Hey, friend. So you’re considering eloping in California. Honestly, the fact you are here isn’t all that surprising- there is SO much beauty, diversity, adventure, and fun to be found in the amazing state of California. It’s a big state which means there is a *plethora* of amazing places to elope. There truly is something or everyone. Eloping in the breathtaking state of California offers a truly unparalleled combination of natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and romantic settings, making it a ::chefs kiss:: destination for an unforgettable elopement experience. From the iconic deserts in the South, to the iconic craggy cliffs on the Coast, to the majestic redwood forests in the north, California provides a stunning backdrop that can cater to every couple’s unique and personal elopement vision.
California is one of the most geographically diverse states in the US and is geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California and Northern California– the difference in different areas is honestly mind-blowing.
California is actually home to all six different biomes and every single one is magic. You’ve got towering Sequoias and Redwood trees, the snow capped Sierra Nevadas, the expansive Mojave, Colorado, and Great Basin Desert , jagged and craggy seaside cliffs in Big Sur, the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe… the list goes on. California is home to eight national parks (Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Redwoods, Death Valley, Lassen Volcanic, Channel Islands, and Pinnacles), 3 World Heritage sites, *280* state parks, and acres and acres of National Forest Land. I actually wrote a whole post specifically on how to elope in National Parks so if you’re interested in a NP in California be sure to take a peek..
There’s so much beauty here it can be honestly overwhelming to pick where to elope in California. Enter: me. (haha) I’m here to show off the most rad places to elope in California. The creme de la creme, if you will. So read on, and see which location is perfect for you.
In order to legally get married in California you need an offing and one witness- you can get your marriage license at any County Clerks Office in California. (and good news- I’m ordained! So I can legally sign any marriage license as your officiant).
Okay- ready for important facts and mega inspiration for your rad as hell California elopement? Read on, friend.
Oh Yosemite. Home to some of the must stunning views you could have if you want to elope in California (in my humble opinion). I won’t lie to you. I love Yosemite. There is nothing like sitting in El Capitan Meadow gazing up at the climbers at night, there little lights like a constellation of stars on the cliff face, or looking down into the valley from Taft Point, the cars the size of ants. Yosemite National Park is something very special and I cannot recommend it enough as a place to elope in California.
Do you need a permit? If you want to have your ceremony in Yosemite National Park, you will need a permit. If your elopement has over 10 people (vendors and couple included), there is a list of approved ceremony spots you can pick from. Under 10 people and you are allowed to have your ceremony anywhere the general population is allowed! And if you only want photos (no ceremony of any kind) then you aren’t required to get a permit 🙂
Inspiration: Check out this two day Glacier Point Elopement, complete with 1am start time and having an iconic spot all to ourselves, this beautiful springtime Yosemite Valley elopement, or this Yosemite National Park Wedding.
What time of year is best? In order to avoid crowds but still have mild weather (and likely access to some of Yosemite’s most iconic spots) I recommend late spring- Late May into early June, or in the fall months, specifically mid to late October.
Closest airport? The nearest airport is Fresno, though lots of folks chose to fly into SFO!
How busy will it be? Yosemite is iconic, so it will be busy. Being strategic of the when and where of your elopement will help (and I know some secret off-the-beaten path spots for a two person elopement that are pretty incredible).
Want to know more? Then check out my in depth guide on how to elope in Yosemite.
Sequoia National Park
Fun Fact- Sequoia National park is actually two parks because it’s connected to Kings Canyon, another really stunning national park in California. Sequoia is home to one of the densest concentrations of Sequoia Trees, the largest trees by mass on earth. There is nothing- and I do mean nothing- that can prepare you for how huge these trees are. They are so humbling in the same way that mountains are humbling… except Sequoias are living things. Some over 2000 years old. Do you know what was happening 2000 years ago? The Roman empire. *Julius Ceaser* was wandering around. Thats how old these trees are. I honestly can’t imagine a more epic and romantic way to get married, then under these giant sentinels that have seen so much.
Do you need a permit? If you are planning on having your ceremony in Sequioa National Park- you will need a permit, which is $150. There are also specific places you are allowed to have your ceremony within the park- however you are free to venture wherever the general public is allowed for portraits and exploring.
What time of year is best? Big fan of Spring in Sequoia, and mid to late fall is lovely too- roads are usually still open and crowds have seriously thinned. But I have to shout out winter in Sequoia- while snow may close some roads, seeing the Sequoias shrouded with snow is truly magical. (and as always- elope on a weekday!)
