Choosing to elope to California offers you desert vibes, iconic backdrops, world-famous beaches, and endlessly pretty forests and greenery. But where in the golden state will you choose to tie the knot?
If you’re wondering where the best places in California to elope to are, don’t worry, I’ve got your back! This playground of rugged seascapes, sandy beaches, and lush green forests has been my home for some time now. As an elopement photographer, I have had the privilege of shooting hundreds of adventurous couples, all across the unique landscape of California. In my opinion, the golden state is one of the best places to elope in the US, and today you’re going to discover why California is so special.
While traveling throughout the varied terrain of California, I’m always on the hunt for the next best places for my couples to elope to. And through the years as an elopement photographer, I’ve come across so many hidden spots in California that make ideal places for an intimate elopement ceremony. As a special service to my couples, I share these secret locations with them. But today, I’m going to share a few with you too!
There will be iconic destinations on this list you will have heard of. And there’ll be others entirely new to you. So if you’re planning to elope to California, and you haven’t come across the perfect place, or places yet, keep scrolling!
How to Elope to California
Before we start exploring all the fantastic places to elope to in California, we first need to look at how it’s done. Legally, to marry in California, you must present a valid driver’s license or passport for both parties at any county clerk’s office in the state. Each county may also have other specific requirements, such as possibly needing to have a copy of your birth certificates. So please do check the county clerk’s website before you travel. Also, if you, or your partner, have been divorced within the last 6 months, you’ll have to present a copy of the divorce decree.
California marriage licenses are immediately valid and last for 90 days. They can only be used within the state, but you do not need to marry in the county where you obtained the license. Once your marriage is official, you must return the actual license back to the clerk’s office where you were issued it. After, they will give you certified copies of your marriage license. As part of my service as an elopement photographer and certified officiant in California, I normally look after this formality on my couples’ behalf. Leaving them free to enjoy the entirety of their wedding day.
How much does a California Marriage License Cost?
A California marriage certificate costs around $100. However, if you’re choosing to elope outdoors, there may be extra fees for permits required, depending on which places in California you’re looking at. You’ll get a feel for these prices as we explore the places below.
Do you Need a Witness for a California Elopement?
In California, couples are required to have at least one witness present during their ceremony if you obtain a public marriage license. You do not need a witness if you obtain a confidential marriage license. There is no age requirement for witnesses in the state. However, they will need to be old enough to put their signature on the official marriage license.
For more specific information on the California marriage license, please visit this site.
When is the Best Time to Elope to California?
The beauty of a California elopement is that there is no bad time to visit. Even when comparing the varied temperatures between the summer and winter, the weather on average is typically lovely. Sunny, warm and bright tends to be the average day in the Golden State!
Obviously, the weather does fluctuate throughout the year. If you’re not a fan of really hot temperatures, Summer is to be avoided, in favor of maybe Spring or Fall. If you really want to shelter from the sun’s rays, you could consider the months of May and June. As those months typically experience a lot of cloud cover, and therefore cooler climes. Perfect if you’re searching for places to elope to in California with some kind of adventure element.
The summer months of May, June, and July are to be avoided if your budget is tight. An accommodation, transport, and attractions tend to be more expensive during these peak tourist times.
The 10 Best Places to Elope in California
A Malibu Elopement
A few short miles from LA you’ll find Malibu, California an idyllic beach town that is one of my favorite locations to visit. As it offers a multitude of very varied spots to tie the knot out in the open air. From rolling green hills and mountain tops to oceanfront cliffs to rocky beaches and coves. Malibu also offers a variety of stunning estates. From estates nestled in the middle of vineyards to estates with beach access and incredible ocean views. It’s certainly one of the most awesome places to say your vows that’s why it deserves to be at the top of my best places to elope in California list.
When to Elope to Malibu
Malibu is well-known for its good weather, and near year-round sunshine, meaning you can’t pick a bad time to elope there!
Where to Elope in Malibu
Choosing to elope to this Southern California town will offer you a unique world of incredibly diverse places to host your ceremony. Including insanely beautiful beaches and awesome mountains, to a variety of private estates, all without straying too far from the city.
Malibu is blessed with an abundance of state-run beaches, that are perfect for intimate ceremonies. In particular, El Matador Beach and Point Dume State Beach both make wonderful wedding backdrops. Leo Carillo State Beach is a hidden Malibu gem, with picturesque natural features and a uniquely diverse landscape to backdrop your vows against.
A Joshua Tree Elopement
The iconic Joshua Tree National Park is situated in Southern California, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It offers that boho wedding experience so many couples are searching for these days. With picturesque desert views, huge rock formations, and unique types of greenery. You won’t find a more inspiring place to say ‘I do’.
