Having a Big Sur wedding elopement can be one of the most magical places to elope ever! With its coastal views, redwood forests, sandy beaches, and endless horizons It’s a must-see! But it can also be very confusing and overwhelming to plan as there is SO much to see and do!
As a Big Sur wedding elopement photographer who has an immense love for the great outdoors and a passion for capturing special moments in breathtaking landscapes such as Big Sur, I’m here to help you plan your elopement and bring your dream day to you! Check out this guide for an explanation of Big Sur wedding elopement location recommendations, elopement budget, elopement permits, and fees, the best time of the year to elope, and more!
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Big Sur Wedding Elopement VS. Intimate Weddings
The Big Sur region covers over 90 miles of Hwy 1 south of Carmel to just north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle. This means there’s a lot of land to choose from when figuring out what your elopement location is going to be especially if you are wanting to cover multiple locations! You’ll want to narrow down what type of ceremony you envision whether that’s a “just us” elopement at a state park or an intimate wedding at a venue.
While both state parks and venues have incredible views one is easier to plan a ceremony at than the other! Big Sur consists of both public and private lands. Public land includes state parks, land trusts, wilderness areas, and national forests. If you are wanting to elope in a state park you will most definitely need a permit. Privately owned land is exactly how it sounds – it includes lodges, hotels, venues, etc. I like to utilize a mixture of both when it comes to elopements.
Big Sur Elopement Locations
What’s so great about eloping on public land and state parks in Big Sur is that it is very inexpensive and can even be free! Not only that but what’s an elopement without a little adventure? There are so many gorgeous locations and breathtaking views on each public land in Big Sur you just have to find the right one for you. Exploring your location and finding your ceremony spot can be a special moment for you and your partner to connect with beautiful mother nature, one of the many reasons couples choose to elope.
Big Sur Intimate Weddings
But in my opinion, when it comes to Big Sur, it’s a no-brainer to have your ceremony on private land, especially if you have a few guests in attendance with you! If you imagine yourself having your ceremony among the redwood trees then the private lands in Big Sur are the perfect option. Many of the areas you book for your stay accommodations have beautiful redwood groves on their property. Not only that but it’s a lot easier to have an elopement on private land in Big Sur because you don’t have to go through the process of getting a permit.
State Park Elopement Locations
Garrapata State Park offers vast views out to the pacific and has two miles of beachfront. It also provides coastal hiking where there is an easy beach and coastal trail access directly off Hwy 1. Most of my couples love to head here at the end of the day for a romantic ending during sunset. Although, remember that permits are required for elopement ceremonies at this state park where you can only have 25 guests max on the coastal side of the park.
If you imagine yourself having your elopement on a beach, Pfeiffer Beach does NOT require any permits! But keep in mind that weddings and elopement ceremonies are not permitted from March 15 – Oct 15th. The entrance to Pfeiffer Beach is not well marked off of Hwy 1, but if you are paying attention to Google maps, you should have no problem finding where to exit.
The road is a narrow two-mile-long paved road. There’s a very short walk down to the beautiful beach where you can check out the focal point “Keyhole Arch”. The rock is known for its natural arch that allows waves and light to come through. Pfeiffer Beach is also known for its purple sand. The further down the beach you go, the more purple sand you will find! This is one of my favorite spots for sunset photos!
I would be remiss if I did not mention Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park because it’s home to the most iconic and most photographed areas of Big Sur! This is, McWay Falls, the 80ft waterfall that falls off granite cliffs straight into the ocean. Although this is not a spot to say your vows due to its high volume of tourist traffic at the viewpoint and arduous permitting process, it’s worth mentioning because it’s definitely a place to visit and a site to see when you are there.
On the opposite side of the Hwy, there’s a beautiful grove of redwood trees. I’ve taken bridal portraits in the grove of Redwoods, but since then, the permitting process has become quite expensive, and difficult to obtain a permit for a ceremony. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is only partially open and only certain trails are accessible due to the 2020 Dolan Fire. When planning your elopement always make sure to keep up to date on closures and wildfires at https://www.bigsurcalifornia.org.
Limekiln State Park is the furthest south of everything else I’ve mentioned and has the best of both worlds. It has one of the best views of Monterey Bay’s National Marine Sanctuary as well as the Big Sur coastline surrounded by gorgeous redwoods. Imagine having your ceremony directly under majestic historic redwoods while committing yourself to one another and later heading to the beach for sunset portraits to capture new beginnings. It truly is the best of both worlds. Keep in mind that due to the Dolan Fire, all trails are closed at the moment.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Beach. This area has magnificent redwoods to the Big Sur River. Just remember that Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is not the beach so there is no beach or ocean access in the park.
