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How to Elope in Southern California

KATIE BERG PHOTO || southern CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER

UPDATED GUIDE FOR 2023

If you’re looking for somewhere to elope where you’ve got access to pristine beaches, plentiful sunshine, and vast deserts, look no further than southern California! Below is a complete guide to planning a southern California elopement, where you’ll find my 12 favorite southern California elopement locations, permit info, places to stay, and so much more.

In this guide, we will cover:

  • Where is Southern California
  • Why You Should Elope in Southern California
  • How to Get to Southern California
  • Best Time of Year to Visit Southern California
  • Top 12 Best Southern California Elopement Locations
  • How to Get Married in Southern California
  • Best Places to Stay in Southern California
  • Things to Do For Your Southern California Elopement
  • Meet Your Southern California Elopement Photographer
  • Southern California Elopement Packages & Pricing

Sunny days all year-round, wide sandy beaches, dramatic cliff sides, stunning coastline views, vast otherworldly deserts, and iconic national parks – no, I’m not describing heaven: I’m describing southern California!

The southern region of California is an absolute DREAM come true when it comes to possible elopement locations. The options are endless, with a huge range of diverse landscapes, atmospheres, and things to do. This blog post is dedicated to everything southern California elopements and should tell you everything you need to know if you’re considering eloping in SoCal. Enjoy!

Where is Southern California?

Man holds woman's hand as she holds her dress and dance together in the sunset sun

“Southern California” is a pretty big area, encompassing multiple major cities including:

  • Hollywood
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • Orange County
  • Palm Springs
  • San Diego
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Malibu

Southern California has three stunning national parks, all of which are very different from each other & are all so worth a visit!

Why elope in Southern California?

Southern California might be the elopement location for you if you:

  • Thrive in the sunshine
  • Love relaxing on pristine beaches
  • Crave seeing the incredible California coastline views
  • Want a variety of diverse locations to visit
  • Want a large range of activities + opportunities to take part in
  • Love hiking, biking, scuba diving, horseback riding, and/or climbing
  • Want to stargaze under a clear desert sky
  • Are inviting guests who can easily travel to California

How to get to Southern California

Best time to elope in Southern california

Weather plays a key role in planning your adventure elopement, and since southern California is SO diverse, there are multiple different climates to be aware of depending on your location. Let’s go through what the typical seasons in SoCal look like – just keep in mind that places like Death Valley will obviously have much more extreme weather conditions!

SPRING WEATHER (March-May)

Spring is an amazing time to visit southern California, as it’s when temperatures are still a bit more mild, but it’s still plenty warm & sunny. Wildflowers begin to bloom (including the iconic poppy fields of SoCal), beaches aren’t quite as packed as they are in the summer, whales come out on the coast, and the grass + hills are vibrant green. However, spring isn’t a great time to visit the hotter, drier places in SoCal such as Death Valley, as the temps start to get pretty dang warm in the spring.

SUMMER WEATHER (June-August)

Summer is honestly hard to distinguish in southern California, since the weather is pretty much summer weather all year-round! The past few years have brought pretty hot, dry summers in SoCal, hence a lot of the wildfires that have sadly hit the area. I would say summer isn’t the best time to elope in SoCal due to the larger amounts of tourists, the heat, and the potential for wildfires – but if you’re down to be sweaty and want it to be hot so you can go swimming 24/7, freaking go for it!

Bonus tip: if you elope at a popular tourist destination in the summer in SoCal, do your best to elope on a weekday to avoid the largest crowds. Sunrise is also a great time of day to elope, since less people are usually out!

FALL WEATHER (September-November)

Fall in SoCal is absolutely gorgeous, with temperatures still super comfortable & warm, and foliage starting to change colors along the coast. There generally won’t be much rain and there’ll be less tourists since everybody’s back to work, and the heat won’t be quite as dry or unbearable! It’s a great season to elope if you’re looking to do outdoor activities such as hiking or biking, since it’ll be beautiful out but temperatures will be more mild than the summer.

WINTER WEATHER (December-February)

If you’re from the PNW like me, you might be accustomed to not even considering eloping in the winter (hello freezing + snowy PNW!) – but SoCal is totally different! Winter is still beautiful in southern California, obviously not quite as warm, but much warmer than up here in Washington at that time. I’d suggest eloping in winter if you’re choosing a desert location such as Death Valley, as that’s when the climate will be the best for outdoor exploration.

