A Casual, Destination Wedding in Tulum, Mexico

Real Weddings
Destination wedding in Tulum, Mexico at the Be Tulum Hotel

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Photographer Chris McPherson had a rule: He didn't date models. And he definitely didn't date younger models. Then Katie Malia Knoernschild, a dancer-actress-model 11 years his junior, walked into his Los Angeles studio. "It was a taxing shoot, and she was with a lot of other dancers," he says. "Katie was the only one going, 'Let's do this!'" Little did he know she had ulterior motives: "It was love at first sight," she says. "I wanted to impress him—I could have danced for days!"

But despite mutual interests (surfing, art, travel), mutual friends, and a spark that must have been visible from the space station, Chris wasn't sure he wanted to date someone that much younger. (At the time, he was 33 and she 22.) It wasn't until his grandmother died four months later that he decided to stop hesitating and ask her out. "That was the defining moment," he says. "I didn't want to miss out on my future wife."

Three years later, Chris proposed amid the Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico, while they were on vacation. On April 29, 2012, they were back to pledge their devotion in front of 50 of their nearest and dearest on the beach of the Be Tulum Hotel. "The setting needed very little dressing," Katie says of the wedding, which was planned with Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events. "We wanted everything to be simple, natural, and local." The only exception? Air plants, which Katie's 90-year-old grandmother smuggled in from L.A. in her suitcase. ("We couldn't get them down there, and I wanted them for my bouquet," the bride says.)

Red rose flower crown for wedding

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Katie's crown of local red roses was inspired by the artist Frida Kahlo. "It was the perfect pop of color—and it matched my lips," she says.

air plant boutonnieres

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Small air plants were also used for the boutonnieres.

Beach wedding ceremony in Tulum, Mexico

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Guests sat on white lounge cushions strewn with Mexican serape blankets. Flower girls in locally made linen dresses tossed hot pink rose petals onto the white sand.

Katie's father, Joe Knoernschild, cofounder of Billabong USA, officiated. "He's a spiritual person, a teacher, and a very cool guy," says the groom. Chris and Katie (she in a Monique Lhuillier wedding dress) spoke from the heart. "I talked about all the highs and the lows of our relationship, including a breakup," she says. "We kept it very real."

Mariachi wedding band for a beach wedding in Tulum, Mexico

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

That was the last serious moment of the evening. Accompanied by a mariachi band, guests gathered for cocktails before heading to the lantern-filled restaurant for a seated dinner of lime soup, local whitefish, and Neapolitan flan, which the hotel chef whipped up in place of a wedding cake.

Dia de Los Muertos wedding cake flan

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

The Neapolitan flan was topped with Día de Los Muertos figurines that were purchased in a local gift shop.

Kraft paper wedding menu for a blue- and white-themed wedding

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

"Our colors were blue and white—a marriage of the sand and sea—with bright bougainvillea pink," says Katie. "The bottle of our favorite tequila, Clase Azul, was a huge inspiration."

air plant wedding centerpieces

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Reception tables were topped with succulents, air plants, local China mums, and custom laser-cut wooden votives. "We wanted everything to be relaxed, with a clean, modern look," says the bride.

Pool at the Be Tulum Hotel in Tulum, Mexico

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

After the couple's first dance, to Chet Baker's "Let's Get Lost," guests grooved to tunes spun by Katie's brother, Joel, and refueled at the late-night taco bar. Then Chris took the plunge into the pool. "Two of my girlfriends followed in their dresses!" Katie says. Half the crowd changed into bathing suits and jumped in. "Suddenly it was an MTV pool party, absolute magic and chaos," she says.

Katie Malia Knoernschild and Joe Knoernschild father-daughter dance

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Katie danced to "For Me... Formidable," by Charles Aznavour, with her father, a self-professed "lover of Katie and Chris."

Katie Malia Knoernschild and Chris McPherson cutting their Dia de Los Muertos wedding cake

Photo: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Around midnight, the hotel lit a bonfire on the beach, and everyone reconvened over Modelo Especials, tequila, and, of course, more tacos. The celebration wasn't over yet—a month later, many of their guests would reunite for a 275-person reception at L.A.'s Smashbox Studios, where Katie and Chris met. But for now, the pair savored their last moments in Mexico. "A weekend with all our friends and family, hanging out, relaxed—it's the best gift we could have gotten," says Katie.

Venue & catering: Be Tulum Hotel || Event planning: Allison Events Planning and Design || Bride's dress: Monique Lhuillier || Groom's suit: Waraire Boswell || Flowers: Brown Paper Design || Stationery: Annemarie Buckley of Scout's Honor Co. || Pre-ceremony & cocktail-hour music: Juan Carlos Hinojosa Mejei, contact via email || Hair & makeup: Fernando Funetes of The Makeup Pros, contact via email || Rentals: Planner1 Events

See more real beach weddings.

—Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

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