How to Plan a Wedding In San Diego

February 14th, 2024

Hello! Welcome to my wedding planning guide for San Diego Weddings. Please note that not every step is in order and you should take the bits and pieces that apply to your wedding and do what makes sense for you. If you have any questions you may always contact me and I hope this helps anyone who's planning a wedding even if you’re not local. This is also from the perspective of a photographer and not a coordinator or planner so please do your research and don't rely on just this post to plan your wedding. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Free PDF: Download

Free Checklist Checklist

Video Version: Video

  1. Decide a Budget: Weddings can be as big or as small as you want, but spoiler alert: you will probably end up going over budget. Determine how much you can afford to spend on your wedding and if any family members are willing to help. This will guide your decisions throughout the planning process. San Diego can be an expensive city, and wedding costs can add up quickly. All venues, vendors, and other services all will have different prices so just remember you get what you pay for and think about what you want to prioritize and where you are willing to make sacrifices. If you have the means for it, I would highly recommend hiring a wedding planner because trying to plan a wedding alone is very difficult and there is a high likelihood that you will end up missing something that could be essential that even I might not mention in here.

  1. Choose a Venue: Decide on the overall theme or style you want for your wedding. This will help you make cohesive decisions regarding decorations, attire, and much more. Research and visit potential wedding venues that fit your style, guest count, and budget. San Diego is a popular wedding destination, which means that desirable venues can book up quickly, especially during peak wedding seasons. It's essential to start your venue search early and book as soon as possible to secure your preferred location. Remember to ask if the venue offers in terms of on site accommodations or recommendations, catering and drink options, event staff and if a coordinator is included. Some venues are all inclusive and will include Florists and DJs. Others you will need to do everything on your own. If you want to have your wedding in a public place like a park or beach, what permits do you need and rules do you have to follow? What is their backup plan in case of bad weather? Consider things like parking, transportation, capacity, accessibility, guidelines and restrictions.

  1. Compile a Guest List: Depending on the size of your wedding you may want to do this before you choose your venue. The size of your guest list is one of the things that will increase your budget the most as it will increase the cost of decorations, food and alcohol (If you’re paying for it). Work with your partner to create a list of guests you want to invite and remember to also think of people's spouses and kids, parents also may want to invite family that you may have not seen, and also family and friends with conflict. If your guests are traveling from out of town, finding suitable accommodations for everyone can be a challenge, especially during peak tourist seasons. Providing a range of accommodation options at different price points can help guests find suitable places to stay. I live here so I don’t stay in many hotels here but if you would like recommendations depending on the area don’t be afraid to reach out.

  1. Create a Timeline: Weddings are often a long planning process. The earlier you can get organized the easier your life will be. A wedding timeline is a calendar for events before the wedding and a schedule the day of. Depending on the size of your wedding it could be 10 to 200+ people, having a schedule that everyone can refer to and know where to be at the different events of the day. I also recommend making a different timeline for family and the bridal party, vendors and for all guests as not everyone will be included in all events. Remember that the timeline is just a guideline and things may need to be adjusted to make things run smoother. Make sure you communicate with your vendors to make sure they have all the time they need to ensure their services can be performed correctly and so that everyone is on the same page. Take it a step further and make a timeline for your key vendors and ask for their input or any changes necessary. Even just an extra 15 minutes to give time for things like moving equipment, floral or other decorations will make a big difference. I’ve found that not every vendor will ask for things from you to make your life easier, so be sure to ask your Photographer, Videographer, DJ, Florist, Officiant to make sure they aren’t missing anything essential.

Sample Timeline

10:00 Hair and Makeup Starts at the venue

12:00 Photographer and Videographer Arrive

12:30 Hair and Makeup finish and start getting ready photos

1:00 Bride gets in dress + Groomsmen start getting ready

1:45 First look

2:00 Wedding party photos into more couple photos

4:00 Ceremony

4:30 Ceremony ends and cocktail hour opens

4:40 Family Photos

5:15 Couple portraits

5:30 Reception opens

5:45 Grand entrance

(Names of wedding party)

