The Most Romantic Getaway
Welcome to the elopement capital of the world.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Shannon Pfile would have been a June bride. She and husband-to-be Brian Kriezel had planned to be married on June 11, 2006, in front of 100 of their closest friends and family, in a castle in Palos Verdes, with coaches to shuttle the guests to and from the ceremony, and to the reception on a yacht in the Venice, Calif., marina. And then the wedding planning got a little too crazy for the happy couple’s liking.
“It wasn’t fun anymore,” Brian says. “I had always wanted to elope, to be married in the outdoors, just a nice, simple ceremony outside. But the big wedding was always really important to Shannon.”
The couple had planned an 18-month engagement, figuring that more time would mean less stress. They figured wrong.
Then, last November, they took a weekend holiday to Monterey.
“Maybe we should get married, here, on the coast,” Shannon remembers the two of them musing. “Maybe we’ll do that in June.”
Brian’s memory is a bit more pointed.
“During that trip,” he says, talking to Shannon, “You said, ‘Let’s just come up here. The location is beautiful. Let’s just come up here and get married.’”
Shannon found what she calls “the perfect spot,” in Pacific Grove. She found the site online, though Rev. Joyce Meuse’s Web site: The Marine Wildlife Refuge on the beach. The two walked the area when they visited, in November. “I felt it when I stood in that area,” Shannon says. “That was it.”
Locals may take the magnificent Monterey Bay for granted. But visitors don’t make that mistake, which is one reason why our hometown is a world-class travel destination. It’s also quite a hot spot for elopements.
Anne Ross, the wedding consultant at the Martine Inn, says that of the 50 or so weddings she plans a year, a surprising 20 percent are elopements. “Couples come from all over to elope here,” she says.
Today, on a sunny afternoon in May, Ross is sitting in the parlor room, decorated in antique lace and 1890s silver. Bay windows look out onto the rocky, Pacific Grove coastline. A sea otter bobs along the blue waves.
The 1890s Mediterranean-style mansion has been hosting elopements for all of its 21 years as a bed and breakfast. “This is something that we specialize in,” Ross says. “You can’t compete with the ease, elegance and value” of a PG elopement, she says.
Elopements are so popular at Martine Inn, in fact, that an elopement package is featured on its Web site. For $250, plus the price of a room, couples can get married at the Martine Inn—in its courtyard, flanked by climbing roses, potted flowers and an Asian-inspired fishpond, or, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, inside the oak-floored library in front of the cozy fireplace and mahogany columned mantle. Some brides and grooms want an off-site wedding: Ross recommends Berwick Park, perched above the bay with crashing waves pounding the rocky coastline, sheltered by Monterey Cypress trees. Or of course there’s Lovers Point, a perennial favorite place to get hitched.
The elopement fee also includes a small wedding cake and bottle of champagne. Additionally, Ross helps the couple—many of whom have never visited Pacific Grove before—find an officiate, a florist, a photographer, a videographer, a makeup artist and a hairstylist.
Couples elope year-round in Monterey County, Ross says. In fact, she’s coordinating an elopement this weekend (she had a week’s notice to plan this wedding) and another the following week.
Elopement fashion runs the gamut from white gowns and tuxedos to his-and-hers white denim, Ross says.
“And the wedding dresses are not always long, and they’re not always white. Some are salmon, taupe, lime green, a simple chiffon dress. One couple came in cowboy outfits. You have the chance to do and wear whatever you want because no one is here to tell you what to do.”
* * *
Jaden and John Hart, who were married at the Martine Inn on Sept. 22, 2004, went for more formal attire.
The couple, who live in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with their golden retriever Louie, had been engaged for five years, but couldn’t decide what kind of wedding they wanted. So they chose to elope, and didn’t tell anyone that they were going to do it.
“Whenever we would think about a big wedding,” Jaden says, “it seemed too much to do.”
John jumps in: “We wanted no stress. We’re both professionals, we work long hours, and that was one of the downsides to planning a big ceremony: the tremendous stress.”
The couple had been planning to come out to California for a vacation—Jaden had visited Southern California once, but John had never set foot in the state—when they stumbled upon the Martine Inn online. And so, site unseen save the Web site’s photo gallery, the couple booked the elopement package.
I ask if they felt nervous, deciding to get married in a city unknown to the two of them.
“No,” Jaden says. “The bed and breakfast seemed really nice, and when we decided to elope, we knew we would have to leave everything to chance.”
Initially, chance didn’t seem to be on their side. Three hurricanes hammered Florida, and postponed the Hart’s wedding, twice.
Finally, in late September, the couple made it to Pacific Grove.
The morning of the wedding, a Wednesday, the couple walked along the beach and watched the seals.
They were married in the Martine Inn courtyard, where the groom wore a navy suit jacket and khakis, and the bride wore a white silk tea-length dress.
“The reverend went though our vows and it was very private, it was like he was speaking only to us—which he was,” Jaden says. “The day was really just about the two of us.”
