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How to Elope in Big Sur (The ultimate Big Sur Elopement Guide 2023)

big sur elopement ceremony in the redwoods

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)! 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. Where to Elope in Big Sur
  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 Big Sur
  5. Planning Tips for your Big Sur elopement
  6. Activities and things to do in Big Sur
  7. Big Sur Elopement Timeline
  8. 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, you can have it all!

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. Another key thing that may help you decide is whether or not 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. Another deciding factor is what day of the week you want to elope, which we’ll get into later.

Graphic comparing Venues and State Parks as Big Sur elopement locations

Big Sur Elopement Locations: Private Land & Venues

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
Ventana Big Sur elopement location
Image provided by Ventana Big Sur

Loma Vista Gardens

Loma Vista gardens elopement location in Big Sur

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
Glen Oaks Big Sur elopement location

Best Big Sur Elopement Locations: State Parks & Public Land

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!
Elope in Garrapata State Park Big Sur

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
Big Sur elopement location example in Pfeiffer Big Sur state park

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)
Big Sur elopement location example at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Andrew Molera State Park

  • Known for it’s beach
  • Easy 1 mile hike to beach
  • Permit required for elopements
Example elopement location in Big Sur Andrew Molera State Park

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
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur elopement location in Big Sur

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 each day across all of the parks combined. As your Big Sur elopement photographer, I am happy to help you apply for permits!

Information for 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
  • 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 qualify for an elopement permit:
    • 10 or fewer people present, including vendors
      • Garrapata State park allows for more
    • 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

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

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 – 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. 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 Monday-Thursday are the best days 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 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. 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 me, your Big Sur elopement photographer! I can help you find the most ideal day for your Big Sur elopement and help you with the permit application process as well.

Big Sur elopement announcement photo of bride and groom holding sign that says we eloped

How to Elope in Big Sur Legally

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

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 on your elopement day.

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! You can always bring them along with you for walking and change into other shoes for your ceremony and photos if you wish!

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!

Big Sur elopement photo of bride and groom standing in the woods under a ray of light shining down through the trees

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, 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! 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:

  • Explore and take photos at Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach
  • Drive down the beautiful coastline on Highway 1
  • Enjoy a romantic dinner at The Sur House
  • Check out the Henry Miller Library for rare books, art, and history of the area.
  • Eat delicious pastries at the Big Sur Bakery

Timeline Ideas for Big Sur Elopements

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!

Timelines can be whatever you want them to, and it’s always a good idea to consult your photographer. As your 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 you want include and how much adventure you want to include in your day.

I highly recommend planning a half or full day elopement. You may be thinking what on earth will we do for a whole day? Or maybe thinking that’s too long for a photoshoot. Don’t worry, hiring an elopement photographer for your whole day won’t turn it into one long photoshoot. Aside from specific photo times, I won’t be posing you or making you feel like you’re in a photo session. I will take candid images that capture your memories and tell the story of your day. Having a full or half day elopement allows you to enjoy a full elopement experience. After all, you’re only eloping once! You should get to relax and enjoy your day to the fullest extent. Explore the beautiful area around you, add some activities into your day, or just relax and enjoy the small intimate moments of your elopement day. You’ll be glad you have photos of all of these things to look back on forever.

Your Big Sur elopement 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 elopement photographer, I will be here for it all and make sure to capture all of the special moments of your day. Including those imperfect, in between moments that make the best memories. Curious what it’s like to have me as your elopement photographer? Learn about the elopement experience here.

Big Sur elopement photo of bride and groom in a forest facing each other

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 Big Sur elopement packages start at $1,875 for weekdays. This includes 4 hours of elopement photography, sneak peek images within 72 hours so you can share your news, a beautiful online gallery of over 200 photos, and a USB with your gallery mailed to you. Since every elopement is unique, talk to me about your day and I’ll give you a custom quote!

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 also be your moral support in planning.

I will take photos throughout your whole elopement 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 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 third-wheel following you around with my camera, which I promise is not as weird as it sounds!

It means the world to me that you trust me to photograph and be there with you on your special day, and I want the two of you to have the best experience ever. I want you to explore the cliffs at sunset, get lost in conversation over a picnic, and ultimately forget that I am there. But don’t worry, I’ll be taking sneaky cute photos of you to capture the story of your Big Sur elopement all day!

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


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