Big Sur Elopement Guide 2023

It’s no surprise that Big Sur is one of the most popular destinations to elope in the US with it’s majestic redwood forests and epic coastline. I grew up 2 hours from Big Sur and still it never gets old, every time I get to shoot there is just as exciting as the first! As a local Big Sur elopement photographer, I get to explore all of the special places that Big Sur has to offer, and I’m here to share my knowledge with you so you can create your dream Big Sur elopement.

Table of Contents

  1. Best locations for Big Sur elopements
  2. Permits for Big Sur elopements
  3. Weather and best time of year to elope in Big Sur
  4. The legal stuff for eloping in California
  5. Planning Tips for your Big Sur elopement
  6. Activities and things to do

Best Locations for Big Sur Elopements

Big Sur boasts a beautiful coastline as well as fairytale-like redwoods. Think about which of these feels the most like you. Maybe it’s both! That’s the great thing about eloping – you get to do whatever you want. You could have the ceremony at a venue in the redwoods and then head to the coast for photos afterwards!

State Parks vs. Venues/ Public vs. Private Land

State parks are a less expensive option, and allow you to say your vows on a cliff or by the water. Venues are more expensive and are better for a ceremony in the trees. Keep in mind that while venues may be the pricier option, they also offer more privacy compared to a state park. Another key thing that may help you decide is if you are planning to have guests at your elopement or keep it just the two of you. Venues are more accessible and have amenities, while State parks may require hiking and have fewer available amenities.

Private Land & Venue Elopement Locations

Ventana Big Sur

  • Iconic Big Sur resort
  • Luxury resort that offers high-end hotel rooms as well as some awesome glamping options, and regular camping too!
  • Enjoy both ocean views and the redwood forest
  • Accommodates both elopements and larger weddings
  • Can get an all-inclusive package, or rent the ceremony space and bring in your own vendors
  • View Ventana Big Sur website
Image provided by Ventana Big Sr

Loma Vista Gardens

Glen Oaks Big Sur

  • Romantic getaway in the redwoods
  • Private redwood grove
  • Rustic cabins
  • Can elope here or have a larger wedding, or just stay here and elope somewhere else!
  • View Glen Oaks website

Public Land Elopement Locations/State Parks

Garrapata State Park

  • Easy to access from highway
  • Both beach and coastal bluffs
  • Permit required for elopements
  • Just 15 mins south of Carmel and Monterey – offers lots of lodging and restaurant options!

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

  • No beach/ocean access
  • Permit required for elopements
  • Can have up to 10 people for a hike-in elopement, or a larger gathering in designated areas with a special event permit
  • Very developed park, can be crowded

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

  • No beach access
  • Access to coastal views and McWay Falls
  • Can be crowded
  • Some trails closed due to damage from 2020 Dolan Fire (updated June 2022)

Andrew Molera State Park

  • Known for it’s beach
  • Easy 1 mile hike to beach
  • Permit required for elopements

Pfeiffer Beach

  • Permits not required!
  • Elopements are NOT allowed Mar 15 – Oct 15
  • Road can be flooded during wet/rainy season
  • If the parking lot is full, you are not allowed to enter until people leave

Permits for Eloping in Big Sur State Parks

Most state parks in Big Sur require a permit to elope

  • The Big Sur State Parks system allows for only one elopement per day across all the parks combined
  • Can apply up to 6 months in advance for your elopement permit; 1 year in advance for Garrapata State Park
  • To qualify for an elopement permit:
    • 10 or fewer people present, including vendors
      • Garrapata park allows for more
    • Must not block trails for public
    • Must not require seating
    • No music
    • No decorations other than bouquet
    • Elopement must occur during regular use hours (sunrise-sunset) Monday-thursday only
    • Must not serve food or drink
    • Must not have vendors present except for officiant, planner, and one photographer

To apply for a permit to elope in a Big Sur State Park, contact BigSurEvents@parks.ca.gov or call 831-667-0507.

Weather and Best Time of Year to Elope in Big Sur

Big Sur is a truly stunning part of the coast and a beautiful location to choose for your elopement with a pretty reasonable climate throughout the year. That being said the prime months with the least rain are April-November.

Big Sur has unpredictable weather and can be foggy but has plenty of clear days as well. Keep in mind it is hard to predict fog, but it is part of the Big Sur coast charm – just bring layers! Spring is beautiful for coastal elopements with the abundance of wildflowers growing on the bluffs in all different colors, however it is also wet compared to Fall which is usually warmer.

As I mentioned before the weather is reasonable all year round, however I still would not necessarily recommend mid winter for a Big Sur elopement. The reason for this is the wet months can cause landslides and road closures, and the last thing you want on your elopement day is to find out you can’t reach your location! That being said, this is a big part of why its beneficial to hire a local Big Sur elopement photographer and planner, so we can help you with backup plans if such an event does occur!