5:55 First Dance + parent dances

6:10 DJ calls tables for buffet

6:45 Couple sunset photos

7:00 Speeches

7:30 Cake cutting into garter + bouquet toss

7:45 Open dance

8:00 Dessert served

9:30 Everyone goes outside for sparkler exit

10:00 Photographer + Videographer departure

11:00 Venue closes

  1. Hire Vendors: Each vendor plays a crucial role in the success of your wedding. Talk to your partner about your priorities when it comes to which ones are a priority and which ones would be nice to have. San Diego offers an array of excellent vendors, finding the right ones that align with your style and budget can take time. Every couple is different in what type of style and vision they have for their special day so take the time to research and meet with each vendor and ask them questions about their roles, style, and vision and make sure it aligns with yours. When you find vendors you like and feel comfortable with, trust your gut and book as early as possible to ensure you get to have them at your wedding. I recommend meeting with vendors in person or over the phone. Here are some questions I recommend you ask and types of vendors you will want to consider.

Questions to Ask

- Ask them about their style, approach and roles during a wedding and make sure it's what you and your fiancé are looking for.

- Are they insured? Licensed if required? Are they able to comply with your venue's requirements?

- Ask about backup processes and how they handle emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.

- Review portfolios, ask for albums, full galleries, food samples, references and do trial sessions to ensure they are the right fit.

- Communicate clearly and set expectations with them and make sure they are doing the same. Remember to also stay in touch leading up to the wedding day and make sure they have everything they need.

- Understand the terms of the contract. Pricing, payment schedule cancellation policy or other fees. Read it and ask questions if you don’t understand something.

Vendors to Consider

- Venue: Obviously, you need a place to host your ceremony and reception. Talk with your venue and find out if they include planning/coordinating, rentals, catering/food/desert and alcohol.

- Planner/Coordinator: Weddings are not easy to plan by yourself and if you're feeling overwhelmed, consider a wedding planner to help you with the logistics and coordination of the entire event. I find a lot of venues have coordinators but not every venue will have a full on planner, make sure you ask about this because unless you have experience with larger events I recommend having both.

- Photographer/Videographer: While your Florist, DJ, Planner, and Decorations Vendors bring your vision to life, a Photographer and Videographer will be capturing your priceless moments making your story live on for the rest of your life. I often also find the Photographers and Videographers are usually in charge of running the wedding during the early stages of the day like getting ready, first looks, and other small events while the coordinators and planners are communicating with the other vendors and setting up. Photographers often charge with how many hours of the day they will be there, usually falling between 6 for shorter events, and up to 10 or 12 for a full day of coverage with 8 usually being a good balance and which is what I recommend to most couples. I also don’t recommend trying to squeeze a lot of events in a short timeframe with not a lot of wiggle room. This leaves a lot of room for error and could cause a lot of stress and tension ultimately giving everyone a worse experience.

- DJ: Unless you’re having an elopement I would argue DJ’s are one of the most important vendors to have. A professional DJ has extensive knowledge of music across different genres and eras. They can curate a playlist that appeals to a wide range of guests and keeps the dance floor lively. DJ’s also play a crucial part in the ceremony and reception with seamless transitions in the music and announcing different events throughout the night like speeches, cake cutting, calling tables and ultimately keep the night running smoothly.

- Florist: Your florist will provide and arrange the flowers for the ceremony and reception, including bouquets, boutonnieres, centerpieces, and any other floral decorations you decide. How much or how little you need depends on the style/theme you are going for.

- Officiant: You need someone to help you legally get married. However, the officiant is more than that. They are the personality you choose to conduct your ceremony and set the scene for your audience. How you want your officiant to conduct the wedding is up to the couple, but talk to your officiant and make sure they are able to adapt to your wishes.

- Hair and Makeup Artists: Having professional hair and makeup artists will not only make you and your bridal party feel pampered but also ensure that you all look stunning and camera ready throughout the wedding day. Hair and makeup is also time consuming and having a professional that is able to come to you and have everyone done in a timely manner to ensure everyone is done with the ceremony. In my experience hair and makeup is one of the things that most commonly make wedding days run behind so ensuring your hair and makeup artist is prepared for your bridal party size and has enough time to be able to get everyone ready on time.

- Catering and Desserts: If your venue doesn’t offer food, choose a caterer to handle the food and beverage service for your guests. Generally in terms of cake cutting photos it helps to have a smaller display cake (2 or 3 layers) but if you do go that route with a bigger wedding make sure you have other options or a bigger serving cake. Choose a caterer and offer desserts that can accommodate your desired menu and remember to consider if anyone has dietary restrictions.

