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summer sunset landscape photo of Sutro Bathes in California

How to Elope in Northern California

KATIE BERG PHOTO || NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER - UPDATED GUIDE FOR 2022

Dreaming up an adventure elopement somewhere where you have access to mountains, redwood forests, a gorgeous coastline, the city, waterfalls, lakes, & more?! Then Northern California might be the ideal place for you! With a truly diverse landscape & tons of opportunities for outdoor-lovers, Northern California makes for a dream come true for a one-of-a-kind elopement.

Here’s your ultimate Northern California elopement guide!

In this guide, we will cover:

  • Where is Northern California
  • Why You Should Elope in Northern California
  • How to Get to Northern California
  • Best Time of Year to Visit Northern California
  • Top 15 Best Northern California Elopement Locations
  • How to Get Married in Northern California
  • Northern California Elopement Photographer
  • Best Places to Stay in Northern California
  • Things to Do For Your Northern California Elopement
  • Northern California Elopement Packages & Pricing
  • Where is Northern California?

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

  • San Francisco
  • Fresno
  • San Jose
  • Sacramento
  • Oakland
  • Fremont
  • Visalia
  • Northern California has an incredible FIVE national parks, including a couple you may never have even heard of:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
  • Redwood National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Pinnacles National Park
  • bride and groom look out into Yosemite National Park

    Why elope in northern california?

    You may be asking yourself WHY you should consider eloping in northern California - and that’s a great question! Northern California has SO dang much to offer to couples looking for a once-in-a-lifetime elopement experience, no matter the level of adventure you’re looking for. Whether you’d rather hike a mountain, go skiing, swim in a bright blue lake, surf on the coast, or simply drive along a beautiful coastline, northern Cali has options for EVERYONE.

    It’s easy to plan a multi-day elopement adventure in northern California if you want to truly experience as much as possible during your time there. Imagine saying your vows under the redwoods, hiking to a waterfall, & camping under the stars one day, then heading to the California wine country for a delicious wine-tasting with your loved ones and a stay in a luxury resort where you can get pampered to your heart’s content. The possibilities are truly endless for a northern California elopement!

    There are 4 major airports in northern California that you can fly into:

  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
  • Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT)
  • Here are some of the most popular destinations in northern California, along with the nearest major airports to fly into:

  • Yosemite National Park: FAT
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park: FAT
  • Sacramento: OAK or SMF
  • Fresno: OAK or FAT
  • Big Sur: SFO
  • Nap: OAK, SFO, or FAT
  • Sonoma: SFO or OAK
  • Lake Tahoe: Reno-Tahoe International Airport, or SMF
  • Half Moon Bay: SFO, OAK, or SMF
  • Driving around northern California is an incredible experience due to the insane amount of scenic views & road trip opportunities. Simply drive along Highway 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway) that passes through Big Sur, and enjoy the incredible scenery around you!

    If you’re coming in from out of state, your best bet will be to rent a car so you can have the freedom to explore different areas of northern Cali & won’t have to rely on public transportation. If you’re visiting somewhere like Yosemite, you’ll definitely need a car if you want privacy & a break from hiking, but you can also take the public bus around the park if you’d rather do that!

    If you’re just staying in a city like San Francisco, you may be able to get by solely using the great public transportation system (BART) & trolleys.

    How to get to Northern California

    Best time to elope in northern california

    SPRING IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Spring is such a gorgeous time to visit northern California, especially locations at lower elevations that for sure won’t have snow sticking around into the spring months. Places like Yosemite and Tahoe may still have snow at higher elevations, so it’s best to have a backup plan or two if you’re planning a spring elopement at one of those locations or anywhere that could still have snow on the ground. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the coast, too, as you’ll get mild temperatures and hopefully clear skies as the days get longer & evenings get warmer! Temperatures in northern California in the spring typically range from the 50’s-70’s.

    SUMMER IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: The warmest months in northern California are June-August, with average temperature highs ranging from the 80’s-high 90’s, and evening temperatures often settling in the 60’s (the perfect summer evening temp, if you ask me!). Summer is definitely the busiest season when it comes to tourist spots in northern California such as Yosemite & the Redwood National Parks, but for good reason: the longer days and mild evening temperatures are a dream to experience! If you’re eloping on the coast, summer is especially a great time because the temperatures are warm but definitely milder than drier locations in the state, and you can get some really beautiful foggy mornings.

    FALL IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: I’m a major fan of fall in the PNW, but fall in northern California is JUST as incredible! With amazing autumn colors in the trees & mountains, mild temperatures, and fewer crowds, fall is an awesome time to elope in northern California. If you’re planning to elope somewhere at a higher elevation, watch for potential early snowfall & have a backup plan in place in case snow comes earlier than expected! Temperatures in the fall in northern California usually range from the 40’s-70’s, and a little chillier on the coast, of course.

