Best Places to Elope in California

December 11, 2020

Oh, California I love you. We really have it all. From the beautiful Redwood forest with giant ancient trees that are thousands of years old to the rocky shoreline coast along Highway 1 and Big Sur to the mountains in Yosemite and warm deserts with magical sunsets. Literally, every type of topography you could wish for is here in California. If you love nature and the wild beauty of the outdoors then you’ve come to the right place for your wedding. As a California elopement photographer, let me make your elopement planning easier!

Read on to discover some of my favorite elopements and wedding locations across this big beautiful state!

Table of Contents

California Marriage Laws

Here is a list of requirements and documents needed to get married in California

  • You both have to be at least 18 years old.
  • You DON’T have to be a California resident.
  • There’s no waiting period and your license is valid for 90 days.
  • You must have one witness and up to two.

Important info to remember:

  • You can (sometimes) apply online but you both must appear in person with valid ID.
  • If you’ve been married before you may need to show a copy of your final judgment.
  • The signed marriage license must be mailed to the county clerk within 10 days of your ceremony.
  • You will NOT receive a copy of your marriage license after you have been married unless you request and pay for a certified copy.

You can find additional information here.

Eloping at National Parks in California

There are 9 National Parks in California making it the most of out of any state. With each one vastly different than the next there’s bound to be an epic landscape that you’ll love.

YOSEMITE // DEATH VALLEY// JOSHUA TREE // SEQUOIA // LASSEN VOLCANIC // KINGS CANYON // CHANNEL ISLANDS // PINNACLES// REDWOODS


*Important to know about national parks: Camp sites book up months in advance so if you’re planning on camping before or after your elopement check the websites as soon as possible

Favorite California forest elopement and wedding locations

REDWOOD NATIONAL FOREST STATE PARK
Home to the tallest and oldest trees on Earth and 40 miles of rugged coastline this is one of the most beautiful, romantic, and peaceful parks in the United States. It’s worth the drive.
Closest Airport: San Francisco (SFO) and Portland, Oregon (PDX) are the closest major airports, both are a 6-8 hour drive from the respective ends of the parks. Medford, OR (MFR) is a 2-hour drive east of Jedediah Smith Redwoods.Eureka/Arcata, CA (ACV) airport is 1-hour drive south of Prairie Creek Redwoods.Redding, CA airport (RDD) is about 4-hours east of Prairie Creek Redwoods. Crescent City (CEC) that is 15-minutes from Jedediah Smith Redwoods, but flights are very limited.
Where to stay:
Redwood Coast
Emerald Forest Cabins
Sandy Bar Ranch
Where to eat:
Salt Fish House
Humbolt Bay Bistro
Important things to know:
There are 12 pre-approved areas for your elopement of up to 20 guests! If you prefer a different location, you may submit a request under the tiered permitting process; times and locations are subject to review by park staff for suitability, group size, and impact of park resources and other visitors.
Best time of year:
Spring and Fall for mild temps and less crowds. Winter is rainy season
Permit required?
Yes, at least 14 days before your date and 30 days for larger groups. $200-$400 Apply here


SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
With giant trees and huge canyons from warm foothills to cold alpine peaks. The largest and finest groves of giant sequoias grow at the sometimes snowy mid-elevations, along with extraordinarily diverse plants and animals living in extremely varied conditions in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Closest Airport: SFO and Oakland are the closest airports (4.5 hours)
Where to stay:
Sequoia High Sierra
Cabins
Where to eat:
The Annex Kitchen
Parma
Important things to know:
Road closures are common in Fall and winter when it snows. There are so many approved areas for your small wedding throughout the park! Check out a map here with images to get an idea of the beautiful locations.
Best time of year:
June-August and the beginning of the Fall
Permit required?
Yes, for one year-30 days in advance (last minute permits can sometimes be granted)! Apply here

HENRY COWELL
This 4.650 acre Redwoods park is located within the Santa Cruz mountains just a short drive from the beach making it a very easily accessible option. It’s know for its old-growth Redwood trees and views of Monterey Bay.

