Post summary: Welcome to my complete guide to the 25 best places to elope in California in 2022! Below, you’ll find all the most important you need to know about eloping in California, including seasons + weather, marriage laws, & special permits, along with the ultimate list of amazing locations to choose from. Now let’s get to California dreamin’!
Why elope in California?
Where do I even begin?! California is an UNBEATABLE elopement destination for sooo many reasons. The vast array of opportunities means that any + every couple will be able to find a location they love, with activities they love. Whether you’re into outdoor activities such as backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, or surfing, or you’d rather spend your elopement day at beautiful wineries, experiencing the nightlife downtown, or exploring a little coastal town, California has it ALL.
I highly recommend spending at least a week in California for your elopement, if you can, so that you can travel around the state a bit and experience the different areas, different landscapes, and different opportunities that it has to offer!
How to travel in California
There are lotsss of ways to travel around California since it’s such a massive state with so many incredible regions! You can fly into a major airport & stay somewhere nearby, fly into a major OR smaller airport and rent a car + drive to your destination, take a tram around the city, book Ubers/taxis, or take public transportation like buses or trains.
Major cities in California:
Major airports in California:
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT)
Closest major airports to California National Parks:
- Yosemite National Park: FAT
- Death Valley National Park: FAT
- Joshua Tree National Park: LAX
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks: FAT
- Channel Islands National Park: LAX
- Lassen Volcanic National Park: RNO
- Pinnacles National Park: OAK
Best time to visit California
The best time to visit California definitely varies by location & what type of atmosphere you’re going for with your elopement. But if you’re dreaming up a warm, sunny California elopement with plenty of sunshine, warm evenings, and generally good temperatures for hiking, I’d elope sometime between June & August!
If you’re okay with milder temperatures (again, depending on the location) and would rather elope during wildflower season, or be surrounded by gorgeous fall colors, opt for April-May or September-October, accordingly.
Make sure you keep in mind the humidity levels throughout different parts of the state, as well as the potential for wildfires in drier areas & hotter times of the year! Wildfires can cause a lot of road, trail, & park closures, along with smoky air that could get unhealthy to breathe in if the forest are too bad.
If you’re eloping in the mountains in the spring or fall, you’ll also want to monitor the conditions of roads & trails at higher elevations to watch for potential closures caused by weather.
Top 25 best places to elope in California
Yosemite is definitely one of the top elopement locations in the entire country – and for good reason!! Whether you want to bask in the glorious sunsets of El Capitan & Half Dome, explore the lower meadows with epic cliffs in the background, or witness the beauty of Yosemite Falls, this national park is absolutely UNBEATABLE. It’s also hard to get permits for, so do thorough research & plan as far in advance as possible!
2. Big Sur
Big Sur is a freaking spectacular section of the central California coast that boasts rugged coastline, blue ocean views, redwood forests, & beautiful mountain landscapes. It’s one of the BEST parts of California if you want to elope in front of the ocean and be able to just pull off the side of the road & have easy access to epic views, but also have the opportunity to go further inland and explore the forests!
A couple of my favorite spots along the coast include:
Joshua Tree is another one of Cali’s amazing national parks, but instead of coastline & blue ocean waters, it offers an incredible desert landscape! It’s seriously the dream destination for a desert elopement, with super rugged rock formations, Joshua trees (who could’ve guessed that one?!), and tons of wide-open land to explore. Plus, the JT area has some of the coooolest Airbnb’s around that have insane decor, hot tubs, & allll the cozy + modern desert vibes.
Death Valley is super underrated, in my opinion! It’s another absolutely epic national park in Cali and is THE place to go if you want to experience insane landscapes and are okay with extreme weather. The heat in the summer is pretty nuts, so I highly recommend eloping here in the spring or fall – if & when it rains in Death Valley, spring brings super beautiful wildflowers to the area! But really, all you’ll need is the incredible desert peaks, unreal sunsets, and painted hills to make your elopement feel out of this world.
Mammoth Lakes is a ski resort town that sits in the Sierra Nevada mountains, known obviously for its amazing ski areas, the unique basalt formation of Devils Postpile National Monument, and the beautiful nearby lakes. The mountain peak views in Mammoth Lakes are truly unbeatable, and it’s only about a 2-hour drive from Yosemite!
