The 5 best places to elope in California
The hardest part of eloping in California…
If you’re an outdoorsy couple looking to elope, California is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of dream destinations. With nine national parks, 8000 mountains, 800 miles of coastline, and 16 million acres of desert (yep, you read that right!) The tricky part isn’t finding awesome places in California to elope. The hard part is choosing just one.
So as elopement photographers in California, we thought we’d help you narrow it down, and share with you a few of our favourites.
From national parks to beach-front boutique hotels, vineyards, villas, and redwood cabins, we’ve put together a list of the best places to elope in California. Whether you’re looking for intimacy, splendour, adventure or comfort, we’ve got you covered. Come take a look…
We know, Yosemite is a given. But you can’t make a list of the best places to elope in California and not give Yosemite top billing! In case you’ve never been there before, let us just say…the Yosemite hype is very real.
It is awe-inspiringly beautiful on an epic scale.
And just imagine what it would be like to elope in Yosemite! Say ‘I do’, backdropped by the majestic Yosemite Falls. Have your ceremony looking out across the mirror-like waters of Tenaya Lake. Say your vows watching the sunrise at Glacier Point, and then spend the day hiking through the wilderness together.
If this kind of stripped-back, adventurous wedding- no guests, no sit-down meal, no speeches- sounds like a dream come true, an elopement in Yosemite might just be for you.
Yosemite elopement top tips
Have a first look before you set off. It gives you a chance to get some gorgeous photos of the two of you all dolled up, so you can enjoy the hike together without worrying too much about how you look.
Bring a hair and makeup artist with you so they can do touch-ups before your ceremony.
This location can get busy! We recommend either picking a ceremony location slightly off the beaten track, or getting there at sunrise to beat the crowds.
Permit link: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/weddings.htm
Entrance fee: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm
2. Joshua Tree
If you’re looking for intimate seclusion, dramatic landscapes and truly spectacular photos, a Joshua Tree elopement is an awesome choice.
The desert is wide, wild, and free. Rock formations rise up from the cracked earth and offer endless epic backdrops. The eponymous trees stand resolute in the baking sun; their shadows opaque against the ground. And at night, stars fill the sky as if the Milky Way were just out of reach.
Just to visit is a truly unforgettable experience. To have your elopement in Joshua Tree would be the stuff of dreams.
Joshua Tree elopement top tips
Trust us, you have to see the stars! Opt to stay overnight, and end your wedding day gazing up at the stars together. And of course, make sure you ask your photographer to stay late and capture it for you!
We recommend having your ceremony early in the evening so we can do your portraits during golden hour (golden hour in the desert?! C’mon!)
For intimate weddings, there are plenty of venues where you and your guests can stay in the desert together after the ceremony. Here are a few of our favourites: Sacred Sands, Morada, and the iconic Nowhere California.
Remember it’s a desert. It’s super hot during the day and freezing at night. Better to get married in the evening when it’s cooler. And if you are staying overnight, bring warm clothes!
Joshua Tree is a raw blank canvas, just waiting to be brought alive with styling. Floral arches, wooden triangles, geometric shapes, pampas plants, rugs. Without them, it’s a desert; with them it’s a total vibe. More than any other location on this list, a stylist will be worth their weight in gold.
Entrance fees: https://www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/fees.htm ** Note with options one and two: these more DIY locations. It’s worth bearing in mind that there will be some extra fees attached, such as ‘wedding use’ permit, photography/videography permits, as well as entrance fees per vehicle.
3. Big Sur
For couples outside the US, Big Sur often needs a little introduction.
On the Central Coast of California, the Santa Lucia Mountains rise up from the Pacific and create the most incredible landscape. Dramatic coastline, towering redwoods, rivers, and secluded beaches, all packed into less than a hundred miles. It’s not as world-famous as some of the others on the list. But oh my, a Big Sur elopement would be beyond beautiful!
If the spectacular coastline is what’s taking your fancy, think about having your Big Sur elopement at Post Ranch Inn. The rooms are cosy, stylish, and completely separated from the outside world. And best of all, each ‘room’ is a cabin bedded high into the cliffs looking out across the Pacific. It would be remarkable to stay there. The Post Ranch Inn elopement packages are $4100 for two nights; extortionate for a hotel, super-cheap for wedding.
Head in from the coast, and you have redwood cabins, rivers, hiking trails and ancient forests. Places like Big Sur Lodge and Big Sur River Inn offer you a wonderful blend of outdoor adventure and modern luxury.
Elope in the company of towering redwoods; hike together through the woods; relax in the heated pool. A Big Sur elopement is a sneaky underdog with a helluva lot going for it!
4. Napa Valley
From untamed wilderness, to world-renowned luxury. We give you Napa Valley.
There’s not much we can say about an elopement in Napa Valley that years of rom-coms haven’t already drummed into us! Rolling vineyards stretching out beneath the Californian sun, charming wineries and luxurious resorts. In case you’re wondering, yes. It’s just as picturesque as you’d imagine.
The first wine was produced in Napa Valley in 1857, and money has been steadily pouring into the region ever since. The result? A spectacular array of places to elope in Napa Valley. From hillside villas, to deeply atmospheric champagne cellars, the choices are near-endless. Whether you’re hoping for a small elopement or a larger wedding, Napa Valley is an icon of luxury and romance for good reason.
5. Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains
Of all the places to elope in California on this list, Malibu is by far the most eclectic; worthy of a blog all in itself. From glamorous opulence, to mountaintop luxury, to bohemian, coastal charm, you could elope in Malibu a hundred times and have a different experience every time.
Here are just a few of our favourite Malibu elopement destinations. Think of it as a little taste of just how incredible Malibu is…
Stunning rock formations, soft sand beneath your feet, the waves crashing behind you as you say your vows. An elopement on the beach in Malibu is just the dream isn’t it?! And when it comes to Malibu elopement beaches, El Matador and Point Dume are pretty darn perfect.
Words cannot do this place justice (even their website gave up trying to describe it and made a video instead!)
Rustic-modern rooms, impeccable service. They make their own wine! But for us, it's the location that sets this venue apart. Sit in the infinity pool and watch the clouds pour over the mountains below. Have dinner with your favourite people, and watch the sunset over the distant ocean. Pricey? Of course. But an elopement in Rocky Oaks Estate would be nothing short of a life experience.
With modern, light, scandi decor, with a hint of beach-boho, this multi award-winning boutique hotel is just immensely cool. And the best part of a Surfrider Malibu elopement? The sundrenched deck overlooking the sapphire pacific.
And it’s literally right on the beach. So when it comes to your couple’s portraits we can sneak off along the sand, catch a glorious golden hour, and be back in time for your evening reception. Basically, you can have the idyllic beach elopement you’ve always wanted, just with a whole lotta luxury and all your loved ones by your side. Book out the 6 rooms for your closest friends and family, and you’ll have an experience none of you will ever forget.
Looking for a California elopement photography and videography super team?!
There are so many amazing places in California to elope, we honestly feel like we haven’t scratched the surface! Hopefully one of these places feels like you, and you’re already dreaming up styling ideas! And if not? Keep looking. Your dream Californian elopement destination is out there somewhere!
If you’re looking for a couple of loved-up souls to join you in your adventure and tell your story in photo and film, we’d love to hear from you! Have a look around our site and see if we’re the ones. If you love us already, get in touch today and let’s chat.
Bridal boutique: Lovely Bride LA