Top 12 Best SOUTHERN California Elopement Locations

Let’s start off strong with one of the most iconic locations in southern California (really, all of California): Joshua Tree National Park! Joshua Tree is a massive national park in southeastern CA that encompasses almost 800,000 acres of land, and features one of the most stunning desert landscapes in the country. You’ll recognize the park’s jagged rock formations, Joshua trees (who could’ve guessed?), and magical golden hour lighting once the sun goes down. If you’re looking to elope somewhere that brings together the vast, wide-open nature of the desert and mixes it with a variety of nearby luxurious Airbnb’s + resorts, then Joshua Tree is the place for you!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP); 50 minutes

Best Time of Year to Elope: Spring (March-May), Fall (October-November)

Permit(s) Needed: Special Use Permit

Sunset Cliffs, located in the Point Loma community of San Diego, is a beautiful area featuring golden-brown cliffs that extend along the peninsula. It’s a seriously stunning spot to elope if you want to say your vows right by the ocean and be able to enjoy views of the dramatic cliffsides, and even explore the caves below. Plus, it’s right by the Ocean Beach Pier – an iconic tourist destination in San Diego!

Note that the best time to visit the Sunset Cliffs if you want to be able to safely explore the caves is when there’s a negative tide – you can monitor these tide charts to see when you should visit.

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: San Diego International Airport (SAN); 10 minutes

Best Time of Year to Elope: Spring (March-May), Fall (September-November)

Permit(s) Needed: Event Permit (depending on the specific location)

I’m sure you’re familiar with (or have even heard of) Death Valley National Park, being that it’s literally the hottest place in the country, with its highest record temp reaching 134°F!! I know that sounds insane, but don’t worry – it’s not that hot year-round, and I promise the hot & dry climate is SO worth it for the otherworldly landscapes you get to experience. The park is known for its stunning colorful rocks that seriously make you feel like you’re on Mars, the Badwater Basin salt flats, and the insane natural phenomena everywhere around you. I definitely recommend eloping here in the winter, since that’s when temperatures are lowest and you won’t be miserable in the dry summer heat. Just imagine yourselves surrounded by the vast desert landscape as you exchange your vows – a once in a lifetime experience!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS); 2 hours

Best Time of Year to Elope: Winter (November-March)

Permit(s) Needed: Special Use Permit

Catalina Island is a channel island located southwest of LA & is famous for its diverse wildlife, incredible coastal views, and both rustic as well as resort towns. If you and your partner like to scuba dive, Catalina Island is one of the best places for amazing scuba diving – it would be SO much fun to go on a scuba diving adventure the day after tying the knot on the island! You can explore the charming little coastal towns, stay at a luxurious resort, and breathe in the views of the vibrant blue waters along the coastline.

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Los Angeles Airport (LAX); driving time depends on the ferry departure point you take

Best Time of Year to Elope: Spring (March-April), fall (September-October)

Permit(s) Needed: Varies by location

One of California’s more underrated state parks, Anza-Borrego is located within the beautiful Colorado Desert about two hours south of San Diego. It’s best known for the stunning wildflowers that bloom in the spring, vast desert views, hidden slot canyons, and huge natural palm trees that overlook the massive wilderness area. There are sooo many amazing opportunities for exploration within the park, from desert hikes through canyons to stargazing under the desert sky to driving to scenic viewpoints!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP); 1.5 hours

Best Time of Year to Elope: Winter – early spring (January-March)

Permit(s) Needed: Potential Special Use Permit depending on exact location & party size

6. Big Sur

Big Sur is a super famous region of southern California, spanning across one of the most beautiful parts of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon! I loooove Big Sur because you can literally just drive along the scenic highway to experience the incredible views, you can find a designated beach area to relax on, take a hike into the forests, or you can just stop along the side of the road if you’d rather. Plus, the sunsets and golden hour lighting are to DIE for – it’s incredible to watch the sun drop down over the dramatic cliffs & jagged coastline! Everywhere you look feels like it’s a scene taken straight off of a postcard.