- Transportation: If your wedding is 2 locations you should have a plan to transport everyone from place to place. If your wedding venues are only a few minutes apart consider something like a shuttle service or party bus, if venues are further apart make sure guests know they will need to drive. If your plan is to sneak off during cocktail hour to take couple or bridal party photos somewhere else, the best way is to take everyone in 1 car or bus to avoid being late, losing each other and running behind.

The Vendors you need will cater to your wedding and what you and your fiancé are looking for. Others may include live bands/music/art, rentals, homemade goods, invitations and guest itineraries. Consider experience, local knowledge, and ask for suggestions. Assess your needs and preferences and choose the vendors that align with your vision for the big day. 

  1. Select Wedding Attire: Start looking at wedding attire for your wedding, think about the theme and mood of your wedding. Think about colors, and how formal or casual you want everyone to dress as well as cultural or religious traditions you want to include. Selecting a wedding dress can also be daunting and it's completely subjective with how you want to go about it. Bringing a few close friends or family members can help you make your decision, shop around, do some research and ultimately in the end trust yourself to make the right choice. Consider weather and comfort as well, if you’re having your wedding in a place further east of the coast such as Alpine, Pala, and Ramona it’s typically hotter especially during peak season. Also remember to take into account things like bridesmaids robes and anything else you may want to have.

  1. Send Invitations: Create and send out save-the-date cards followed by formal wedding invitations. Include things like RSVP instructions, dress code, and other special information if necessary. You will also want to consider making a different invitation for family and the bridal party for including things like rehearsals and bachelorette parties. You may want to consider making a website with expanded info. Something I recommend to couples is to put a phone number for questions regarding things leading up to the wedding; these could be your phone numbers. But also put someone down for day of questions besides the coordinator or planner, typically a sibling or member of the bridal party but make sure they are good with responding quickly.

  1. Plan the Ceremony and Reception: Work with your officiant and DJ to plan the ceremony and make arrangements for the reception, including seating arrangements and any special traditions or activities, vows and order of events. Arrange music and specify with your DJ what songs you want for the different parts of the ceremony and reception including the entrance and exit. Decide on the decorations you want for the ceremony and reception venues, including flowers, lighting, and other decorative elements that will go along with the theme of your wedding. If your wedding is in more than one location, arrange transportation for you, your partner, and the wedding party to and from the ceremony and reception venues.

During the reception the DJ plays a key role. Going back to Vendor specific timelines, make sure your DJ has a specific timeline with names of bridal party members in the grand entrance and all other events and timeframes like food announcements, first dance and parent dances, speeches and toasts as well as any other events you decide to have. If things are running behind, your other key vendors will know and communicate with each other to ensure everything will run smoothly. Make sure there is an easy way for everyone to identify seating arrangements. Also be sure to give time for your vendors to move equipment, decorations or florals from site to site.

  1. Organize Wedding Responsibilities: While you may want to be involved in every detail, it’s nearly impossible to do so without getting overwhelmed. it's best to assign specific tasks to responsible friends or family members so nothing gets forgotten. Here are some things to think about delegating:
  1. Coordinating with vendors.
  2. Handling guest questions.
  3. Managing the gift table and giving out wedding favors.
  4. Keeping the bridal party informed if there are any changes.
  5. Assisting with last-minute preparations.

Having designated people for each task will help prevent chaos and ensure your wedding will run a lot smoother, allowing you to focus on enjoying your special day.

  1. Weather and Backup Plans: While San Diego is known for its fantastic weather, it's not entirely immune to occasional rain or extreme heat. Make sure you chat with your venue and see what their general backup plan is. This is especially true for outdoor ceremonies or receptions and if you are planning to have your wedding in December through March and it may be wise to choose an indoor ceremony. In my experience the best months for the highest chances of success are May through early October as chances of rain tend to slow down in April and start to pick up in November with generally February having the highest chances of a rainy day. Rain not being the only factor in good weather, keep in mind that if you’re planning in August or September you could experience days up to 95 or 100 degrees depending on the area. Keep an eye on the history of weather in the area you want to have your wedding as well as the 10 day forecast as you get closer to the day. If unwanted weather is in the forecast, know your backup plan, keep guests informed, trusting your vendors and keeping your cool are essential to ensure the weather doesn't spoil your big day. 