6. Lake Tahoe
You’re probably familiar with Lake Tahoe, a gorgeous lake in the Sierra Nevadas that brings tons of tourists looking for some of the absolute best opportunities to ski, hike, swim, & more. It’s truly one of the top destinations for adventure-lovin’ couples who want to incorporate their favorite outdoor activities into their elopement!
7. San Francisco / Bay Area
San Francisco is obviously one of California’s major cities, located in the north part of the state & boasting both great big-city vibes AND tons of opportunities for outdoor adventures. Whether you want to elope on one of SF’s beaches with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, or you want to visit Alcatraz + explore the city after eloping somewhere nearby, the possibilities are endless.
The Redwood National & State Parks are the obvious choice for couples dreaming of eloping in one of the most incredible forest locations in the country! Just picture saying your vows under some of the tallest trees on Earth, surrounded by lush greenery, insane old growth, and hiking + biking + horseback riding trails galore. Visiting the Redwoods is a must-do when you take a trip to Cali!
The Alabama Hills are a formation of hills & rocks at the base of the Sierra Nevadas that provide a super stunning, unique desert AND mountainous landscape. Rock climbers will looove the Alabama Hills, and if you manage to visit in the spring, you may be gifted with some stunning wildflowers leading up to the hills!
10. Mount Shasta
Located in northern Cali, Mount Shasta is a city that offers really stunning views of the ice-topped volcano it’s named after, and is an increasingly popular destination for hiking, river rafting, mountain biking, caving, rock climbing, & more! You seriously cannot pass up a hike in this area because you’ll get gorgeous views of Mount Shasta and so many more amazing tree-covered hills.
11. Palm Springs
Palm Springs has a TON to offer to eloping couples, from luxurious resorts to off-road adventures to day trips to Joshua Tree! It’s the perfect place to stay if you want to find a cozy Airbnb or splurge on a nice hotel with a spa to pamper you, then head off for some outdoor adventures afterward.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon is another absolutely insane national park, filled with giant (& ancient) Sequoia trees, deep canyons, rugged mountain peaks, and gorgeous valley views. You will NOT want to miss out on the chance to explore the vast outdoor opportunities this park has to offer, whether you want to go on an epic hiking adventure, take a short walk to a viewpoint, or ride horses through the forest!
The Imperial Sand Dunes (known often as the Glamis Sand Dunes) are located in the southeastern part of Cali, & make up the largest mass of sand dunes in the whole state. The wilderness area is absolutely unreal, and you can visit either the main dunes or the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness area, which is usually a bit less crowded.
Pinnacles National Park is one you may not have heard of! It’s located near Salinas Valley and offers incredible mountain views, jagged rock formations, & endless opportunities for cave exploration + rock climbing. Definitely one of the most underrated spots in the state!
15. Lost Coast
The Lost Coast is a region in the Humboldt area of California that you can take a scenic drive through to view the gorgeous coastline, hills, & rock formations. There are plenty of hikes you can take along the coast, or you can simply drive along the highway to get those beautiful views!
16. Catalina Island
Catalina Island is an island in southern California with white sand beaches, super blue waters, and palm trees galore. It’s a seriously dreamyyyy island retreat and has plenty of delicious seafood, beer, & wine to offer, along with tons of yummy restaurants! The beaches on Catalina Island are pretty hard to beat and are the perf place to get some R&R during your elopement trip.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is another one a lot of people don’t know about when it comes to NP’s in Cali! The park has sooo much to offer to outdoor-lovers looking for a lesser-known spot to visit, including wildflower meadows, clear mountain lakes, and multiple volcanoes with jagged peaks that make for a super cool backdrop. There are also plenty of campgrounds if you want to explore the park & sleep under the stars!
The Point Reyes National Seashore is a natural sanctuary protected by the NPS, and is yet another awesome destination for couples looking to spend some quality time outdoors. It’s easy to get to from San Francisco and is a great spot to stop along the peninsula if you’re taking a road trip along the California coast! You can stay in a boutique hotel or cabin in the woods, explore the ocean cliffs, and dine out at one of the many local eateries.
Red Rock Canyon State Park brings some Sedona vibes to the southern tip of the Sierra Nevadas with its dramatic red rock canyons & opportunities for desert exploration. It’s an incredible place for couples who love camping, as the campground sits against the base of the desert cliffs, and you’ve got miles and miles of trails to explore. Plus, the wildflowers in the spring are absolutely amazing across this desert landscape!
