California Elopement Guide
With the state’s diverse geography, there’s an endless list of places to elope in California. From the beaches along the Pacific Coast to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the deserts in between, there’s a perfect spot to satisfy any couple’s dream elopement destination. If you and your fiancé are keen on trekking through hiking trails or taking a road trip through a National Park for your elopement, look no further as the list below covers the most beautiful places to elope in California and some of the first steps in planning an elopement in California.
How much does it cost to elope in California?
To legally elope in California, you’ll need to go to any county clerk’s office in the state and bring $100, one form of government-issued identification per person, and proof of any prior legal separations. You may also need to make an appointment beforehand and bring copies of your birth certificates. This varies by county, so make sure to check the local regulations of the county that you plan on eloping in.
Can you elope without getting married?
The definition of eloping has changed in recent times, especially after the pandemic halted all travel and big weddings for a few years. Now, getting eloped in California means having an intentional wedding celebration that is uniquely yours – no more waiting for the “perfect” time to vow your love to each other. If you’ve ever thought, “I wish we could just elope,” know that you’re one of many who would prefer an intimate adventure to a big, traditional wedding.
California Elopement Packages
Have you ever dreamed of eloping somewhere, just you and your partner? Doing anything and everything that you wanted, just the two of you. We offer all-inclusive California elopement packages for your dream elopement wedding in the Golden State. From the initial logistical planning steps and crafting your own unique elopement photography timeline to chasing sunsets and summits together – I’m your gal.
Let’s plan your adventure together.
Best Places to Elope in California
Being a California elopement photographer, I’ve had the chance to photograph couples in some of California’s most beautiful elopement locations and I am always up for an adventure. Whether that be on a serene sandy beach, on epic rock formations in the desert, in the middle of a lush green forest, or in front of a snowy mountain top – your elopement wedding ceremony can take place anywhere you want it to.
Northern California Elopement Destinations
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe is one of the best places to elope in California due to its surrounding pine and aspen forests. A stunning hidden gem easily accessible from Reno International Airport, Lake Tahoe is only one hour away from the big city but filled with so many things to do. Between skiing and snowboarding in the winter to mountain biking, kayaking, and numerous hiking trails in the summer – Lake Tahoe is a prime spot for adventurous and athletic couples who want to elope in the wild.
The Landing Tahoe Resort & Spa – This lakeside resort offers a variety of indoor and outdoor wedding venues with stunning views of Lake Tahoe. With a rooftop ceremony overlooking the beautiful shores of Lake Tahoe, check out our The Landing wedding photography
Tahoe Bleu Wave – This boat company offers a variety of boat tours and private charters on Lake Tahoe, making it a unique and memorable venue for an elopement ceremony. Some of my favorite elopements to photograph were cruising on Lake Tahoe, which can’t be beat.
Tahoe Blue Estate – This unique and secluded rental home offers breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains and is a perfect location for an intimate elopement ceremony.
Valhalla Grand Hall – This grand and historic venue is located on the shores of Lake Tahoe and offers stunning views and a variety of indoor and outdoor wedding venues.
Among the most iconic spots are Emerald Bay State Park, Fallen Leaf Lake, and Sand Harbor. You’ll want to know the differences between North Lake and South Lake, as well as the locations available in the bi-state lake between California and Nevada. We wrote a guide for planning your Lake Tahoe elopement to help you achieve your dream elopement.
Yosemite National Park is by-far one of the best places to elope in California. From beautiful meadows, granite cliffs, giant sequoia groves, to waterfalls, Yosemite is the perfect spot for adventurers and admirers of majestic natural beauty. Some popular spots for elopements in Yosemite include:
Yosemite Valley – With its towering granite cliffs, Yosemite Valley offers a dramatic backdrop for an elopement ceremony.
Half Dome – One of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks, Half Dome offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape for a unique and memorable elopement experience.
Yosemite Falls – The park’s highest waterfall provides a serene and romantic setting for an elopement ceremony.
Tuolumne Meadows – This high-altitude meadow offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and is a peaceful and secluded location for an elopement ceremony.
Glacier Point – With its panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra, Glacier Point is a popular location for elopements.
Remember to obtain the necessary permits and follow regulations set by Yosemite National Park to ensure a safe and legal elopement ceremony. The park can be busy during peak summer seasons, so consider eloping during the off-season or on a week day for more privacy and an intimate experience.
