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How to Elope? – Elopement ideas


How to Elope?

Covid-19 is wrecking havoc on all 2020 weddings and marriage ceremonies. A lot of people are starting to ask me about how to elope and other options for their wedding. The good news is, you don’t have to wait to marry your partner or make your marriage legal. The large wedding party or reception can come later we can all gather again after the coronavirus pandemic is over. But for now – let’s get into the details of how to elope! 

Elopement Definition – What does “elope” mean?

Some people may think that the definition of elopement means to get hitched in a chapel in Vegas, a shotgun wedding, or a couple running off to marry in secrecy and not tell their family. It’s 2020, folks. It’s not like that anymore. 

An elopement is an intentionally small, meaningful, and authentic wedding experience for couples who don’t want a “traditional” wedding. A true reflection of your relationship, your hopes and wishes for your life together. The absolute freedom to commit your life and your wedding ceremony to your partner, however and wherever you two choose. It doesn’t matter who else attends. It doesn’t matter where you’re going. 

All that matters is that you and your partner have made a decision to get married to each other. Your choices in how to elope are totally up to you. 


Difference between wedding and elopement

When you choose to forgo the traditional elements of a wedding and opt for something more intimate – that’s eloping! It doesn’t mean you have to run away and get married without telling anyone. While a wedding may have hundreds of guests, an elopement usually just has the couple and a few guests. It’s much easier to get married in a number of beautiful locations that would not be possible otherwise.

Check out our list of elopement ideas for the best places of where to elope all over the world. 


Why should I Elope?

You can both save money and create lasting memories while exploring a beautiful part of the world together and exchanging vows. Elopements are becoming more popular each year as couples decide to opt for a modern wedding ceremony. So dream big, go the distance. Know that you and your partner are in for the greatest adventure of your lives. 


What is the eloping etiquette?

Most couples who choose to elope do so not because of costs, but because they would like to focus more on their love and spend more time with their closest friends and family. An elopement wedding ceremony is an intimate experience and a great way to fully concentrate on your marriage experience. It is about stripping away the things that don’t matter.

Foregoing the details that make traditional wedding planning so difficult, expensive, and stress-inducing: like ordering wedding favors, adjusting the menu to suit every guest’s dietary restrictions, even the limitations of the venue. You get to let go of every ounce of pressure, anxiety, or obligation that has ever tried to weigh you down to the “perfect” wedding. An elopement is completely and totally yours.

Elopement Checklist


What do you need to elope?

Some basics: you’ll need a marriage certificate, an officiant, and witnesses to sign the marriage certificate after your elopement ceremony. The witnesses can be a close friend or family member, each of you will need your own witness. A legal elopement is a party of five or more in most states, and in some cases it could actually just be the two of you (see self-solemnizing ceremonies).

 Side note: As of 2020, during Coronavirus social distancing times, the maximum allowed is 10 people for an elopement in most states during the reopening Phases. Gatherings or large weddings of groups over 50 is still illegal in most states in the USA as of April 2020. This may be subject to change. Please read the most recent laws pertaining to your state on how to elope.

You may also want to reserve a venue for a dinner reception after the ceremony, as well as lodging and accommodations for yourself and your guests. During peak season, lodging and dinner reservations may be difficult to secure for some more popular areas, so plan early and call ahead to a few local options for planning an event like a Yosemite elopement or Lake Tahoe elopement.  

What paperwork do you need to elope?

This depends on the state or country you choose to elope in. You’ll need a marriage certificate or license pertaining to the locality, along with any necessary location permits for the place you are holding the ceremony at, and maybe an officiant. There might be a small fee towards a governing agency for a National Park elopement or similar public lands. Look up marriage laws by state and make sure that you have all the necessary information.


Marriage License California

If you plan on eloping in California, there are a few rules that you must keep in mind:

You do not need to be a California resident to marry in California. To marry in California, the two parties may not be already married to each other or other individuals.  

Marriage by proxy is NOT allowed in California. Family Code, Section 420(a), requires the two parties, marriage officiant and witness if applicable be physically present together in the same location for the marriage to be performed.

However, if you are an active member of the Armed Forces, there is an exception. California Family Code 420(b) allows a member of the Armed Forces of the United States who is stationed overseas and serving in a conflict or a war and is unable to appear for licensure and solemnization of the marriage to enter into a marriage by the appearance of an attorney-in-fact, commissioned and empowered in writing for that purpose through a power of attorney (POA). 

Both parties must appear in person and bring valid picture identification to the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a marriage license in California. You should apply to the County Clerk of the place you plan on holding the ceremony a few weeks early if you would like to settle the legal paperwork on the same day as your wedding ceremony. Learn more about Marriage Licenses in California.


Do you need a wedding officiant for an elopement? 

Every state and every country has its own marriage laws, so the requirements are going to vary from place to place. Some states, like Virginia, might require that you have a judge, a minister, or a person appointed by the court to act as your officiant. There are other states that do not need a minister at all and allow you to self-solemnize and make a marriage completely legal with just the two of you. 

