Karen & Peter's California Redwoods, Chocolate-Laden, Budget Wedding

Updated Oct 12 2015

3524611440_aa721f9a88_bThe Offbeat Bride: Karen, graphic & web designer

Her Offbeat Partner: Peter, programmer extraordinaire

Location & date of wedding: Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz, California — 04-26-09

What made our wedding offbeat: We were married under the redwoods by my uncle, our first dance was to Mystery Science Theater 3000's "When Loving Lovers Love" (such a pitch-perfect parody song that several people didn't realize it was a joke), and the only white items anyone saw were the groom's tie and the cake frosting.

We didn't intend to have a theme to our wedding, but one emerged on its own: "Here, have some chocolate". From our dessert-first truffle appetizers to the make-you-own bottles of M&Ms favors to the cake itself: it was all chocolate. Even the catering was from a restaurant named "Chocolate".

While I didn't make any of the food, I did as much on my own as I could. I designed and printed the invitations (all done out of my little home inkjet printer), assembled the centerpieces, made the Bridezilla and Groomera cake toppers, and even separated out 25 pounds of M&Ms by color.

Peter helped with as much as he could (he's not the crafting type), but thankfully he was on board for one of our more controversial offbeat decisions: no gifts. There wasn't really anything we needed (or had room for), and when the economy tanked, tons of really good organizations needed money a LOT more than we needed new plates. So we asked everyone to give to charities instead. Not everyone was thrilled with that idea (some people gave us gifts anyway, some people didn't give anything to anyone), but it was still one of the best decisions we made.

Love this pic of the groom looking at his ring. Adorable!
Love this pic of the groom looking at his ring. Adorable!
Our biggest challenge: We were paying for the wedding ourselves while trying to save up for a home, so our first priority was to keep costs down. That meant a lean headcount, cutting some "traditional" items, shopping at the occasional dollar store, and using a public park. We used paper plates with plastic utensils, iTunes instead of a DJ, and skipped the bridal party.

But some of the decisions were harder: when it came down to the wire, we had to cut the professional photographer (fortunately we had two hobbyist photographer guests coming), the booze (we would have had to spends hundreds on permits before we even bought a single bottle), and we got a smaller cake than either of us wanted. In the end it was worth it. We had a fun, fantastic wedding with 45 people and the total bill for everything (rings included) came in at a fourth to a fifth of what the "average" wedding costs (depending on whose "average" you use), and people STILL tell us it was the best wedding they've ever been to.

23 - The bride arrives
Incredible location, amazing dress, awesome hair piece & OMG that hair!

My favorite moment: So many to choose from…
There was the previous weekend when my then-fiance found my beautiful dress (yes, he came along to find a wedding dress; I hate clothes shopping with a passion and was on the verge of buying something terribly boring just to get the process over with, and HE was the one that encouraged me to find something special), there was also the "garter toss" where he tossed a rubber garter snake, the moment I dug into my wedding cake and realized it was the BEST cake I'd ever had at ANY wedding…

But really, the best moment was when I arrived at the ceremony site. I had gone all morning without seeing Peter or most of the guests (the one traditional thing we did), so when I walked up to the grove and was suddenly surrounded by my wonderful fiance and all the important people in my life with the sun streaming through the trees and the ivy all around us, it was just the most beautiful thing in the world. And since we didn't have a sound system out there, my uncle led everyone in singing the "dun DUN dun dun" song as I was walking up, which just put the whole experience over the moon.

Trivia Game!! Bonus trivia question: Which is cooler? A) Pirates, B) Ninjas, C) Zombies, or D) Robots?
Trivia Game!! Bonus trivia question: Which is cooler? A) Pirates, B) Ninjas, C) Zombies, or D) Robots?
My advice for other offbeat brides:
1) There is no wrong way to get married. We had a small budget party, and it was wonderful. A month prior I went to my cousin's big white traditional wedding, and that was fantastic too. I've seen some big elaborate expensive weddings on this site, and they look gorgeous. And if you honestly want to just get married at the courthouse and throw a backyard barbecue later, then that's exactly what you should do. As long as the wedding is about you, your friends, your families, and your future together, as long as you're marrying the love of your life — the day is already perfect, and anything else on top of it is just the awesome sauce.

Love the nail color, but click on this to get the story behind the jewelry.
Love the nail color, but click on this to get the story behind the jewelry.
2) Doing things yourself and comparison shopping will save you a ton of money, but it also takes a ton of time. Plan accordingly. I wish I had organized everything better so I could have shopped for more items at the same time, instead of running to the same stores over and over again. On the plus side, shopping for an offbeat wedding is a LOT of fun, even if you get into some strange looks from the people behind the counter when, for instance, they ask what kind of doll you're trying to find a tux for, and you have to admit it's actually for a Japanese monster turtle. (Then they ask what you're using a tux-clad turtle for. "Uh, it's going on a cake." "Like, a kid's birthday cake?")