  1. Traffic and Parking: San Diego is a city of 3 million people with an additional 25+ million visitors yearly. It can experience heavy traffic, especially in certain areas and during peak rush hour times or weekends near heavy tourist areas like most beaches, Balboa Park, and Downtown. Although I recommend you stick to one location if possible for your wedding, this sometimes isn't possible. If your wedding is in more than one location, look at the timeline and allow extra time for guests, vendors, and even yourself to navigate through potential traffic congestion. If your wedding is in a place with limited parking such as La Jolla, Sunset Cliffs, Downtown or any other place that doesn’t have venue dedicated parking, inform your guests and give them options. Be aware of any parking regulations and restrictions in the area, especially if you're considering street parking for guests. You wouldn't want guests to get ticketed on your special day, ask your venue for suggested street parking for guests. If your wedding is on a weekday, be sure that guests are aware of heavy traffic on the freeways during rush hour. If you are not familiar with the area ask your venue staff, planner, photographer or other locals who would be familiar with the traffic patterns for guidance.

  1. Permits and Regulations: Depending on your chosen wedding location and the scale of your event, you may need to obtain permits and adhere to specific regulations. Places like public parks, most beaches, Torrey Pines and Cabrillo National park,  you will need a permit. If you're having your wedding at a venue that includes a beach ceremony like the La Jolla Shores Hotel or Cuvier Club, the venue will often help you through the process or do it for you entirely. You also may need permits for Alcohol, setting up Tents/Canopies, Amplified Music, Photography/Filming, and if you want candles or sparklers. Permit requirements will vary depending on the location within San Diego, the size of your event, and what you're planning on doing. Make sure to contact the city departments or agencies to get accurate and updated information about the specific permits you'll need for your wedding.

  1. Finalize the Details: Remember at the bottom line your wedding day is something that is unique to you and your partner and not anyone else. It can be easy to fall into a trap of letting others help decide on details sidetracking you and your partner's vision, especially when you are getting help from family. Double-check all arrangements with your vendors and make any necessary adjustments as the wedding date approaches. Finalize your guest list and seating arrangements. Work with your Planner and Coordinator to finalize the timeline with all the details. Make sure all guests, family, and your wedding party know all the details and if you made any changes to the schedule. Coordinate with your Photographer/Videographer and let them know any important shots you want and family photo lists, as well as set time for wedding party photos, couple photos and sunset session (DO ONE). Confirm assigned roles of family members and friends, designate a point person who can handle questions and issues on the day of the wedding. Practice any specific elements of the wedding that require practice, such as the first dance or speeches, take the time to rehearse them. Reach out to all your vendors and confirm the final details such as setup requirements and any special requests. 

  1. Rehearse: Hold a wedding rehearsal to walk through the ceremony with the wedding party and family members. Gather everyone involved (if possible) and run through the ceremony with your officiant. If you're having your wedding at a busy venue with no available dates you can practice, you can do this the morning of the wedding, in a park or even your driveway. As long as it's a space large enough and everyone can hear each other. Inform your Photographer and Videographer if there are any special traditions from your religion or culture. If your DJ isn't there remember to give him lines to listen for from the officiant for specific music played at certain times. Make sure everyone knows their role and understands the timing or call for them. While the rehearsal is important, it's also an opportunity to have fun and share some laughs. Mistakes are going to happen so don't stress too much about perfection, the reality is nobody knows it's a mistake a lot of the time and if you don’t act like it, most people won’t budge. Remember, the rehearsal is a practice run, and it's okay if things aren't perfect. Run through it multiple times if necessary and ask if there are any questions. The goal is to ensure that everyone is comfortable and confident about their roles so that the actual ceremony can be a beautiful and memorable moment.


  1. Get Married!: After all the hard work the day is finally here, remember it’s normal to feel a huge mix of emotions but just relax and pamper yourself and take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ultimately, your wedding day is a celebration of your love and commitment for each other and this new chapter in your life together. If things don't go exactly as planned, stay calm. Your positive attitude will set the tone for the rest of the event. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: trust your vendors and support circle and everything will turn out fine. With so much happening, it's easy for the day to fly by. Make an effort to stay present in each moment and fully engage with the experience. Embrace the joy, soak in the happiness, and create beautiful memories that will last a lifetime.