This California elopement guide is here to provide you with some gorgeous California elopement locations, explain the steps to eloping in California, as well as answer the top questions surrounding planning an elopement in this beautiful state.

California truly has something for everyone, from desert to sea and snow capped peaks, this state does not disappoint. Here are some of the top California elopement locations in my California elopement guide!

Elopement Locations in Northern California

Redwoods State Park

The Redwoods are a perfect choice for couples who want to be surrounded with mossy forest and say their vows amongst gaints in the forest. The gaints of course being the redwoods themselves. What makes this location even better is you aren’t too far from the coast. Jedediah State Park is an especially good choice for couples who want a mix of rocky coastline, and dense forest for their California elopement location.

Redwoods Permit Information

A permit for The Redwoods is typically around $100 for couples eloping with 50 guests or less. This can be obtained by filling out an application through the correct branch of the forest service. I help my eloping couples with this step and send them everything they need to apply.

When to Elope in the Redwoods

When choosing a time of year to elope in the redwoods, you’ll want to consider the weather and crowds above all else. Winter is the quietest month of the year, but there is high chance of rain. Alternatively, early Fall is another time where you’ll deal with less crowds and likely have some warm and sunny days in the forecast.

Burney Falls

Burney Falls is a drop dead gorgeous California elopement location, and one of my favorite in the California elopement guide. This location is quite popular due to it being a short one mile loop. At the end of the hike, you’re struck with stunning views of this amazing waterfall

Burney Falls Permit Info

A permit at Burney Falls is around $200. Permits are often changing year by year, so it’s always good to check in and see if there have been any updates. This is a service I do for my eloping couples.

When to Elope at Burney Falls

I will always recommend the shoulder season for popular locations. In spring, the waterfall is really flowing with extra water from the rainfall. And in the fall, it’s less crowded. If you still prefer a summer month, a sunrise elopement is an incredible option.

Mt. Shasta

mt. shasta

Mt. Shasta is such an underrated California Elopement location. There are so many stunning hikes such as heart like that feel truly wild, untouched, and beautiful. The small town is strange and lovely with some amazing food. There is SO much to explore here, and is a great option for mountain-lovers

Mt. Shasta Permit Info

Permits in Mt. Shasta are typically not hard to acquire. But the exact price of one will be determined by the location or hike that you pick.

When to Elope in Mt. Shasta

If you’re all about the mountain hikes, waiting until at least July is a safe bet to make sure all the snowmelt is gone. This is of course peak season, and will be fairly busy. Although, sunrise elopements always make it easy to avoid crowds and get stunning morning light and alpen-glow. Fall is my personal favorite. There is less accessible in the winter, but Shasta does become a dreamy winterland during this season.

Big Sur

If you’re considering eloping in California, you’ve likely already heard of Big Sur. The rugged cliffs and misty coastline has made this place a top destination for tourists and eloping couples alike. Why? It’s simply gorgeous. There are ALWAYS hidden gems in popular areas. Sometimes all it takes is hiking two miles to get away from crowds. So if this location is on your list, rest assured there are ways to avoid the tourism.

Big Sur Permit Info

Big Sur has trickier permit issues. For example, this spot doesn’t allow more than ten guests, doesn’t allow seating or props, and doesn’t even allow you to have food or drinks. So, if you’re looking to elope with just your partner and don’t care for the bells and whistles, this is still a perfect option for you.

Permits for this location can be anywhere to $600-$1,500 dollars. A lot of that is a deposit that is returned to so long as you follow the rules of eloping in Big Sur. Find more information here.

When to Elope in Big Sur

Late summer and early fall have dry and clear days, and mid fall absolutely has less tourism. One thing to consider is where there is dry weather, there are wildfires. Even if the fires are far away, smoke can be carried quite a distance. If you don’t mind the rain, winter and spring are also a good choice and less busy!

Lake Tahoe

california elopement guide

Trails, stunning parks, a huge lake, and amazing views of the Sierra Nevadas. Lake Tahoe is a beautiful California Elopement location. That being said, it gets VERY busy, especially during peak season. Although, I’ll continue to say it throughout this California elopement guide, eloping at sunrise can always help immensely when trying to avoid crowds.

Lake Tahoe is a perfect spot for a bit of nature and a bit of luxury. With incredible lodging nearby and fun hiking trails to explore, this location can give the best of both worlds. There’s also a ton of dining options, and fun activities such as boat rides.

Lake Tahoe Permit Information

You need a permit to elope at Lake Tahoe State Park. Although, there are options in the Tahoe National Forest where a permit might not be required. Permit systems are ever changing, and you can find all the info you need by emailing or calling here.