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: San Jose International Airport (SJC); 2 hours

Best Time of Year to Elope: Late spring - early fall (April-October)

Permit(s) Needed: Special Use Permit for Big Sur State Parks

Looking for a challenging hiking adventure to get to your elopement location? The trail to Mount Baldy’s summit might be an awesome option for you! Mount Baldy (a.k.a. Mount San Antonio) is located in the San Gabriel Mountains, and is well-known for its great skiing & hiking opportunities. The views from the summit are freaking gorgeous, overlooking the rest of the San Gabriel Mountains & LA from 10,000 feet up. The start of the trail is about 15 minutes off the Mount Baldy village’s freeway, and then you hike about 6.5 miles with 2,300 feet of elevation gain to get to the summit. It’s definitely a challenging hike, but so worth it for the views – and there’s even a little restaurant back at the bottom that you can grab a bite at after your hard work!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Los Angeles Airport (LAX); 1.5 hours

Best Time of Year to Elope: Late spring - early fall (April-October)

Permit(s) Needed: None

Let’s talk about Malibu, baby! Malibu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in SoCal, famous for its influx of celebrity homes, iconic fishing pier, wide beaches, and scenic views of the coastal bluffs. And one of the best beaches in Malibu is El Matador State Beach, one of three beaches within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach! The beach features giant sea stacks that look absolutely stunning (especially at sunset), large caves to explore, and natural rock arches that you’ve probably seen in photos before. After eloping on El Matador State Beach, take some time to relax at a beautiful resort or Airbnb in Malibu and enjoy one of the most popular spots on the California coast!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Los Angeles Airport (LAX); 1 hour

Best Time of Year to Elope: Summer (June-September)

Permit(s) Needed: None, unless you have over 100 people

Next, we’ve got yet another – you guessed it – gorgeous spot on the rugged Cali coastline! La Jolla is a little seaside village located in San Diego, best known for the gorgeous sandstone canyons of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, elegant restaurants & hotels, and plentiful opportunities for outdoor adventure. Whether you want a casual coastal experience full of beautiful hikes or want to stay in a luxurious resort by the beach, La Jolla definitely needs to be on your list to consider.

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: San Diego International Airport (SAN); 30 minutes

Best Time of Year to Elope: Summer - early fall (July-October)

Permit(s) Needed: Potential permit depending on exact location + group size

Walker Canyon is an ecological reserve encompassing nearly 500 acres of beautiful land near Elsinore, CA, in the Temescal Mountains. The high desert sage-chaparral landscape is an incredible sight to see, and features absolutely breathtaking poppy fields in the springtime, sometimes called the Super bloom! Every year they bloom at a slightly different time & intensity, depending on the amount of rain received in the early spring – back in 2021, there unfortunately wasn’t enough rain and there wasn’t a super bloom because of it. Walker Canyon is stunning even without the poppies, though, so just make sure to do some research before you go to find out what the rainfall was like & if a super bloom is expected!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Los Angeles Airport (LAX); 1.5 hours

Best Time of Year to Elope: Spring (March-April)

Permit(s) Needed: None

I’m sure you’re familiar with Palm Springs, being that it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern California thanks to its hot springs, glamorous hotels, golf courses, spas, and more! It’s the dream place to elope if you want to tie the knot & then spend your honeymoon in a luxurious Palm Springs resort, getting pampered and enjoying that newlywed bliss. Palm Springs is a great destination because you also have access to Coachella Valley, where you can hike, bike, and even ride horses through the desert!

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

Best Time of Year to Elope: Fall - early spring (October-March)

Permit(s) Needed: None

12. Coronado Island | San Diego

Last but certainly not least, Coronado is a small island located across the bay from downtown San Diego and is famous for its wide-sand beaches, amazing opportunities for surfing, the quaint little town that’s fun to explore, and more! It’s seriously the dream destination for any couples looking for a place that can double as their elopement location and a romantic honeymoon destination – some call it an island paradise for good reason. Escape from your real life for a bit and enjoy some well-deserved R&R in the middle of a beach dream, explore the island’s many shops & restaurants, or even check out the Coronado Museum of History & Art if you’re looking to do a little learning.

Closest Major Airport + Driving Time: San Diego International Airport (SAN); 20 minutes

Best Time of Year to Elope: Spring (March-May), Fall (September-November)

Permit(s) Needed: None, unless you have over 20 guests

How to Get Married in Southern California

Get your California marriage license

The exact marriage license requirements & instructions depend on the specific county you’re getting married in, but here are some of the general things to know about getting a California marriage license!

California marriage laws:

  • You do not need to be residents of California
  • You must be 18 or older to get a CA marriage license
  • You don’t have to get married in the same county where you got your marriage license
  • Your marriage license is valid for 90 days from the date of issuance
  • You need to have at least one witness present at your ceremony
  • You can have a friend or loved one be deputized to legally perform your ceremony
  • There is no waiting period you have to wait between getting your license & getting married

You can apply for your California marriage license at any County Clerk’s office, where you’ll need one of the following valid methods of picture identification:

  • A state-issued ID card
  • Driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Military ID

Obtain necessary Southern California wedding permits

Depending on the location you’re eloping at, you may need to get a specific permit to legally get married!

