Elope in California
I mean you should know I’m already biased. But, I think California state is the absolute best state in the U.S. And you’d be a crazy fool not to elope in California! Just kidding you wouldn’t be a fool but California is seriously one of the best and you will never convince me otherwise so, don’t even try. Eloping in California can be an absolute top tier experience and I’m definitely going to show you why!
From the beach to the mountains. Then we have the desserts and valleys and believe me, we literally have everything you could hope for when being adventurous or maybe just even looking for a weekend getaway. The possibilities are endless when thinking about eloping in California. And let me show you why! Here is the complete guide How to Elope in California.
Why Should You Elope in California
If I haven’t said it enough California has got it all. We’re literally such a big state with nine National parks and over 116 state parks. There’s countless beaches, mountains, deserts, valleys, hills, lakes, trees. The options endless and the possibility of what you can do for your elopement are endless.
Especially if you already live in California we all know the feeling of making a quick trip to SoCal or up to NorCal just for a change of scenery and the whole vibe is different itself. If you are already live in California and want to stick pretty close to home I guarantee you that we can find a beautiful location that works best for you and everyone that you would want to include on your elopement day.
The Golden State has such a rich amount of history and some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of the U.S. People come from all over the U.S. and the world to see places like Yosemite National Park and landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge. And should you be so lucky to have those be the backdrop for your wedding I mean talk about breathtaking.
With so many beautiful places in California you are bound to find the perfect little corner for you and your partner. The problem may be just deciding on that exact spot! Eloping in California is a one of kind of experience that you’ll want for your special day.
Where to Elope in California
Where to even begin!? When and where to elope in California basically go hand in hand. This is because there are some part of California experience all 4 seasons thoroughly, specifically up north like Lake Tahoe and above while the same cannot be said for SoCal.
So, back to the where; options endless, views are timeless but here are some of my spot location that you could not go wrong in choosing. It should be no shocker that I include lots of national parks I mean for obvious reasons. But, should you be going for something else don’t worry I’ve got you covered!
1. San Francisco
I mean I love this place and could literally never get tired of taking pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset or sunrise. But, you probably don’t know about all the hidden gems that this city has. From Sutro Baths, Baker Beach, Ocean Beach, the Marin Headlands, The Flower Conservatory, and so much more. This city has a vast amount of adventure both city and beyond all wrapped into one. For more information on getting married at San Francisco City Hall check out the city’s page here.
2. Big Sur
A place after my own heart. I love this beach city along the coast of California. It’s hard to describe just how beautiful it is until you see it in person. If you’re looking for something cute and quaint with amazingly epic views then look no further. You can get the best of both worlds here since Big Sur is home to not only some of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches but also lots of Redwood forests. And who says you can’t do both for your elopement!?
3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Technically two separate parks located adjacent to each other. From hiking, star gazing, fly fishing, and horseback riding. If you’re looking to be surrounded by some of the biggest trees you have ever seen in your entire life look no further. Redwoods can live up to 2,000 years while sequoias can live up to 3,000 years with their branches up to 8 feet in diameter. These trees are crazy large and beautiful. And would be an amazing scenery to tell your partner that all you want to do is commit the rest of your life to making them as happy as possible. For more information about visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park click here.
4. Redwood National and State Parks
The title of this park can be a little confusing but essentially there is one national park located in northern California. But, there are several different state parks located throughout mainly northern California that can also give a variety of options if you’re looking for the redwoods to be the background for your ceremony. Many of which are located in the Bay Area! Can we say score!! I mean I am obviously biased but the Bay Area has countless options, activities, and things that can make eloping in California so so special!
5. Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes has some of the most stunning ocean views in all of NorCal. From the lighthouse to the cypress tree tunnel you are bound to get some epic photos with views that’ll take your breath away. The wind and fog will only add to the dramatic of the day but be sure to prepare properly with layers and plans B, C, and D. Point Reyes is definitely on my bucket list just to visit for a number of reasons and even if you don’t elope here it’s definitely still worth a visit.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
Trust me you will be more than pleasantly surprised if you decide to elope in Joshua Tree National Park. There’s something about those trees that are just magic. A super short drive from Palm Springs should you decide to elope in either location you could do a two for one and make some memories and magic in both. If you’re looking for something different, unique, and probably a little unexpected for your family and friends then this place is for you. Looking for more information on Joshua Tree National Park check out the national park page here.
7. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is about 3 hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area and is absolutely beautiful during every season. Maybe you’re not a beach person you’re a lake person. This could be the place for you to get some water in the photos and also some mountains in the background. There are so many different view points of the lake and so many possible adventures from paddle boarding, skiing, snowboarding, the beach, gondola rides, and hot air balloon tours. So, many incredible options for a fun filled elopement weekend.
8. Death Valley National Park
Ok, call me crazy but I am dying to go here. Probably didn’t expect to see this one on the list but it is and for a good reason too! Death Valley when it’s hot is 130 degrees Fahrenheit has such an incredibly diverse landscape to rainbow mountains, sand dunes, salt flats, and in the night the stargazing is an absolute dream. Definitely a place that’s a little non-traditional just like eloping. But, you will 100% not be disappointed. For all of the latest information on Death Valley check out the park page here.