When to Elope at Lake Tahoe

Unlike other locations, Lake Tahoe is extremely popular in winter due to the ski resort. Summer is a busy time as well. If you want to ensure you’re avoiding snowmelt and crowds, I recommend late summer and fall!

Yosemite National Park

Ah yes, Yosemite National Park. Easily one of the most popular elopement locations in California. But, did you know 90% of this massive park remains unexplored by guests? Here’s what that means for you. Even in one of the most POPULAR elopement locations, you can find endless hidden gems and seclusion.

This can mean saying you vows in private, and exploring hikes and locations without crowds. With that being said, you can still add on one of the iconic locations to your timeline around sunset. How amazing would it be to spend 90% of your elopement day in private and then still end the experience with the glow of an unforgettable location such as Taft Point?

Yosemite Permit Info

Permits to elope in Yosemite are $150. Again, things are always changing and there are restrictions involved to eloping in the National Park. Read here to get the info needed from the forest service.

When to Elope in Yosemite

Early spring is a great time to elope in Yosemite as it’s warming up, crowds aren’t yet crazy, and the snowmelt makes the waterfalls even more fierce. May and early June are the months for those factors, this is also a great way to avoid wildfire smoke.

Alternatively, October is also one of my favorite times. Considering it’s still warm, the fall colors come out, and the crowds once again die down.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

lassen volcanic elopement location

With meadows filled with wildflowers, lava rocks, mountain peaks, and steaming fumaroles, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a seriously unique California Elopement Location. There’s so much to explore, and it’s typically one of the less busy parks in the state

Lassen Volcanic Permit Info

Lassen Volcanic requires a $75 application fee for permits. You can find out all of the information and where to apply here!

When to Elope in Lassen Volcanic

The best time to elope in Lassen Volcanic park is in Fall. This National Park really has a glow up during fall, as if it wasn’t already stunning the rest of the year. This park encapsulates the epitome of fall colors, and it’s also a quieter time of the year with less crowds.

Sequoia National Park

Near California Souther Sierra Nevada mountains lies Sequoia National Park. These are biggest trees in the world. To stand among them and say your vows is a dream come true. And whereas the park is quite popular, The Sequoia National Forest is also littered with these massive trees where you can find quiet areas to be alone with these gaints.

Sequoia Permit Info

A permit to elope in Sequoia National park is $150. There are regulations, and a filled out application is required. Find all of that information here!

When to elope in Sequoia National Park

With the elevation of this park, the best time to elope in Sequoia National Park is late spring through early fall (May-October.) As I’ve said many times in the California Elopement Guide, you’ll deal with less crowds in October!

Mammoth Lakes

california elopement guide

Mammoth Lakes is one of my favorite California elopement locations that’s in the California elopement guide. This is a town in the Seirra Nevada Mountains, but it’s all the surrounding area that blows my mind. If you love hot springs, this is an incredible location for you. There’s also hikes with sweeping mountain views, as well as nearby luxurious lodging

Mammoth Lakes Permit Info

To elope at Mammoth Lakes, a permit will cost around $230. The surrounding area is going to depend, and it’s important to reach out to the forest service and find out the rules and regulations in this area.

When to Elope at Mammoth Lakes

This area is busy in summer, but luckily never as busy as the nearby National Parks. This is a good spot for you if you’re sold on a summer elopement. Otherwise, the best time to elope here is early fall. This is before there is new snow, but still at nice temperatures with less tourism.

Inyo National Forest

The Inyo National Forest is such an underrated elopement location. It’s huge, and filled with gorgeous spots. National Forests are also SO much less busy than National Parks, and just as gorgeous. It’s also home to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental US, as well as the world oldest living tree.

Inyo National Forest Permit Info

A permit to elope in Inyo National Forest is $130. There are regulations and you must apply to be able to receive this permit, you can read more about permitting here.

When to Elope at Inyo National Forest

May-June and September-October are the best times to elope in the Inyo National forest as it’s less crowded with the most mild temps. Fall can have the issue of wildfires, and spring can still be cold with some snow on the trails. So, since National Forests are less busy, summer is still a safe bet!

Elopement Locations in Southern California

Joshua Tree

joshua tree california elopement location

An iconic and very popular elopement location in California. Joshua trees only grow in one part of the world, and maybe that’s the draw to having a ceremony in a place like this. It’s also in the desert where the starts are bright at night and the days are warm.

Additionally, there are some really amazing lodging options near the park. And if you want a bit more privacy, you can go off the beaten path and find Joshua trees in stunning locations outside of the park as well (I fully recommend doing this.)

