California truly has it all – palm tree studded surfing beaches, rocky coastlines, towering mountain peaks, bubbling natural hot springs, vast deserts, and more! There’s no end to the incredible scenery you’ll find, which means if you want to tie the knot outdoors and plan a wedding day that’s free from the same old traditions and expectations, the two of you should elope in California!
To plan your California elopement, you’ll need to know a few things first – but I’ve got you covered. This guide is all about how to elope in California, so you’ll be an expert in no time!
Here’s what you’ll find in this California elopement guide:
California is, of course, a really big place. As you travel through the state, you’ll notice that things change – a lot! Northern California is so much different from Southern California, and your elopement experience will depend on where you choose to tie the knot! Before we get into the best places to elope in California, here’s everything you need to know about the different parts of the state.
For most people who aren’t too familiar with the state of California, when they hear the name they think palm trees, surfing, sandy beaches, and year-round sunshine. While this image may not apply to the whole state, it’s pretty spot on for Southern California!
For couples who want the vacation getaway, tropical beach vibe for their day, a Southern California elopement is the way to go! If you head further inland, Southern California has some gorgeous desert landscapes that make a unique place for an elopement.
If you’re eloping in Southern California, the best time to elope will be much different than for spots further north. On the coast, summers are warm and perfect for hopping in the water, but in the deserts, temperatures can be scorching.
Winters on the coast of Southern California are warm, perfect for getaways from colder climates. The desert is typically warm as well, though it gets chilly at night and in the evenings and there is the (very) occasional dusting of snow.
Spring and fall are usually the best times to elope anywhere in Southern California, as the weather isn’t too hot!
Central California is considered to be the middle part of the state, beginning a little south of San Francisco and ending a little north of Santa Barbara. The coast of Central California is a little cooler, with mild temperatures throughout the day. Though there are plenty of popular surf spots, the water is a little colder and the ocean breeze can mean chilly mornings and evenings, especially in the colder months. Big Sur is an epic spot on the Central California coast, and one of the best places to elope for remote beaches and rugged cliffs. If you go inland, you’ll find the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which include Yosemite National Park, and the desert landscape of Alabama Hills.
Winters are colder in this region, and the coast tends to be rainy, so the best time to elope in Central California is usually summer, but late spring and early fall can have great weather as well.
Northern California is very different from the southern part of the state. If you plan a Northern California elopement, you can expect moodier weather and rainy winters. The landscape is more rugged and wild, which means it’s incredible for couples who want to see the natural beauty and remote scenery.
On the coast of Northern California, you’ll find rocky beaches, coastal Redwoods, and lush hiking trails through the forest and out to the ocean. As you head south, things get more developed and there are more coastal towns, including San Francisco. Further inland, there are mountains, ski towns, and hiking trails.
Check out my How to Elope in San Francisco guide!
Northern California definitely isn’t as warm or sunny, and the weather is similar to the moody Pacific Northwest. It rains for much of the year, so summer is your best bet for sunny skies and warm weather, though spring and fall can be a good way to avoid crowds!
I wanted to mention this early on in this California elopement guide – because finding an elopement photographer will make everything else a piece of cake! As a California elopement photographer, I help my couples with every part of their elopement. I give location recommendations, places to stay, things to do, vendor recommendations, permit help, custom timelines, and more – so in addition to capturing all the moments you’ll cherish for the rest of your life, I’m here to hype you up and be your planning assistant.
You don’t need to have anything set in stone before reaching out about your elopement – helping you figure this out is what I’m here for! Contact me, and we’ll start dreaming up your day.
Want to get to know your California elopement photographer, and why I care so much about making sure you have the best experience on your day?
Beaches, deserts, mountains, hot springs… the options are endless for places to elope in California. As a California elopement photographer, one of my favorite parts is helping each couple find a spot that’s perfect for them – whether that means an easily accessible beach or a long hike in the woods!
To get you inspired, here are a few of the best places to elope in California.
For warm weather and sunshine, some of the best places to elope in California are in the southern part of the state!
For beaches, I recommend Catalina Island – a remote island off the coast. There are also several beaches close to San Diego and Los Angeles, and some of the best places to elope in Southern California for ocean views are Torrey Pines, Sunset Cliffs, and El Matador Beach.
The desert offers a unique landscape for your elopement, so if you want to tie the knot in the vast scenery of Southern California’s deserts, check out Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks!
Interested in learning how to elope in Death Valley? Check out How to Elope in Death Valley Guide!
If Joshua Tree is more your scene, take a peek at my Joshua Tree Elopement Guide
Big Sur is one of the best places to elope in California, featuring beaches, coastal Redwoods, mountain views, and cliffs over the ocean! The remote location makes it perfect for an elopement, and the insane views are guaranteed to have you picking your jaw up off the floor.
If you want to soak in a hot spring in the middle of the mountains, head over to Mammoth Lakes, or Alabama Hills for desert views.
Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic elopement locations, and one of the best places to elope in Central California for views of the mountains and valleys!
To elope in the rugged, remote scenery of Northern California, I recommend Del Norte. This area on the coast features hikes through Redwood forests and out to the rocky coastline – and the fog that tends to hang over the tree canopy makes for a magical elopement experience!
For skiing in the winter, or hiking in the summer, head inland to Mount Shasta – where you’ll find alpine lakes, snow capped peaks, and endless hiking trails.
To get legally married when you elope in California, you’ll need to get a marriage license. This can be done at any county clerk’s office in the state.
Both of you will need to go in person, with photo IDs – some offices require an appointment, so check this ahead of time! You’ll also need some money for the marriage license fee, which varies by county but typically ranges from $60 (Orange County) to $112 (San Francisco).
There is no waiting period, but your marriage license expires after 90 days. An officiant and one witness is required to sign it, and once it’s returned, you’re legally married!
As a California elopement photographer, I’m all about making your experience as easy and stress free as possible! Every California elopement package includes everything you need to plan your day, beginning to end.
California elopement packages start at $5000, and here’s what you get:
Ready to start planning your California elopement? Contact me!