A couple kiss at the end of their Big Sur wedding ceremony, with the Pacific Ocean in the distance and a pair of colorful floral pieces framing them.

The Making of a Bold and Colorful Big Sur Wedding for Charlotte and Matt

Big Sur, California
BY SHIRA SAVADA / 10 26 22
Photo by Jenn Emerling

Every wedding vendor team is created a little differently. In this series we explore how and why each couple selected the right wedding vendor team for their wedding day.

Charlotte and Matt got engaged under a full harvest moon, in one of their favorite coves in Big Sur. It was mid-September of 2019, and two months later, they started planning for their wedding. Living up the coast in Santa Cruz at the time of their engagement, they always envisioned getting married in their happy place: Big Sur.

Their two options were to tie the knot in the spring or in the fall, because both seasons are beautiful there for different reasons—the spring for its endless green landscapes covered in wildflowers, and the fall for its golden tones contrasting against the Pacific Ocean and idyllic weather. Since the planning began in November, Charlotte and Matt thought that pulling everything together for a Big Sur wedding the following spring was a bit too ambitious, so fall dates were considered. Initially, October 10, 2020, was the wedding date. The pandemic led to a reschedule, but they were able to keep the same weekend of the month, ultimately getting married on October 9, 2021.


Wedding Planner

With some preliminary ideas and a clear vision of what the wedding would be like, Charlotte reached out to Ashley Smith of Ashley Smith Events, who had planned a wedding for a friend of the couple’s.

“We leaned on Ashley’s vendor list when making decisions about who we wanted to work with in creating our wedding. She has an incredible list of vendors that she has already worked with and during our meetings with Ashley she was able to tell us which ones she thought could be a good fit for us.” —Charlotte, bride

A couple exchange wedding vows during their Big Sur wedding by the water, with bold and colorful flowers surrounding them and their officiant.

From the start, everything was designed to be groovy and colorful, but also earthy and ethereal. The couple was moved by vintage and retro graphics and the setting was something to lean into as well. The dress code was “colorful monochromatic” and guests were asked not to wear black or white. Charlotte and Matt didn’t care so much about how formal peoples’ attire was, as much as they cared about it looking colorful and fun. Everyone expressed their own style as they dressed in a singular color from head-to-toe, resulting in a fantastic feast for the eyes befitting of the celebration and its layered and considered approach.

Ashley and her team not only designed everything with panache (including the after-party accents like custom lamps and a photo wall backdrop) but they navigated the challenges that come with a Big Sur wedding (namely, no cell service and needing to transport everyone on smaller buses due to narrow roads).

Guests at a Big Sur wedding were asked to wear colorful monochromatic attire. Here, a group of attendees in their bold hues.

Wedding Venues

The bride and groom (who moved to Big Sur a few months into their engagement) were approached by two of their closest friends, who were running the restaurant of a new venue in the area, The Village Big Sur. The wellness-driven community space felt like the perfect setting to Charlotte and Matt. Their only concern was that the pandemic put the construction on hold and some of the facilities were still being finished. But they were assured it would all be ready come their big day, and that their reception would take place without a hitch. In the end, it turned out even better than expected. Guests enjoyed cocktails on the terrace, dinner al fresco, and then danced the night away in the venue’s warehouse space.

“Ashley, along with the owners and everyone else involved, did such a great job evolving the space and creating a beautiful environment to eat, drink, dance the night away, and just spend time in.” —Matt, groom

The restaurant of the venue where a Big Sur wedding took place: The Village Big Sur.
A Big Sur wedding at The Village Big Sur, featured an outdoor bar for cocktail hour.
At a Big Sur wedding, the lawn was used for lounge areas during cocktail hour.

As for the ceremony spot, that was found in a bit of a beautiful accident. Right after their engagement, Charlotte and Matt were in Big Sur and met someone with a waterfront property, who kindly let them hold their ceremony there. The love-centered and intentional ceremony focused on everyone feeling grounded, present, and able to honor the land they were on and those who had been there before them.

The couple’s friend and officiant guided everyone in a short meditation (one of the couple’s favorite moments) after the bride and groom walked down the aisle on their own at the cliffside spot. They skipped having bridesmaids and groomsmen, as they liked the idea of being up at the front of the ceremony on their own.

