When it comes to the best places to elope in California, the options are endless. One of the things we love about California is that you can experience pretty much every landscape imaginable. From jagged cliffside beaches to awe-inspiring mountains to vast, open desert, California has it all. And ultimately, this makes it one of the best destinations for adventure elopements. If there’s a specific landscape you have in mind for your elopement, there’s a damn good chance you can find it in California.
But before we dive into specific California elopement places, there are a few things you’ll want to consider before deciding where to elope in California. This’ll help you determine which spots are best for your California adventure elopement.
Here’s the thing: California is a HUGE state. It takes up over half of the western coast of the US, which means that it also contains various different landscapes and climates that vary greatly from each other, even in the same seasons. Inland California can be a complete scorcher in the middle of summer, whereas the northern coastal towns are much more enjoyable during these months. Unlike other states in the US where you have a general idea of what each season will bring, California can’t really be put in a box. And while that’s certainly one of the most exciting aspects of eloping in the golden state, it also makes figuring our where to elope in California a tad more complicated.
All of that being said, which regions of California are best for elopements in the various seasons? Let’s take a look…
Disclosure: I’ve included links to a few lodging options near some of our favorite California elopement locations so you can get started on planning. I may make a commission at no cost to you if you decide to book through one of these links. Ultimately, your trust is important to me and I’m here to share what I think are really cool California elopement lodging options.
The awesome thing about eloping in California is that there are amazing elopement locations no matter what season you’re considering. But ultimately the best places to elope in California will be highly dependent on what time of year you’d like to elope. Eloping in a certain location in the wrong season can make for a pretty uncomfortable elopement day. Imagine eloping in Death Valley National Park at the end of July with 114 degree temps. No thank you.
Our number one piece of advice for finding the best places to elope in California? Chat with your adventure elopement photographer. Why? As adventure elopement photographers ourselves, we know firsthand that part of our job is to keep a list of epic elopement spots for our couples. And plenty of these elopement places are locations that elopement photographers don’t share openly with the public. And that’s honestly largely because the places you can easily find online are typically heavily trafficked spots that don’t really let you have a private, secluded elopement experience (which is probably one of the biggest reasons you’ve chosen to elope in the first place).
That said, when choosing the best places to elope in California, it’s definitely a good idea brainstorm what specific landscapes really speak to you and your partner. Do you have a preference for a mountainous elopement? Or maybe the California beaches are more your thing? Bring these preferences to your elopement photographer and they can help you figure out where to elope in California. We chat a bit more in detail out this in our Ultimate Elopement Planning Checklist, which covers the elopement process from beginning to end. Eloping in California doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, we’re big believers that the elopement process should be fun.
When it comes to eloping in California, you’ll want to make sure you’re cognizant of any needed elopement permits. As a rule of thumb, if you’re looking to elope in any of California’s national parks, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll need a permit. The same can apply to various state parks, but you’ll want to check on a case-by-case basis.
We have a few places in California that we think make for incredible elopement locations. While California beaches are definitely gorgeous, we’re suckers for California’s desert and mountain landscapes and think they’re some of the best places to elope in California.
One thing to note: if you plan to elope in California, pretty much any location you choose will require some sort of special use permit. Always do your research and contact a ranger before planning your California elopement.
From sand dunes to mountains to salt flats, Death Valley is just about out of the craziest, most epic elopement spots in California. We love how otherworldly it feels…almost like you’re on another planet. Frankly we believe it is the most unique and best place to elope in California. However, if you want to elope here, we highly recommend doing so in the cooler months, when the temps aren’t nearly as intense. And if you need help finding an epic place to stay when eloping in Death Valley, we’ve created a list to get you started!
If you want a “tiny humans, big landscape” vibe, we highly recommend choosing to elope amongst California’s Sequoia trees. They’re seriously unlike anything else, towering above everyone walking on the trails nearby. That sense of awe is what puts Sequoia National Park near the very top of our list of best places to elope in California.
The park has designated ceremony sites that you’ll need to choose from for your California elopement. But the good news is that the cost of the permit is less than what you’d see for a park like Yosemite, making Sequoia one of the cheapest places to elope in California.
Hands-down one of the most stunning and epic places to elope in California are near the little mountain towns southeast of Yosemite. Not only are there some of the most gorgeous mountain views, but this area has some of the best little hot springs too. We personally love Bishop and Mammoth Lakes for their mountain views and adventurous spirits.
Eloping in this part of California will ultimately depend on the permit rules for the towns versus the nearby national forest land. Be sure to contact a ranger for more info.
A classic for a reason…Yosemite is an amazing place to elope in California. Whether you’re a rock climber, hiker, or someone who loves the idea of lounging by a river in the summertime, you can find yourself a little slice of heaven in Yosemite.