Joshua Tree Permit Info

An elopement permit for Joshua Tree National Park costs $120. There are rules and regulations, and things are always changing. Click here to read about Joshua Tree special event permits.

When to elope in Joshua Tree

The best time to elope in Joshua tree is April-May, and October-November. During these months, you’ll still have warm weather, all while avoiding bigger crowds and sweltering heat.

Alabama Hills

california elopement guide

One of my favorite spots in the California elopement guide. I really can’t say there’s a place quite like it. The rocks, mountains, and many natural arches are so unique and doesn’t quite feel real when you’re there. Every time i’ve visited Alabama Hills, I was able to find seclusion in less popular trails. As well as visiting the more popular ones at sunrise or sunset.

Alabama Hills Permit Info

Currently, you need to contact the local BLM office as there isn’t a permit application listed online. Likely, you won’t be required to get one.

When to elope at Alabama Hills

The best time to elope in Alabama hills are late spring and early fall. Alabama hills is a desert, so in the winter it can be freezing cold, and blistering hot in the summer. When there is rain or snow in early spring, it can get very muddy at this location and it’s easy to get stuck.

Death Valley

death valley elopement location

Death Valley is a beautiful and unique California elopement location. Locations such as the Sand Dunes and Artists Palette are simply breathtaking and hard to find in other locations. Those aside, there are so many things to explore in this park and is perfect for couples who love the desert and some of the abstract landscapes it offers.

Death Valley Permit Info

A permit to elope in Death Valley is $300. Here are the links to all of the information as well as the application.

When to elope in Death Valley

Do not elope in Death Valley in the summer unless you like scorching heat. The best times are March-May and September-November. This is a large window of time that is much cooler. Death Valley National Park is the hottest place on earth. Make sure to pack plenty of water and wear lighter weight wedding attire even on the shoulder seasons.

Catalina Islands

catalina islands elopement location

This California elopement location is an island, and technically a city. If you’re looking to have a glamorous island elopement, this is a great spot for you. It actually reminds me of some European costal towns, and is absolutely stunning. From going diving to lavish meals and downtime at a gorgeous resort, this location is perfect for couples who want to be wined and dined somewhere stunning and warm.

Catalina Island Permit Info

You will need your marriage license to get married at Catalina Island. There is no clerks office on the island, and the closest option is in Los Angeles.

When to Elope at Catalina Island

Catalina island is really perfect anytime of the year with it’s sunny days and beautiful temps. That being said, picking a season where there is less tourism (such as fall) is a good choice if you’d like to avoid crowds.

Red Rock Canyon

With it’s scenic cliffs, red rocks, and beautiful rock formations, Red Rock Canyon is a stunning and unique place for an elopement. This could be perfect for a couple who wants to visit more than one location but really wants to have a “true” desert location for their day.

Red Rock Canyon Permit Info

An exact cost of a permit isn’t listed, but you can find out the cost by contacting this branch of the forest service here.

When to Elope at Red Rock Canyon

Spring and Fall are always the best choice when eloping in the desert. If the cold doesn’t bother you, winter bring in the least amount of crowds and will offer you the most privacy.

Alamere Falls

california elopement guide

I know we all love Big Sur and the iconic waterfall in Yosemite, but have you heard of Alamere Falls? This is a rare tidefall that flows directly into the ocean and feels like something you’d only see in a dream. This spot is located in Point Reyes National Seashore which is also drop dead gorgeous. If you want your elopement location to include the coast and a waterfall, pick this one.

Alamere Falls Permit Info

There isn’t a price listed for the special use permit to elope here. But you can find the application and who to call/email here!

When to Elope at Alamere Falls

The best time to Elope at Alamere Falls in between April-November. Find wildflowers in spring, and clear warm days in fall!

California Elopement Lodging Options

california elopement location

There is an array of lodging options for a California elopement. You’re going to want something that caters to your needs. For example, if you’re more adventurous, maybe you want to stay in a treehouse. You can glamp in the desert under the stars, stay in a fancy resort, rent a quaint Airbnb on the ocean, or even rent a large home in a stunning natural area where you could have an intimate reception with friends and family.

There have been a lot of couples that I’ve helped find vacation rental homes that are in such beautiful areas that they stay local to where their lodging. So long as the owner of the home agrees to it, you’re even able to get rentals for ceremony seating or have a private chef cater a meal to you. Looking for more ideas than what’s listed in this California elopement guide? Here is my list of the best airbnb’s for a California elopement.

How to Elope in California: The Steps

Step 1: Choose a Date for Your Elopement

Here, we’re going to go over the major planning steps in the California Elopement Guide. Number 1. Getting an idea of your elopement date is important. You can choose a date that’s meaningful to you. Secondly, this will help you be able to secure a photographer and lodging when you’re ready. I’d consider what season will be best for you as well.