When to Elope to Joshua Tree
The best time of year is during the spring, fall, and winter months. As an elopement photographer, I normally advise my couples to book this California location for any time of year while avoiding July – September during the daytime. The weather is much more agreeable during all the other months.
How to Elope to Joshua Tree
To hold an elopement ceremony in Joshua Tree, you’ll need a ‘Special Use Permit’ that costs $120. There are several areas within the park that you can get a permit for. Each area has a different capacity. Click here to view the park’s specific permit information and here to read my How To Elope In Joshua Tree blog that goes into more detail about each ceremony location and the number of guests allowed.
You will also need to pay the park entrance fee. It’s $30 per vehicle. I encourage you to carpool! The pass is good for 7 days so make sure to save your receipt if you plan on visiting the park more than once! If you have a national park pass ($80 annual fee) then you can enter the park for free. If you’ve served in the U.S. Military at all during your lifetime, you can enter any National Park for free for life.
Where to Elope to in Joshua Tree
Indian Cove Amphitheater: Max Capacity 100 people, 1 car. The Indian Cove Amphitheater is Joshua Tree’s largest wedding venue. I would recommend decorating the stage area with some floral arrangements or other decorations. It’s a blank slate, so you can make it what you want! And keep in mind you will have to shuttle your guests in.
Hidden Valley Picnic Area: Max capacity: 35 people, 8 cars. Hidden Valley Picnic Area has plenty of wide-open areas and unusual rock formations. It is one of the most popular places to elope in Joshua Tree, but it is only open from June through to January.
Cap Rock: Max capacity: 25 people, 8 cars. Cap Rock is one of the most popular elopement locations in Joshua Tree, offering gorgeous views of the surrounding desert.
Rattlesnake Picnic Area: Max capacity: 20 people, 8 cars.
Quail Springs Picnic Area: Max capacity: 15 people, 8 cars. This area is the first area you come to when entering the park and there’s a big rock climbing boulder
Split Rock: Max capacity: 15 people, 5 cars. Split Rock is one of the most popular wedding venues in Joshua Tree. It’s a 2-mile hike to get to the rock, and it can be a bit crowded sometimes, but it’s one of the park’s best features.
Catalina Island Elopement
Catalina Island is one of the most romantic islands I’ve ever seen, and never fails to wow my eloping couples! With so many places to explore, hikes to go on, and beautiful beaches to enjoy, Catalina Island is one of the most unique locations in California to elope to.
How to Travel to Catalina Island
There are two ways to get to Catalina Island, by sea, or by air. And you can either travel publicly or privately. Most couples choose to use the passenger ferries, these boats will normally take roughly an hour to take you from port to port.
When on Catalina Island, visitors and residents tend to travel around by foot, bike, or golf cart. There’s no option to bring your car!
If you do prefer a more intimate, and luxurious experience, you can fly onto the island by private helicopter, which typically takes about 15 minutes.
How to Elope to Catalina Island
To elope to Catalina Island, you’ll need a California marriage license (see above). You’ll also need an officiant (or an ordained California elopement photographer like me!), and a location permit if you decide to get married anywhere outdoors.
Where to Elope to on Catalina Island
Catalina Island itself is split into two distinct areas, Avalon and Two Harbors. Both are beautiful locations for an elopement, but very different in style. Two Harbors is a small, rustic village with a friendly bar, and local-style restaurant. All with quite a rustic vibe. Whereas Avalon is much larger, more developed, and offers non-locals a more upscale, Italian Riviera feel.
If you’ve decided on the Two Harbors end of Catalina Island, the Banning House Lodge is the one venue available to rent if you want a fun, relaxed venue. And it is the only accommodation option apart from camping on that side of the island.
Cat Harbor, offers so many picture-postcard lookout spots that gift a wonderful view of the harbor. All of which makes for beautiful ceremony spaces, or portrait locations.
Garden to Sky Trail is the perfect place for a couple that desires a hike with a view. There are nearly 3 miles of jaw-dropping views available from all angles. If you intend to have an adventure elopement in California, and your photographer is ordained, this place is the perfect spot to elope!
Big Sur Elopement
Big Sur had to be on my list of the best places to elope to in California, as its coastal location offers such spectacular views. While also having a ton of different state parks, such as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Andrew Molera State Park. You’re sure to fall in love with its turquoise water, awesome cliff faces, and wonderful rolling hills while exploring this area.
When to Elope to Big Sur
Between May and September is the best time to elope to Big Sur. Big Sur gets a lot of tourists during the summer, but it’s also the best weather. You’d be wise to pick a weekday to elope to avoid the weekend crowds.