“A lot of our guests had never been to Big Sur before, and the wedding was still a bit of a destination, even for the people who live in the Bay Area, so we wanted to give everyone a little tour of Big Sur with each of our senses in mind. What everyone saw, touched, heard, tasted, and smelled was considered in our decisions since each can contribute to the experience and memories of an event.” —Matt, groom

A waterfront Big Sur wedding had the ocean as the backdrop, and modern, blush pink chairs set in a semi-circular arrangement around where the couple would stand.
A portrait of a bride walking on the waterfront property where her Big Sur wedding took place. She carries a colorful and organic bouquet and her veil blows in the wind.
A bride recites her vows during her Big Sur wedding ceremony, with bold and colorful flowers behind her and the Pacific Ocean in the background.

Wedding Photographer

With the venues in place, it was time to start lining up a vendor team for the vibrant love fest that was Charlotte and Matt’s Big Sur wedding. Jenn Emerling was hired right away, as her upbeat, colorful, exuberant energy paralleled the vision for the event.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ashley for so many years now, and I know when she recommends me to her clients I'm in for a gorgeous, design-focused event with no detail spared. After hitting it off on our consultation call, I sent Charlotte and Matt a very enthusiastic ‘yes’ to working together. Though we waited a little longer than we had initially planned due to the pandemic, it was worth the wait, as I loved seeing their vision come to life in its full form and couldn’t imagine it otherwise. Charlotte is such an intuitive, kind soul and photographing her and Matt felt very collaborative. They trusted me every step of the way and that’s so important when it comes to making great photos. They also brought it on the dance floor, which was fire and super fun to document.” —Jenn Emerling, photographer

Bubbles blow around a pair of newlyweds during a portrait session at their Big Sur wedding.

Wedding Stationer & Illustrator

Camila Dias of Carta Plena was another early decision they made. The vision for the stationery for the wedding was very specific and could really only be produced by her. The words “Pure Radical Love” were included on the couple’s save the date—which evolved into "Pure Patient Love” on the “change the dates”—and that turned into the theme for the wedding.

“There were a lot of requests for items that were out of the scope of generic wedding items, and many custom curated pieces (giant vinyl decals and seating chart, acrylic, multi-layered dinner menus, and holographic foil are just a few). Immediately after getting Camila on board, a hunt to find an artist to custom create all of the graphics for the design elements began. This part took months. After a few iterations and trials, Charlotte ended up finding an artist, Anugrah Wayan of CMPTRULES, who fit the bill.”—Ashley Smith, planner

For this Big Sur wedding, the invitations were bold and colorful, using a variety of ink colors, paper colors, and even iridescent foil.
Place cards featured different sayings and illustrations at this Big Sur wedding.
To help guests find their seats at a Big Sur wedding, a colorful seating chart was hung.

“The stationery was where I put most of my creative energy during the planning process. There was a lot of symbolism throughout each component and it was important to us that everything was cohesive, which is why we chose to carry the icons from the invitations through to the day-of. We honored these symbols by describing what each meant on the back of the color-coded seating chart and menus. I will forever be extremely proud of the uniqueness and customization of this component of our wedding.” —Charlotte, bride

Another subtle element folded in was on the dinner menus, where the password to enter the speakeasy-themed after-party was printed. The colorful place cards also boasted affirmations Charlotte came up with.

A placesetting at a Big Sur wedding was topped with a motivational saying, a beverage menu, and a menu card outlining the family style meal.
On the back of each place card at a Big Sur wedding, the password to get into the speakeasy after-party was printed.

Wedding Florist

Felisa Funes of Of The Flowers came on board next, as her fun and whimsical style matched the event’s vibe. Florals were a way to make a statement in key spots—like the altar, which featured marigolds wrapped around it and hanging from the trees. Flowers that felt like they were local to the area were chosen, as was a wildness that made it seem as they were growing out of the land. 

For the reception tables, Ikebana-style arrangements and bushels of chamomile took center stage.

This Big Sur wedding bouquet was wild and asymmetrical, with a mix of unique blooms and greenery.
A Big Sur wedding ceremony meant epic waterfront views. Two floral installations to frame the couple were the only decor needed.
Marigolds climbed a tree at the outdoor reception of a Big Sur wedding, lanterns also hung overhead and illuminated the long tables.