Another way to include an officiant is to have your family members, friends, or other people who are meaningful in your life get ordained so they can officially marry you. If you don’t love the idea of having a stranger act as your officiant, then don’t do that. It’s your wedding, you call the shots. Most states allow a friend or family member to become ordained through sites like Universal Life Church, Universal Ministries, and Rose Ministries

If you’d like to keep things super simple, our photographers at Starscape Studios are ordained ministers – so we can legally marry you, anywhere! 

Do you need to have a witness to elope?

Many states require two witnesses to sign the marriage license, along with the officiating minister. This makes a legal elopement party a minimum of five people. Your choice is to either bring a couple friends, family members, or your photographer can also sign on the marriage license as a witness.

What is a self-solemnizing ceremony? 

Self-solemnizing is a law that a few US states have which lets you be married without needing an officiant, witness, or anything else but yourself and your partner. This is true freedom – you two get to decide EVERYTHING about your elopement and make it truly about just the two of you. 

The states that allow self-solemnizing ceremony are Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C. You don’t have to reside in those states to get married there – that’s what an elopement is all about! You still need to file a marriage licence with the state, but you and your partner get to sign as your own officiants and witnesses. There are even ways to include your dog or pet as a witness in your elopement, if you so choose! 

Elopement IdeasWhere can I elope?

Pretty much anywhere! Given that you can obtain a marriage license from the county clerk of the place you want to elope, you can have the wedding ceremony wherever you want. On the summit of a mountain? You got it. Next to the beach? Be sure to wear your swimsuit under your wedding clothes. In the middle of a redwood forest? Bring hiking boots and let’s GO! 
You can hold an elopement ceremony practically anywhere in the world, due to not needing a venue with tables, guest parking, or official wedding ceremony. 

Places to Elope in US & Canada

Hawaii Elopement – Oahu Island

If a breathtaking Hawaii beach wedding is what you envisioned for your ceremony, this is where you want to be. There are so many beach elopement locations close to Waikiki and easily accessible by car. Sherwood Forest Beach, Waimanalo is located on the East Shore approximately 40 minutes from Waikiki. With long stretches of white sand beach and crystal clear turquoise water, it is a gem. 

A few top location choices to look at for your Hawaii elopement package:

Heaven’s Point is one of the most stunning locations Oahu has to offer, with rocky cliffs below overlooking the turquoise blue ocean.

Sandy Beach is located on the South East Shore approximately 30 minutes drive and shortly past Heaven’s Point. This famous body surfing beach is known for its golden sands, dramatic lava rocks, and shoreline tide pools.

If you are looking to stay closer to town, look at Waialae Beach and Magic Island. They are both located approximately 10 minutes from Waikiki. Both offer a vast variety of photo opportunities. From an elegant grass oasis surrounded by palm trees, to enchanting beach images with quaint islands in the background. These Hawaii elopement locations will create a backdrop you will spend a lifetime reminiscing about.



Lake Tahoe Elopement

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe and its surrounding pine forest is a hidden gem. Easily accessible from Reno International Airport or Sacramento. It’s only one hour away from the city but filled with so many things to do in Lake Tahoe.

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. Have your elopement on the observation deck at Heavenly Resort or the peaks on top of Squaw-Alpine. We’ve written a guide on how to elope in Tahoe for planning your dream Lake Tahoe elopement


Redwood Forest Elopement

If you want to feel the sheer immensity of nature, Redwood National and State Parks are a string of protected forests, beaches and grasslands along Northern California’s coast that are especially stunning because of their size. These ancient trees can grow up to 380 ft tall and 30 ft wide!

There are several Redwood groves along the Northern California Coast. These include Humboldt National State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Portola Redwoods State Park, The Avenue of the Giants, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is home to Fern Canyon, with its high, plant-covered walls. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park has trails through dense old-growth woods. Basically, you have a lot of options as far as choosing to elope in the middle of a Redwood grove. 

Grand Teton Elopement

Grand Teton is a wonder of lush valley floors, mountain meadows, alpine lakes and the rising peaks of the Teton Range. Located south of Yellowstone National Park and north of the town of Jackson. Iconic locations like Mormon Row and the Moulton Barns may be the most photographed destinations in the park. Grand Teton’s celestial peaks also provide the perfect setting for for your elopement wedding ceremony with a backdrop of incredible landscapes.

After the ceremony, feel free to explore the rest of Grand Teton National Park. You can explore over two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River, and enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place.

Moraine Lake Elopement

Feeling adventurous? Moraine Lake is a glacially fed lake in Banff National Park, 14 kilometres outside the Village of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Given its beautiful turquoise waters, Moraine Lake provides the ultimate romantic getaway for those seeking a luxurious elopement. It’s located in a spectacular valley in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It’s waters are  a vivid shade of blue-green that changes in intensity through the summer as the glaciers melt. Set in the rugged Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, and rock piles. It creates a scene so stunning it almost seems unreal.


Still have any questions about how to elope in the continental United States? Email me and I’d be happy to walk you through the process!


    Kimmi Cranes is a San Francisco event photographer and the main photographer of Starscape Studios

    Bay Area wedding photographer

    You're likely to see me on the dance floor with my camera and laughing with your bridal party who are my new best friends. When you hire me as your wedding photographer, you won't have to wonder if I'm missing those moments - I'll be right by your side.

    With dozens of 5-star reviews on Yelp, Google and Wedding Wire, my goal is to document these fleeting moments so that you can cherish them for years to come.

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