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The Bride’s Guide to Planning a San Diego Wedding

The best local wedding professionals share their expert advice. Plus: 2013’s hottest trends!
—By Natalie Fitzgerald

The Venue

Beachfront or rooftop? Winery or ranch? Rachel Welland, owner of Bliss Events, recommends that you prioritize. “First check if the venue is available on the date you want. Next, ask if it has the capacity for your guest count, the atmosphere and ambiance you envision, and if it fits within your budget.”

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  • Are the food and the bar included in the cost?
  • What’s the parking situation? (If you don’t want your guests to trek too far, consider hiring a valet service.)
  • Are there affordable hotels nearby for our out-of-town guests? (Not everyone wants to drop a lot of cash on a place to stay, especially after traveling and gift expenses.)

Hot for 2013

  • Luce Loft
  • Newly renovated Hotel La Jolla
  • Recently updated Rancho Valencia

Best advice: You must be wowed, Welland advises brides. “Make sure the venue you select is one that you and your fiancé are excited about, because this venue will forever hold special memories.”

The Transportation

Big day. Big dress. Big bus! Or limo. Or vintage car. Whatever you decide, this is one aspect of the wedding where reliability is more important than style. It’s all about logistics.

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  • Will the bus stay with my party the entire time? (Some companies double-book.)
  • Does the bus provide glassware and bubbly for a post-ceremony toast?
  • Can I see the actual vehicle that will be used for my event? (Sometimes the limo you see online isn’t the one they send for you.)

Hot for 2013

  • GoPro cameras to take home a copy of the recorded party bus trip
  • Color-changing LED lights that match your wedding colors.

Best advice: Brian Fortmann, owner and operator of Bolt Transportation recommends that you leave extra time to get from one place to the next. “Loading and unloading everyone, especially girls in dresses, takes more time than you think,” he says. And no one is ever ready at the time of pick-up.

The Event Coordinator

A wedding planner will work with vendors to execute your vision, resolve sticky situations with your mother-in-law, and help you feel confident on your wedding day. At first, hiring an event coordinator may give you sticker shock—experienced pros can start anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 for full-service wedding day coordination. But remember, planners have the “in” with industry pros and will help you get the best bang for your buck. If you are willing to do some legwork, you can hire a month-of or day-of coordinator for about $1,200 to $3,000. She’ll take care of stressful last-minute details like folding programs or rearranging reception seating—tasks a bride should not be doing on her big day!

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  • How many weddings have you done?
  • How do you handle mishaps and other emergencies that might come up? (Ask for examples!)
  • Can I see your portfolio? (Get a feel for her style.)

Hot for 2013

  • Blush, black, and gold wedding gowns
  • Bright colors on invitations and in your reception décor
  • The Roaring Twenties (opulent, Gatsby-inspired affairs)

Best advice: “Look for a coordinator who you trust,” emphasizes Krystel Tien, event coordinator and owner of Couture Events San Diego, “and make sure she understands your vision and is able to help you achieve what you want within your budget.”

The Décor

Keli Christenson, founder of Monarch Weddings, says that “deciding on a design aesthetic is important. It helps you to define all the other elements of your wedding—venue, décor, type of reception, and so on. You want create an event that represents the style of both you and your fiancé.”

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  • What’s included in the contract? (Don’t skip the fine print! Ask about surcharges—like cleaning fees and charges for broken glasses.)
  • What important things should I factor into my budget? (Don’t forget about table numbers, accent lighting, and the ever-important dance floor!)
  • What do you charge for upgrades?

Hot for 2013

  • Elegance (Goodbye, rustic!)
  • Prints and lace
  • Neutral color palettes with pops of metallic gold, silver, and bronze

Best advice: On a budget? “Pick a venue that already has the look and feel of your wedding,” says Christenson. “If you want a tropical- themed wedding, find a space that has a tropical design flare, lush landscape, or beach setting. Why work against the grain?”

The Hair and Makeup

Ashley Fierro, owner of My Girls on Film Studios, says, “Don’t let an artist impose a specific look on you that you don’t adore. Magazines are a great place to come up with hair and makeup ideas. Find inspiration and play around at your hair and makeup trial until you come up with exactly how you want to look on your big day.”

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  • I have a photo of my gown. What kind of hair and makeup do you see for this look?
  • What do you charge extra for? (Some artists charge additional fees for lashes, for having extensions, or for traveling to a local destination.)
  • How many girls can you style in my preferred timeframe? If I have a large bridal party, do you have assistants

Hot for 2013

  • An unexpected smoky-eye using blues, amethysts, and emerald shadows. Black and gray is out!
  • The classic chignon (yes, it’s back).
  • The “no makeup look” with minimal or monochromatic warm colors. Pair it with a high, messy, “out-of-bed up-do” or classic sock-bun and a simple hair accessory, like a headband.