Mount Shasta is a go-to spot for the spring and summer. Located in the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California, there’s so much to see and do for a California elopement road trip. From stunning waterfall views to gorgeous lakes, Mt. Shasta does not disappoint when it comes to scenic hikes and epic mountain views. Some photo-worthy spots to visit include Burney Falls, Heart Lake, Lake Siskiyou, and McCloud Falls.
Eloping in San Francisco
San Francisco and the Bay Area offer diverse cuisine along with cool spots for elopement photos. From the Golden Gate Bridge to cliffside views and redwood trees outside the city proper, there are a variety of places to choose for your Bay Area elopement. If you and your fiancé want the best of both worlds – delicious food and beautiful scenery, look no further! Here are a few unique venues in San Francisco that are popular for intimate weddings and elopements:
San Francisco City Hall – This iconic landmark is a popular venue for elopements, with its elegant rotunda and grand staircase providing a stunning setting for a ceremony.
Palace of Fine Arts – This classical-style rotunda and adjacent lagoon offer a stunning and romantic setting for an elopement ceremony. The arches and domes of the palace provide a romantic and timeless backdrop without leaving the city.
Baker Beach – This scenic beach along the Presidio offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is a popular venue for elopements.
Stow Lake Boathouse – This charming boathouse on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park offers a serene and natural setting for an elopement ceremony.
Want to have the Golden Gate Bridge in the background of your elopement photoshoot? Go to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area or Marin Headlands.
Big Sur Elopement Locations
As you drive down Highway 1 from Carmel, you’ll start to see the stunning coast of Big Sur the moment you leave town, starting with Garrapata State Park. Known for its rolling golden hills, coastal cliffs, and Redwood trees, Big Sur is the perfect place to start your elopement adventure. Andrew Molera State Park or Point Lobos State Park are both amazing locations for your Northern California elopement. You can catch breathtaking views of the Central Coast from Asilomar State Beach and Carmel River State Beach.
Eloping in Santa Cruz
While San Francisco and Big Sur are amongst the more popular elopement destinations, Santa Cruz is a wonderful alternative to consider. Filled with lush redwood forests and dramatic cliffs along the coastline, this small coastal town is the perfect getaway. If you plan on eloping in Santa Cruz, be sure to visit Coast Dairies State Beach and Henry Cowell State Park.
Southern California Elopement Destinations
Sequoia National Park
South of Kings Canyon and west of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Sequoia National Park is home to the beautiful sequoia trees. Get lost within the enchanted trees of the Giant Forest and feel small next to the world’s largest General Sherman Tree! This area is perfect for couples who want a more intimate elopement surrounded by mother nature’s greatest gifts.
Big Bear Lake
Nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Lake is known for its ski resorts and beautiful snow capped mountains. It’s a great rustic elopement destination for couples looking to tie the knot by a lake and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Be sure to check out the restaurants at Big Bear Lake Village, we recommend Tropicali for delicious California-Hawaiian dishes!
Known as the “Alps of Southern California”, Lake Arrowhead is another desirable elopement destination for couples who want a lakeside elopement getaway. With the myriad of outdoor activities available – fishing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and more – there’s lots to do in this small mountain town. This is also the perfect place for couples looking for a winter wonderland photoshoot!
Red Rock Canyon State Park
As stated in the park’s name, Red Rock Canyon showcases incredible red rock formations and desert cliffs. Located outside of Las Vegas, this area is well-known to rock climbers and avid hikers alike. It’s an easy drive for those in the Greater Los Angeles area looking for a desert elopement destination.
Death Valley National Park
Thinking of eloping in sand dunes and being miles away from civilization? Death Valley is the place to be! Located in the northern part of the Mojave Desert, this below-sea-level basin is by far an epic camping getaway for those who want to stargaze after tying the knot. What’s a better way to celebrate the beginning of marriage than seeing the Milky Way with the love of your life?
Joshua Tree National Park
Not feeling the redwoods or sequoia trees? Joshua trees are twisted, spiky trees that look like they came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Located east of Los Angeles and near Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is a classic California desert destination. There you can find yourself surrounded by interesting rock formations, prickly Joshua trees, and colorful sunsets.
Kimmi Cranes is a Lake Tahoe wedding photographer who offers all-inclusive wedding photography packages, engagement photoshoots, elopement photography and family portraits. Based in South Lake Tahoe, she’s more than happy to travel and capture your special event wherever you choose to hold it. Whether that be in the boonies of the desert, somewhere in the forest, or along the coastline, she will be there to make your elopement photography dreams come true! She loves to explore the outdoors and take photos of people in front of breathtaking landscapes. Her photos craft a beautiful story of love, excitement, and emotions to be remembered for years to come.