Gotta love dollar store centerpieces.
Gotta love dollar store centerpieces.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links? We got SO lucky with the vendors – there were three things we really cared about and were willing to splurge on: the food, the cake, and the rings, and all three turned out fantastic!

We had a Santa Cruz restaurant, Chocolate, do the catering.

Our favorite bakery, Sugar Butter Flour, provided the main chocolate cake and small red velvet and lemon sheet cakes. (The guests really appreciated having a choice of cakes, especially when I hauled out the take-out containers and told them to take some home!)

Finally, we hit a big home run with the ring designers: we wanted something truly unique for the rings, and Dean's Designs in Los Altos was able to work with our ideas and made us exactly what we wanted!

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!
Click on the photo of their amazing cake toppers to see even more fun photos from this wedding:

01 - Bridezilla and Groomera

  1. OMG the cake toppers. The bride is so fiercely ugly that she is BEAUTIFUL. And I'm cracking up over old Hunchback McSurprisedEyes next to her. So cool!!!

  2. Oh, um, obviously I was talking about the cake toppers the whole time. Just to clarify. 🙂

    Also, the *real* bride's dress is super fabulous. I love how it looks bright blue in some of the photos and pale blue in others. Very diverse. 🙂

  3. Those cake toppers are FANTASTIC! And I love how the guests put M&Ms in bottles–I was going to do something similar but have the guests put them into bags. I like your idea a million times better!

  4. !!!! I'm gettin all emotional reading this! It looks like you guys had a great time and a beautiful day! You clearly had a great attitude about your wedding. Thanks for being so encouraging and sharing your story with us! Congratulations!

  5. YES! This is what I keep coming back to….heartfelt and special, more than showy and "perfect". Beautifully done! And the DIY M&M favors rok my socks.

  6. I'm just soaking up all the great pictures. Like Kate said, your attitude is great.
    Your so creative!

  7. I love that first dance choice. I was really tempted to try working an MST3K song in somewhere but ran out of time.

    Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is a great episode all around. Ah man now I want to go watch Brain Guys The Nature of Bobo.

  8. Beautiful! Lovely! Hilarious! Your dress and hairpiece are amazing. Way to go on the invites, too! I love all the thoughtfulness that went into the day. I really like all the green at the reception. Can I just say your kissing shots are HOT? Thanks for sharing!

  9. Yay! A Santa Cruz bride!! Chocolate really is an amazing restaurant – it's great to see some local wedding action. I've been having a hard time finding Santa Cruz brides!

  10. Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!

    I love this wedding–I especially love your first paragraph of advice to brides. SO true and beautifully put.

    I hope my wedding in a redwood grove in the Santa Cruz mountains this summer is half as lovely. xo

  11. Hey there, everyone. Bride in question here, and I just wanted to thank everyone for their kind words. The wedding was a blast and we were so lucky to have everything fall into place without a hitch.

    I also wanted to thank Ariel, the offbeat interns, and all the users who post on this site. OBB was a constant source of encouragement and inspiration, and I wonder how totally different my wedding would have looked like if I hadn't stumbled across that little book (and this subsequent site) 6 months ago.

    Plus, we have some other Santa Cruz girls and MST3K fans here, which is REALLY cool.

    Thanks again.

    PS – I'm not sure if other post-brides think the same thing, but for me, wedding porn is MORE fun to look at after the wedding. The pressure is off and I can look at all the gorgeous pictures without thinking "aw, crap, should I try to work that in too?"

  12. OMG!!
    I already loved this site, and now it just got a ton better. I went to Jr. High with the bride, Karen S.
    (Hi Karen!!! You look gorgeous!) 🙂

    Looks like it was an awesome wedding, I'm glad to see the OBB represent Santa Cruz, where every wedding is offbeat.

  13. Can I ask where he found that dress? I'm looking for something special, possibly colorful, less traditional than anything I've already tried on. Any advice? 🙂

  14. Great story! Looks like the perfect wedding. And great tips. Thanks! My fiancee and I are getting married on 5/22/10 in a backyard in Soquel. We are also considering using Chocolate as our caterer. How were they? Congrats!

  15. It looked like your guests were playing a game (writing things down and then raising their hands?). What game did you play? (Or what activity was that?)

  16. Hi there and congratulations! Please can I ask how you settled on a park for the ceremony? We are hoping for something simple in the redwoods too, but there are so many!

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