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How to Elope in Big Sur (The Ultimate Big Sur Elopement Guide 2024)

Big Sur elopement on the coast at Garrapata State Park

Eloping in Big Sur is the perfect choice for a couple who loves the outdoors and wants a stunning backdrop for their elopement. It’s no surprise that Big Sur is one of the most popular destinations to elope in California with it’s dreamy redwood forests and epic coastline. I grew up 2 hours from Big Sur and still it never gets old. If you told my younger self one day I’d be photographing Big Sur elopements, I would have jumped around the coastline full of joy (in fact, I do that now)! If you know you want to elope in Big Sur but it feels overwhelming, you’re in the right place! 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 about how to elope in Big Sur with you so together we can create your dream Big Sur elopement!

Table of Contents

  1. Where to Elope in Big Sur
  2. Permits for Big Sur elopements
  3. Weather and Best Time of the Year to elope in Big Sur
  4. Where to Stay in Big Sur
  5. How to Elope in Big Sur Legally
  6. Planning Tips for your Big Sur Elopement
  7. Activities and Things to do in Big Sur
  8. Big Sur Elopement Timeline
  9. How much does it Cost to Elope in Big Sur?
  10. Big Sur Elopement Packages

Where to Elope in Big Sur

Big Sur boasts a beautiful coastline as well as fairytale-like redwoods. When considering where to elope in Big Sur, 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, or get ready and have a first look at a cabin in the redwood forest and have the ceremony on the coastal bluffs. When eloping in Big Sur, your options are endless!

Things to Consider when choosing your Big Sur Elopement Location

Do you want to elope on public or private land? How many guests do you want to have at your elopement? Do you want to have a reception? Do you want to bring your dogs? Do you have kids that will be staying with you? What other kinds of activities do you want to include in your elopement? All of these questions are important to ask yourself before you decide on a location, since each location has it’s own pros and cons for each of these scenarios. Let’s get into it!

Graphic comparing Venues and State Parks as Big Sur elopement locations

Public vs. Private Land in Big Sur

You have 2 options for your ceremony when you elope in Big Sur: State parks or venues. Big Sur 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 redwoods. Keep in mind that while venues may be the pricier option, they also offer more privacy compared to a state park.

Bride and groom kissing as wave splashes behind them at Big Sur elopement in Garrapata State Park

Best Big Sur Elopement Locations: State Parks & Public Land

Elope on the Big Sur Coast: Garrapata State Park

Check out photos from TJ & Gabby’s Garrapata State Park Big Sur Elopement at Sunrise

Garrapata State Park is a stunning location for an elopement in Big Sur. If you want to say your vows on the coastal bluffs in Big Sur, this is your spot! There are many gorgeous spots right off of the highway with easy, short trails all within a few miles of each other. One of my favorites is Garrapata Bluffs Trail. Inside the park you will also find Sobranes Point and Garrapata Beach. Sobranes Point is well known for it’s wildflowers and ocean views from the bluffs! Garrapata Beach is a large stretch of sand with large rocks across the beach and a beautiful backdrop of bluffs. Throughout the park there are viewpoints along highway 1 and trails on the bluffs that allow you to access those iconic Big Sur views of dramatic cliffs and rocks in the ocean with waves crashing everywhere. Garrapata State Park is also a short drive from Carmel and Monterey, which offer lots of accommodation options and great restaurants.

How to Elope in Garrapata State Park

Special Event Permits are required for eloping in Garrapata State Park. These permits are $400 for 1 hour with up to 25 guests. Permit applications must be submitted at least 60 days before your elopement date, or they will charge extra fees for fast processing. Applications submitted within 21 days of your elopement date aren’t considered by the park. If you’re not going to have your ceremony here but want couples photos in the park, then the permit is $100. When it comes to the logistics of applying, I take care of all of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it!

Elope in the Redwoods in Big Sur: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & Limekiln State Park

When eloping at a state park in the redwoods in Big Sur, they require you to map out exactly where you’ll be going, where you’ll be taking photos and where you’re having the ceremony. The trails are pretty narrow throughout the parks and you are required to stay on the trails. This can be tricky especially when the parks are busy, so it’s much more doable outside of peak season. If you’re able to hike in and find a spot you love for a ceremony ahead of time, that’s ideal! Otherwise, a venue in the redwoods would be the way to go if you want to say your vows in the trees. The venues offer more privacy, and more space!