How to Elope to Big Sur
Big Sur is one of the places on my elopement list with very specific California guidelines for obtaining a permit, and what qualifies as an elopement. This permit costs $300, and to find out more about the requirements, and fees, click here.
Where to Elope in Big Sur
There are several places to book your stay accommodations in Big Sur, and many of them have redwood groves that allow for elopement ceremonies to take place. There are a few upscale resorts that I recommend as well as Glen Oaks. To read more in-depth about How To Elope in Big Sur.
An Elopement in Yosemite National Park
With its large valleys, dramatic vistas, and giant forests, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to stunning places to elope to in Yosemite, California. It has become a very popular area for elopements recently, with couples excited to capture the area’s unique landscape in their portraits.
When’s the Best Time to Elope to Yosemite
Over 5 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year, therefore if you’re planning to elope there, it’s best to do so during spring, fall, or early winter. The only downside of this is that you may be limited in the number of areas you can visit during the colder months if there’s snow and certain roads are closed. The weather in the summer is really pleasant, so if you are willing to put up with the crowds, the nice weather will hopefully make up for it!
How to Elope to Yosemite
A permit to hold an elopement ceremony in Yosemite is necessary, and costs $150, with a 2-hour time limit. You can find all you need to know about how to obtain a permit here.
You will also need to pay a park entrance fee of $35 per vehicle unless you have a National Parks pass ($80 annual fee). If you’ve served in the U.S. Military, you have access to National Parks for free for life.
A reservation will be required to drive into Yosemite National Park from May 20–September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park 6 am–4 pm. This temporary system is in place while numerous key visitor attractions are closed for infrastructure repairs.
Glacier Point Road will be closed to all traffic in 2022 to rehabilitate and improve the road. During this time, there will be no vehicle access to wedding sites; the only access will be via a long, strenuous hike.
Bridalveil Fall area will remain closed at least through fall 2022.
What Part of Yosemite Should You Elope to
Cascades Picnic Area: Max Capacity: 30 people, 8 cars. Open year-round.
Lower Yosemite Falls Paved Trail: Max Capacity of 50 people. No parking onsite. The shuttle bus is recommended. Open year-round except on holiday weekends (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.)
Swinging Bridge Picnic Area: Max Capacity; 20 people. There’s limited parking. Carpooling is recommended. Open year-round except on holiday weekends, (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday).
Cathedral Beach Picnic Area: Max Capacity; 100 people. 8 cars. This area is closed from November through Memorial Day weekend.
Bridalveil Fall: Max Capacity; 50 people. *Bridalveil Fall area will remain closed at least through fall 2022.
Glacier Point Amphitheater: Max capacity: 50 people. 10 cars max, but the parking lot is huge. Glacier Point has a fantastic view of Half Dome. The earliest availability is the Tuesday after Memorial Day (please consult road conditions for updates) through September 30th. Weddings are not scheduled here in July and August.
A California Elopement in Sierra Nevada Mountain Range
This area encompasses Alabama Hills, Mammoth Lakes, Mt. Whitney, Convict lake, Lake Mamie, June Lake, Sequoia National Park, among many others. You really get a sense of California’s unbelievable vastness when touring this part of California. Bishop, a city in California, is the most populated place in that area and is quickly becoming on par with Moab, Utah in terms of culture and relevance. This area of California is truly is a hidden gem. With nearby epic mountains, lakes, and endless forests, this city is perfect to book your stay accommodations for both laid-back couples and those who want a large dose of adventure during their elopement.
When to Elope to Bishop and the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Bishop and the surrounding area is a good place to elope to all year round. As its lack of reputation means it doesn’t receive a huge number of visitors. Weather-wise, however, it’s best to arrange your elopement for either the Spring or Fall – to benefit best from the more comfortable weather during those seasons.
Where to Elope to in Bishop
Bishop and the surrounding area offer so many gorgeous, secluded locations to tie the knot in. It’s a high desert, with 14 thousand foot peaks surrounding the valley, gifting a landscape you can only really experience in person.
For avid climbers, I would have to suggest exploring the Alabama Hills area which is packed with beautiful granite features, a colorful mountain range, and so much more. The expansive view of the Sierra range is also stunning there.
Death Valley National Park Elopement
Death Valley National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the country and home to a wholly unique environment. But before you dismiss Death Valley as just a vast desert, think again, because this wild area offers some of the most gorgeous views in California. From the lowest point at Badwaters, up to the towering mountains at Telescope Peak – there’s so much more there than just sand!