After the ceremony, the newlyweds drove down 17-Mile Drive in a rented convertible Porsche and later lunched at the Wharf.
“It was kind of surreal,” Jaden says. “I kept thinking: I just got married.”
* * *
“No regrets,” says Paul Hoegh-Guldberg, about his decision to elope with Sam Hoegh-Guldberg, nee Evans, in Big Sur. “I knew it would be fun, with Sam, but I wasn’t prepared for…” his voice trails off. “It was a warm, friendly experience even though it was bloody cold.
“All of my friends who have been married in a more traditional way most definitely talk about it from the point of view that the celebration was for everybody else. This was more relaxing. It was just Sam and I, and when we walked down that little path to the wedding area, it was just the two of us. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than experiencing that moment together.”
The couple, who live in Los Angeles, married on March 17 at Ventana Inn. At the time, Sam was seven months pregnant. The couple’s family members were spread from Southern California to Sydney, Australia.
“It’s a huge financial burden to ask someone to get on a plane,” Sam says, “It’s a long way from Australia, and we didn’t want to get married in LA and only invite my family. Plus, we’re pregnant, and it felt like this is something we wanted to do on our own. We’re both 40 now. We’ve taken a long time to meet each other. This would be special, our day, about us.”
The couple considered eloping to New York or Hawaii, but then, on a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, they fell in love with Big Sur. It reminded them of home—Sydney—but with redwood trees.
At first, they weren’t going to tell anyone that they were going to elope, Sam says, but eventually they decided to tell their immediate families.
“We’re not excluding you,” Sam remembers telling them. “Look, we’re pregnant, you are all around the world. We’ll do something after.”
They’ve had one post-wedding reception already, in Los Angeles, and will fly to Sydney for another one after the baby is born. “A big wedding after all,” Paul jokes.
The stylish couple both wore English designers, a Paul Smith suit for Paul, “something he could keep forever,” and a white, fluid Ghost gown for Sam. “I must be the only seven-month pregnant woman to try to find a wedding dress,” she says. Sam also wore a cashmere coat, but only out of necessity. No one had warned the So Cal couple about springtime on the Central Coast.
Aside from the bride and groom, the only other people in attendance were photographers Jane Morba and Kevin Gould, and Rev. Colette Cuccia.
“You are in such a cocoon, just three people around you whom you’ve never met, and you’re going through such a personal experience,” Sam says. “There is this connection, because you are going through this experience of being married with perfect strangers.”
Sam and Paul Hoegh-Guldberg eloped on St. Patrick’s Day, in the early evening. Cuccia read an Irish poem and blessed their unborn baby, and then the couple recited their vows.
“I highly recommend eloping,” says Sam, a newlywed of less than a month. “About an hour before the wedding, we were sitting there eating chocolate-dipped strawberries. We must have been the least stressed bride and groom ever.”
* * *
After planning a big wedding, and then deciding to elope, Shannon Kriezel, nee Pfile, still wanted her father to walk her down the aisle.
“We called up our families,” Brian says, “and said, ‘We’re getting married, would you like to join us?’”
Shannon’s parents, who live in Illinois, as well as Brian’s mom and her husband, who live in Mexico, and Brian’s sister, who lives in Los Angeles, flew out for the big day: New Year’s Eve 2005.
While it may not fit the textbook definition of an elopement, Brian describes it as “elopement plus.”
Rain and floods plagued much of California over the New Year’s weekend, and the bride and groom awoke, on Dec. 31, to torrential downpours, which doesn’t bode well for a wedding at the beach.
Miraculously, the rain stopped at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Shannon was at the salon, getting her hair and makeup done, when Brian called her cell phone. “I said, ‘We need to get married now.’”
And so, a little earlier than they had expected, the couple got the wedding of their dreams.
The clouds parted and the sun shone down on the tiny wedding party. The sea raged and the surf pounded the shore behind them, and the air smelled sweet and fresh, as it does after a big rain.
Shannon wore a long, white dress and carried a bouquet of lilies as her father walked her across the sand, and gave her away to Brian, who stood waiting in a formal black suit.
After saying “I do,” the bride, groom and guests clinked champagne flutes and drank Veuve Clicquot. The next morning, they woke up to a new year as man and wife.
“The funny thing is,” Shannon says, “we had so much time to plan our wedding that we decided to plan our honeymoon first. We’re still leaving on June 21.”
In about a month, Shannon and Brian Kriezel will honeymoon in Italy. At that time, they will have been married for almost six months. And unlike their newly married counterparts, they won’t wear dazed, bewildered faces—baggage from staging, costuming, lighting, designing, choreographing and styling a full-fledged production of a wedding that took months, if not years, to plan, and lasts five hours, tops. Instead, I imagine them relaxed and happy, sitting at a sidewalk café in Rome near the Trivoli fountain, recalling a wedding that came together beautifully at the last minute and allowed them both to keep their sanity.