How to Elope in the Redwoods in Big Sur

Permits for eloping in Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns state parks are $425 for up to 10 people including vendors. Elopement permits can be applied for up to 6 months in advance of your elopement date. The parks only issue permits for elopements on weekdays unless you’re eloping at a campsite, or don’t have a photographer. If you’re having a wedding larger than 10 people, you can apply for a “Special event permit” up to 1 year in advance of your wedding date. For both elopement and special event permits, applications must be received no later than 21 days before your date or they won’t be considered. Send in your application more than 45 days in advance to avoid rush fees!

Note: Limekiln State Park is currently closed due to landslides. The current estimate to re-open is late spring 2024. (Updated January 2024)

Big Sur elopement location example at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Photo of McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Elope at the Beach in Big Sur: Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is the well-known beach with the iconic key-hole rock! Luckily, permits are not required to elope here! However there are a few obstacles that can come up. Firstly, it is insanely windy. I mean no joke sand blowing into your face hair everywhere constantly. There is the occasional day it’s not windy at Pfeiffer beach, but you never know until you get there and they don’t refund your entry fee if it’s too windy. If the parking lot is full, they will not let you enter until other cars leave. The road can also become flooded during rainy season which makes the beach inaccessible. Unfortunately there is no other place to park and walk in, so if you choose to elope here it is important to have a backup plan! If you love this spot, I recommend having your ceremony elsewhere and then coming here for portraits. That way if it doesn’t work out, we can go take photos at different locations without changing your ceremony plans!

Big Sur elopement location example at Pfeiffer Beach

Big Sur Elopement Locations: Private Land & Venues

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Check out photos from N + B’s Glen Oaks Big Sur Elopement

Glen Oaks is a cottage and cabin-style resort with a redwood grove on the property. It’s the perfect place for a romantic getaway including your elopement ceremony in the redwoods. The front office staff are so sweet, and will give you a cute map of the property and tell you how to get to the grove and the river to explore and choose your elopement location. I love this location because eloping here allows you to have a more private experience in the redwoods since the grove is closed to anyone not staying at the resort or a guest for your ceremony.

How to elope at Glen Oaks Big Sur

Glen Oaks allows you to have your ceremony in the redwood grove on their property for no extra fee if you are staying at their resort. This is only for elopements with no guests, so the max for this option is 4 people: Both of you, your photographer and officiant. If you have guests, there is a fee to use the redwood grove for your ceremony.

View Glen Oaks website

Glen Oaks Big Sur Elopement Example Image

Ventana Big Sur

Ventana Big Sur is an iconic and stunning resort in Big Sur. It has both ocean views and it’s own private redwood grove you can explore, or elope in! They offer both elopement and wedding all-inclusive packages, or you can bring in your own vendors. Check out the different wedding and elopement locations Ventana has to offer!

Ventana Big Sur elopement location
Image provided by Ventana Big Sur

Loma Vista Gardens

Loma Vista Gardens is a great option if you want something a little different than what the rest of Big Sur has to offer. This beautiful garden venue can be booked for elopements up to 12 guests or intimate weddings up to 25 guests Monday – Thursday.

View Loma Vista Gardens website

Loma Vista gardens elopement location in Big Sur

Henry Miller Library

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is one of my favorite places to spend time in Big Sur. Even if you don’t elope here, you should definitely check out the eclectic art and awesome books they have at the library. Behind the library is a stunning redwood grove that is available for elopements! If you’re a book lover and a redwoods fan, I can’t think of a better place to get married!

The library also hosts large weddings on the property from April to October. They usually book out a year in advance for larger weddings, while elopements can usually be booked within a year.

Learn more about elopements and weddings at Henry Miller Library

Permits for Eloping in Big Sur State Parks

Most state parks in Big Sur require a permit to elope. It’s important that you apply for a permit as soon as you decide your location and ideal date, since the Big Sur State Parks system only allows for one elopement or wedding each day across all of the parks combined. Elopement permits are for elopements only, and must meet elopement requirements that I list below. Weddings require special event permits.