Closest Airport: San Jose International (40 min), San Francisco (one hour), or Oakland (one hour)
Where to stay:
Camping
Cabins
Where to eat:
Casa Nostra
Cemitas
Important things to know:
There are lots of trails with varying degrees of difficulty
Best time of year:
Any time of year but winter will bring more rain and cooler temps
Permit required?
Yes, apply here

Do you have specific questions about how to elope in California?

Off the beaten path eloping in California locations

Here are some ideas for locations that aren’t as popular for elopements but beautiful and often less crowded.

SANTA CRUZ
A sleepy laid back town of surfers and tech it’s so much more than the boardwalk it’s famous for. Nestled on the coast and within the mountains Santa Cruz is the best of both worlds.
Closest Airport: San Jose International (40 min) San Francisco International (one hour)
Where to stay:
Airstreams at Koa
Dream Inn
Redwood Croft
Where to eat:
Alderwood
Oswald
Important things to know:
There can be lots of traffic coming from the airport that can add on an extra hour (or two) so plan accordingly. Check out this post for a more in-depth look at Santa Cruz elopement locations
Best time of year:
The warm, dry summer (Jun–Aug) is peak travel. Winter (Dec–Feb) is cooler and wet.
Permit required?: Yes, apply here

MENDOCINO
A small and quiet coastal town in Northern California known for its dramatic coastline and farms where a lot of the best produce in California comes from. It has Redwoods and beautiful parks with wineries and craft beer nearby. I think Mendocino is one of the most romantic places to elope in California.
Closest Airport: Charles Schulz Airport (2 hours), San Francisco or Oakland (4 hours)
Where to stay:
Philo Apple Farm
Agate Cove Inn
Inn at Newport Ranch
Mendocino Grove
Where to eat:
Wild FishCafe BeaujolaisTrillium
Important things to know:
You could also use Mendocino as a jumping off point for a road trip honeymoon even further up the coast and into Oregon.
Best time of year:
Weather is ideal April-Oct with the summers crowded. Winter brings rain and fog which adds to the romance
Permit required?
Maybe (depends on location)

TOPANGA CANYON
Nestled in the Santa Monica mountains in Los Angeles Topanga feels like a world away from the hustle of the city which is probably why it’s attracted the bohemian crowd since the 1960s. Not much has changed as you’ll find cute little vintage stores and good vibes all around. There are many beautiful hikes to choose from to say you vows that overlook the canyons and on a clear day you can see the channel islands.
Closest Airport: Los Angeles Airport (45 minutes)
Where to stay:
Topanga Tiny HouseCamp Fernwood
The Hidden Lady
Where to eat:
Inn of the Seventh Ray
Canyon Bistro
Saddle Peak Lodge
Important things to know:
There’s tons of traffic in Los Angeles so keep that in mind if you’re traveling before your elopement. It can sometimes double your drive time
Best time of year:
Year round sunny days with the exception of overcast days in June!
Permit required?
Yes (if within the state park), apply here

POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE
I love this whole area of California. It’s remote enough to feel like you’re getting away but close to modern conveniences that you might appreciate. It has beautiful rolling dunes that remind me of the beaches of the East Coast and cozy little cabins in the woods. It’s a popular fishing spot with plenty of nearby vineyards so if you’re into feasting on freshly shucked oysters and champagne then this is a good location to consider.
Closest Airport: San Francisco (2 hours)
Where to stay:
Olema House
Windsong Cottage
Creekside Cottage
Surf Bungalow
Where to eat:
Hog Island Oyster Bar
Stir and Star
Eleven
Important things to know:
You can have an epic beach bonfire! Permit required.
Best time of year:
Any but winter has fewer crowds.
Permit required?
Yes, apply here.