Step 2: Pick Your Elopement Photographer and California Elopement Package

Choosing an elopement photographer is a crucial element to planning out your day. Not only do they help you pick your location, but they help you figure out what package would be best for you. Maybe you want a short half day elopement exploring the mossy forest. Maybe you want a multi-day elopement where you have a day just for you two, and then a day to explore and celebrate with your loved ones.

Most elopement photographers help with various steps of the planning process, and we’re pros at it. Personally, I include: sending a planning checklist, location selection, vendor referrals, timeline design, help finding ideal lodging, obtaining permits, and more. This is a great step to help you get guidance on planning your big day.

Step 3: Choose Your California Elopement Location

With the help of your elopement photographer, you should have a ton of ideal locations to choose from. I send my clients a list of about 4-8 locations that fit all of their needs and specifications. From here, you can pick one or multiple locations for your day. Remember! You can have different locations for different activities.

This is a huge step, and once you finish, everything starts to fall into place with ease.

Step 4: Pick Any Activities to Include in Your Elopement

When I say “activities” I mean things you want to include in your wedding day that will be a special and memorable experience for you. This includes the regular events such as getting ready and the ceremony, but can also include anything that is important to you.

Having an intimate celebration, hiking, picnicking, there are so many different options. You elopement day certainly doesn’t need to only include a ceremony and taking photos. Make it a day that you would want to re-live over and over by including these special activities that are important to you and your partner.

Step 5: Hire Any Required Vendors

Once you’ve decided on your activities, you’ll know what vendors you need. Maybe you’d like a 3 course meal at your Airbnb and want to hire a private chef. Maybe you want a florist to decorate an arch for your ceremony location. This is the time to book any remaining vendors and get them locked down.

Step 6: Finalize Timeline, Obtain Permits, Apply for Marriage License

Once you’re about two months away from your California elopement, it’s time to finish up your last major step. Go over your timeline with your elopement photographer, and confirm start and end times with all other vendors. Also make sure any guests that are invited are aware of the timeline for your day.

Finally, you will need to get permits for any public locations that might be involved in your day. I hope my eloping couples with this step, but if you’re doing it on your own you will need to reach out to the national forest service and figure out where to apply for your permit. Last but not least, apply for a marriage license through the county you’ll be getting married in! If you want more detailed steps about how this all works outside of the California Elopement guide, we can chat here! I’m here to help.

Do I Need a Permit to Elope in California?

california elopement guide

Odds are, you’ll need a permit for a lot of different elopement locations in California. If you scroll up through the California Elopement guide, you’ll see permit info under each of the locations I listed. For locations outside of the ones in this blog post, you’ll have to do a bit of research. (Or hire me, and I’ll do it for you.)

Once you pick a location for your California elopement, you will need to find out what branch of the national forest caters to that specific area. Once that’s done, you can email or call them about a special use permits. If one is needed, you’ll have to look at the rules and regulations, make sure your plans comply with them, and then fill out the application.

How to Get a Marriage License in California

Getting a marriage license in the state of California is pretty straightforward. You need to apply for your marriage license within 90 days of when you’d like to get married. You’ll go online here to fill out an application.

Once that is complete you are both going to have to appear at the clerks county office and show valid identification. After that, your marriage license is ready to be used within three days. If you need to waive the three day waiting period, there is normally a fee to waive it and be able to use your license immediately.

Do I Need an Officiant and Witnesses to Elope in California?

california elopement guide

Yes, you need an officiant to elope in California. Although this can be a friend or family who has gotten ordained online. Just make sure that they know how to fill out and mail in the paperwork! The state of California also requires two witnesses for your elopement. Once again this can be friends or family, it can even include your vendors. I’ve also had couples elope with no one, and simply ask other people on the trail to sign for them, which they were happy to do.

When is the Best Season to Elope in California?

death valley california elopement location

California is a big place and the best season to elope going to vary greatly depending on the specific spot you chose. For desert locations, late spring and early fall to avoid the heat. For alpine locations, early summer and early fall will be best to avoid trail closures due to snow and bigger crowds.

If you look at the locations listed in the California elopement guide, you’ll see best times to elope for specific areas. Most of this can be applied to other locations within their region.

Can I have guests at My California Elopement?

Including friends in multi day elopement

Yes! An elopement never means you don’t have to invite guests. Generally, couples keep it to 25 or less. Once you have more guests, it’s more of an “intimate wedding.” Semantics, right? With that being said, less guests are easier to manage. Especially if you’re looking to have an adventurous elopement. It’s hard to corral 40 people for a hike. Or even get them to multiple locations.