To Qualify for an Elopement Permit:

  • To qualify for an elopement permit:
    • 10 or fewer people present, including vendors
      • Garrapata State park allows for more guests
    • Must not block trails for public use
    • Must not require seating
    • No music
    • No decorations or props other than bouquet
    • Elopement must occur during regular use hours (sunrise-sunset) Monday-thursday only
    • Must not serve food or drink to guests
    • Must not have vendors present except for officiant, planner, and one photographer

How to Apply for a Big Sur Elopement Permit

  • Can apply up to 6 months in advance for your Big Sur elopement permit; 1 year in advance for Garrapata State Park elopements
  • Applications submitted within 45 days of the elopement are subject to more fees and restrictions
  • Applications submitted within 21 days of the elopement will not be considered

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

As your photographer, I am happy to help you apply for elopement permits!

Big Sur elopement photo of bride and groom standing together on beach looking out at the ocean

Weather and Best Time of Year to Elope in Big Sur

Big Sur is a truly stunning part of the California coast and a beautiful location to choose for your elopement. Big Sur has a pretty reasonable climate throughout the year. That being said the prime months for a Big Sur elopement are April-November, since there is the least rain and fog during these months.

Big Sur can have unpredictable weather since it’s on the coast, 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 whimsical Big Sur coast charm – just bring layers! Spring is beautiful for coastal Big Sur 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 would not 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! This is a big part of why its beneficial to hire a local Big Sur elopement photographer, so I can help you with backup plans if such an event does occur.

Days of the Week to Elope in Big Sur

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. 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.

From May – September, the Big Sur state parks only issue elopement permits for Monday-Thursday. 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 eloping 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. If you want photos outside of your ceremony at a state park, your photographer will still need a film permit which during peak season is also only allowed Monday – Thursday. It will also be much easier to secure your top picks for vendors who are usually booked far in advance on weekends. If you are unsure about your date, you can always ask me! I can help you find the most ideal day for your Big Sur elopement based on what you’re envisioning for your day, and will help you with the permit application process as well.

Where to Stay in Big Sur

The town of Big Sur doesn’t have a ton of options for lodging, and it can be pricier so many couples opt to stay in nearby towns like Carmel, Monterey or Pacific Grove. However there are some amazing places to stay in Big Sur as well! The redwoods venues I listed earlier have accommodations such as Glen Oaks and Ventana. Glen Oaks is a great cabin-style stay and is more budget friendly. Ventana is a luxury 5-star resort and is pricier but lives up to what they offer. You can also glamp at Ventana for a luxury camping experience! Here are a few other Big Sur lodging ideas:

Post Ranch Inn

If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Big Sur with incredible views from your room, Post Ranch Inn is a great choice. It is a 5-star hotel with dining and spa services. You can even get a private pool right in your room!

Big Sur Lodge

The Big Sur Lodge is a cozy cabin in the woods that’s a great spot to spend a few days for your elopement.

Big Sur River Inn

This 3-star hotel is a great place to crash if you’re looking for something more budget friendly than most options in Big Sur.

Fernwood Resort

Fernwood offers tent-cabins and adventure cabins if you’re looking for a camping vibe but don’t want to sleep in a tent on the ground.

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground

The most popular and largest campground in Big Sur. This is a great option if you want to camp in the woods.

If the largest campground is not your vibe, there are so many other campgrounds in Big Sur to choose from. Here is a list of most of the campgrounds along the coast.

To get legally married in California you must have a marriage license. There are two types of marriage licenses – public or confidential. Most couples opt for the public marriage license. 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

Things to keep in mind for your Big Sur Elopement

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! It is also stated on the permits that it’s not allowed in the parks.

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 on your elopement day.

Bring layers.

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. Whatever you choose to do, the temperature in Big Sur can be sneaky once the wind picks up or the sun goes down, so bring layers! It’s a good idea to bring layers for walking around but also have one that you like that goes well with your outfit and you don’t mind having in photos, just in case! The last thing you want on your elopement day is to be cold and feel miserable because of it.

Bring comfy Shoes.

Shoes that are comfortable to hike in or walk around steep trails with are a must! You can always bring them along with you for walking and change into other shoes for your ceremony and photos if you wish. The terrain on the trails can be uneven, and some of the photo spots people love are at the end of steep little trails that won’t be doable in heels. So wear supportive shoes and bring your heels, flats, or booties to switch out for those photos!

Bride and groom walking down trail at their Big Sur elopement in the redwoods

More Ways to Make your Big Sur 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, reading letters from loved ones, having a first dance, enjoy a catered picnic, or go to a special restaurant at the end of the day for a romantic dinner as newlyweds! You can plan activities earlier or later in the day, and explore the beautiful, romantic coast of Big Sur together.

