What You Need To Elope In California

Joshua Tree National Park Elopement


So you’re thinking about eloping, maybe a big wedding and all the coast and stress that go with is it is not your thing or COVID has you changing up your plans. Either way, let me tell you first hand that elopements are some of the most beautiful and fun moments I’ve had the pleasure of photographing. Most elopements are usually just the couple along with the vendors you hire to capture the day, however, you can still have guest, as long as you keep it around 10 people it’s still considered an elopement. Elopements are still weddings, just because you are eloping doesn’t mean it can’t still be an amazing day, you can still do some of the traditional things you would do at any wedding day, getting ready photos, a first look, cake cutting, a first dance, thy to think of something that would be special to you, who you are as a couple and the things you like to do together.


If you are reading this, you might be thinking about eloping in California. From beautiful mountain landscapes to those epic blue coastlines, rocky and sometimes whimsical deserts to the amazing redwood forests, California is a popular destination with so many beautiful locations to choose from it’s easy to see why couples choose to elope here yearly. Although elopements are a lot less stressful than weddings they still require a little planning, and for those planning to elope in California, they might have some different laws for what’s required for you to get married here. Below I’ve put together a guide to help send you in the right direction and maybe take a little of the stress off your day.

Morro Rock Beach Elopement
Morro Rock Beach Elopement


How can I make my elopement more special? I see this question a lot that couples think just because you are eloping that it’s not going to be as special as a large traditional wedding day. You can still do things that you would on any traditional wedding day and more. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have fun getting ready together get ready separately and do the first look. Your elopement doesn’t have to start at just the ceremony and can be a full day.
  • You can still have guests, friends and family members attend, make one a bridesmaid and a groomsman.
  • Write personalized wedding vows
  • Get a small cake, cupcakes, or maybe some gourmet donuts
  • Yes, you can still have that first dance
  • Stay at an Airbnb and hire a private chef to cook for you the perfect meal.
  • Depending on the location you can still decorate the ceremony location.
  • Have a champagne toast or whatever your favorite drink is.
  • Have friends and family that couldn’t come write you letter and read them out loud to each other.
  • If you’re having a small number of guests you can do speeches or ring blessings at the ceremony.
  • Choose a location that is special to the two of you that has meaning.
  • It’s your day so make it unique to you.

Glen Oaks Big Sur Elopement
Ventana Big Sur Sur Elopement, Redwoods Elopement


To start with here is a basic checklist of what you would typically need to do and book for an elopement. Usually with just a photographer, officiant, permits and maybe some florals can coast you around $2000.00 and up.

  • So first choose the budget that works for
  • Select a destination or courthouse and get your Special Use Permit and/or photography permits if needed. See Below
  • Check the current law, COVID has things always changing.
  • Choose a date, Weekdays are always less crowded.
  • Hire your Photographer (hopefully me)
  • Hire an officiant
  • Think if you would like a Videographer
  • Get your marriage license, more information on that below.
  • Make travel arrangements and book accommodations, sometimes remote Airbnb’s or boutique hotels can be a great spot for the ceremony as well.
  • Plan the ceremony
  • Write your vows if you would like to make it more personal to the two of you.
  • This one a given but decide what to wear.
  • If you need a Hair and makeup artist or if you will be doing your own.
  • Decide if you want a floral bouquet or maybe a small cake, gourmet doughnuts, or a champagne toast, a pizza, it’s your day make it unique to you.
  • Plan your guest list. Remember you can keep it just the two of you but anything under 10 people is still considered an elopement.
  • Don’t forget the rings!
Garrapata State Park Elopement, Big Sur
Garrapata State Park Elopement, Carmel-By-The-Sea


So if you’ve chosen California the first thing you will need to do is get your marriage license, check the county site to make sure you do not need an appointment and keep in mind they are not open on weekends.