    WINTER IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Winter is obviously the coldest time of year in northern California, with temperatures averaging in the 40’s-60’s, but if you’re coming from the PNW like me, California winter feels like PNW spring! The mountain areas will get quite a bit of snow, so it’s best to visit lower-elevation destinations if you’re eloping in the winter season - unless you want to go skiing & are prepared for seasonal road closures. The best part about winter is that it’s the least-busy tourist season, and prices are usually lower when you’re looking at places to stay or activities to do.

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

    Top 15 Best Northern California Elopement Locations

    You’re probably familiar with Yosemite National Park, since it’s one of the most iconic national parks in the entire country! Famous for its massive sequoia trees, jaw-dropping granite monoliths, flowing waterfalls, and deep valleys, this park has got to be one of the most beautiful elopement locations in all of California, and even in the whole United States.

    Yosemite sees a ton of elopements & intimate weddings every year, with couples traveling from across the country just to say their vows over the incredible valleys & in front of the epic golden hour glow of Yosemite sunsets! The park is best known for its most popular viewpoints and hikes, including Taft Point, Glacier Point, Half Dome, El Capitan, & Bridalveil Fall.

    If you’re considering eloping at Yosemite, be sure to check out my full guide on How to Elope in Yosemite National Park for all the info you’ll need!

    Mammoth Lakes is a little town in the Sierra Nevada mountains, known for its ski areas, Mammoth Mountain, & plentiful nearby hiking trails. It’s located just 45 minutes south of Yosemite, so it’s a popular spot to visit for anybody already adventuring to Yosemite! Mammoth Lakes is the perfect destination for any couples looking to elope in the California mountains, surrounded by beautiful scenery, lakes, and endless options for outdoor adventure including biking, kayaking, & more.

    3. Big Sur

    Big Sur is one of the most memorable locations along the west coast, between Carmel & San Simeon. It’s famous for its jagged cliffs, dramatic coastline views, redwood forests, and beaches galore - making it the dream Northern California coast elopement destination for any couples dreaming of tying the knot right by the ocean!

    Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park are two contiguous national parks in northern California, and are a couple of the most visited parks for visitors looking to witness California’s incredible sequoia trees! Both parks are located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains & east of Visalia, and feature some of the largest trees in the world - Kings Canyon NP is actually known for its General Sherman Tree, THE largest tree in the entire world! So freaking cool for an elopement location!

    The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is the perfect park for any couples in Washington or Oregon looking to elope in the California redwoods, as it’s located right near the Oregon-California border & would be perfect for a road trip down from the PNW. The vibrant & lush groves are some of the most beautiful in the whole state, full of enchanting hikes through the 500-700-year-old redwoods and undeveloped land.

    Santa Cruz sits on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, 75 miles south of San Francisco, and is best known for its moderate climate, scenic coastline, and redwood forests (a classic northern California city). It’s also home to an exciting surf culture & a pretty laid-back crowd - if you’re into surfing, just imagine surfing in Santa Cruz on the morning of your northern California elopement! The temperatures are really wonderful year-round, with the temperature never falling too low in the winter & making for a pleasant destination no matter when you decide to elope.

    This is another dream for all you surf-lovin’ couples: Half Moon Bay, a small city south of San Francisco, is most famous for Mavericks, the ever-popular big-wave surf location! Along with the incredible surfing opportunities, Half Moon Bay has got multiple state parks nearby, scenic beaches, and adorable coastal villages to explore.

    Up next is another popular destination in northern California, famous for its stunning blue lake, endless awesome hiking trails, many scenic viewpoints, and incredible skiing opportunities: Lake Tahoe! Located on the California-Nevada border in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is one of the best places for adventurous couples looking to explore the beautiful outdoors that northern California has to offer. Whether you want to ski down the mountain, take a swim in the lake itself, or find an epic hike, Tahoe’s got it all!

    San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to visit in northern California because of its gorgeous scenery, endless shops & streets to explore, and famous spots to visit like the Golden Gate Bridge & Alcatraz! It’s the perfect northern California elopement location for any couples looking to elope on the beach or somewhere with epic California coastline views, then head into the city for a fun night out.

    Mt. Shasta is a super beautiful ice-capped volcano in Siskiyou County, about 200 miles north of Sacramento, and is well-known for its variety of hiking options, scenic lakes, and even waterfalls! You can drive all the way up to the end of the road in the summer, and there are plenty of hiking trails for you to choose from no matter what level of adventure you’re looking for.