Activities & Things to do in Big Sur

Whether you want to spend a day or a few days in Big Sur, there are so many fun, romantic things you can include in your time there. Here are a few ideas:

Things to do in Big Sur

  • Explore and take photos at Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach – some of the most iconic Big Sur spots!
  • Drive down the beautiful coastline on Highway 1 and enjoy the view. Stop at pull offs during your drive to soak it in!
  • Enjoy a romantic dinner at The Sur House, or Nepenthe.
  • Enjoy a private dinner at the Glass House.
  • Check out the Henry Miller Library for rare books and eclectic art.
  • Eat delicious pastries at the Big Sur Bakery
  • Glamp at Ventana Big Sur for a luxury glamping experience.
  • Hike on a coastal or redwood trail.
  • Camp at a Big Sur campground!

Things to do near Big Sur

  • Kayak in Moss Landing – if you’re lucky you’ll get up close with the otters!
  • Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Do the 17-mile-drive in Pacific Grove
  • Spend an afternoon in Carmel-by-the-sea
  • Walk down Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey
  • Head to Santa Cruz and ride rollercoasters at the Boardwalk

Big Sur Elopement Timeline

Your elopement timeline can be whatever you want it to be! This day is all about you, and your elopement deserves to be celebrated just as much as a large wedding. 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!

As a Big Sur elopement photographer, I can help you plan out your day from start to finish to make sure it’s not rushed, you get to experience everything the way you want to, and of course make sure you get the best lighting for your photos! A couple of things to consider when planning your Big Sur elopement timeline are how many people and activities you want to include in your day.

I highly recommend planning at least a half or full day elopement. There is so much to explore in Big Sur, and trust me you’ll want to take your time to see it! There are tons of pull offs on the side of the highway with stunning views of the coast you might want to stop and check out including Bixby Bridge, China View Point, and so so many more! I recommend giving yourself time to stop for photos at these locations. Big Sur covers a large area, if you’re having your ceremony in the Redwoods followed by adventures on the coast you’ll need to give yourself up to an hour to drive between the two.

Your Big Sur elopement day could look like this…

You wake up with your spouse-to-be, make coffee and enjoy a slow morning together. Maybe you get some fresh pastries at the Big Sur Bakery or have a nice lunch at the Sur House. Then you head back to your cabin to start your elopement activities…

12:30-2 Getting ready in a rustic cabin in the woods

2-2:30 First look in the redwoods

2:30-3 Ceremony in the redwoods

3-5 Adventure to the coast including pull off stops for views and photos

5-6 Picnic on the beach with your new spouse

6-7 Enjoy the sunset from the coastal bluffs & couples photos

Bride and groom hugging holding lanterns standing on coastal bluffs at their elopement in Big Sur

How Much Does it Cost to Elope in Big Sur?

Your elopement budget is going to be unique to you based on what you want to do on your elopement day. Your budget will change based on how far you’re traveling, how long you’re staying, the amount of paid activities you want to do, the type of meals you want to eat, your ceremony location or venue, your lodging preferences, and of course your vendors. I know that’s a lot, for a more comprehensive breakdown of elopement costs you can check out my blog all about this topic full of tips and tricks for budgeting your elopement.

Big Sur Elopement Packages

Elopement photography is a great investment for your day, and one of the most important decisions you’ll make. You want to make sure you truly love your photographer for not only their work but also who they are and what they value. If you value personal connection, pick a photographer that does too.

I don’t want you to be stressed about how much you’re paying for your day, rather just enjoy your best day ever! That’s why I offer pricing plans if you prefer to make payments instead of pay all at once. My base Big Sur elopement package includes 4 hours of elopement photography, unlimited planning assistance, sneak peek images within 48 hours so you can share your news, and a beautiful online gallery of over 200 photos. I also have options for album add-ons. Since every elopement is unique, talk to me about your day and I’ll give you a custom quote!

Learn more about my elopement packages.

Let’s make it happen!

Even if you have just decided to elope in Big Sur 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 buddy and timeline guide. I’ll help you choose vendors, build a timeline that includes everything you want and be your moral support in planning.

I will document every part of your elopement day while respecting your space during non-designated photo times to make sure that the two of you are getting to enjoy each other and the 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-photographer following you around with my camera, capturing your memories to cherish forever.

Ready to craft your dream Big Sur elopement day together? Let’s do it!


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