9. San Diego
If getting married by the beach is at the top of your priorities then I would 1000% consider San Diego. I mean you can’t tell me that when you think of San Diego you don’t automatically just think beach. Probably that and the zoo. There are a number of options from Cuvier Park which is known for hosting many many wedding every single year. Then there’s Ellen Browning Scripps Park, Calumet, Coronado Beach, and Ocean Beach which have some of the prettiest beach cliffs in California. It’s super important when choosing a location to consider your guest count and any other restrictions that be may or may not be allowed at each site.
10. Napa Valley
The Napa Valley is honestly starting to feel like a home away from home for me. I swear I’m there at least twice a month! Anyways if you’re looking a little weekend getaway Napa Valley can definitely be your sweet escape. There are so many cute Airbnbs and other ways to make this county with over 300 wineries throughout it the elopement destination of your dreams. Be sure to check out their website to help you with all your planning needs. There are so many different things to do from wine tastings to, balloon rides, golfing, spa facilities, and more. Trust me you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised.
11. Yosemite National Park
I’m sure you seen so many photos of this truly magical place. And I mean with scenery like that it’s almost like how could you not want to get married here. From places like Taft point to Glacier point there are so many gorgeous views and such cute places like Autocamp that are sure to make your stay in Yosemite unique and memorable. I don’t think I have much selling to do here because if you know you know. All I will say if you are looking for a more private location this might not be the place for you because you will definitely be sharing the trails with other couples at some point. Also certain trails that are really popular are closed in the winter due to snow. For more information on Yosemite National Park check their park page here. Another important note is that Yosemite will be doing some major road work that will cause closures Spring to Fall 2022 and then delays in 2023.
12. Palm Springs
Sometimes I feel like people just think of retirement communities when they think of Palm Springs. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know I thought that for the longest time too. I would describe Palm Springs as this fun little retro town in the desert. It is home to some of the cutest Airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, and hotels in SoCal. If you have a love of pink and green then this might just be the place for you. There’s Les Cactus and Korakia Pensione. And not to mention the wind farm and the famous greenhouse located in Moorten Botanical Garden. And with Joshua Tree being so close this could be the perfect destination for 2 locations for eloping in California during only one weekend away.
13. Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead is also known as the “Alps” of Southern California. You’ll want to stay at the Saddleback Inn so you’re just within walking distance of the lake. And it’s pretty much the only place to stay if you want view of the lake and 100 year old cedar trees. Lake Arrowhead is like being transported to a whole new part of California that you didn’t even know existed. Quaint and quiet are a perfect way to describe this getaway. I mean this place is breathtaking during all times of the year but in winter you’re looking at a wonderland.
14. Catalina Island
Catalina Island is just off of the coast of Los Angeles County and is the perfect little hideaway getaway for traveling to Europe with a way shorter plane ride. With two main ports; Avalon and Two Harbors. It’s like a choose your own adventure for eloping in California. There are so many incredible things to do here like try a sea life safari, zip line eco tour, or a bison tour. Two Harbors is known to be a romantic getaway spot for two so, get ready to sit back, relax, and soak in the sun.
15. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic national park offers a unique side of California that most people will never even get the chance to experience. Connecting to the Pacific crest trail the park is filled with hydrothermal sites like Bumpass Hell, with its acres of bubbling mud pots. This is great spot if you’re looking for a national park with fewer crowds and view of lakes and starry night views. Want to know more about Lassen Volcanic national park check out the national park page here.
When to Elope in California
So, hopefully you’re not to overwhelmed with where you want to elope in California and have been able to narrow it down to a couple of places. Hopefully this section will help you officially decide on that magical place. One of the best things about eloping in California is that since there is such a diverse landscape you can elope during anytime year depending on what type of scenery you’re looking to have or not have.
I mean it should be fairly obviously that if you choose Death Valley summer and late spring/early fall is definitely not the best time to elope there and same goes if you’re looking for a winter wonderland. You’re really not going to find that in the summer in places like Lake Arrowhead and Lake Tahoe. Common sense can be super helpful when make super basic decisions like that.
If you’re thinking of a winter elopement in California and are looking for some fun in the snow Lake Tahoe, Lake Arrowhead, and Yosemite should be at the top of your list. California doesn’t exactly experience all four seasons equally with snow sometimes coming down like no other and in other years not so much. But, if you’re looking for a snow globe like wedding you can definitely find that. I would say your best chance of having snow is mid-November through mid-February.
Spring can definitely be a hit or miss as far as far as the weather is concerned. I mean don’t get me wrong 90% of the time it’s sunny and beautiful but other 10% it’s raining. And as much as I want to hate on the rain we need it because we’re in a drought so…. Anyways if you want more of guaranteed warm sunny weather I would say SoCal is your best bet. Though we do have our days in the Bay of absolutely beautiful weather but more often than not it’s going to be foggy and overcast. Up north however, I would expect a couple of snow showers throughout the season.
