When you think of weddings in Los Angeles, you are most likely picturing a huge blow-out party in a ballroom dressed to the nines! But let me tell you, there’s another side to weddings here in Southern California. So many of my clients are choosing to forego this big hoopla. They are leaning away from tradition for something a bit more romantic, and I’m here to share with you today how to plan that perfect intimate wedding.
Let me quickly clarify, I’m not simply talking about “budget” weddings, where a couple decides to do things for as little money as possible. I get that this is sometimes a necessity for many couples. In this blog post, I am going to focus on weddings where everything feels closer, parsed down, and familiar.
Abbi Cooley Photography
Intimate is defined as “closely acquainted; familiar, close” or “private and personal.” These weddings are off the beaten path, secluded, and emphasize connection over consumption. And they make this planner’s heart oh so happy. Not that big weddings cannot connect a couple with their guests. It just gets exceedingly harder the bigger your guest list is, the louder the music is, and the later the evening is.
The things that make an intimate wedding more of what they should be is less of the other stuff.
The easiest way to create an atmosphere where you, the couple, feel connected to your guests is to limit the number of people you celebrate with. At weddings with over 100 guests, I tend to see several places of disconnect. Some guests feel secluded seated at the furthest tables away. Many older folks leave when the party gets rowdy. And oftentimes old friends feel lost in a sea of unknown faces.
When you make your initial guest list create 3 tiers. Tier 1 is full of your immediate family (mom, dad, siblings). Tier 2 is for extended family & close friends (aunts, uncles, grandparents, best friends). And Tier 3 is for acquaintances (family friends, co-workers).
Take the time to dive into those relationships in Tiers 2 /3 and answer these questions.
Get really clear about the purpose of your wedding, and make sure the individuals you are inviting are going to elevate that purpose. It’s totally okay to have to nix individuals from your list because the relationship you have isn’t very strong. It might even be crucial to consider if someone might potentially devalue the experience for others in attendance.
When you plan the perfect intimate wedding you want the emphasis to be on the amazing people you have in your life. Not trying to remember the name of someone you’ve met only once before!
Sometimes you just need to save the most intimate pieces of your life for those who are going to uphold you through each step of this journey. I worked with a bride & groom who celebrated their marriage ceremony with 10 family members in a sweet backyard ceremony. Almost like an elopement. What a cherished moment between two families coming together as one. The following day more guests joined them for an alfresco-style reception. This created a wonderful weekend affair out of the blessed matrimony.
The perfect intimate wedding is full of intentional movement! Sitting through a ceremony, sitting through dinner, sitting through toasts – weddings come with a lot of static energy! Don’t be afraid to change things up a little bit when it comes to wedding traditions. By having your guests stand during your ceremony (as long as it’s a short but meaningful affair), you get them involved from the get-go. And they will feel closer to you emotionally and spiritually by being closer to you physically.
There are so many interesting ways to incorporate your guests into your event and keep them connected to the joy. For our wedding, we decided we didn’t want to have a sit-down dinner. Instead, we planned an extended cocktail hour full of heavy and hearty apps to keep them satisfied. We crafted our own “photo booth” picture frame that could travel around the room with our guests. And we incorporated an early ending time so guests could still hang out and enjoy the downtown area for the evening.
If you really want that intimate feel, be prepared to get close and comfy! A smaller venue will not only help you limit your guest list (*hint hint*) but it will also help the space feel full. Start to think outside of the box when it comes to venues. Look at local art museums, rustic barns, restaurants, a boat, a mountaintop, warehouses, or event libraries. A space that can host both your ceremony and your reception makes for no time lost when shared with loved ones.
If you are really ready to jump outside of your comfort zone, think about a destination wedding. It’s a new location where you can make special memories. And you can host a fun trip for the family to remember forever.
Becca Murray Photography
One of my 2018 couples, Michael and Siena, chose to have their intimate wedding the week leading up to Christmas. The stunning Culver Hotel was their venue of choice, and with amazing holiday decor, it really set the scene! Siena recalls, “We knew we wanted to get married at the historic Culver Hotel, which has a limit of 60 guests. This also gave us a good excuse as to why we had to keep the guest count low.”
Their wedding ceremony took place in the cozy lobby and main dining area. Various chaise lounges, armchairs, and benches marked the guest’s vantage point looking up to the beautiful Christmas tree the two married under. For dinner, the Culver has a gorgeous dining hall for intimate private events. The guests shared much love and laughter seated at the long dining table together.
You can read more about how to plan your own intimate wedding in Los Angeles over on the blog. I’d love to hear how you are making your own traditions and what venue you choose!