Closest airport? There is a small airport in Fresno that is nearby, but SFO is the closest major airport.
How busy will it be? This largely depends on time of year- but as with many national parks expect there to be some other people around.
Can you tell I like trees? lol. Similar to Sequoias, they are a pretty impressive sight. The Star Wars/Jurassic Park/ET feel of a redwoods forest can’t be matched and can be an incredible place for a California elopement. It’s also super close to some incredible beach locations in Southern Oregon so if you want a towering tree and sunset beach combo, this is honestly a perfect fit. For awe, variation, and places that don’t require a 7+ mile hike- Redwood National Park is for you.
Do you need a permit? If you want to have a ceremony in Redwoods National or State Parks you will have to obtain a permit. The process and cost depends slightly on the location you ultimately pick, but expect there to be a pre-approved list of spots to pick from.
What time of year is best? I’m a big fan of spring and fall here. Summer has amazing weather, but is also going to be the most crowded time. May is lovely, as is October.
Closest airport? Sacramento is the closest major airport (though Eureka does have a small airport- but it’s teeny tiny and things like car rentals could pose a problem!)
How busy will it be? A refreshing change of pace for this answer- In the times I’ve been to the Redwoods (which, admittedly, is never during peak season), I have never experienced gobs of crowds. I admittedly did encounter other people on hikes- but I never felt overwhelmed and it was pretty easy to find quiet and peaceful moments.
Pro Tip: While Redwoods National Park has tons of amazing spots- there’s also lots of state parks in Northern California with Redwood groves. So don’t feel limited to just the National Park.
Want to learn more? Check out my guide on How to Elope in the Redwoods.
The truly is nothing like the California Coast, and the stretch of Highway 1 that wends it’s way through Big Sur is the crown jewel of the whole coastline (in my opinion). Rugged coastline, towering redwoods, and rolling golden hills- all in an area with basically no cell service and several state parks and public land aras (Grappata, Point Lobos, Pfieffer Big Sur, Julia Pfieffer, and Limekiln which is closed as of early 2024. It’s an amazing place to elope and get away from it all, especially if you want a little luxury spin when you elope in California.
There are world class vendors, absolutely incredible lodging options (both of the airbnb and hotel variety) and charming local spots to check out or enjoy a meal. Big Sur is a true gem
Do you need a permit? Yes. If you are having professional photos taken anywhere along highway 1 in the Big Sur area, you will absolutely need a permit. It takes about two weeks to pull this permit so keep that in mind. The price will depend on your location!
Also note that the state parks in Big Sur often put limits on when and where ceremonies can take place- this means Friday-Sunday during the summer months, as well as holidays, are often blocked off and events are not permitted.
PRO TIP: If eloping among the redwoods is something you want to do during your elopement, eloping at one of Big Surs many venues may be your best bet. There are not many approved redwoods locations. There’s also often a guest cap of 10 (including couple and vendors) which is another reason a venue is a good option.
Inspiration: Take a peek at this two day Big Sur elopement complete with coastal beauty and redwoods exploring.
What time of year is best? Because of it’s coastal location, Big Sur is a lovely place to elope in California during most seasons. Summer tends to be busiest, warmest, and late summer often has wildfire impacts. Winter is chilly and foggy with a change of rain, but peaceful and not busy.
Closest airport? San Jose International Airport is only 2.5 hours away!
How busy will it be? This depends a bit on where you are and when- but if privacy is important to you, I’ve visited Big Sur during peak busy season and been able to find private spots.
Joshua Tree National Park is just a place that exudes cool. Its totally unique landscape, dominated by the iconic Joshua Trees and boulders, creates a surreal, Dr. Suess like environment that feels like stepping into another world. Beyond its cool vibes, Joshua Tree offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities (star photos anyone?). Whether you want to climb, hike, or simply soak in the effortlessly hip desert vibes, Joshua Tree is a pretty awesome spot for your California elopement.
Do you need a permit? You will need a permit to elope in Joshua Tree. There are preapproved spots for your ceremony, but portraits can be taken anywhere the general public is allowed.
Inspiration: Check out my entire Joshua Tree Elopement Planning Guide.
What time of year is best? Early Spring and Late Fall- I personally really love March and November! Mild temps and fewer crowds.
Closest airport? Palm Springs has an airport, and LAX is a short 2 hour drive away.
How busy will it be? It will be somewhat busy, but it’s very possible to minimize this by going slightly off the beaten path, and by avoiding eloping during peak season.
