The Lowcountry Lowdown

by Southern Coastal Weddings

Essential details for a Southern Coastal wedding, from forecasts to forms

Written by HANNAH BUCHMAN & BETTY DARBY

Illustration by MAGGIE B. FRENCH

Southern Coastal Weddings covers some of the most beautiful geography in the world. Although each area of the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire bears its own distinctive mark, they all share certain signatures: stately oaks draped with romantic Spanish moss, preserved historic structures and a cultural reverence for the art of hospitality.

Beaufort, South Carolina, in upper Beaufort County, is awash with romance and history, a quintessential small Southern town. At the southern end of Beaufort County, cross the bridge to Hilton Head Island, where even the gas stations have a posh patina. This island is an ode to meticulously planned high-end residences and manicured golf courses all coming together with understated elegance. Bluffton is Hilton Head’s mainland sister — an eclectic community with an artist’s soul.

Travel over the Savannah River, and you’re in Chatham County, Georgia. Savannah’s massive historic district and tree-filled squares are top-of-mind when it comes to planning a wedding here, but Savannah-area brides are spoiled for choice — beach weddings on Tybee Island, historic venues well away from the bustle of the city and even rustic farm settings make the Hostess City a versatile site for any celebration.

About an hour to the south of Savannah, you’ll find Glynn County, Georgia, home of the Golden Isles — Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Sea Island and Little St. Simons Island, plus the mainland town of Brunswick, which offers a picturesque historic district. It’s easy to see why these islands inspired poet Sidney Lanier’s famed “Marshes of Glynn” — they offer an array of wedding venues, from elegant and exclusive villas to earthy, exquisite driftwood beaches.


COASTAL WEATHER

Rainfall: Heaviest in August (7.2 inches), lightest in November (2.4 inches); hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, but mid-August through mid-October is when locals keep a sharp eye on the weather.

Average high/low temperatures: Spring, 75/58; Summer, 90/75; Fall, 77/62; Winter, 60/43. Bear in mind, heat and humidity are staples of three seasons and can even show up in winter. 

Tides: If you want to be a beach bride, don’t forget the tide! Our area experiences dramatic 7-foot differences between high and low tides.


GETTING A MARRIAGE LICENSE

Of course getting married involves paperwork and fees. We review below how to take care of the business end of getting married. At press time, COVID-19 restrictions that had been in place for more than a year were poised to lapse — but not quite yet. We’ve referenced the more restrictive versions — those that limit contact — but be aware these are likely to revert to more normal requirements. Remember to check the websites of the relevant counties as your big day approaches. 

Savannah, Tybee Island and elsewhere in Chatham County: Find the marriage license application under Probate Court at courts.chathamcountyga.gov. Email the completed application, and you will be emailed a link to set up an appointment for both parties to visit the office at 133 Montgomery St., Room 509, in downtown Savannah.  Fees are $66, with discounts for those who undergo premarital education. The court currently accepts credit and debit cards, money orders or cashier’s checks, but not cash or personal checks. 912.652.7264.

Golden Isles: The Glynn County Probate Court, 701 G St. in downtown Brunswick, offers online applications and payment options at glynncounty.org. Appointments can be made by calling the License Department (912.554.7231) or by email: [email protected]. The fee is $76. 

Hilton Head Island and Bluffton: The Beaufort County Probate Court offers mail and appointment options for marriage licenses. Fees range from $50 to $95, depending on the residency status of the applicants. Learn more at beaufortcountysc.gov or from the marriage license division, 843.255.5850. Appointment options are available at the Beaufort County Probate Court’s main office at 102 Ribaut Road in Beaufort or at its satellite office at 539 William Hilton Parkway.


BEACH WEDDINGS

Beach weddings, like any public gathering, may be impacted by pandemic-inspired safety restrictions.

Tybee Island: You’ll need a $25 beach permit from the City of Tybee facilities manager. For details and restrictions, go to the special events planning section at cityoftybee.org or contact [email protected].

Golden Isles: St. Simons Island beaches do not require reservations or permits for weddings. For weddings on Jekyll Island beaches, you’ll need to contact the Jekyll Island Authority at 912.635.6400.

Hilton Head Island: To perform a ceremony on the beach, you will need a permit from the Town of Hilton Head Island. The request form can be submitted online at hiltonheadislandsc.gov.


RENTING PUBLIC AREAS/HISTORIC SITES

Many areas, such as the city of Savannah, temporarily suspended or restricted the rental of public areas due to pandemic precautions. The listings below apply to normal situations; use the websites provided to check the current status.

Savannah: To rent a square or park for your wedding, you’ll need to apply for a public assembly permit, unless you are planning an extremely small gathering. Applications must be filled out at least 90 days in advance and can be found at savannahga.gov. The permit fee for residents is $350; nonresidents pay $725 ($575 in the off-season), in addition to security fees. For more information, call 912.351.3837 or visit savannahga.gov under Parks and Squares Rental.

Golden Isles: To rent a historic site on Jekyll Island (e.g. the Villa Ospo, Horton House ruins) email [email protected] or call 912.635.4168 and pay a rental fee. To reserve a pavilion, you’ll need to complete a reservation form at jekyllisland.com and email [email protected].


ALCOHOL LAWS FOR PUBLIC AREAS

Alcohol licensing and permits vary by venue based on which local government has jurisdiction.

Savannah: To dispense wine or beer in a square/park, you’ll need to apply for a Temporary Alcohol Event Permit from the Revenue Department available at savannahga.gov and pay a $50 application fee.

Tybee Island: Alcohol is allowed on the beach but not in glass containers. Tybee has also instituted a smoking and vaping ban for the beach, complete with stiff fines.

Golden Isles: Alcohol is allowed on the beach but not in glass containers.

Hilton Head Island: Alcohol is prohibited on all beaches. 


PET LAWS ON BEACHES

Regulations concerning dogs on beaches are among the most volatile that beach communities confront, so check the websites presented to make sure nothing has changed before you pack your pooch to the beach.

Tybee Island: No dogs allowed on the beach at any time (or you’ll face a $290 fine plus court costs). cityoftybee.org

Golden Isles: On Jekyll Island, dogs are allowed on Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island Beach and Great Dunes Park but must be leashed. On St. Simons Island, dogs are allowed on East Beach and Massengale Park (no leash required) but prohibited between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. during June, July and August. jekyllisland.com; glynncounty.org

Hilton Head Island: Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach, but are prohibited from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. hiltonheadislandsc.gov