I not even going to lie, it can get so f-ing hot in the summer time. Especially as you move further out from water. So, in places like Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Palm Springs, and Napa be prepared to sweat. Like a lot. However, close to the Bay or the beach the weather is just *chef’s kiss.* I will be upfront the fog can still roll into San Francisco but if you plan on having an evening or late afternoon elopement than this shouldn’t be a problem because it tends to be burned off by the sun by then.
I like to say spring is my favorite season because my birthday in is April. But, really it’s fall especially here in the Bay Area. The weather is 20/10, the most optimal possible. You’d think places like San Francisco and Big Sur in the summer would be the best time because it’d obviously be the warmest. And you’d actually be wrong. Fall specifically months September and October are the best. This is because fog does burn off in the summer but often rolls back in as night falls. But, in the fall that’s not the case. And you get those beautiful golden sunsets. From the weather, to the trees changing color, fall is honestly the best time to elope in California in my opinion. But, it is also the busiest time for photographers so be prepared to book early!
What to Wear When You Elope in California
Don’t be afraid to pick something a little non traditional this is YOUR dress! If you’re having an outdoor elopement, there will likely be a natural breeze. See how the dress flows and reacts to movement. Dance around in it, pick it up and move it around to mimic wind.
If you plan to do a longer hiking elopement it’s a great idea to pack your dress in a backpack and then change when you get to your ceremony spot. You may also want to consider avoiding heavier material like corsets, boning tulle, and super puffy skirts. Try to find lightweight materials even if you’re not hiking because you’ll probably want to be able to move around freely.
Do you plan on wearing any accessories? Veils, capes, and shoulder shawls can add extra movement and add tons of drama to your photos. If your elopement is happening during winter you might want to consider layering options that will go with the dress. You can find some cozy shawls or jackets that’ll coordinate with your dress and that you would be excited about being photographed in.
Not looking for a dress but still want something sort of flowy? Try looking for skirts and sweaters. Remember you can buy a skirt and a separate top. Or maybe even a jumpsuit is you vibe! Check out this Big Sur elopement to see what I mean.
Things to Do When You Elope in California
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times there millions of things to do when eloping in California. The options are truly endless from hikes to food tours, wine tours, eating at Michelin star restaurants, museums, and stunning views. There is definitely an activity or activities that are suited to you. I know it can be daunting to think or what to do during your elopement so here are some ideas below.
Hot Air Balloon
As long as you’re not afraid of heights this could be a winner. A popular thing to do in wine country. From Napa to Temecula you could book this air tour and have the absolute time of your life. If you’re really looking for some alone time and to do something special that you’ll always remember this might be the activity for you.
Helicopter Tours are offered in a number of places that I listed above like San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and the greater Los Angeles area. If you afraid heights then, you’ll want to pass on this one. But, if you not then buckle up and get ready to see some amazing views and skylines. You’ll see California like you never have before.
It wouldn’t be an adventurous elopement without at least a little bit of hiking. I know hiking is not for everyone. But, just imagine hiking up to a summit and saying your vows between just the two of you. A moment so special and precious. And California can give you some of the most beautiful hikes with oceans view you have seen. Life’s about the climb right?!
I feel like this has been a super recent explosion. But, all of these catered cute set up picnics are literally the cutest thing ever. And after a day adventuring around San Francisco I feel like it’d be a dream to have a picturesque picnic set up on Baker beach with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about be sure to check out Picnic and Chill. And if that hasn’t sold you I don’t know what will. Small businesses like that one are located throughout all of California and I can even help you with the coordination if this is your dream. Most companies also do larger parties too!
Wine or Beer Tasting
I mean call me an alcoholic but this is 100% up my alley. I mean why else would you go to Napa if not for the wine. Wine tasting is definitely something you should do at some point during your life. A wine tour is quite an experience. And when tasting at different wineries it’s so fun to learn about the history of Napa and the winery itself. Same goes for breweries if beer is more your style! Personally I’d say why not both but when eloping in California wine not right?!
Boat tours are definitely more popular in San Francisco because everyone wants to see the bridge but they are still super fun! You could even spend the first half of your day just with your partner and then join your families later on in the day on a boat for dinner and fun! Be sure to bring your sea legs and warm layers.
So, what do you think about eloping in California?
What do you think? Have I sold you yet? California is the best state and try to tell me I’m wrong. Because I’m not. lol
When eloping in California you can do whatever you like. It’s a pick your own adventure type of destination which I feel like suits everyone so well.
I’d love to help capture your elopement whether it’s happening in California or not. Interested in Booking me fill out an inquiry below!
Hi I'm Torez, a die-hard romantic and San Francisco-based wedding photographer with years of experience capturing love stories against the backdrop of our charming city. From intimate City Hall ceremonies to epic coastal elopements, I've seen and photographed it all. I know the ins and outs of navigating wedding planning in San Francisco like the back of my hand - from selecting the perfect location that aligns with your love story, to creating the dreamiest wedding timeline that lets you enjoy your day to the fullest. And guess what? I'm sharing all of that expertise right here with you.