Wedding Caterer & Cake Maker

Charlotte wanted to use as many local resources as possible. After exploring a few caterers, it was clear that they had to be thoughtful about sustainability and organic ingredients, having a farm-to-table approach, and celebrating California cuisine. There aren’t many caterers in the area that can service a bigger event (the guest count was 130), but after securing COAST Big Sur as a welcome party location and loving their philosophy and methods, Ashley approached them to see if they would consider catering the wedding as well. Coast agreed and Ashley helped them navigate working at a venue that had never hosted a wedding before and that also was just completed.

“Food is a big part of our relationship and we never could have anticipated having a James Beard award-winning chef make the menu at our wedding, but we are so grateful that Coast was willing to take on our big event. It’s really difficult to decide on a favorite but both of us absolutely loved the smoked potatoes with black garlic and ramp aioli. Charlotte also bee-lined it for the oyster bar, and since I am a big bread fan, I loved both breads (seeded oat and almond, and shio koji sourdough) with Coast’s house-cultured butter. Everything was perfect and we appreciate how much thought went into the ingredients and the menu.” —Matt, groom

A variety of cocktails were served at a Big Sur wedding, and the bar was decorated with fresh flowers and citrus fruits.
Sustainability was at the forefront of the menu at this Big Sur wedding, which had small plates served on biodegradable bamboo dishes.

Although the newlyweds skipped the cake cutting, they did have a little cake for show. It was a Rice Krispies cake topped with vanilla frosting and chamomile flowers, and displayed by individually wrapped treats for guests to grab as they also enjoyed root beer floats for the nontraditional dessert course.

A couple cut into a three-tier wedding cake decorated with fresh chamomile at their Big Sur wedding.
In addition to cake, rice crispy treats were served at a Big Sur wedding reception.
Late night drinks at a Big Sur wedding included root beer floats.

Wedding Hair & Makeup & Videographer

Marine Vaisset was hired to do Charlotte’s hair and makeup—a ponytail with soft waves accented by a gold cuff, and a natural face. She came highly recommended by someone Ashley had worked with several times.

A bride sported a low ponytail with gold hair jewelry at her Big Sur wedding, for which she carried a yellow and green bouquet.
The bride let her hair down for her Big Sur wedding reception, and grabbed a cocktail and her husband for a few photos before the sunset.

Around the same time, Sunbeat Films was selected for wedding videography, tasked with documenting the meaningful celebration on film. Charlotte liked the style of their work as well as how much they cared about the sentiment and sharing each couple’s story.


Wedding Rentals & Lighting

A parking lot was transformed for the reception, thanks to thoughtfully selected pieces from Found Rental Co. (and dinner napkins from borrowed BLU)—a go-to vendor for Ashley, as their items are not only beautiful but also well-maintained. Ashley customized the lighting and the venue’s house manager helped install it to make the reception glow.

Long tables were set in the parking lot of a Big Sur wedding venue for a bold and colorful wedding reception. Wood chairs, strands of marigolds, and modern lanterns dressed up the space.
A Big Sur wedding reception table decorated in a mix of muted tones and vibrant hues, with mauve dinner napkins, and vibrant floral centerpieces.
Vintage-style lounge furniture was rented for a Big Sur wedding that took place outside.

Wedding DJ

A wide range of music played throughout the celebration, but Erica Schwanke, who DJed, spun a lot of indie tunes, which suited the main theme for the soundtrack: psychedelic beach vibe with some of Charlotte and Matt’s favorites mixed in. The couple loved recessing up the aisle to “Love is Free” by Londrelle, and also curated playlists to enjoy pre-ceremony and during the cocktail hour and reception.

Guests dancing at a Big Sur wedding, where a DJ played all night.

Wedding Audio Guest Book

Instead of a typical guest book where people pen their messages to the happy couple, After the Tone was brought in. They provide a vintage phone that guests use to leave voice messages, and give the option to record those messages onto a vinyl record post-wedding, which Charlotte and Matt did.

An old rotary-style telephone awaits guests, as it was used to leave audio messages during the reception of a Big Sur wedding.
Instead of a traditional guest book, this Big Sur wedding had guests leave audio messages on an old telephone.
A bold and colorful Big Sur wedding ceremony with flowers anchoring the front and back of the waterfront setup.
A Modern Wedding for Charlotte and Matt
Jenn Emerling