When John set out to propose to Nicole, he knew he wanted it to be perfect. He did not realize, however, that he would need a lot of patience…and a flashlight.

Nicole is not one who seeks the spotlight, so John needed to make sure the proposal happened when there weren’t a lot of people around—a feat that’s hard to pull off on a public beach in October. As they enjoyed the beach in Pacifica, he patiently waited until most of the people had left. Turns out that didn’t happen until dark, so with only the moonlight and the light from his cell phone, John was finally able to ask Nicole to be his wife.

With their eyes on a wedding date just six months away, they knew they needed to start planning immediately. In between working two jobs, Nicole did almost all of it—but that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was keeping the guest list down. Both Nicole and John felt an element of guilt having to create a small list, in order to keep costs down and to have the small wedding feel they hoped for.

Most important to the couple was the overall vibe of the wedding. They wanted people to feel comfortable and have fun—a vision that helped them make decisions like opting for communal farm tables and a coffee cart. The buffet-style taco bar helped, too. “It was so fun and delicious that guests found themselves getting seconds and thirds!” Nicole says. “It certainly looked like a wedding, but felt more like a get together or hangout during the reception,” which is exactly what they wanted. Even the guestbook—where they had guests take pictures of themselves and others with a Polaroid camera and write a small note alongside the picture within the guestbook—encouraged mingling.

The whimsical, evergreen style came to life with a mix of professional floral arrangements and greenery created by Nicole, her friends and the already lush private residence. The piece that really brought everything together, however, was the impressive wooden backdrop created by John, which now serves as home décor for the couple.

After the ceremony and photos, Nicole’s mom got the party started when she brought out glow sticks. The evening, which the bride describes as one big party, ended with a parade of sparklers, as the newlyweds departed on a mini-moon to San Diego.

— Kelley Saia