California National Parks all require you to obtain a Special Use Permit to get married, which you typically need to apply for at least a couple months in advance & will cost you a fee. Each park outlines the specific process you’ll need to follow on its website - see national park-specific information below!

California State Parks require you to also obtain a Special Use Permit to get married, which you’ll need to pay for and apply for in advance. See the link below for California State Park wedding permit info!

Some National Forests also require a Special Use Permit for any ceremony inside the forest.

Make sure you pay careful attention to a few things when applying for your California wedding permit:

  • How many guests you’re allowed to have at your location
  • What you’re allowed to bring (e.g. chairs, tables, etc.)
  • What’s prohibited (e.g. loud noise, roping off areas, throwing confetti, etc.)
  • What time of day you’re allowed to hold your ceremony
  • How far in advance you need to apply
  • What the permit process looks like

Best Places to Stay in Southern California

Southern California is one of the BEST areas on the west coast as far as unique & stunning lodging goes. There are seriously options for everyone, too: maybe you’re dreaming of a night under the stars in the Joshua Tree desert, either in a regular camping tent or a glamping yurt with all the amenities you need. Maybe you’d rather stay in a desert-themed Airbnb nearby, filled with the boho decor of your dreams and a cedar hot tub to relax in once the sun goes down. Or maybe you’d vibe more with a luxurious resort overlooking the ocean in Malibu!

Truly, the options are endless and I promise no matter where you elope, you’ll be able to find an AMAZING place to stay that fits the vibe you’re going for!

It was difficult to narrow it down, but below I’ve listed some of the top Airbnb’s, campgrounds, lodges, & resorts in the SoCal area – there are soooo many more to find with a quick Google search, too!

Things to Do for Your Southern California Elopement

Because of the massive variety of diverse locations in SoCal, there are ENDLESS things to do for every type of person, from adventuring through the desert to lounging on a beach to visiting museums and sooo much more. Here are some ideas of fun activities to do when visiting southern California for your elopement – and even some that you could do on your actual elopement day!

Meet Your Southern California elopement photographer

Hey friend, I’m Katie! If you don’t know me already, I’m a southern California elopement photographer, lover of all things travel + adventure, and right-hand-woman for all of the incredible couples who book me. I’ve done so much traveling within southern California and absolutely adore the entire area, and think it’s truly one of the most beautiful regions on the west coast – although I’m partially biased toward the PNW, too 😉

If you’re looking for a photographer for your elopement in southern California who will:

  • Help you intentionally craft the elopement of your dreams
  • Guide you every step of the way with guides, resources, Facetime calls, & years of expertise
  • Capture your elopement so that you can savor every moment & memory for the rest of your lives
  • Encourage & support you to create a day that fully fits you

Then I’m absolutely, 100% your gal. Elopements are powerful, meaningful, and so special – and every single one I photograph leaves me in awe that this is my job. If you feel like we might be a beautiful fit for your elopement, you can:

Or if you already know you want to start talking about your elopement with me + inquire, you can fill out my contact form here, and I’ll get back to you with all the important details you’ll need to know!

Click here to inquire

Southern California Elopement Packages & Pricing

Now that you know a bit more about me and who I am as an elopement photographer, let’s talk numbers!

To hire me as your southern California elopement photographer, you’ll want to take a look at my “Anywhere in the USA” elopement package below.

You can read more details about your investment here, and get in touch with me if you have any questions about my southern California elopement packages!

  • 7 hours – 3 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Southern California
  • Your own personal elopement guide & consultant
  • Unique and personalized location scouting
  • Southern California 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 Southern California

Starting From:

$6,500

book with me

Southern California Videographers:

Summit to Sea Films

Elysium Prodcutions

Southern California Officiants:

Liz Rae & Co

Mountain High Weddings

Southern California Florists:

Good Seed Floral

Wilder Floral Co.

Best Elopement Vendors in Southern California

Other Elopement Destinations to Consider in the United States

Woohoo, you’ve made it through this whole southern California elopement guide!!

Because I know how hard it can be to choose your elopement location, I’ve taken the time to put together not just this guide, but also full elopement guides to some of my favorite locations in Washington, Oregon, & California, from state parks to national parks and more. Check them out below to help get your ideas flowing, and to get you closer to finding your dream adventure elopement destination!

California Elopement Guides

Washington Elopement Guides

Oregon Elopement Guides

now booking 2023 & 2024 Southern CALIFORNIA elopements + intimate weddings

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