Best advice: Fierro advises brides to “choose a wedding look that you will be happy with in 30 years! You will be looking at those photos for the rest of your life.”

The Groom’s Suit

Unless you’ve got yourself a steezy guy, you might want to accompany him to a “groom’s attire” consultation after you choose your dress. You want the styles to complement each other.

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  • How soon should my fiancé choose his attire?
  • What accessories will he need (tie, cufflinks, shoes, etc.)?
  • Is the groom’s suit appropriate for the time and place of the wedding? (This will decide whether he should go formal or more casual.)

Hot for 2013

  • Unique pocket squares
  • Cravat ties
  • Mismatched boutonnières

Best advice: To rent or to buy? Janet Klein, owner and operator of A Better Deal Tuxedos & Men’s Suits insists on the Rule of Three. “If he’ll wear the tux three or more times, it would be worth purchasing rather than renting.”

The Gown

Make appointments at bridal boutiques as soon as you can—some gowns take up to eight months to receive. Factor in two months for alterations, and you should be shopping for your dress…yesterday!

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  • What’s the most flattering silhouette for me? (The best fit for your body might surprise you!)
  • Are alterations included? (Most of the time, they are not. Factor in the cost of alterations before saying yes to the dress, and know that even simple alterations can be about $300.)
  • How long is the train and will it be difficult to bustle? Can you show me (and my MOH, who will have bustle duty during the reception) how to do it? (Take photos or a short video on your phone if the dress is complicated!)

Hot for 2013

  • Lace
  • Illusion necklines
  • Beads and sparkle

Best advice: “Don’t be surprised if you find your gown on your first visit. Be ready to make that purchase! Also, be open-minded, play with accessories, and enjoy this part!” says Matija Vukelic, boutique manager at The Bustle.

The Band

There’s nothing like live music to get your guests onto the dance floor. And it’s likely you’ll find a friend or two on stage with the band by the end of the night (hey, live band karaoke is hot this year!). Note: Experienced party bands typically begin around $3,500 to $4,000.

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  • What’s your wedding performance experience?
  • Who will act as an emcee? (Make sure you meet with this person and you like his or her style.)
  • There are songs I’d like that I don’t see on your playlist. Are you able to learn new material before the wedding? (Some bands will do this for you!)

Hot for 2013

  • Interactive video, projected onto large screens—a mix of original music videos synced with shots of your band performing live on stage or your guests on the dance floor
  • Live Band Karaoke for your late night entertainment and after party

Best advice: Kurt Davidson, manager and drummer with the wedding band Dirty Bird, suggests couples “read reviews, check song lists, watch live video, and listen to audio samples. Meet with the band face-to-face to hear about their wedding experience and what they specifically have to offer you. You’ll naturally either fall in love with the band, or not so much. Just like love, you’ll know when it’s right!”

The Photographer

You’ll cherish your wedding photos forever—and there are no do-overs! Photography pricing varies greatly based on experience and products, but expect wedding day coverage start at about $2,800 to $3,500.  Add an engagement session and a custom wedding album and you’re likely spend anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

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  • Can I see sample images taken in varying light conditions? (A dark ballroom is harder to shoot than a sunny outdoor wedding.)
  • Can I see an entire wedding, not just your 50 greatest hits? (Get a good idea of what you can expect from your own wedding.)
  • How do you ensure all the key shots are captured?

Hot for 2013

  • Telling the “story”: Incorporate special details and nostalgic elements into the photos that reflect your story together—from the night you two met to the wedding day.
  • Photography registry: Let your family and friends chip in to help pay for the one thing you’ll have forever—your wedding photos!

Best advice: Danny Desanti and Anthony Ghiglia, owners of BellaLuz Photography, emphasize the importance of compatibility between you and your photographer: “Make sure your styles vibe well. First impressions are everything so go with your gut. Could you feel comfortable having this person shoot your most intimate moments? You can always try him or her out with an engagement shoot first.”

The Floral Designer

Some brides are tempted to skimp on the flowers, but stop and think about the role they play in your wedding—from the bouquets and boutonnières to the altar décor, centerpieces, and other decorative accents. The flowers are omnipresent!

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  • Why are you a floral designer? (Look for passion. If it’s not there, move on.)
  • Do you do more than just flowers? (Many floral designers can help with linens and other decorative elements.)
  • Will you be the designer the day of my wedding, or will it be a partner or assistant?

