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How to Elope in Big Sur, California

how to elope in Big Sur california

Big Sur Elopement Guide | Best Locations To Elope In Big Sur | California Elopement Photographer

The Full Guide on How to Plan an Elopement in Big Sur, California

If you can’t decide between the forest and the coastline, then a Big Sur Elopement might be perfect for you! Crashing waves, rugged cliffside coastlines, and lush redwood forests are all part of the Big Sur experience. Big Sur consists of 71 miles of land along Highway 1, including state parks, national forests, private lands, and wilderness regions. The winding drive down Highway 1 from Monterrey to Ragged point – the southernmost point of Big Sur – is one you will never forget. Whether it’s misty mountains or sunny days and fields of wildflowers, Big Sur offers beauty around every turn. Big Sur also offers some of the most beautiful shorelines and beaches in the U.S, making it the perfect place to elope!

Big Sur California Elopement Guide

The Best Locations and the Best Time to Elope in Big Sur

Top Elopement Spots in Big Sur

The first thing you’ll want to do is decide whether eloping on private land or public land is right for you. There are definitely benefits to each option, so let’s go over what each looks like. If you choose to elope on private land (Airbnb, venues, restaurants, etc.), you’ll be able to enjoy a private location away from the tourist attention. You also likely won’t have any pet restrictions, permit requirements, or hour limits to worry about. Many private elopement locations also offer access to private beaches or forest areas. If you decide to elope on public land (state parks, national forests, etc.), then you will be able to explore all Big Sur has to offer and say your vows in some seriously iconic landscapes. Each state park has different rules and restrictions, so you’ll want to be sure to research and contact the Special Events Coordinator to confirm requirements. Typically relatively inexpensive special events and permit fees are required for these locations. Certain locations also enforce guest count limits, time limits, and pet restrictions. Whether you choose private or public land, your Big Sur elopement is going to be a dream come true! Here are some options for ceremony locations for both public and private lands. 

Private Land 

Glen Oaks Big Sur: Hold your intimate wedding or elopement in this gorgeous and private redwood grove along the Big Sur River with rustic modernized cabins nestled in the redwood forest. Glen Oaks offers multiple ceremony locations and so many gorgeous places to explore.

Ventana Big Sur: Whether you want a luxury hotel stay, a hip glamping experience, or a laid-back camping weekend, Ventana Big Sur has it all! Enjoy a luxury stay and enjoy sitting poolside with gorgeous views and getting married overlooking the hills and valleys of Big Sur. Or camp and say your vows among the redwoods for an intimate, adventurous feel. Or do a little of both. Ventana has multiple ceremony sites available to rent and can accommodate most any size wedding! 

Loma Vista Gardens: A gorgeous getaway amid the Big Sur Mountains. This ceremony site is the perfect private location to share your vows while overlooking the beautiful ocean views of Big Sur. 

Henry Miller Memorial Library: This eclectic venue started out as a bookshop and has evolved into a place with new and ever-changing art installations and now weddings! They have options for smaller or larger weddings, and they are perfect for that artsy outdoorsy couple who love a woodsy and whimsical vibe. Say your vows among the art, poetry, and of course, the redwoods! 

Public Land

Garrapata State Park: This is probably my favorite option for ceremony locations. It is home to some of the most epic and iconic views Big Sur has to offer! Choose from so many coastal trails to enjoy views of the rocky coastline and sea bluffs and enjoy a picnic on the beach. 

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: This location is famous for its beach and keyhole sea stack. It offers a beautiful spot for a sunset elopement. Pfeiffer Beach does not require a permit for elopements, but be sure to check that the road leading to beach access is open as it can flood. There are also tons of trails in the state parks with redwood groves. Permits are required for the other areas in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Your photographer will be able to help you with the permit process. 

Limekiln State Park: Hike through redwood tree forests, find the limekilns from the 1800s, explore the 100-ft Limekiln Falls, and end the day running through the sand on the beach. (This park is mostly closed due to the Dolan Fire. Currently, the trails in the forest are closed, but the beach day-use area is open. Last updated January 2022.)

When is the Best Time to Elope in Big Sur? 

While Big Sur has mild weather most of the year, the region does have some unique weather patterns to keep an eye on. While early fall has the clearest skies, it’s also wildfire season in California. Spring will bring out the wildflowers but is also known for being overcast and rainy. The weather patterns in California are unique, so it’s always best to have a backup plan if you aren’t up for facing some rain and fog!