The Best Time to Elope to Death Valley National Park
The Death Valley desert delivers scorching temperatures during the Summer months, an extreme period of time that is best avoided.
The months of October and May, are the perfect times for a Death Valley National Park elopement, as the days are mild. Plus in springtime, the valley becomes filled with wildflowers! Creating a miraculous, and stunning desert oasis.
Good to Know About Death Valley Elopements
Death Valley is not somewhere you want to get stuck. It is an extremely isolated location, with very few passing visitors. So if you’re planning to elope there, please make sure the gas in your car is full, and you’ve got plenty of food and water. And, prepare to not have cell phone service while you’re there!
How to Elope to Death Valley National Park
The cost for a permit to hold an elopement ceremony in Death Valley is $210, find all the information about it here.
Lake Tahoe Elopement
Situated in the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountains, sits Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. This iconic location is one of my favorite places in California as an elopement photographer, as it offers so many spots for couples to elope to! There are also countless activities available such as boating, kayaking, hiking, and skiing, depending on the season.
Best Time to Elope to Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe offers couples a dream spot to tie the knot all year round. With scenery that adapts naturally to the ever-changing seasons. Be it Winter with its snow-capped trees, and seasonal activities. Or Summer, with the area’s beautiful beaches bathed in sunshine. There really is no optimal time to plan your elopement in Lake Tahoe, but if you want to avoid the crowds, steer clear of peak season between June and August.
How to Elope to Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is divided into two states, Nevada and California. If you want to elope on the California side of Lake Tahoe, you’ll need a California marriage license. To find more information on this, take a look at this site.
Where to Elope to in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is known as one of the most beautiful places to elope to in California. It also has a thriving nightlife scene and luxurious resorts!
Emerald Bay State Park Lookout offers a wonderfully scenic spot to host your ceremony. A place where you can effortlessly admire the shimmering blues, greens, and turquoise of the lake against the mountains in the background.
If you’re more of an adventure-minded couple, check out Eagle Lake Trail, with its impressive hiking trails. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you can reach the summit and experience those Lake Tahoe views, it’s well worth the effort.
Burney Falls Elopement
Burney Falls is one of the only places in California to elope with a waterfall background. (There are waterfalls in Yosemite, but you cannot have your ceremony right up against the waterfall). With gigantic and cinematic waterfalls, breathtaking viewpoints, and endless lush greenery – it’s easy to forget you’re in the Golden State, and not somewhere in Costa Rica! The waterfalls at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park for example are by far the largest and most awesome waterfalls in California!
When to Elope to Burney Falls
Eloping couples should plan their ceremony for between April and October when the waterfall is at its most impressive. However, if you like things frosty, feel free to visit in the wintertime, and experience a completely different landscape, all covered in snow.
A Word to the Wise About Burney Falls
It may sound obvious, but the waterfall is pretty loud. Like really loud! Especially at its peak. So if you intend to exchange your vows anywhere near it, don’t expect tranquil calm. The area also gets very wet, so make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear, and expect there to be some mist from the water vapor!
How to Elope to Burney Falls
Burney Falls is a state park, so you will need a permit to elope there. To obtain one, and get more information about it, contact the office here.
Santa Barbara Elopement
Santa Barbara offers so many pretty places to backdrop your elopement against. From the picture-perfect Santa Barbara Courthouse to the many vineyards and wineries, to the beaches and pretty countryside. This California city is stunning, and you will not fail to find places to elope to here. And, when you’ve made it official, you’ve got to toast your nuptials out on State Street! This bustling downtown area is tree-lined and full of cute wine bars, eateries, and spots to soak up the warm evening air.
When to Elope to Santa Barbara
Between March and May, and between September and November, are the best times to elope to Santa Barbara. The temperature in the city is consistently warm all year round, but during these times the city is a lot less crowded. So your elopement will be cheaper, and you’ll find it a lot easier to find your own space.
How to Elope to Santa Barbara
You will need a California marriage license, and the Santa Barbara County Clerk-Recorder office is the most local place to obtain one. And if you fill in the application online beforehand, you’ll save yourself a lot of time. You can find the link to it here. Then you just need to have a wedding ceremony to make it official! Be that at the courthouse, or any other venue of your choosing with an officiant, or ordained representative.
Did You Discover Your Dream Location on Our List of Places to Elope in California
I hope that this has inspired your search for places to elope to in California, or maybe even given you the info you need to start browsing some photography packages.
It would be an honor to join you on your adventure elopement and be the California photographer who captures your big day. If you would like to take a look at some of my past couples, please browse my blog, and if you would like to get in touch, visit my contact page.