    The Klamath National Forest & Butte Valley National Grassland encompass nearly 2 million acres of land that actually extend into Oregon! Filled with massive old-growth redwoods, ponderosa pines, and countless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, & outdoor adventures, this forest is an amazing option for nature lovers looking to elope in the middle of an incredible wilderness area.

    Burney Falls, part of the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park & nestled in the Cascade Mountains, is a beautiful waterfall at the end of an easy trail. Take the 1-mile in & out Burney Falls Loop Trail that’s doable for all skill & ability levels, and you’ll end up at the beautiful falls cascading into a couple of large streams. You’ll start at a gorgeous overlook from above the waterfall and make your way to the base of the waterfall, which unfortunately you can’t swim in - but it sure does make for an incredible backdrop for a vow exchange!

    The Point Reyes National Seashore is a large area of protected coastline that includes many beaches, wilderness with fir & pine forests, and open grasslands. It’s not too far from San Francisco and would be a beautiful place to explore, say your vows, & enjoy the California coastline together!

    Sonoma Coast State Park is a part of – you guessed it – Sonoma County, an area of California best known for its delicious wines & stunning vineyards! If your dream elopement includes saying your vows on the beach surrounded by rocky coastlines, exploring secluded coves, and then heading to a winery for an elegant wine tasting, this is your place!

    Finally, Napa Valley is another perfect location for all you win-lovers! Full of incredible wine country scenery and just north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is an amazing location with a beautiful countryside & great weather year-round. Celebrate your elopement with dinner at a nearby Michelin-star restaurant and find somewhere luxurious to stay the night, after doing a wine-tasting or two, of course!

    How to Get Married in Northern 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 Northern 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
  • California State Park Wedding Permit Info

    Yosemite National Park Wedding Permit Info

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon Wedding Permit Info

    Klamath National Forest Wedding Permit Info

    Meet Your Northern california elopement photographer

    Your elopement day should be one of the BEST days of your lives, and should revolve around you two. It should embody your most authentic selves, the beauty of your love story, and what you want, not what anybody else wants or thinks. I became an elopement photographer because I believe everybody deserves a one-of-a-kind wedding experience full of intention, and I’d be honored to help you create that experience!

    As a northern California elopement photographer, I’m an expert at all things location-scouting, including finding the best spots for different parts of your day, researching permits, helping you find a place to stay, and guiding you through the best adventure of your life. Learn a little more about me here - let’s get to know each other, friend!

    learn more about me

    Best Places to Stay in Northern California

    Finding a comfy place to stay is crucial to having a peaceful, relaxing elopement experience! Luckily, there are tons of affordable & cozy Airbnbs nowadays, in addition to plenty of beautiful hotels, lodges, & resorts in northern California. Check out a few of the best places to stay in northern California below!

    Airbnbs in Northern California

    campgrounds in Northern California

    Airbnbs in Northern California

    Things to Do for Your Northern California Elopement

    There is NO shortage of fun activities for you to include in your northern California elopement - here are some of my top recommendations for things to do in northern California!

  • Stay at a top-rated ski resort & ski to your heart’s content
  • Take a swim - in the ocean, at Lake Tahoe, or at the base of a waterfall
  • Go wine-tasting at one of the nation’s best wineries
  • Pack a picnic to take to the beach
  • Stay in a luxury camper at Yosemite
  • Go stargazing & camp under the redwoods
  • Take a scenic drive along the northern California coastline (Big Sur for the win)
  • Walk around downtown San Francisco for a night out
  • Visit Alcatraz Island
  • Go surfing at some of the best big-wave beaches in the country (hello Mavericks!)
  • There are TONS of incredible elopement vendors to choose from for your big day, but here are a few of my favorites that do amazing work in northern California!

    NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT FLORISTS:

    The Wild Thistle

    Good Seed Floral

    Brier + Ivy

    NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT HAIR & MAKEUP:

    Angela Nunnink

    Yosemite Makeup

    Artistry by Summer

    NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT VIDEOGRAPHER:

    Good Co Studios

    Two 4 Tea Wedding Films

    MLV Videography

    NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ELOPEMENT OFFICIANT:

    Another One Ties the Knot

    Ceremonies by Meredith

    Mountain High Weddings

    Best Elopement Vendors in Northern California

    Northern California Elopement Packages & Pricing

    Now that you’ve learned everything there is to know about eloping in northern California, you might be wondering what it would cost to hire me as your northern California elopement photographer.

    Take a look at my northern California elopement package & pricing below, and then head to my contact page to get in touch about your elopement!

  • 7 hours – 3 days of elopement photography coverage anywhere in Northern 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 Washington
  • Starting From:

    $6,500

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