How to Elope in California

The Ultimate Guide for Eloping in California in 2023

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Well first of all congrats!! I am a huge fan of eloping (obviously) and cannot be more excited for you! Or maybe you’re considering eloping, and haven’t decided yet. That’s okay too, hopefully this article helps you to decide if it’s the right decision for you or not. And if it is, I am here to help you turn your elopement vision into a reality!

Whatever stage you’re in, if you've been wondering how to elope in California, this is the guide for you! I was born and raised in California, and have adventured all over the state. I photograph most of my elopements in California, and can't wait to help you plan yours!

So you're wondering how to elope in California... you've come to the right place!

How to Elope in California in 2023

Table of Contents

What is Eloping?

Eloping is not just "running away to get married" 

Eloping is getting married in an intentional, intimate way that is unique to you. Whether that means climbing a mountain just the two of you and saying your vows on the peak or having an intimate celebration in the woods by a lake with your closest family and friends, eloping can be whatever you want it to be. 

If you've been thinking about ways to make your wedding feel more like you or focus more on your relationship, eloping might be for you! 

Let's ditch the conventional, and celebrate your relationship in a way that is true to you, what do ya say?!

Whether you're ready to elope and dive right into planning or just musing the idea, continue reading this guide for the best tips for how to elope in California in 2023!

This is that fun daydreamy part where you get to imagine your best day ever. Grab some drinks and snacks, have a fun date with your partner dreaming up your amazing elopement in California. This should be fun, you by no means need to be locking in your location and dates right now, but this is a nice way to get inspired and excited about what’s ahead! Here are some questions to help you brainstorm your California elopement:

1. Get Inspired!

If you’re into vision boards, this would be the perfect time to start one for your California  elopement vision! I recommend you download the Pinterest Save Button Chrome Extension that allows you to pin anything you find online to your board and makes it so much easier.

  • What makes you feel most alive?

  • What location excites your soul?

  • What is something your partner and you have always wanted to do together?

  • If you had an unlimited budget, what would your ideal elopement look like?

  • Where have you always wanted to travel?

  • Do you want to hike on your elopement day?

  • Do you want to camp on your elopement day?

  • Would you prefer to climb mountains and go on helicopter rides, or relax at a luxury spa and spend the day by the ocean? (Or both?!)

  • Do you picture your best friends and family at your side? Or just the 2 of you? Maybe you bring your dogs?

2. Estimate Your Budget

If you're wondering how to elope in California, you're probabaly also wondering how much it will cost to elope in California. A lot of people tend to think of a number in their head and label it as their budget without knowing how realistic it may or may not be. My best advice for budgeting is to choose the top things that mean the most to you, find out how much they might cost, and go from there. I go into more detail about how to go about this  in another guide linked here. Remember to be flexible with this, and allow yourself some wiggle room. 

One of the many great things about eloping is that you get to choose everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. So you can make your day as extravagant or as simple as you like. 

Elopements can cost around $10-15,000. Keep in mind - this may sound like a big number upon first thought but the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $28,000. The biggest expense for a wedding is usually the venue which can be around $10,000. Another great thing about elopements is you are avoiding this! There are a few venues you can choose to elope at, but most elopements happen in state parks or public land. This means you are only paying for a permit for the location which is usually $50-200 (not $10,000... *breathes sigh of relief).

Check out my guide How Much Does it Cost to Elope in California for more details and tips about budgeting for your elopement! I break down the details of what you're spending money on and go in depth about how much things can cost, and how to choose where you want to spend more vs. less.

3. Choose your Location

This is my FAVORITE part of the elopement planning process. It is so fun to brainstorm ideas for locations and it sets up the base for everything else you want to do or include in your day.

When considering where to elope in California, ask yourself these questions: What location makes you feel the most excited? Do you want to go somewhere new? Or maybe a place that is special to you and your partner? 

Choose your location before your date. Why? There may only be certain seasons or months where your dream location is accessible or has the weather you want.

Have no idea where you want to elope? Here are some questions to help you brainstorm:

  • Do you prefer mountains, desert, forests, or beaches?

  • Do you want to go somewhere youve been before, or somewhere new?

  • Are there any places that are special to the two of you?

  • Do you want to hike in somewhere or have easy access to your location?

  • Do you want a secluded or popular area?

If you still aren't sure on your preferred location, ask your photographer! As an adventure elopement photographer, I am an expert in this field and will create a personalized location list for you and help you choose the best location for your special day. If you are looking at California, you can also check out my guide Where to Elope in California for more inspo!

4. Choose your Adventure

If you've been searching the internet and maybe reading other blogs about how to elope in California,  this is probably a different one than what you've been reading. But I put this in here for a reason! 

I think determining ahead of time how much you want to adventure on your elopement day is important and a good jumping off point in planning just like location. 

Determining how adventurous your day is helps determine other things  like timelines, if and how many family members and friends to include in your day,  outfits, and other activities surrounding your day.

Do you want to take a helicopter to a glacier in Alaska and then glacier trek to a spot to say your vows?

Do you want to wake up at a luxury resort and get a message and make your promises to each other on a sea cliff at sunset?

Whatever type of adventure suits you is what we will plan off of because this day is yours and you get to do whatever you want!

5. Decide Number of Guests

Do you want to elope just the two of you? Maybe one or two friends? With your parents? Or maybe just your dog? 