Big Sur Wedding Venues
Big Sur wedding venues can be a great option for couples to have a “just us” elopement as well as an intimate wedding! Many of the venues in Big Sur allow 10-25 guests and there are many to choose from that are surrounded by majestic redwoods, the ocean, and cliffside views. One of the many benefits of choosing to elope at a wedding venue is the privacy for moments like getting ready, easy access for guests, no permits required, and the possibility to involve more guests, depending on the ceremony package for the venue. Check out these Big Sur wedding elopement venues:
Intimate Wedding Venues
1. Glen Oaks
Glen Oaks is the perfect wedding venue for couples who are looking for a romantic escape in the woods! Guests as well as no guests are allowed at this venue and the Bridge House can be booked for a ceremony of up to 20 people!
Ventana Big Sur is one of the most iconic resorts here in the U.S. and offers an amazing sunset view as well as its own private redwood trails! It provides other elopement and intimate wedding packages but is on the more expensive side than other Big Sur wedding venues. No kids are allowed at Ventana Big Sur.
Big Sur Grange can be rented for both small and big weddings for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies. It’s located right next to Glen Oaks Big Sur and has a gorgeous community hall for a ceremony and reception site perfect for intimate weddings. P.S. Big Sur Grange’s parking lot can get pretty full if Glen Oaks is also having a wedding. Since they share a parking lot I’d recommend planning your elopement or intimate wedding during the week or off-season!
Big Sur Lodge is right next to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park surrounded by beautiful towering redwoods. It allows 2-10 guests and a wedding package for larger weddings as well. If you’re looking for a wedding venue where you can have a redwoods ceremony then this venue is for you!
Unique Wedding Venues
If you’re looking for garden or mountain views then Loma Vista Gardens is for you! It’s one of the rare elopement locations here in Big Sur where you can get beautiful views of the cloudline! It also offers two different elopement sites for a 2-hour ceremony and can be up to 25 guests.
Henry Miller Library is a unique place of art, music ad literature. It offers both wedding ceremony and wedding reception locations for a large or intimate wedding for up to 30 people. This wedding venue is perfect for couples who love to adventure!
Luxury Wedding Venues
7. Wind & Sea
Wind & Sea wedding estate is one you will not forget! It’s the most luxurious getaway and elopement location for up to 12 guests. What’s so great about Wind & Sea estate is that it’s perfect for couples who are looking to have their family and friends gathered in one spot, as Wind & Sea offers a house to stay in while you are getting married!
Post Ranch Inn is a luxury hotel in Big Sur that is the best of both worlds! It has views of both the redwoods and rugged coastlines. When eloping at a luxury hotel in Big Sur you’re allowed to bring your own vendors but you can also opt for their own elopement packages that include select vendors, the ceremony site, a photographer, a bouquet, a cake, and more! This package can range from $2000-$4000 with no guests and $5500-$6500 for an intimate wedding with guests. No Kids are allowed at Post Ranch Inn.
9. Unlisted Locations
There are some properties that can be reserved for your elopement and trails nearby where you can have your elopement ceremony.
Big Sur Elopement Budget
The cost of an elopement isn’t straightforward. The cost can vary depending on what you want to do for your day and where you stay. When you are picturing your wedding day, really think and ask yourself what’s important to you and what represents you as a couple. Want romantic views and breathtaking images? Want to go somewhere you have yet to explore? How about a luxurious getaway? Or perhaps to be just the two of you or do you want to have family and friends?
Another thing you want to ask yourself is if you want to stay in Big Sur or not. If not, just remember that the closest towns, Carmel and Monterey are about 30-45 minutes away. This may be an option to think about possibly staying at one of Big Sur’s hotels or lodges. If you decide to stay in the area it tends to be more than staying outside of Big Sur especially if you decide to stay at a venue or any private land for. You also want to keep travel fees in mind when hiring vendors since Big Sur is considered a destination getaway. Typically a Big Sur wedding elopement can cost between $5,000 – $10,000 all considering.
Elopement Budget Breakdown
The following is a breakdown of Big Sur wedding elopement cost:
- Photographer: $5,000 -$9,000 +
- Planner: $1,000- $4,000 (unless you have me who is both the photographer and the elopement planner)
- Wedding Attire: $300- $3,000
- Stay accommodations: $250+ per night
- Hair and Makeup: $0 – $400 (optional)
- Officiant: $500+ (unless you have me who is both the photographer and able to sign as your officiant)
- Florist: $300 (optional)
- Food, drinks, etc: $40 – $300
- Travel: $100 – $1,500 (if you are flying from out of state the cost can vary)
There are many things to consider when planning your elopement so always make sure you do the research and ask yourself what truly matters to you.
Big Sur Elopement Permits and Fees
When eloping in Big Sur’s state parks and public lands you are more than likely going to need to receive a permit. Whether it be a Big Sur wedding elopement permit or a special event permit it is required. You can either apply for your own elopement permit or special event permit or have a wedding/event planner guide you in the right direction. Just remember that there are multiple state parks within Big Sur and they all have their own rules and regulations. For example, they only allow elopement Special Event Permits at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Elopement permits aren’t available for Point Sur State Historic Park.
