Likely as not, it will rain, or at least blow, and probably both. There will be sand in places it doesn’t belong, the occasional canine party crasher, countless birds and, of course, no end of curious onlookers. But the couples who come from across the globe to say “I do” know it’s all part of the package that is a wedding on the Oregon coast.
In Clatsop County, where Cannon Beach tops the chart for coveted sites, marriage license applications this season were nearly triple the norm — about two dozen a week — for couples from all over the globe, said Clatsop County Clerk Tracie Krevanko.
“I’ve married people from India and Ukraine,” Krevanko said. “I only officiate when they can’t find someone else. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. Once I started doing them, it became exciting to be part of that person’s special day.”
Most would agree few details determine how special the day will be like the weather. You can hope for perfection, but the odds are not in your favor. That’s why Julie Adams, owner of Julie Adams Photography based in Cannon Beach, encourages the couples-to-be to work with what nature gives them.
“A lot of brides want to plan it to the T,” said Adams whose portfolio includes the weddings of Sen. Ron Wyden and Nancy Bass, and musicians Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck. “Mother Nature wins. You have to be willing to accept it, to flow and adjust. It seems the ones who want the most control are the ones it rains on.”
Adams recalls one beach wedding with a guest list of about 150. As the bride was about to walk down the beach, the skies opened, and lightning began.
“We had to run inside,” Adams said. “She was rained on. My camera was fogged. Everything was wet. She said, ‘You know what, I just want to get married.’ ”
Sometimes, the seemingly idyllic beach location turns out to be not so dreamy after all. Fortunately, for Dana and Horus Alkebu-Lan, they figured that out on a visit from their Seattle home before the big day.
“Although it’s a romantic idea, the logistics of having 125 guests walk through deep sand in dress shoes, the strong breeze off the water and needing multiple large speakers so everyone can hear the ceremony over the lovely seagulls, we decided to come up with a different plan that would be more comfortable for our guests,” Dana recalled.
The wedding weekend included a buffet, bonfire, music and dancing and a ceremony at Surfsand’s Haystack Gardens featuring African drumming and a tea ceremony.
“Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock is a stunning and majestic location, and we wished to honor the land, the Indigenous culture and treat the wedding ceremony as a ceremony,” Dana said.
The definition of a perfect day is, of course, as varied as the couples themselves.
Jessie Matsumura and Steve Erickson, both married before, wanted it simple and small. But when COVID made even that difficult, the Portland couple headed to Cannon Beach to have a ceremony just for themselves. In a nod to their love of fishing, the bride and groom wore waders — along with lace gloves and a bridal veil for her, Erickson promised to always bait her hook, and the officiant used a fisherman’s knot to symbolize their commitment.
“The officiant had a saying about the knot,” Erickson said. “You keep your individuality but are bound in one strong knot. The harder you pull, the stronger the knot.”
Mary “Katie” Trees, who holds a doctoral degree in divinity and is based in Seaside, has been marrying couples since 1989. She’s seen pretty much everything — sandstorms, the pair of attorneys who didn’t have their license, the last-minute requests for strangers to witness the event (people love being asked).
Her advice to those coming to the coast is to plan ahead and be organized. That means knowing who is doing the flowers, who is picking up the cake and ideally, where you plan to be married. Permitting requirements differ from city to county to state, so best to check ahead.
“Sometimes, I don’t even know where the wedding is until the morning of or the day before,” Trees said. “You come and you have this idea of how you want to create this day, and they just need some time to find that perfect spot. In Cannon Beach, a lot of people want to get married by the rock [Haystack]. I tell them if you are right by the rock, you have this massive structure behind you.”
Kelli Alderman and JJ Weaver almost learned Tree’s bit of advice the hard way. They’d considered marrying in their hometown of Chicago but found it too expensive and too much work. So, they decided on Cannon Beach, expecting to find the right place when they arrived. But when it rained the day before the wedding, they realized just any location might not work.
“It was a crappy day,” Weaver said. “We drove around and solicited advice from locals.” Then they happened upon a small protected cove at Hug Point. “Kelli lit up and said, ‘This is obviously the place.’ ”
“I don’t feel there is any other way to describe it but the perfect day,” Alderman said.
Jessica and Brian Kincade planned as well as anyone can, and had they not, might have missed their wedding. The Oklahoma couple picked the August day after consulting the Farmer’s Almanac. They booked a room in a Cannon Beach hotel — “the most beautiful place in the U.S. we’ve been to” — and signed Trees as their officiant.
But when the two set out with Brian’s children for Oregon, they soon found themselves stuck, their connection in Denver repeatedly delayed. Eventually, the four ended up in separate cities — Jessica in Oakland, Brian and his daughter in Portland and his son in Santa Barbara. They arrived in Oregon a day late, but still with time to spare.
“Thank goodness we planned it a few days in advance,” Jessica said.
For Tonya and Ashley “Ash” Breaux, the coast was the runner-up site after the couple found their first choice, Dollywood, “super expensive.” They were about to elope when a friend who owns Starry Night Inn in Seaside mentioned they had rooms available.
With short notice, they notified friends and family, then hosted a gold and black, 1920′s themed wedding. The weather was true to form — sunshine, clouds, the threat of rain. Though the clouds may have obscured the water, they also hid the crowds of people walking on the beach. In the end, it was a memorable day as most beach weddings are — for better or worse.
“All of our friends and family made the day amazing,” Tonya said. “When we were heading back from Portland, I asked Ash ‘Do you wish we’d eloped vs. having all the chaos of creating a wedding?’ She said, ‘I wouldn’t trade this. This is priceless.’ ”