Days of the Week to Elope in Big Sur – Yes, this matters!

The best time to elope in Big Sur is on Monday-Thursday. These days are optimal for eloping because the area gets very crowded on weekends and holidays, as it is a very popular tourist spot, so the weekdays will offer more privacy. Parking will also be much easier compared to weekends where you more often than not find cars lined up all along the highway. The trails will be much busier on the weekend, and the beautiful viewpoints that you want photos at will most likely have others hanging around the same spot to get photos there as well. Even at a private venue, you may find others staying there using the same amenities and walking trails through the areas as well as restaurants filled up. Overall, you will have a more intimate-feeling elopement experience in Big Sur on a weekday.

Another reason that makes Monday-Thursday the best time to elope in Big Sur is that the Big Sur State Parks only issue elopement and special event permits on these weekdays from May-September. During the off-season, you can get permits for weekends but the area will still be busier compared to the weekdays. If you are not getting married in a state park and opted for a private venue instead this won’t apply to you, but the crowds are still something to consider. It will also be much easier to secure your top picks for vendors who are usually booked far in advance on weekends.

Make it Legal!

To get legally married in California you must have a marriage license. There are two types of marriage licenses – public or confidential. Here are the differences:

Confidential marriage license:

  • Requires officiant but not witnesses
  • MUST have ceremony in the same county you acquired the license in
  • Records cannot be accessed by public without permission

Public marriage license:

  • Requires officiant plus 1-2 people to sign as witnesses
    • I am happy to sign as a witness as your photographer!
  • Can have ceremony anywhere in California
  • Records are public

Planning Tips for your Big Sur Elopement

Hire a local Big Sur elopement photographer. We can help you plan, and have backup plans. There are lots of beautiful locations on the Big Sur coast that are hard to find and someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the area won’t be as familiar with the trails and landscape.

Save maps offline. If you have google maps I HIGHLY recommend downloading and saving your meeting points, or entering the spot into your GPS ahead of time. A lot of the Big Sur coast does not have good cell service, so this will make it so much easier for everybody to meetup with your photographer and anyone else involved.

Bring layers and comfy shoes. The weather in Big Sur can be unpredictable with fog and wind. A lot of couples opt to have the ceremony in the redwoods for this reason, followed by an epic photo session on the coastal bluffs. Shoes that are comfortable to hike in or walk around steep trails with are a must!

Do NOT bring confetti, rice, or anything else to throw. It is harmful to the environment and wildlife, which as an outdoor-lover I’m sure you want to take precautions to preserve our beautiful planet!

More Ways to Make your Elopement Special

Because why not have more ideas to make extra-special memories on your day? Some of my favorite suggestions are popping champagne, cutting and eating cake, exchanging letters or gifts, planning a first dance, have a catered picnic, or go to a special restaurant at the end of the day for a romantic dinner as newlyweds!

Elopement Timeline

Your elopement timeline can be whatever you want it to be! This day is all about you. When eloping, you get to decide where to go and what you want to include in your day. If you have no idea where to begin with this, that’s ok! Sit down with your partner and talk about the things that are the most important to each of you, and go from there! Below is an example of an adventurous Big Sur elopement timeline. Of course this can change based on how many people you want included etc.

Your day could look like this…

2-3:30 Getting ready in a rustic cabin in the woods

3:30-4 First look in the redwoods

4-4:30 Ceremony in the redwoods

4:30-5 Adventure to the coast

5-6 Picnic on the beach with your new spouse

6-7 Enjoy the sunset from the coastal bluffs

As your photographer, I will be here for it all and make sure to capture all of the special moments of your day.

Let’s make it happen!

Even if you have just decided to elope and haven’t made any decisions beyond that, that’s perfectly fine! In fact, I am here to help you decide where to elope and make sure we plan a beautiful day that feels like you.

I am not only your photographer, but also adventure guide and timeline helper. I’ll help you choose vendors, build a timeline that includes everything you want and also be your moral support in planning.

I will take photos throughout your whole day (as long as you want me to!) but will be respectful and make sure that the two of you are getting to enjoy each other and your beautiful surroundings uninterrupted. I will give you prompts and poses during specific shoot times, such as first look photos or a sunset session after the ceremony, but outside of that I am just your adventure buddy third-wheel following you around with my camera, which I promise is not as weird as it sounds! I want the two of you to explore the cliffs at sunset, get lost in conversation over a picnic, and forget that I am there, taking gorgeous photos of you two newly weds in love in the most beautiful location ever.

Ready to craft your dream elopement day together?

Let’s do it!

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