With that being said, you can absolutely have guests at your California elopement. I would just consider what you want your day to look like prior to making that decision. Guests can make your day even more special if it’s important to you.

How Much Does California Elopement Photography Cost

california elopement guide

The cost of elopement photography in California can vary based on if your photographer is traveling, what’s included in their package, and their skill level. You can expect most experienced elopement photographers to start at $5500-$7000.

Many elopement photographers offering some kind of planning or location scouting in their packages. To read more about what elopement photography costs and what’s included, click here!

Activity Ideas for Eloping in California

california elopement activities

The way elopements are so uniquely different from traditional wedding days is that elopements are primarily about have an experience. And a unique one, at that. Many couples don’t want to simply have a ceremony and call it a day. One of my favorite things about photographing elopements is that it’s not an all day photoshoot or performance.

I’m often capturing couples doing things together that they enjoy the most. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Going to Sequoia and seeing the biggest trees in the world
  • Beach bonfire
  • Hot air balloon ride
  • Scenic helicopter tour
  • Hiking in one of California’s many National Forests
  • Ziplining
  • Having a picnic in a meadow of wildflowers
  • Cliffjumping
  • Swimming in the ocean
  • Exploring waterfalls
  • Stargazing in the desert
  • Hammocking in the forest
  • Rock climbing
  • Cafe hopping and trying various food and drinks
  • Going on a boat ride
  • Wine tasting
  • Private yacht ceremony

These are just ideas, you can include anything, and I mean anything that sounds fun, cozy, or memorable to you in your elopement day.

California Elopement Packages

California elopement

California elopement photography by Emilee Setting Photo, and everything included in my packages:

  • Explore anywhere within Washington, all travel fees included in the price!
  • Packages from half day elopements to multi-day elopements
  • Recieve a customized location list
  • Included timeline design
  • Help obtaining your permits
  • A planning checklist
  • All of your stunning photos delivered under three months
  • Day of polaroid sneak peeks

Washington elopement packages starting at $6400. Want more information on my pricing and what’s included? Click here

California Elopement FAQ’s

California elopement location

Where is the best place to elope in California?

California is vast and varied, offering a myriad of options for elopements. What draws me to California as a top elopement destination is its ability to cater to every taste and preference. Whether you’re seeking luxurious oasis accommodations, desert glamping experiences, or cozy A-frame cabins nestled in the mountains, California has it all. Rest assured, I’m dedicated to helping you discover the perfect setting for your elopement. With its diverse offerings, California is sure to exceed your expectations.

How Much Does it Cost to Elope in California?

Eloping in California typically costs couples anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. This budget includes various expenses such as accommodation, permits, decorations, vendor services, catering, transportation, attire, and all the essentials for crafting your desired experience. The extent of your budget depends on the level of extravagance or simplicity you envision for your special day!

Everything listed in the California elopement guide is under that 20k budget. Even getting first class flight tickets and luxury lodging is much cheaper than spending $20,000 on a venue alone, so go wild!

Can you get married the same day in California?

Sure can! Make sure to call thee county clerks office ahead of time to have them waive the three day waiting period of your marriage license and you’ll be all set.

Ready to Elope in California?

california elopement guide

This California elopement guide is a way to get you excited about all the possibiltles of what your day could look like. Although, this amount of information can be overwhelming. I’m here to help. I can answer any and all questions you have on a complimentary low pressure consultation call. If you then choose you’d like to work together, I’ll do all of this planning right by your said to alleviate any stress, and bring your California elopement vision to life. We can chat here!

Don't forget your free elopement planning checklist


You see a stranger’s puppy & it takes everything in you not to run up & cuddle it.

Your dress gets dirt on it, and you shrug.

You think ice cream & wine is always an acceptable dinner option. Always.

You LIVE for the feeling of sunshine on your skin & wind in your hair.

You’re already screaming YASSSS WHERE DO I BOOK YOU?

I'm Emilee

I'm an elopement photographer who specializes in planning, crafting, and documenting untraditional weddings. I believe a wedding day should be filled with traditions that resonate with you. I'm here from start to finish to make that happen. Want to chat about your plans? Click below to set up a free consultation! 

You see a stranger’s puppy & it takes everything in you not to run up & cuddle it.

Your dress gets dirt on it, and you shrug.

You think ice cream & wine is always an acceptable dinner option. Always.

You LIVE for the feeling of sunshine on your skin & wind in your hair.

You’re already screaming YASSSS WHERE DO I BOOK YOU?

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