The Royal Hawaiian hotel from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu

How to Plan A Small Oahu Wedding in Hawaii // Part 1: Choosing the Location, Venue & Guests

How to Plan A Small Oahu Wedding in Hawaii // Part 1: Choosing the Location, Venue & Guests

Thinking of planning an Oahu wedding? After Garrett and I got engaged, I immediately started dreaming of all the places where we could get married. I’ve always dreamed of a destination wedding, even before becoming a wedding photographer. And since entering the wedding industry, my desire only grew. I’ve been to most venues in my area as a wedding photographer for someone else’s wedding, so I wasn’t inspired by the settings for my own.

We both knew that we didn’t want anything traditional. Our style is informal and relaxed, but I gravitate towards stylish, comfortable settings. And I love florals and thoughtfully curated details. So after seeing tons of inspiration in my job, my expectations were wildly out of my price range! I knew that we wouldn’t get away with a big wedding * and * plan it the way I dreamed. So Garrett and I made a pact: we’d keep it small, but plan something really special.

Our Oahu Wedding

Our first steps to planning Our Destination Oahu Wedding:

First, we went to dinner and discussed the destinations that fit our style and vibe. We put no limits on this part of the conversation: this was purely for dreaming!

I loved the idea of mountains and water, so my top contenders were southern France, having visited Nice and loved it. Ireland, New Zealand and Bali were also high up on my list. Garrett loved the idea of Europe. Southern Germany, Normandy, Ireland and Hawaii. Having visited Hawaii a few times, Garrett loved the vibe and the amount of activities for our guests. Since we both had Ireland on our list, we seriously looked into having our ceremony in Dublin or on the coast, but after a lot of research, we reconsidered:

Due to our families’ schedules, we chose mid-May for our date. In Ireland, May can be one of the wettest months. Rain is always a possibility, but if we can avoid it, we’d like to. We also found that legally getting married in Ireland required a lot more effort and possible additional trips to sign documents, etc.  So we ruled it out.

Snorkling in Hanauma bay in oahu, Hawaii

Choosing Oahu

Hawaii, on the other hand, hit all of our checkpoints: water, mountains, activities, culture, and a simple legal process. So without me ever having visited it before, we decided on Hawaii. More specifically, we chose to have an Oahu wedding. After visiting multiple islands, Garrett felt that Oahu provided more activities and flexibility for our guests to do more with their time while they visited. And after some additional research, we found that it was also the most economical island to get married on. So Oahu it is! My husband is really convincing.

There are a several ways to plan a destination wedding, and most couples opt for a packaged deal set by a hotel or planning agency. While this is the easiest, most straightforward route, I knew it wasn’t for me. These packages are usually restricted to certain vendors and venues, and I wanted to be able to customize as much as possible. I’m a pretty chill person, but I know that I wanted the flexibility of choosing my own vendors as I would have been in Atlanta. If you can relate, then here is the breakdown of what you need to know and how to plan your dream Hawaiian wedding:

Oahu wedding at Paliku Gardens in Kualoa Ranchour wedding photos in Paliku Gardens on Oahu

Finding The Venue

Going into venue searching, I relied heavily on The Knot, Google and Pinterest. I searched for all sorts of venues “Oahu garden wedding venue,” “Oahu mountain elopement ceremony,” and “Oahu wedding venues” were top of my search history. I had a long list going, but I couldn’t depend too much on what I found, because surprisingly, more than half had terrible websites (this is a pet peeve of mine).

Garrett mentioned Kualoa Ranch. He and his brother visited Kualoa on a trip they took while Garrett was in college. He loved it there and remembered the mountains right by the sea. I had this venue on my list, but I discovered that it was a place that hosted several venue options! So I refined my searches. From experience, I know that wedding photographers post a lot photos on their blogs that show the venue space and setting when sharing images.

In order to see what the venues looked like from a photography perspective, I began searching for wedding photography blogs. My searches now looked like “Kualoa Ranch Wedding Photographer” or “Paliku Gardens Wedding photography” to narrow my searches. I combed through so many websites. It took forever. However, this helped so much! I loved the venue, and even though I’d never seen it in person, I got a good idea of the location.

wedding couple walks to their reception at Paliku Gardens for their Oahu wedding in Hawaii

Deciding on the Guest List

This was arguably the hardest part of our earliest wedding plans. We knew that our Oahu wedding ceremony would would be very small for a few reasons:

1) Asking people to fly out to Hawaii was a BIG ask. It’s expensive airfare, plus accommodations and food on the island is not cheap. There are some great ways to save, but in reality, it’s not an financially easy trip to make. We knew that the people who we did ask would feel a larger financial burden. Because of this, we knew that…

2) We wanted to provide an amazing experience for our guests. This meant a larger budget for our ceremony and dinner. In order to give them an amazing atmosphere and treat them to an incredible day, we would need a larger budget to make that happen. Standing on a beach for a ten-minute ceremony and going to a local restaurant wasn’t going to be enough for us. We felt that we could do that in Florida or somewhere closer to home. Instead, we wanted to “wow” our guests and give them a memory to look back on forever. A number between 20-25 was perfect for what we planned.

The people we asked to come to Hawaii were our immediate family members and our best friends who we consistently stayed in touch with and knew us both very well.  In total, we had 18 people, plus myself and Garrett.

We realized that we would be leaving out a lot of important people. So we decided to plan an additional reception back home for those who couldn’t come to Hawaii. These included family members who couldn’t make it for different reasons, like my grandparents, and good friends we loved so much. This was the perfect solution for us! And it extended our wedding celebrations…and what bride would complain about that??

Coming up next…

Next, I’ll share exactly how we chose our vendors (this was HUGE) and how we planned our wedding from afar. Any couple considering a destination wedding knows that these two factors are a big stressor! Hopefully, my experience will help!

Curious to read more about our wedding day? Read about our Oahu Wedding here!

**A huge thank you to our wedding photographer, Natalie, of Four Corners Photo! We love you!

The Royal Hawaiian hotel from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu

View comments +

  1. […] week, I talked a little bit about how Garrett and I chose the location, venue and guest list for our wedding in Oahu, Hawaii. Today, I’m diving into how we found our vendors. I’ll also share a little about what […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This is where I love sharing recent weddings and sessions, my travels, and life with my husband, and our three pets. When I'm not capturing a wedding day, I'm often enjoying the outdoors with Garrett, playing with our pups, or finding a new place to call home for the weekend. My passion is telling love stories, and I hope I get to fall in love with telling yours.

Let's meet!

Welcome to my journal! I'm Laura...

The Journal

Like many couples planning a big wedding during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sara and Joe were forced to alter their wedding plans to a micro wedding.

a few favorites from


Among the cherry blossoms and tulip trees at Meadowlark

Shelby and Russ celebrated their small wedding at Brick and Ivey this past winter with modern and stylish touches mixed with a minimal design.


Modern Minimal Wedding in Marietta

Serving my couples is twofold. It consists of intentionally capturing moments and artfully creating tangible heirlooms for their homes.


Heirloom Wedding Albums


Talk about your list here and embed your newsletter opt in below! Crucifix kale chips vinyl tbh cloud bread gochujang jean shorts stumptown.

get this exclusive thing