How to elope in Big Sur

Finding Your Vendors: Planner, Photographer, and Officiant

Find the Right West Coast Elopement Photographer For You 

When choosing an elopement photographer, there are so many things to consider. First, of course, is the photography and editing style that you like best. But while for traditional weddings that may be where the search ends, with elopements it’s much more important to have a personal connection with your photographer! I really recommend finding someone who has the right personality to fit in with you and your partner, and someone who is organized and trustworthy to help plan your day. I absolutely love working with my elopement couples to plan their perfect day from the ceremony location to where they’ll grab dinner afterward. Elopements hold such a special place in my heart and I want to make sure that your day is everything you’ve ever dreamed of! 

California Elopement Planners

Finding a planner to help you along the process can be a really good idea! While I’m happy to help with finding vendors in the area and suggest towns for you to stay in, a planner can help with things such as guest accommodations, planning a perfect ceremony, and staying organized during wedding planning and on the day of your wedding. 

Your Ideal Officiant

California has unique marriage laws, so I would highly recommend hiring an experienced California officiant for your ceremony. However, the state does accept ceremonies performed by anyone over the age of 18 that is ordained online or has completed their “Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a Day” program. When applying for your marriage license, you will choose between the two types offered by the state of California: a Public Marriage License or a Confidential Marriage License. Both of these licenses are valid anywhere in the state of California and are legally valid, so it is up to you which one you choose to get. In a Public Marriage, your marriage license is a public record and requires at least one witness to be present for the ceremony. In a Confidential Marriage, no witness is required, and the marriage record is not available to the public. The only requirement difference when applying for these licenses is that couples applying for a confidential license must have lived together prior to applying. For more details on the license types, it’s best to visit a California county clerk’s office or check out the county website

Big Sur Elopement Photography

Where to Stay, Permits, and Guest Accommodations: Everything You Need to Know About Eloping in Big Sur, California

Where to Stay Near Big Sur

There are so many different options for accommodations near Big Sur. Whether you’re looking for a luxury hotel or a casual camping experience, you can find something perfect for your big day. If you’re getting married on private property such as Glen Oaks Big Sur or Ventana Big Sur, a lot of these properties also offer accommodations, so definitely keep that in mind when you are choosing your ceremony location!

If you’re getting married on the North end of Big Sur near Garrapta State Park, I would recommend checking out Airbnbs in Carmel or Monterey. These are both gorgeous waterfront towns with tons of accommodation options. 

The central part of Big Sur near Pfeifer beach has fewer Airbnb options but plenty of resorts to choose from. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur River Inn, and Big Sur Lodge are all gorgeous resorts in this region. Or if camping is more your style, there’s a variety of campgrounds in this area as well! The Village RV can even drop off an RV for you if you’re looking for a bit of an upgrade to your camping experience. 

As you head south, closer to Limekiln Beach, you’ll find Lucia Lodge, and at the southernmost end of the region lies Ragged Point Inn – both exceptionally beautiful resorts. And if you’re looking for a super unique experience, Treebones Resort is also in this area – a resort made up of yurts overlooking the Pacific Ocean! 

Permits for Your Big Sur Elopement

Permits for eloping or hosting an intimate wedding in Big Sur change from location to location, so it’s always best to check with the exact location you plan to visit. In general, most of the state parks in the region require a permit, and they only grant a single elopement permit per day for the entire region. That means that if you plan on getting married in one of the state parks you should definitely apply for your permit well ahead of time! However, National Forest lands in the area don’t require a permit to elope on their properties, so that may be a good backup option if you don’t have much flexibility in your date.

How Many Guests Can We Have at Our Big Sur Elopement?

At most state parks in the Big Sur region, elopements are limited to 10 or fewer people present, including vendors. The exception to that rule is Garrapata State Park, which allows 25 people total. They also specify that no seating is allowed at these ceremonies, so if you plan on bringing elderly family along for the trip, private property may be a better bet. Want your fur baby to be your flower girl? Dogs aren’t allowed on State Park trails but are allowed in the picnic or day-use areas. 

As always, it’s incredibly important to make sure everyone participating in your elopement is aware of Leave No Trace practices and respects the land around them so that couples can continue to enjoy these spaces for years to come. This includes saying on designated trails and following park rules. One of the notable rules in Big Sur is that even biodegradable confetti is prohibited inside the National Park, so if you were considering this type of celebration perhaps opt for some bubbles instead! 

If you and your partner have a love for the Redwoods and the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur is the perfect elopement spot for you. With 71 miles of public and private land to choose from, we can create a completely personalized wedding day that’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of! Who wouldn’t want to exchange vows in one of the most beautiful spots in the country? 

Love this blog? Check out these: 

How to Elope in Hawaii
How to Elope in Washington
Choosing Your Wedding Photographer


Did you find our guide on eloping in Big Sur helpful? Let us know in the comments below!


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