I have a massive, massive soft spot for this area of California. It’s pretty remote (see distance from nearest major airports) and so so stunning. Desert, with the Seirra Nevadas *right there*, it’s a palace of immense beauty. Indeed some spots have Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in the lower 48) looking right down on you. Hot springs, climbing a-plenty, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and spaces of total quiet. If you want an off the beaten path, funky and stunning elopement with adventure aplenty- this is the spot for you. And if you’re a climber? This is top of the list. Amazing climbing AND amazing scenery. What more could you ask for?
Do you need a permit? The Bishop area is confusing and several public land designations (for example Alabama Hills is on BLM, Bureau of Land Management, Land, while many of the hot springs are on land leased by Los Angeles, so the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the entity to obtain a permit from). It’s important you have a photographer familiar with area to help with the permit process in this area!
What time of year is best? This part of the Eastern Sierra specifically is great during cooler months- October, November, February, March- which also means you can make use of the amazing hot springs! The desert environment means that Summer isn’t a great time because it will be hooooot.
Closest airport? The easiest way to get here is either to fly in through Vegas (4 hour drive), Los Angeles (also 4 hour drive), or Reno (3.5 hours). There is a regional airport in Bishop but it is teeny tiny so things like renting a car will be a challenge.
How busy will it be? There will be other people around- but this is not a massively busy spot like other places on this list.
Mammoth Lakes a truly incredible place- snug against the mountains of the Seirra Nevada, close to hot springs, desert lakes, forests, and snow capped peaks. An outdoor lovers dream, it’s truly an incredible spot for a California elopement. I tend to love it in the early Summer- lodging is cheaper, there’s still snow on the peaks, but (with the exception of record breaking snowfall) you’ll still have access to all the trails in the area.
Do you need a permit? Similar to Bishop, there’s a bunch of different land designations in the Mammoth Lakes area, so it really depends. The permit situation will also depend on your group size- when it’s just the two of you that typically makes things a lot easier than a big group.
Inspiration: Check out this Mammoth Lakes elopement- complete with emotional sunrise vows, downhill skiing (in July!), and a sunset for the ages (seriously- one of the best one’s I’ve seen).
What time of year is best? I love Mammoth in the Summer. It is totally a ski town, but in the summer it’s quieter, more affordable, and just genuinely stunning. I do recommend earlier summer over late summer- late summer can have fire season impacts (like closures and smoke) so late June through July tends to be the sweet spot (depending on seasonal snowfall!) If you dream of a skiing elopement- you can’t beat the winters.
Closest airport? There is a regional airport in Mammoth but as with all small airports- car rentals can be a problem. Reno is the closest major airport (3 hour drive).
How busy will it be? In the summer? Not very. In the winter? Very.
For a place with such a grim name, Death valley really is wonderous, especially in the colder months. It has truly otherworldly beauty- genuinely like being on another planet. And smack dab in the middle of the park is some truly remarkable Oasis with charming lodging options. From massive Sand Dunes (which are SO FUN on an elopement day- brings out everyone’s inner kid) to painted desert canyons to incredible overlooks… really not a park to be missed. In my humble opinion? This is one of the most underrated places to elope in California.
Pro Tip: Death Valley experienced some wild flooding in the 2023 summer season. Many roads are still closed while repairs are underway.
Do you need a permit? If you are having your ceremony in Death Valley- you will need a permit. Where you can have your ceremony largely depends on the size of your group- a two person elopement has wayyyyy more freedom than say a 15 person elopement. But one thing that is super cool about Death Valley- there is one spot you can actually reserve. Meaning you, and you alone will be allowed in that spot for your ceremony. So for those of you where privacy is super important- this is AMAZING.
What time of year is best? NOT. SUMMER. Haha, for probably super obvious reasons. Late fall, winter, and early spring is best in Death Valley. It’s one of my absolute favorite winter elopement locations.
Closest airport? Las Vegas International airport is your best bet in terms of quickest drive time!
How busy will it be? Death Valley is not as busy a National Park as others- which means it will be easier to find more privacy and solitude than other parks- this is one of my favorite things about the park.
With so many amazing places to elope in California, are you wanting to chat more? While I’m based out of Flagstaff, Arizona, California is a close neighbor and I’m there extremely frequently. And also important to know: I don’t charge travel fees for any stateside elopement or adventure wedding! Here’s what else is included in all my California elopement packages:
Four hours: $6000 | Eight Hours: $8000 | One 8-hr day + 4 hr day: $11,300
Or, follow along on the gram for more California elopement inspiration, adventurous antics, and a lot of random stories about my dog 🙂
— Ryan + Styhiln