Hot for 2013

  • Lace on bouquets, table runners, and wrapped around vases and candles
  • The “fresh from the garden” look
  • Garden Roses, a great substitute for peonies, come in many colors and are always in season

Best advice: “Don’t worry if you don’t know the names of flowers,” says Brittany Cranmer, who co-owns Blush Botanicals with Alexandra Wise. “Just know your venue and colors or theme when you go see your florist. And remember, if the florist can’t give you guidance and advice, move on to someone who can.”

The Catering

Serving quality food and a memorable meal is one way to thank guests for making an effort to share in the celebration of your wedding day. You’ll want to find a caterer who understands your vision and design.

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  • Do you charge gratuity and how is it calculated? (Make sure you don’t double-tip…unless you feel the service is double-tip-worthy.)
  • Do you prepare your food fresh on-site?
  • Can I see a list of the drinks you’ll be serving and can I taste the house wines, beer, and Champagne? (If you don’t have a taste for these adult bevs, bring along someone who does to do the taste test.)

Hot for 2013

  • Organic, sustainable, and healthy
  • Creative, interactive food stations (hello, s’mores bar!)

Best advice: Courtney Gallagher Isaac, Senior Event Designer for Waters Catering, urges you to find a caterer who will be transparent with contracts, up-front with all costs, and accommodating to your unique taste and style.

The DJ

From old school hip-hop to house and trance, DJs can transform your wedding reception into any dance party you want. It’s about finding the right fit.  Expect basic DJ services to start from $1,200 to $1,500.

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  • What’s your personal music preference?
  • Do you mix vinyl or digital format? (It’s all about the sound! Consider the acoustics of your venue, too.)
  • If my guests aren’t feelin’ it, what will you do?

Hot for 2013

  • Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”
  • Jonn Hart’s “Who Booty”
  • Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” (still goin’)

Best advice: After you’ve hired a DJ, Antonio Aguilera, mixmaster and owner of Global BPM recommends “establishing a clear line of communication. Meet several times to go over the plan or any changes. Put together a top 30 ‘must play list’ that you want incorporated into the reception.”

The Invitations and Paper Elements

Your save-the-date and wedding invitation will be the first impression you make on your wedding guests. Set the tone so they know what to expect. Thinking of getting fancy? One way to go is with calligraphy, but keep in mind that it costs roughly $5 per invitation and around $1 for escort cards.

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  • What kind of postage will this invitation require? (Large, square, or oddly shaped envelopes can be a big unforeseen cost.)
  • How many revisions are included, and how much do they cost thereafter?
  • Are there any upgrade charges or additional fees I should be aware of?

Hot for 2013

  • Foil stamping
  • Calligraphy accents
  • Jewel tone

Best advice: When first meeting with brides, custom invitation designer Rachel Baker says it’s helpful if you know your event’s color palette and look, since she tailors the paper elements to your other visuals. Baker, head of San Diego-based Rachel Jane Couture, says it’s also good to get your guest list together. “A lot of brides don’t factor in who are couples, who are singles. 500 guests usually comes down to 200 to 300 invitations. Order about 60 to 70 percent of what your final count is going to be.”

The Cake

Who doesn’t love the age-old tradition of wedding cake? Find your dream dessertier using our online catering guide. Then, make an appointment and bring photos so the cake designer can get a feel for what you want.

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  • Do you have a cake designer in-house? (Some bakers are also designers, but not all bakers will create the masterpiece you have in mind. Ask for photos of their past creations.)
  • What ingredients do you use? Fresh fruit puree, or filling from a jar? Fresh farmed eggs or powdered eggs? Real vanilla or imitation flavoring?
  • How many weddings do you book each weekend, and how fresh will my cake be? (A cake that has been frozen won’t be as good.)

Hot for 2013

  • Mint (both flavor and color)
  • Neutral, natural colors
  • Premium ingredients and natural foods
  • Gluten-free and vegan options

Best advice: Bernadette Di Toro, owner and cake designer from bouchée  says, “Don’t just go for what the cake looks like—go for taste! Your wedding cake should be a full experience; it should be beautiful but it also needs to taste good.”

The Marriage License

Marriage licenses are valid for 90 days in California, so it’s best to take care of this within two months of the nuptials. To obtain a license, schedule an appointment at one of the San Diego area offices (Downtown, San Marcos, Chula Vista, or El Cajon), fill out the online application prior to your appointment, bring cash or a check for $70 ($89 for a confidential marriage license), and you’ve got a license to wed! 619.237.0502


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