Last Updated on November 3, 2022
You deserve an adventure that’s anything but ordinary – to get married exactly how you want to. And with everything from palm tree lined beaches to rugged moody coastlines, vast open deserts to lush green forests, snow capped mountain peaks to rocky rolling hills, California is the perfect place for any adventurous couple to tie the knot.
Keep reading for tips on how to elope in California! Here’s what you’ll find in this California Elopement Guide:
One of the first steps in any elopement planning process is to decide where you want to exchange vows, and where you’ll kick off your marriage! California’s obviously a pretty big state, so your options for places to elope are basically endless – here are some tips for narrowing it down and finding the perfect spot for you.
This is a biggie! The first thing you should consider when you look at places to elope in California is what you want to see on the big day. We’ve got just about every kind of landscape you can imagine – mountains, deserts, waterfalls, beaches…. So, close your eyes, picture a perfect day, and think about what kind of scenery you want to be surrounded by when you marry the love of your life.
A big part of choosing your California elopement location is what you want to do on the big day. Think about this while you consider what kind of landscapes you’re drawn to – if you dream of swimming in the ocean, you probably won’t want to tie the knot in the desert, and if you love skiing and snow, your ideal spot won’t be on the beach!
A huge reason that couples choose to elope is because they don’t want a hundred pairs of eyes on them as they read their vows – so when you elope in California, privacy is a big consideration. The best way to avoid crowds during your ceremony is to choose a location that’s lesser known, or a little off the beaten path. Don’t worry – I’ll help you with this! Every single one of my couples gets a personalized list of location recommendations.
There are a few other ways to avoid crowds and get some more privacy on your elopement day, no matter where you decide to tie the knot. Choosing a weekday for your ceremony is always recommended, and planning your ceremony for sunrise or sunset will give you more privacy too. Sunrise is almost always the least crowded time of day, but if you’re not an early bird, sunset will be less popular than the middle of the day!
As you narrow it down and get more specific with where you want to elope in California, think about how easy that location is to get to. Are you down to hike for miles, or would you rather find a side-of-the-road overlook (there are plenty of in between options too!)? Do you have family members attending who have accessibility needs? Do you want to break a sweat, or are you imagining a more relaxed wedding day?
Once you’ve given a little bit of thought to what you want your elopement location to look like, it’s time to think about some of the best places to elope in California!
Southern California may be known for its beaches, but head inland and you’ll find some stunning desert views! Here are a few of the best places to elope in California for couples who want to tie the knot in the desert.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree, named for the one of a kind, bristled trees that dot its landscape, is a unique place with rocky boulder piles, unique wildlife, a boho vibe, and a remote location perfect for stargazing!
A little north of Joshua Tree you’ll find Death Valley National Park – and its breathtaking scenery. With rolling hills that look like they’ve been painted, towering mountains that get a dusting of snow in the winter, and blooming fields of wildflowers after a rare rainstorm, this place offers a different landscape in every season.
Palm Springs is the closest “big” city by Joshua Tree National Park, and this charming town is full of modern architecture and desert adventures. If you want to add some glam to your elopement day, it’s the perfect place to tie the knot!
The Alabama Hills feature a sandy desert full of unique rock formations, and it’s been the set of many Old Western films! The desert landscape is surrounded by mountain peaks, and there are some secret hot springs nearby that make for a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Where the Sierra Nevada mountains meet the El Paso range, you’ll find scenic cliffs, towering buttes, breathtaking rock formations, and canyons layered with shades of red. This is one of the best places to elope in California for couples who love the desert!
All over California, there are gorgeous peaks that tower over the landscape. They’re a hiker’s dream in the summer, and a ski destination in the winter – so whether you want to climb to a summit or enjoy views from below, here are a few of the best places to elope in California for mountain landscapes.
Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic places to elope in California, with mountains, granite cliffs, towering Sequoia trees, and cascading waterfalls. It’s an incredibly scenic place to say “I do!”
Mount Shasta is in Northern California, and it’s a really underrated elopement location! The mountain is surrounded by forests, waterfalls, and more wild scenery. Burney Falls is a great waterfall spot, and is located in Shasta County, adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Known for its clear blue water, Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous destination any time of year. In the summer, you can paddle out on the water and enjoy the serenity of being surrounded by the mountain peaks, and in the winter, you can hit the slopes!
Mammoth Lakes is a popular skiing destination in the winter, and in the summer, you can explore the hiking trails, find secret hot springs, and wander through the forest with mountain peaks all around. No matter when you tie the knot, this is one of the best places to elope in California for mountain views!
With miles and miles of coastline, California has some of the best beach elopement locations in the world! In Southern California, you’ll find the sunny, palm tree lined beaches that come to mind for most people, but Northern California has unique, moody beaches with rocky shorelines and dramatic cliffs. Here are a few of the best places to elope on the beach in California!
Though Big Sur is best known for its coastal location and the dramatic cliffs that drop into the ocean, it’s got a little bit of everything – beaches to the west, lush redwood forests, and mountains bordering it to the east.
This island lies about 20 miles off the coast, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s an incredible beach destination, where you can snorkel, relax on the beach, or head inland to explore the mountains and spot some wildlife. For a truly unforgettable elopement day adventure, take a helicopter tour over the island!
San Diego is a pretty idyllic beach town, and one of the best places to elope in California is right in the city. At Sunset Cliffs, you’ll find sandy bluffs over the ocean, scenic but easy hiking trails, and as the name promises, absolutely breathtaking sunsets.
If you want a location that’s got a little more hustle and bustle, and a more upscale vibe, Laguna Beach is one of the best places to elope in California! This seaside resort town has idyllic weather and scenic beaches, and a vibrant art scene.
