring back at me, I couldn't help but break out into tears of joy at how incredibly beautiful it all was and how everyone was here for Taylor and I."
While Alicia walked down the aisle, one of her bridesmaids performed a favorite song of the couple's—Lane 8's "Brightest Lights."
Keeping an Eye on Things
The dog's pup sat sentry as Alicia and Taylor exchanged vows.
Ready to Wed
Taylor watched Alicia walk toward the aisle from his place at the front of the ceremony. "Alicia coming over the hilltop with her father, while our close friend sang our favorite song on the guitar next to me—I pretty much immediately broke into tears," he says. "Alicia was stunning. After such a hectic and stressful year, with a lot of uncertainty around whether we would even get married, it was a beautiful moment that finally set in that I was about to marry my best friend. All of that emotion just all came out at once."
In lieu of following a religious script, Alicia and Taylor wrote their own promises in custom vow books they exchanged during the ceremony. "Seeing how all the hard work from our friends and family all came together to create such a beautiful and memorable ceremony was incredible," says the couple. "There were so many factors that put the wedding and ceremony at risk, from concerns around coronavirus, to extreme temperatures, to fires, and hazardous smoke levels—even a fire on the property the day before the wedding that thankfully Cal-Fire was able to put out. It is definitely something we will never forget."
Though the newlyweds didn't have the wedding they'd originally planned, they loved the intimacy of their smaller ceremony. "At a certain point, you just have to go with what you got," says the couple. "No matter how small or simple it ends up being, don't underestimate the power of how a wedding or marriage celebration brings people together in ways you can't imagine."
Moment with Mom
Taylor posed with his stylishly-dressed mom after the ceremony.
The ceremony florals were moved to create a backdrop for Alicia and Taylor's sweetheart table, while other guests sat at spacious tables covered in white linens. Overhead string lights created a romantic ambiance as the party continued after sunset.
Bold and Beautiful
Vibrant fall shades of orange, peach, and burgundy highlighted by muted greens, dried ferns, and textural foliage added color to the tables, while mason jar water glasses and gold flatware provided casual elegance.
As a thoughtful touch, Alicia and Taylor wrote "love letters" to each individual guest, presenting them at every place setting. The menu consisted of diverse offerings from Gil's Grill BBQ, which included a whole roasted pig, pork fried rice, Mexican corn salad, Oriental chicken salad, and garlic bread. "We loved the somewhat random mix of Asian and western flavors centered around a ranch barbecue theme and homemade, home cooked food," says the couple. "It's how we always cook for our friends and family, and particularly how we like to cook when at the ranch—July Fourth and Friendsgiving celebrations are always a potluck affair."
Taylor's mother drew on her career as a bakery owner to create the couple's layered buttermilk-lavender cake. "Mom also made two types of cupcakes," says the groom: "Coconut cake with toasted coconut buttercream, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting."
So in Love
Alicia and Taylor made their music choices an important part of their day, including sharing their first dance to "Across the Room" by Odesza and Leon Bridges. "Music has been a huge part of our relationship, and Odesza has been our favorite band since dating, seeing their amazing live show many times over the past few years," says the couple.
Raising a Glass
During the reception, the couple's friends' and family took turns toasting the newlyweds. "In addition to all the hard work our friends put in to make the weekend even possible, they all put so much effort into thoughtful, hysterical speeches and skits to cap off the night," says the couple. "The emotions, the moment, and the love will still be there, and it will be the best day of your life."
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