The following is how you determine if your event qualifies as an Elopement Wedding and if you will need a special event permit:
- Your event has more than 10 people which includes the photographer, wedding party, officiant, videographer, vendors, and all and any guests that will be at the event, children included.
- If you have your event at a campsite and it has more than eight people which includes the photographer, wedding party, officiant, videographer, vendors, all and any guests that will be at the event, children included.
- Your elopement blocks access to a site or trail during any point of the event.
- The elopement wedding is at or close by a set of special event sites such as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
- Your event requires seating.
- The event has music or amplified sound
- The event has decorations other than one single-handed bouquet.
- If your event occurs outside of regular Big Sur day-use hours (Sunrise to sunset)
- If the event has vendors other than the officiant, wedding/event planner, or photographer.
- The event has a reception or food and drinks served.
Upon answering YES to any of these you are required to get a special event permit. If you answered NO you can qualify for an elopement permit. If you decide to apply on your own you can contact the Special Event Permit Office for Big Sur State Parks.
Big Sur Elopement Permit Fees
Big Sur’s standard elopement permits have a $25 Non-refundable filing fee. This needs to be sent in with the applicant’s initial application no less than thirty days before the elopement date. As well as a separate check for $275 for the standard permit (up to four hours) to be sent in with the special event permit after the application has been processed. This includes the site fee and non-refundable processing fee. If there is any additional time needed, more than four hours, additional fees will be required. For more information go to https://www.parks.ca.gov.
Big Sur Elopement Marriage License
Monterey County Marriage License
The only way to be legally married is by getting a marriage license. There are two types of marriage licenses, a Public Marriage License, and a Confidential Marriage License. A marriage license obtained in any county of California is valid throughout the whole state. The ceremony does NOT have to be performed in the same county in which the license was issued.
A Public Marriage License requires at least 1 witness to be present at the ceremony. As someone who is ordained, I could either sign as your officiant OR be your witness.
A Confidential Marriage License does not require a witness. It only requires the signature of an officiant. As for many elopements, I’m more than happy to sign as your officiant. For eloping couples, I highly recommend obtaining a confidential marriage license.
As for California residents, I highly recommend obtaining your California marriage license where you live and bringing it with you. However, if you are out of state, the closest county clerk’s office is in Monterey county: 240 Church Street in Salinas. You can also find more information on how to obtain a marriage license at https://www.co.monterey.ca.us. Or at your local county’s website.
Big Sur Weather and Time of Year
There really is no answer to, “what is the best time of the year to visit Big Sur”. My favorite thing about Big Sur is that it’s gorgeous all year round! But there are perks to eloping in the off-season. Off-season in Big Sur includes November through February. It usually offers easier lodge reservations and more campsites and it’s the best time to avoid crowds. While eloping in Big Sur you want to keep in mind that the weather varies a lot from one day to the next. It can be sunny and cloudy on the same day and this can be any time of the year!
Another thing to consider is wildfires. Unfortunately, California has been experiencing major wildfires annually so you always want to keep an eye out to see what parts of Big Sur are open and which are not. You can look on Big Sur’s website for more information on current wildfires here https://www.bigsurcalifornia.org. Although wildfires don’t normally happen in Big Sur every year you want to be safe and do your research.
Best Months to Have a Big Sur Wedding Elopement
The following are the months, their temperatures, and average precipitation in inches to better determine the best months to visit Big Sur:
Spring (April, May): Mid to high 60s °F – Low 70s °F, 3 in – 1.1 in of rain.
Summer (June, July, August): Mid-70s °F – High 70s °F, 0.5 in – 0.04 in of rain.
Fall (September, October): High 70s °F – Mid to Low 70s °F, 0.4 in – 2.1 in of rain.
Winter (November, December, January, February, March): Mid to Low 60s °F, 4.8 in – 9.2 in of rain
Let’s work together!
If you finished this blog and you are still overwhelmed with planning your Big Sur wedding elopement don’t worry that’s what I’m here for!
As an adventure elopement photographer, I’m here to answer all your questions and put your mind at ease and most importantly plan an epic unforgettable day for you! I provide all my couples with:
- Help you plan a day focused on you which involves an in-detailed consultation call where we’ll dive into what your goals for your special day are including elopement ceremony locations, things to do around the area, packages and pricing, permits and so much more!
- I’ll help you create an experience centered around what matters to you two the most!
- Give you the space and permission to incorporate your unique ideas and just be yourselves!
So while I’ll be there to capture your good side amongst epic backgrounds. I’ll also make sure to give you the best experience possible that feels like you. And we’ll be fast friends in no time!
Ready to have the Big Sur wedding elopement of your dreams? Contact me through my website!