Our biggest piece of advice if you’re looking to elope in the park, especially in the summer months? Choose a weekday and go at sunrise. You’re more likely to find privacy then. But just be aware that certain locations in the park will have people around no matter what. To get privacy, you’ll typically have to hike a bit.
When figuring out your California elopement timeline, we exclusively recommend two key times of day to our couples: sunset elopements and sunrise elopements. Why? As adventure elopement photographers, we make it a priority to choose the best time for day, lighting-wise, for our couples’ elopements. Unless you’re dealing with an overcast day (which is not always a super common occurrence in California), sunset and sunrise will have a warmer, less harsh light than what you might see midday.
Once you’ve selected your preferred time of day for your California elopement, you’ll want to work with your photographer to craft your day-of timeline. As adventure elopement photographers, it’s our top priority to help you figure out what your California elopement timeline could look like. There’s absolutely no reason for you sort that out by yourselves.
While this article is mostly about finding you the best places to elope in California, we want to make sure we also help you with some of the other details when planning your CA elopement. And that includes marriage licenses. Marriage license regulations vary from state to state, which is why you’ll want to take into consideration California’s laws and procedures before you make your elopement plans. Now, if you’re traveling to California from another state or country and intend on taking care of the legal details in your hometown, you can totally skip this section.
Both you and your partner will both need to bring valid photo ID when you pick up your California marriage license. You can do so at any county Clerk and Recorder office within the state. When you get your license you’ll also need to pay a fee, the amount of which will vary from county to county.
Once you have your license, you’ll need to use it within 90 days, though. So don’t pick it up too early!
Nope! Unlike places like Washington State, you can use your marriage license once you receive it. That means you can pick it up in the morning and elope in California in the afternoon. Awesome, right?!
There are a few key parties that need to be present to sign your marriage license after you elope in California: you, your partner, your officiant, and your witness/witnesses. As elopement photographers, we’ve served as witnesses before, so if you want to keep your ceremony as private as possible, with just the two of you and your officiant, we’ve got your back. We’re happy to sign as witnesses! Note that in California, you only need one witness, but you can have two if you’d like.
Your officiant will need to return your marriage license to the Clerk and Recorder’s office at most 10 days after your California elopement.
You have a few options when it comes to officiants for your California elopement. They include the usual suspects you might expect, like justices, judges, ordained ministers and priests, etc. You can find a full list of who can officiate here.
And yes, if you want a friend or family member to officiate, then can! BUT, they need to be ordained first.
Elopements have changed a lot these days, and for the better! They’re no longer seen as secretive events, but rather adventurous and one-of-a-kind experiences that allow couples to really infuse their personalities into their wedding day. Adventurous elopements are the way couples these days are saying no to the wedding industry’s stuffy, outdated rules.
Couples these days love the idea of making their elopement day “theirs” by incorporating activities that you typically wouldn’t be able to do during traditional weddings. Whether it’s soaking in a hot spring in California’s mountain towns or wandering around Venice Beach in your elopement attire and checking out all the little shops, the opportunities are endless.
That’s the thing about elopements: the activities you do don’t have to all be wedding-related. The day can just be an adventure, and it can take you wherever you want. Ultimately how you choose to elope in California is up to you and your partner. This is your elopement day after all: you get to make all the rules.
If you’re looking for a checklist that goes over everything you need to know when eloping, we’ve got you covered! Our Ultimate Elopement Guide goes over everything from prioritizing your elopement budget to figuring out what to pack for your elopement day. This is the exact checklist we used to plan our own elopement (yup, we eloped too, so we personally know what you’re going through!), and the one we use to help our couples plan their dream elopements.
Still trying to figure out how to tell your friends and family that you two are planning to elope? We have an article all about sharing the news of your elopement plans with them and getting them on board with things.
Not sure which shoes you should be wearing on your adventure elopement day? We’ve got an article on that topic too.
P.S. As mountain elopement and adventure wedding photographers, we pride ourselves on not just documenting your California elopement or small mountain wedding, but helping you plan out all the little details as well — like helping you figure out the perfect time of year for your Big Sur elopement or finding you the best places to elope in California. We’ve been in your shoes with our own elopement, and that’s why we’re in this industry in the first place. We want to help.
While we pride ourselves in taking killer photos of killer people in killer places, we’re also firm believers that your California elopement photographer should be so much more than that. They should be a resource to you during the whole adventure elopement planning process, whether that’s recommended where to elope in California or sharing the best hiking boot brands to wear with your dress. So if that sounds like your vibe, we’d love to chat with you about your dream California elopement.
Check out some of our favorite elopement and adventure wedding planning resources:
Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way
Colorado Elopement Photographers + Adventure Wedding Photographers