The Klamath National Forest actually spans across not only northern California, but also slightly southern Oregon, so it’s an awesome destination to visit if you’re eloping in southern Oregon & want to take a trip further south! Or vice versa - maybe you want to elope in northern Cali & then head to the Oregon Coast for the next part of your trip. The forest offers old-growth redwoods, awesome opportunities for fishing, and seriously amazing trails to explore!
21. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz sits on the central California coast and is famous for its surf culture, gorgeous climate, and amazing coastal views. It also has a ton of yummy places to eat, local shops to explore, and areas to walk around on a sunny day!
The Inyo National Forest extends along the California & Nevada border, and is filled with tall mountains, old-growth trees, and absolutely amazing views of its diverse landscape. There are many ways to enjoy this forest: couples looking for challenging hikes & backpacking opportunities will LOVE visiting, but so will couples looking for slower, more peaceful walks & hikes.
El Matador State Beach is part of the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach and boasts really pretty sea stacks, great surfing opportunities, cool caves to explore, and of course, amazing views of the ocean. It’s definitely one of the best beaches in Malibu and is perfect for couples who want to take their time exploring the caves & giant rocks, and who are hoping to see an amazing sunset!
The Anza Borrego Desert State Park is actually the largest state park in California! It’s a pretty unique park, featuring slot canyons, cacti, giant palm trees, spring wildflowers, and just overall striking landscapes. If you’re a big fan of the desert, your jaw will be on the FLOOR when you visit this park!
25. San Diego
And finally, we can’t forget about San Diego! It’s known for its beautiful, temperate climate, lengthy beaches, and wide array of attractions for tourists to visit. You can elope on the beach then head into the city to experience the nightlife, or take a trip to a museum with your guests before eloping in private along the coast!
Two of my favorite spots for elopements in the San Diego area that you’ve gotta check out:
How to get married in California
California marriage license + laws
How much does it cost to elope in California?
The cost of a marriage license varies by county, so you’ll want to research the specifics of the county you’re getting married in.
Can you get married the same day in California?
Yes! There’s no waiting period – when you apply (at any County Clerk’s office in the state), the clerk will give you your license immediately & you can use it right away.
Do you need witnesses to elope in California?
Nope - no witnesses are required to be at your ceremony and no witness signatures are required for your marriage license, either.
How long is a California marriage license valid?
Your license will be valid for 90 days!
Other important rules + requirements:
- Both you & your partner must be present when you apply at a County Clerk’s office
- Bring a photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.) to verify your identity
- No blood test is required
- You’re not required to get married in the county where you purchase your license
- Your license will only be valid in California
California wedding permits
In addition to getting your marriage license, you’ll also need to get a specialized wedding permit depending on the location of your elopement. Follow the links below to find details about what permit(s) you’ll need for your California elopement location & how to obtain it!
California Wedding Permits: National Parks
- Yosemite National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Channel Islands National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
California Wedding Permits: State Parks
California Elopement Packages + Pricing
Elopement Packages and Pricing for California
- 7 hours – 3 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in California
- Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
- Unique and personalized location scouting
- vendor recommendations
- permit and marriage license assistance
- hand-crafted elopement timeline
- Created just-for-you activity list
- Unlimited guides and resources
- 100+ page How to Elope Guidebook
- Optional complimentary officiant service
- Digital online gallery with full resolution image and printing rights
- Sneak peak images within 1 week
- Photographer travel fees covered anywhere in California
Starting at $6,500
If you’re specifically thinking about eloping in Northern Cali, I’ve got you covered with a dedicated Northern California Elopement Guide! California is too huge of a state to be able to cover EVERYTHING in one article (there are 5 national parks JUST in the northern part!), so be sure to check out that guide if you’re considering eloping somewhere like Yosemite or the Redwoods.
More Incredible Elopement Destinations
If you’re still undecided on your elopement destination & are considering eloping somewhere in the PNW, I’ve got guides for that, too! Check out my other in-depth location guides below to help you decide on your dream adventure elopement location!
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In order to make your dream elopement day happen, it's super important that we connect and that you feel comfortable with me! The best way to do this is to reach out and schedule a call so you can learn more about me and I can learn about you two so i can document what's real + the most important to you.