YOSEMITE

Closest Airport: Fresno-Yosemite International 1.5 hours to Wawona (2.5 hours to Yosemite Valley), Oakland (3.5 hours), SFO (4 hours)
Where to stay:
Modern Yosemite CabinAutocamp Yosemite
Farmeadow A Frame
The Ahwahnee
Where to eat:
Elderberry House
The Ahwahnee Dining Room
Jackalopes Bar & Grille at Tenaya Lodge
Important things to know: It’s huge! Getting from one part to another can take an hour in the car. A Sunrise elopement is a better bet for less crowds. *Glacier Point road will be closed in 2021 making Glacier Point inaccessible.
Best time of year: May and the Fall. Summer is very crowded.
Permit required? Yes, apply hereCHECK OUT A YOSEMITE VALLEY ELOPEMENT

BIG SUR
One of the most romantic places in the world. Miles upon miles of rugged coastline and winding road with giant Redwood trees and waterfalls. Big Sur is sacred magical land..
Closest Airport: Monterey, San Jose (2 hours), San Francisco (2.5 hours)
Where to stay:
Glen Oaks
Glamping at Ventana
Deetjens
Where to eat:
Big Sur Bakery
Sierra Mar
Deetjens
Important things to know:
There’s limited-no cell service throughout Big Sur and it takes about an hour to drive from the north to the south or back. Big Sur’s weather can be unpredictable but it’s one of the charms.
Best time of year:
Spring-Fall for less rainfall
Permit required?
Yes, for the state parks for an elopement or wedding. No permit is needed for Limekiln

JOSHUA TREE
Close enough to major airports to make it easily accessible but far enough away for amazing star gazing opportunities. Joshua Tree has some of the most beautiful sunsets around. It has a remote hipster vibe with mostly funky Airbnb’s to stay in.
Closest Airport: Palm Springs International (45 min), Los Angeles (2.5 hours)
Where to stay:
The Joshua Tree House
Cactus Jax Cottage
Mojave Sands
Where to eat:
Pappy & HarrietsLa Copine
Pie for the People
Important things to know:
There are a handful of spots you’re allowed to get married at check them out here. Your photographer requires a separate special events permit!
Best time of year:
Fall, winter, and spring! Summer is incredibly hot.
Permit required?
Yes, apply hereCLICK HERE FOR A JOSHUA TREE ELOPEMENT

LAKE TAHOE
A majestic freshwater lake nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tahoe is huge and diverse in terms of views, weather, and seasons.Closest Airport:  Reno-Tahoe International Airport (30 min), Sacramento (2 ish hours)
Where to stay:
Basecamp
The Cottage Inn
Coachman
Where to eat:
Como
Stella
Important things to know:
It’s a solid 45 minute drive from south to north Tahoe. If you’re married married on the Nevada side you’ll need a Nevada wedding license, if on the California side then a California wedding license.
Best time of year:
Year round depending on if you want snow or sun!
Permit required?
Yes, apply here.

Are you looking for expert guidance on where to elope? As a California elopement photographer, I’m here to help!

Best places to elope in California for foodies

There are so many amazing restaurants in these cities but here are a few of my personal favorites…

SAN FRANCISCO
Best restaurants:
Um.ma
The Progress
Lazy Bear

LOS ANGELES
Best restaurants: Bestia
Kismet
Jon & Vinny’s

SANTA BARBARA
Best restaurants:
The LarkLa Super-Rica Taqueria
Milk & HoneyCLICK HERE TO SEE A SANTA BARBARA ELOPEMENT

SONOMA
Best restaurants:
Single Thread Farm
Campo Fino
Mateos Cocina

Best Airbnb’s in California for your wedding

Beach Elopement Locations

Some of my favorite beach wedding locations across the state of California

DAVENPORT // MALIBU // CRYSTAL COVE // PFEIFFER BEACH

Get inspired by these beach elopements…

Leave no Trace

No matter where you elope it’s important to abide by Leave no Trace’s 7 principles to help protect our planet and keep it safe and beautiful for future generations.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impact
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

Hey, I’m Evangeline an adventurous California elopement photographer helping couples craft a meaningful experience for their wedding day in nature. I focus on capturing the vibe of your day with all of the little moments that you may not remember are happening and the epic landscape views all over California, Vermont, The East Coast and beyond.

Don’t be shy. Let me hep you plan the Elopement of your dreams so drop me a line and tell me what is your intimate wedding dreams looks like.

Do you have any questions about how to plan an elopement?

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