It took us a long time to get to this:

Laura being walked down the aisle by her mom and dad for our wedding at Sacred Heart Chapel at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

Make no mistake, the 4-5 years we dated was considered a long time by most if not all of our friends and family. I’m pretty sure if faces spoke words those of my mother- and father-in-law would be straight to the point of what they were thinking all along: About damn time this is happening.

And like most couples, we planned our entire wedding–expensive wedding planners be damned! We made a few assumptions, some of them smart, some not so bright.

First and foremost, if 9 months is long enough to make a baby, it’s long enough to plan a wedding. To hell with a longer engagement period.

Next, a good friend of mine helped us keep focus on what matters most. “The wedding is all about her, the reception all about your guests”  Another cardinal rule of wedding planning worked brilliantly for us: Have a great DJ and a lot of alcohol, something to eat, and the rest will work itself out.

And our final assumption turned out to be the one most often discussed by almost all of our participants: People really hate LA. And equally important to this assumption: We really love it. What’s more, we wanted our friends and family, loved ones who have avoided the city like the plague to get a glimpse of why we love it so much. But how would we do that when most, if not all the guests were arriving for one brief weekend to celebrate with us? Simple, we’d have a wedding and we’d have a reception, but for the hours in between both, we’d plan a tour of the most epic proportions. Touch football in the world-famous Coliseum anyone?

My groomsmen learning that their long-held belief they could be an NFL kicker one day was in fact false. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

Want to know how we pulled it off? And how you can too? 

Freeways and Los Angeles, they go hand in hand. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

What we realized in planning our wedding was this: People thought they knew LA, but they didn’t know OUR LA. For our out of town guests, the image of LA was most often Hollywood and Beverly Hills, maybe a beach or two, and that was it. For our in town people, we realized there truly was that East/West divide, where our friends East of the 405 rarely ventured West, and likewise, our folks in the beach cities, Santa Monica, and elsewhere didn’t ever really venture far from the coast. Laura and I have been lucky to make so much of LA our home. I have lived in South LA as well as West LA, and worked in Boyle Heights, Santa Monica, and downtown LA. Laura has lived in Koreatown, West LA and near Hollywood and worked downtown, in Watts, in Westwood and now the ever glamorous Century City (sarcasm intended).

So what it comes down to is this: LA is a city for people in the know. Forgive us if that sounds arrogant, as it is meant to be anything but. If you come to LA and just go to the tourist spots like the Hollywood Walk or Rodeo Dr., you miss the real LA–the city that has captured our hearts and our imaginations.

Bus Rental Wedding

Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

And so it was that we began to envision a tour of “Our LA” in between our ceremony and reception. Our LA is social justice, it’s sports and stunning vistas, and it’s a cultural diversity that wows us and ignites our curiosity daily. We would have the wedding ceremony at Loyola Marymount in West LA, a campus that was home to me as an undergrad and where both of us have worked in some capacity. When it ended, buses (with world famous Randy’s Donuts) would be waiting outside to whisk people away to our LA….Ready?

A fun day of football at the Coliseum.

Who needs the USC marching band when you've got the entire coliseum to play in for your wedding?

Who needs the USC marching band when you’ve got the entire coliseum to play in for your wedding? Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

A stop at a favorite fusion restaurant 23rd Street Cafe.

23rd Street Cafe in Los Angeles near USC. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

Because let’s be real, who doesn’t like the idea of chicken tikka masala quesadillas?

Our friends DMAC and Sarah enjoying some awesome Indian/Mexican food at 23rd Street Cafe

Our friends DMAC and Sarah enjoying some awesome Indian/Mexican food at 23rd Street Cafe. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

And the final stop was to be the one we were most excited about: A tour of Homeboy Industries (a place we hoped people would donate to for our wedding registry) and conversation with one of my biggest mentors in Los Angeles: Greg Boyle. At the last minute, we realized an event in downtown had closed the streets around Homeboy, forcing us to go to what might be the greatest “back up option” ever: Grabbing Churros from Mr. Churro and wandering around Olvera Street- the birthplace of LA, home of incredible luchador masks,

The entire bridal party was rocking TOMS shoes, and certain groomsmen decided luchador masks also seemed to go well with our suits and ties.

The entire bridal party was rocking TOMS shoes, and certain groomsmen decided luchador masks also seemed to go well with our suits and ties. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

(and awkward photos).

Needless to say, people looked at us with incredible curiosity while at Olvera Street.

Needless to say, people looked at us with incredible curiosity while at Olvera Street. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

By now, hopefully we’ve got your attention. You’re planning your own wedding, looking for that special something, and now the wheels are turning. Here’s the simple step by step process to pulling this off.

You do you

For any wedding tour to be truly successful, it’s got to be about the one thing everyone coming to your wedding has in common: Their love of you. It wasn’t enough to take people to hot spots of tourist LA because that’s not our LA. So take a moment and ask yourself a few important questions:

1. What do we do for fun?

Our LA is sports. It’s nature. It’s flavorful food and the conversations that accompany it. It’s our shared passion for social justice. And it’s cultural diversity. We couldn’t incorporate it all, but we found a way to get experiences that were unique and affordable.

