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Windansea weddings are popular with couples, not so much with some beach-goers

A wedding takes place at Windansea Beach on July 10, with several beach-goers nearby.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

On a recent sunny Saturday — actually on several recent sunny Saturdays — weddings at the base of the Neptune Place stairs mixed in with hundreds of beach-goers at La Jolla’s Windansea.

The public nuptials can provide a memorable experience for the couples, even if they don’t provide a lot of amenities. Windansea, predominantly a surfing beach, offers only 16 parking spaces, plus street parking, and no public facilities such as water fountains, restrooms or showers.

They’ve also brought some discontent among other beach visitors. In a letter to the editor published July 1 in the La Jolla Light, Jeff Saywitz wrote: “These weddings are not typically for local residents and create a major nuisance to the beach-goers who are forced to vacate the popular and public area. … La Jolla has the Wedding Bowl at Cuvier Park for this purpose, and all weddings should be diverted there. … I’m all for love and weddings, but there is a time and a place, and peak summer hours at an already overcrowded Windansea is not the spot.”

In subsequent weeks, additional emails came in, with one saying beach-goers were being “shooed away” from “a pretty prime beach location in the summer.”

The Light witnessed a couple saying their “I do’s” on July 10. About 75 chairs and an archway were set up about 50 feet from the bottom of the Neptune Place staircase, with hundreds of beach visitors surrounding the ceremony.

A wedding taking place July 10 on Windansea Beach is viewed from the base of the Neptune Place staircase.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

This particular event was coordinated by Socal Vows, a San Diego-based wedding planning company specializing in smaller beach weddings. Its most elaborate package provides up to 75 chairs, an officiant, two hours with a photographer, music, a decorative arch, location fee and more for $3,595. Other packages cost less if there are fewer guests.

Ken Hoelscher, president of Socal Vows, said its weddings are “about 70/30” percent between out-of-town visitors and people from Southern California. La Jolla locations make up about half the weddings.

“La Jolla, especially Windansea and the Wedding Bowl, is popular as a location because it has a reputation,” Hoelscher said. “Seven out of 10 are not local, and when they come to San Diego, what do they know? They know La Jolla and Coronado. Everyone talks about La Jolla and Coronado.”

But the permit to hold beach weddings in La Jolla, being in the city of San Diego, is less expensive than many other areas, including Coronado.

According to San Diego’s beach regulations, a permit from the Parks & Recreation Department is required for any wedding ceremony at any park or beach in the city. The city issues permits a year in advance for designated wedding sites at Balboa Park and shoreline parks and beaches.

Parks & Recreation Department spokesman Tim Graham said: “Only one permit is granted per day, per location. We also permit any day of the week. The fee for the permit is $177.16 for up to four hours of use and for up to 50 people” at Windansea.

The only La Jolla beach venues that permit more than 50 people are Calumet Park and La Jolla Shores.

When Hoelscher was asked about the July 10 wedding at Windansea, which appeared to have more than 50 people, he said “we had more guests show up” and “we had extra chairs, so we set them up.”

Comparatively speaking, Hoelscher said, San Diego city beaches are “a pretty good deal,” adding that the permit to have a beach wedding in Del Mar costs $1,500 and state beaches cost more than $500.

Limitations within the permit include only battery-powered amplified sound, which “puts a cap on volume,” no alcohol and no food.

Though the conventional “wedding season” is late spring to early fall, San Diego’s weather and permitting system allow for weddings year-round, and Hoelscher said Socal Vows offers just that.

“We facilitate everything, we get the permits,” he said. Planners arrive at the location a few hours early to alert beach-goers that there will be a wedding there, he said.

“We give it as much time as possible, and once we set up the chairs and archways, people typically don’t want to be in the way, so they are really accommodating,” Hoelscher said. “We try to be sensitive to the people that are already there, and most people don’t spend hours in one spot.”

He added that in his experience, La Jolla beach-goers tend to be more supportive and friendly toward weddings, compared with those in other communities.

As for the crowds, most couples “don’t think about it” when planning their beach wedding, Hoelscher said.

“They are so into the event. ... But it can be hundreds of people, and most of the time they laugh about it. They don’t seem to mind,” he said. “It’s always fun because when that bride comes down the [beach access] stairs, everything stops. I see a lot of ... ladies nudge their boyfriends and they want to do that.”

Sometimes, however, there are moments of apprehension. “Some couples book a location and then go check it out and ask if all those people are going to be there,” Hoelscher said. “We have to remind them that it is a public beach and they can’t own the whole beach. We’ve had some couples ask the day of the wedding if the surfers were going to be there. We have to tell them yes and that they didn’t get a permit for the ocean.”

Weddings at Windansea likely will be a familiar sight through the fall. Hoelscher said “there will be a wedding there every weekend, whether it’s us or someone else.” ◆