  • First, Both parties must be single and not married to each other or anyone else. Both parties must apply in person at the County Clerk’s Office and show valid government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or military identification proving that you are over 18 years of age. To get married in California, you will also need to pay a fee. The fee varies from county to county. Some charge $45 and others charge upwards of $90. some counties may only accept cash, so call ahead of time to ensure you have the correct payment information.
  • In California, there is no waiting period to get married. Once you’ve received your marriage license it’s valid for 90 days.
  • You are required to have a witness over the age of 18 to be present during your ceremony. For elopements, your photographer can count as your witness.
  • You don’t need to be a resident of California or the US to apply for the marriage licenses, just make sure you have the proper I.D.
  • Here is a link to more in-depth information for the state of California.
  • There is a small application fee for your marriage license that varies based on the county, usually $90-$100. It’s best to check the county website to see what forms of payment they accept before going.
Laguna Beach Elopement
Palm Springs Elopement
Sunset Cliffs Elopement, San Diego


This can be a hard decision with so many options in California. Here are some of the most popular to start you on your journey. Just keep in mind that most of these locations will require a special use permit that you will have to purchase from them, and some may require a photography permit on top of that. So make sure to give yourself a couple of weeks if not a month in advance to get these taken care of. You could also look for some venues or Airbnb’s in the area you want to get married that could work for your ceremony location as well.

Northern California:

Southern California:

Permits are a must for most locations. Among the listed above state parks are the most popular for those looking to elope. When you fill out the permit make sure to be very detailed on all the things you are bringing in with you, like flowers, any type items that you might want to set up, if it’s not on the list they may not let you use it, I’ve had a bride not be allowed to use her flowers because it was not on the permit.

Sometimes you might think out side the box, there are some Airbnb’s close to some of these parks that look like they are in the park, they are great sometimes for the busy times of year to use and keep you elopement looking more secluded as well as some other less popular but just as cool locations like Anza Borrego Desert or The Salton Sea.

*Note: During COVID-19 restrictions, some places may not be open to the public at the moment or offering permits, or if they are they are offering them to only a few people.

Joshua Tree Elopement
Big Sur Elopement


California is known for its sunny weather all year long, but truthfully southern California and Northern California are very different when it comes to weather so keep that in mind when planning your elopement!

Winter: December to February

SoCal: SoCal winters are usually pretty mild around the coastal areas, the mountains and the desert can get pretty cold to freezing at night and there is sometimes even snow in both locations.

NoCal: It can be cloudy a lot during this time and the weather can get to some chilly temps, normally lots of snow in the mountains.

Spring Time: March to June

SoCal: It’s normally pretty nice with 65 to 80-degree weather around the coast, and the hills have normally turned green and we do occasionally get some rain. However, if you are heading out to the desert it’s normally in the 50s still in March to early May.

NoCal: It’s normally in the 50s to 70-degrees most of the time, however can get very cold in the evening depending on the locations. Normally the hills are green and lush with wildflowers.

Summer: July to October

SoCal: Really one of the best times, we are known for the hot-but-perfect summer weather. however this is the peak time that a lot of people head to the beach and other outdoor activities, so keep that in mind. Also, the desert can get up to 120-degrees so if you are wanting a Joshua Tree or Palm Springs elopement think about having it at sunrise.

NoCal: Normally has some very pleasant weather, you can typically expect sunshine and cool breezes with slightly cooler temps in the mountains.

Fall: October to December

SoCal: Not a lot of fall leaves unless you head up to the mountains, my favorite is in Lake Arrowhead however it is short-lived so you just have to plan and hope. The weather is normally starting to cool off and we sometimes get some rain showers.

NoCal: Lots of Fall Colors and sometimes moody fall weather, the chill starts and sometimes you get some foggy days too and rains showers. It’s one of my favorite times there.

Joshua Tree National Park Elopement, Hidden Valley Picnic Area
Palm Springs Elopement (Vintage Car Rental From Coachella Valley Classic Cars adds a perfect touch)

I hope this has given you a starting point to help you with your planning. If you have any questions or to check my availability. I’m more than happy to try to answer any questions the best I can. Happy Planning!


April 4, 2020