Keep in mind who you want to include in your day, and how accessible your location is for family and friends to join you or not. If you include 10-15+ people I would recommend considering a wedding planner/coordinator as well. 

There are lots of great ways to include guests in your elopement without having them present as well. You can have them write letters for you to read, or Facetime them before or after your ceremony. Having a small get together or big party when you return home is a great way to include and celebrate with everybody while still having the intimate ceremony and elopement just for yourselves. 

6. Pick a Date

Do you imagine a winter wonderland day with snow on the ground during your elopement? Maybe a warm day with the sun beaming down, or some foggy Pacific Northwest mood? Once you have your location, it will probably narrow down the months or seasons in which you choose your date. 

Unsure? Another great time to consult your photographer! I know the best times of year to elope in most locations and am more than happy to help you decide. 

Is privacy important to you? Especially if you have chosen a popular location, I would recommend choosing off season or a weekday! Weekdays are a great time to elope to avoid crowds, there's also a higher chance your preferred vendors are available for your date.

7. Find your Photographer

This can actually be the first or second step in your process of eloping since elopement photographers are experts in how to elope and we can help you with the other steps! But if you haven’t yet then do it here! 

You should book a photographer who specializes in elopements, not just any photographer. Elopement photographers have a lot of knowledge about how to elope and can help you with all of the above steps. A wedding photographer will have the skills to photograph your day, but not the knowledge of planning an elopement regarding locations, weather, times, permits, and leave no trace principles for adventurous outdoor elopements. That's why I highly recommend specifically finding a California elopement photographer if you're eloping in California. I love to help my couples craft their dream elopement and make their visions a reality!

Things to look for in your elopement photographer:

  • Someone who's energy and values resonate with you. This is a big one! You will be spending a LOT of time chatting with your elopement photographer when it comes to how to elope, where to elope, and timelines. Not to mention they are also going to be the person you spend most of your elopement day with, and your adventure buddy too!  Which brings me to my next point...
  • If you are planning to go on an adventure such as a big hike or something else outdoors, make sure you pick a photographer that is excited about that! If it rains and gets cold on your hike you want to be with somebody who will be a good sport about it and continue to make sure you have the best day ever.
  • Their photos make you feel something. This is important because you want to feel confident that you're getting the photos that will make you feel the emotions you felt on your elopement day when you are looking back at them in years to come.
  • Find a photographer who is passionate about what they do. You want to be sure that your photographer is as excited about your wedding as you are, and knows that this is one of the most important days of life. 

8. Book the Rest of your Vendors

Other vendors include your florist, hair and makeup artists, officiant, planner, etc. Once you know your location and date, reach out to vendors as soon as possible. They book up fast! 

Choosing local vendors is always a good idea, as they are familiar with the area and weather etc.

Eloping on a weekday is a good way to secure your ideal vendors who may be booked out on weekends for up to a year.

You can ask your photographer for vendor recommendations too!

9. Travel & Lodging

Now’s the time to decide where you want to stay and what you want to do while you’re there.

Book your flights, plan your road trip, whatever you want to do for transportation. Don’t forget to get a rental car if you fly in!

Book your hotel or airbnb. Or If you’ve decided to camp, make sure to reserve your campsites if possible so you aren’t scrambling to find one upon arrival.

10. Book your Activities!

Okay this is the super fun part, deciding what you want your day to be like!

Here is a list of example activities you could do on your elopement day:

Soak in hot springs or hot tubs

Go on a helicopter tour

Swim under a waterfall or in local swimming holes

Go zip-lining through a forest

Have a picnic on a mountain with an epic view

Have a bonfire and roast s’mores together

Check out tourist spots in a city

11. Outfits & Details

When choosing attire, make sure to consider the time and location of your elopement. Will it be cold or hot? Could it rain? In my guide Where to Elope in California I talk about the seasons in the state. You can always ask me about the weather in your specific location as well! 

If you are planning on walking or hiking to your location consider hiking boots or something comfortable and safe for your feet. If you really want heels in some photos, you can always bring them along. As your photographer I am always happy to help carry a couple of things with me as well to help you out!

There are no rules for what you can or can't wear! It’s your elopement, and you can do whatever you want. 

Purchase other details such as shoes, rings, stationary, blankets, and any other details you'd like. These things can all be photographed as part of the storytelling of your day as well. 

13. We Eloped! Announcements

Woo! You eloped!! Now wondering how to share your exciting news with family and friends?

Here are a few ideas to announce your elopement:

  • Social media post - as your photographer I provide sneak peak images within 72 hours so that you can post them and announce your exciting news!!

  • Send out “we eloped” cards

  • Have a party with family and friends

Are you Ready to Book your Dream Elopement?

let's do it!

Now that you know How to Elope...

Check out my other elopement resources for more guidance eloping!

What Day of the Week Should you Elope? (Yes, this Matters!)

Best Places to Elope in California

How Much does it Cost to Elope in California?

What day of the week you should elope depends on your location preference, your budget, and much more. Read this blog to pick a date for your dream elopement!

Decided on a California elopement but not sure which location to choose? This post is for you! The best locations to elope in California from the perspective of a California elopement photographer.

Budgeting can feel overwhelming, this guide will help navigate budgeting for your California elopement as well as tips for being cost-effective.