Wandering through lush greenery and towering trees can feel absolutely magical – so if you’re searching for the fairytale vibe, here are a few of the best places to elope in the forests of California!
Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are a system of four parks on the coast, just south of the Oregon border. Here you’ll find giant trees and lush ferns, but you’ll also find some of the most amazing ocean views!
Sequoia National Park
The Sequoias are some of the tallest trees in the world, and this national park just south of Yosemite is an amazing place to elope in the forest. Sequoia National Park is also adjacent to Kings Canyon, so you can explore two national parks, and get mountain views too!
You should definitely decide on your elopement location before you set a date – because California’s weather varies a ton! While the southern beaches are pretty idyllic year round, the north part of the state sees moody weather, more rain, and an entirely different climate. Here’s what you need to know about the best time to elope in California!
Summer is the best time to elope in California if you want to tie the knot in the mountains (without snow on the ground), or if you want to check out the beaches on the north part of the coast! This time of year is warm and sunny, perfect for hikes and outdoor adventures.
I wouldn’t recommend eloping in the desert during the summer, as it can get very hot (Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth in the summer!), but it’s pretty idyllic just about everywhere else.
However, it’s important to be aware of wildfire season! Unfortunately, it’s become pretty common for late summer and early fall to be smokey, so if you’re eloping somewhere more remote and in the wilderness, know that you may need a backup plan if conditions get unsafe.
Fall is an amazing time to elope in California. The desert regions cool down, so it can be a great time to explore places like Joshua Tree. Beaches in Southern California are still warm and usually sunny, so this can be a good time to avoid the crowds. On the coast of Northern California, the rainy season usually begins around late October, and in the mountains, snow can start to pile up around that same time!
You can definitely still elope in California in the winter! If you’re dreaming of a snowy wedding day, the mountains are absolutely beautiful this time of year – just be aware that some roads may be inaccessible. If you want to escape the cold at home, head to Southern California! The desert, though cold at night, is typically warm and sunny during the day. You can even still enjoy the beaches, but bring layers to put on for chilly mornings and evenings!
Spring in the desert is magical – warm but not too hot, and you can spot wildflowers blooming amongst the cactuses and boulders! On the northern coast, it’s pretty moody and unpredictable, with a lot of gloomy days. Beaches in the south will be perfect this time of year, but May and June are often foggier – which can be gorgeous too!
The mountains are typically snow covered until mid July, so spring may not be a great time to bag peaks, but you can explore lower elevation areas and see waterfalls in full force.
In many California elopement locations, you will need a permit for your ceremony! But, this depends on where you elope, and sometimes on how many people are present. Some places, like Joshua Tree National Park, always require a permit, others only require one if you have over a certain number of people, and some locations don’t require a permit.
As an elopement photographer, part of my job is to help you navigate all of this, so I’ll make sure you know the unique requirements for your location!
Along with the permit, you’ll also need some other paperwork! To get legally married when you elope in California, you’ll need to get a marriage license from the state. This can be done at any county clerk’s office, so find one that’s convenient for you. If you live in California, it’s usually easiest to go to an office close to home, and if you’re traveling, find an office close to your elopement location.
This needs to be done in person, and some offices (usually busier ones in major cities) require an appointment. Both of you will need to be there, and you’ll need a photo ID. There is also a fee for the marriage license – this varies by county, and can range from around $35 to $120.
You’ll get your marriage license right away, and there’s no waiting period! It will need to be signed by an officiant and one witness when you elope.
You can hire a professional officiant to personalize a ceremony for you, or have a friend or family member get ordained if there’s someone you trust to perform your ceremony! As for the witness, the only requirement is that they have to be at least 18 years old, so you can ask one of your vendors or even find a person at your elopement location to sign the paperwork.
Vendors are a huge part of your elopement day, and finding a team that will help bring your dream day to life is one of the most important things you’ll do! Make sure to reach out and make bookings early – we usually fill our calendars pretty quickly, so getting in touch in advance can help ensure that you can work with your faves.
As an elopement photographer, I’m all about taking the stress off of you – so you’ll get a list of recommendations for vendors I know and love, including officiants, florists, hair and makeup artists, and anything else you need for your day!
Anytime you’re exploring outdoors, it’s super important to follow the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is all about reducing our impact on the outdoors, because we often have a bigger impact than we realize!
Some locations may have unique LNT considerations, which I’ll keep you in the loop about, but here are the 7 principles of LNT to keep in mind for your elopement day.
The place you stay during your elopement, and the place where you get ready for the day, is a big part of the experience! Airbnb is the perfect place to find private, comfortable accommodations. Here are a few recommendations all around the state.
So, are you ready to do this thing? If you want to elope in California, I’m here to be your personal hype woman, and your adventure buddy! Your wedding day should break the rules – it’s about what you want, not what your wedding is “supposed to be,” so let’s plan a day that’s adventurous, fun, and unique. I’ll be there with location recommendations, a custom timeline, and recommendations for things to do, places to stay, and so much more.
To learn more about California elopement packages, or to get started on your biggest adventure yet, contact me!
Come and wander in the Sequoias between the tree groves and say your vows surrounded by some of the tallest trees in the world.
Want to climb a mountain and say I Do at the top? Celebrate with a shot of tequila and a big ol’ joint? Hop into a hot air balloon and have a once in a lifetime adventure?
Then do it. I’m not gonna stop you. In fact, I encourage it.
If you want to ditch tradition, shed expectations, and get married your way, this guide will tell you how to plan your Yosemite elopement, and how to get married in the park!