2. Where do we like to eat? And perhaps equally important, where do we like to eat that has affordable prices?

We love this fancy little sushi place close to home. But mass produced sushi didn’t seem feasible, from a cost or consumption standpoint. So we turned to a favorite place: 23rd Street Cafe. It’s one part about the food, but it’s also about the owners, people I grew to love as a grad student who ate often at 23rd street. We also know Randy’s is a popular stop, as everyone kept asking “Is that the place with the giant donut I saw from my plane?” So what are the food joints that are uniquely the two of you? Is there a good price range and something that can be made quickly for large groups?

It’s all in the planning

I have no doubt we could have pulled this entire tour idea off on our own. I was able to get access to the coliseum on my own. I was able to talk to my friends at Homeboy to secure a tour of the incredible nonprofit. And ordering the food and the buses would have been doable, albeit a bit stressful. But planning a wedding in addition to a tour for 100+ people would have sent our stress levels through the roof. And so we did what made the most sense: reached out to a unique tour company just getting started, one we read about in the LA Times. Secret City Tours, as anyone at our wedding will attest, was AMAZING! John knew LA, and shared his knowledge and love of our city with our guests. But John did even more: He helped us secure buses and at a cost lower than we were able to negotiate. He spoke with the businesses and secured good rates on our food and made sure everything was ready to go. When we found out Homeboy was inaccessible, John worked quickly to secure churros on Olvera Street. So what you need to do:

1. Google “tour <insert your city name>” and explore the various tour companies. Do any of them seem in line with your personality? Reach out. John was one of three we reached out to and in the end, our connection was instantaneous and we hung up the phone knowing he would be the guy we wanted to work with.

2. Weigh the pros and cons of the cost. We got lucky: John was very generous with us. That, combined with the rates he secured on food and busses, made his fee pay for itself. If you get so lucky- rock on! If not, consider if a tour guide is worth it.

3. If you don’t go with a tour guide, hire someone to make sure the trains are leaving the station on time. My groomsmen Ted works in the film industry, and he was able to call on contacts that helped support the logistics of our entire wedding.

Bring the wedding party

We almost didn’t go on our own tour. We had setup the tour for our guests, and were prepared to do traditional wedding photos, when our awesome photographer Stacee politely informed us we’d be idiots to not join the tour. The photos were great. But more important still, we got even more face time with the friends and loved ones not in our wedding party. Want to bring the whole wedding party? Keep a few things in mind:

1. Have a separate vehicle. Sometimes, we had to stay longer for photos than our guests stayed to enjoy the visit. Having a vehicle just for the wedding party made that easier.

2. Consider a change of shoes. Laura and I are big supporters of TOMS. One of our bridesmaids is the Director of Social Innovation and Impact at TOMS, and she suggested we make them part of our wedding. Our parents had decided to let us be us, but they begged and pleaded that we not wear some crazy TOMS in the church. Deal. Once we left the church, however, comfort was the name of the game:

My best man Mike had the most unique of all the TOMS styles of shoes.

My best man Mike had the most unique of all the TOMS styles of shoes. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

It obviously made exploring the city a lot more fun for all of us to have more comfortable shoes.

Final Thoughts

Our tour was a big hit. I read about it on Yelp. We’ve been interviewed here and there about it. And many friends and friends of friends who were either there or have heard about it have asked us how we did it. But what I love most about it is it warmed people up for the best part of our special day: the reception. Every part of our wedding was carefully planned. The readings all had to do with social justice. Our priest created an environment where all were truly welcomed (we hang with a diverse crowd of people). Our final song was Same Love and a good friend who has been with his partner for sometime shared with me that our wedding was the first time he and his partner ever danced together publicly.

We wanted our wedding to be a celebration of community, and the many forms that word has taken on in our lives. It was a celebration of the community we had created as a couple. It was also a celebration of the friends who have become family here in LA. And a recognition of the family and friends from Boston to Albuquerque that first instilled in us that notion of what the word even means in the first place. And what we wanted more than anything else was to turn our wedding day into one big recognition and celebration of everyone who has and will continue to make our partnership thrive.

In our thank you to our guests, we retraced an ancient phrase that had come to mean a lot to Laura and I. While traveling through parts of Asia, we were greeted from time to time with a friendly “Namaste.” There are lots of interpretations of the word, but the one we like best is simple and to the point: The spirit in me, recognizes the spirit in you. During our wedding ceremony and really the entire day and night, our flower girl and niece Olivia would dance anytime music was played. And during our tour and subsequent reception, we were humbled to see friends of ours who before hadn’t known one another, laugh and dance like long lost friends. And so maybe Namaste not only about the spirit in my recognizing the spirit in you. But rather, at our best, I’d like to think that God, or the spirit in me, recognizes God, the spirit in you, and dances with joy. Namaste y’all.

Laura and Olivia. Dancing. As always

Laura and Olivia. Dancing. As always. Photo credit: Stacee Lianna.

We hope you enjoyed this post on fun wedding ideas. A huge thank you to John from Secret City Tours. To Stacee Lianna, an incredible photographer, an even more amazing friend for all you did to capture this day for us. And to all of you who are somehow part of our growing community: we’re so thankful for your presence. We hope you share this with anyone who might find it helpful, or just kind of cool! 

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