Time to change up the traditional wedding day a little bit. Find ways to get your guests involved, showing them how important their guidance and support has been for your relationship. They are in fact the people that helped guide you to become who you are today. This best version of yourself who is now bonded mind, body, and soul to another.
Think of something new for your perfect intimate wedding that will help your personalities shine front and center. For a seating chart get creative! Use pictures of exciting adventures you went on with each individual guest and revel in the memories together. Invite your friends and family to participate in a ring warming during the ceremony. Dine al fresco with everyone at long wooden tables under the stars, passing and sharing food.
A friend told me about an intimate wedding (under 50 guests) she attended a few years ago. It took place on a secluded beach where the bride & groom said their vows against the background of the waves. Dinner was a backyard BBQ that concluded with everyone around the fire pit taking turns toasting the happy couple. They shared sweet memories of their first meeting, marriage advice, and encouragement for the marriage journey ahead. Just a few reminders of the adventures that had led them to this glorious place in their lives.
Kami Arant Photography
One of my past KWE couples decided to do away with the traditional wedding timeline. Instead of hiding away before their ceremony, they greeted guests in the ceremony area upon arrival. They opted to have a table set up with champagne for guests to grab as they milled about and excited talked with the couple about the wedding ceremony only mere minutes away. It was a wonderful time for the couple to spend with their friends and family and build in some peace and familiarity before saying “I do”.
In order to plan the perfect intimate wedding, you should really focus a ton of time on perfecting your guest experience! How your guests see, feel, taste, and hear your event are crucial. This doesn’t have to mean “no music”, it just means fewer distractions. With a guest list of under 100, you will inevitably want to spend more time with your loved ones because these are going to be your people!
You can absolutely get rid of whatever you feel is distracting from the purpose of your wedding: like going table to table, the bouquet and garter toss, or traditional speeches. A raucous band or DJ might pull too much focus and turn the evening into a rave. And gaudy decorations may outshine the diamond in the rough that is your venue.
If you want to plan the perfect intimate wedding, try to incorporate meaningful and intentional activities with your guests to make them part of your special occasion. You could host a cocktail hour with a mixologist that teaches you and your guests all about the drinks. Or learn line dancing from a talented bridesmaid. Even bringing in a fun activity like karaoke because you are known for bringing people together for sing-a-longs!
Getting rid of the big fluffy things leaves extra room in your budget and in your timeline for what really matters most; the people!
Amy Van Vlear Photography
We opted not to get a DJ for our wedding. Not because we don’t love music. But because my hubby and most of our guests aren’t “on the dance floor” kinda folks. The best part for me was getting to plan out the background music for the evening. I knew exactly what songs were going to play and when; and I got to have some fun with it.
For our pre-ceremony soundtrack, we made a playlist of all our favorite love songs from Broadway shows. A nod to our deep love of the theatre and storytelling. And while guests were enjoying mingling and fun activities during cocktail hour, we had the Disneyland soundtrack playing. What better way to make our friends and family feel like they were at the Happiest Wedding on Earth!
When you start focusing on creating a foundation for your marriage that will last a lifetime instead of a one-day circus, you start to realize you don’t need everything. Planning a smaller, more intimate wedding allows you to say no to the excess.
Aly Tovar Photography
Eco-friendly weddings are a great reminder to take care of the space, home, and life we have in front of us before it is gone. Instead of a traditional registry, request donations to a charity that is near and dear to your heart. And tell them WHY! Get married in a national park or other historical landmarks, giving back to the community around you. Use biodegradable materials, like wood utensils, or reusable materials, like linen napkins.
When you plan the perfect intimate wedding, your journey can still be filled to the brim with joy thanks to less fluff, less fuss. Don’t forget about all of the relationships present on your big day. Those who have encouraged and supported you along the way, making you into the person you are today. Celebrating those relationships is just as important as the budding new family you are forming on your wedding day.
If you are open to exploring what an intimate and intentional wedding might look like for you I created a guide specifically for couples who are looking to downsize to an intimate gathering for their wedding. You can sign up here to receive the FREE guide!
Hey there, I’m Sarah! Before becoming a Los Angeles wedding planner, I felt drawn to finding a creative outlet that emphasized relationships! Becoming engaged, navigating the planning process, and maintaining a healthy marriage go hand-in-hand with all of the other relationships in your life. Marriage is the reason I work in the wedding industry. I don’t do it for that one special wedding day, I do it for every day that follows after I do!
And if you’d like to have someone like me on your vendor team to help you navigate designing a wedding that feels like you and who will keep things in check on the wedding day so you can relax like a guest, check out my small wedding planning services!
send a note: email@example.com
connect with me
Sarah is a Los Angeles wedding planner ready to
elevate all your relationships through small and intimate weddings.