If you’re searching for a Big Sur elopement guide, this is for you! Imagine getting married surrounded by glorious Redwood trees and then ending the day with your couples portraits cliffside with the ocean behind you. If this seems like a perfect day for you, Big Sur is the perfect place for your elopement. With its vast variety of gorgeous landscapes, Big Sur is a popular destination for elopements and weddings for a reason. As a Big Sur elopement photographer, I’m here to help you create a memorable wedding day that is also authentic to you both and your story. I’ve put together this guide to help with location advice, places to stay, logistics for your elopement and many other helpful tips when it comes to eloping in Big Sur! I hope this Big Sur elopement guide helps you!
So you’ve both decided on Big Sur for your elopement–sweet! What most people don’t realize, is that Big Sur is more than just a big stretch of California coastline! It actually goes further inland and includes beautiful redwoods, rolling hills, and so much more. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can choose more than one location for your elopement! Driving can take a couple of hours from one side of Big Sur to the other so take travel time into account when planning your timeline.
There are 2 main ways that you can elope in Big Sur: on public land or a private venue. Everyone has different need/ wants for their wedding so here is a breakdown between the differences of both:
Eloping on Public Land:
A lot of the coastal and beach views you see when looking at Big Sur elopement photos are on public land. These locations are best for smaller guest counts of 10 or less. They’re also less expensive than some of the private venues in the area. If you plan to have more than 10 guests, a state park might not be feasible since a lot of permits only allow up to 10 people (vendors included).
Also since it’s public land, you may have less privacy than at a venue, so keep that in mind! Some of the prettiest locations on public land may also require some hiking. If you and your partner are fine with some hiking, then so am I! If you have guests coming into town for your elopement, there are many airbnbs and hotels in the area for them to stay. We’ll go more in depth for lodging later!
Eloping at a Private Venue:
Many private venues in Big Sur include redwoods so if you want a forest vibe, then this might be the best for you! Along with having more privacy at venues, you can also invite more guests (best for up to 25 people). Since it’s a venue, there’s usually much less hiking than at a state park so that’s a plus as well! There are also some venue packages where everything is all inclusive with lodging and food options. With all that being said, private venues can be more expensive than having your elopement at state parks since it includes more.
Public Land Elopements:
These are a few of my favorite public parks to elope in Big Sur!
Garrapata State Park: Starting in Carmel, driving down California’s Highway 1 the first area that you’ll hit is Garrapata State Park (my personal favorite). There are many pullouts where you can stop and hike a short distance to get stunning views of the coast. There is also beach access with gorgeous views and more room for guests. You need a permit to elope here and it’s $400 if you have more guests (up to 25) and an additional $75 rush fee if your elopement is less than 60 days from your submission date.
Pfeiffer Beach: This is one of Big Sur’s main attractions for a reason! It’s beautiful with its well known “keyhole” rock formation and the best part is– you don’t need a permit to elope here! Since it is such a popular spot, however, there are some challenges that you may face for your elopement. Parking can be tricky because if the parking lot is full, you’ll need to wait until spots open up. I recommend shooting here on a weekday around sunset. Also, depending on the season, this area is subject to flooding and wildfires which may lead to closures, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: This park does not have ocean or beach access but it does have huge stunning redwood trees! This is a great option if you’d like redwoods in your elopement photos. It’s a developed area of Big Sur with a lodge and different campgrounds so there may be crowds in the area. You do need a permit to elope here and they require you to choose a trail beforehand so if you aren’t able to scout beforehand, this may not be the best option for you.
Private Venue Elopements:
There are some great advantages of getting married on private land–including having much more privacy, fewer guest and pet restrictions (we love our furry friends) and not needing a permit to have your elopement there. Many venues have packages that come with a place for you/your guests to stay, a ceremony and reception location, catering, and more! Depending on your guest count, these are locations I recommend:
Glen Oaks Big Sur: This venue is a DREAM. If you wanted a magical forest elopement, look no further. Glen Oaks is not only a lodge but also a private event venue that hosts both small and large weddings. If you stay at the Redwood Grove cabins here, you have the perfect backdrop for your getting ready photos as well as your portraits. As a guest, you can have a small ceremony here with just you two, a photographer, and your officiant for no additional fees. If you’d like more guests, they also have larger wedding packages.
Ventana Big Sur: If you’re wanting a mixture of both coastal views mixed with the gorgeous redwood forest, then this is for you! Ventana Big Sur offers both vibes and multiple different wedding packages depending on what best suits your needs. They also offer an all inclusive package or different ceremony locations for a flat rate.
Henry Miller Library: This sweet little venue is so cute and actually has a bookstore on site! This venue in the redwoods has ethereal forest vibes. It’s also very laid back in comparison to other venues in the area. Their elopement package requires you to have insurance but comes with many great accommodations such as access to their sound system and easy access for shuttles for your guests if needed.
Loma Vista Gardens: Another phenomenal venue that offers two different ceremony sites for your elopement! Loma Vista has a garden location and a new coastal location for you to choose from. You get stunning views of the valley and can even enjoy dinner at this venue after your ceremony! They offer different elopement packages during the week and some Sundays.
Big Sur is located in Central California and is beautiful year-round with different climates scattered throughout the area. The best time to visit is anywhere between April and November. There may be some rainy days sprinkled throughout the beginning and end of that season. Spring is also a great time if you want wildflowers & calla lilies featured in your photos! Many people like to visit in the fall when the weather is warmer and drier, however, with that comes wildfire season. It’s important to hire someone who knows the area. If there happens to be a wildfire around the time of your elopement where there are unexpected closures, a backup location is needed. I will send my clients a pin on where to meet and a backup location just in case parking is full. Communication is key for your elopement plans and I’m here to help!
The day of the week also matters when it comes to eloping in Big Sur. Monday-Thursday are the best days to elope since it’s typically way less busy on the roads than on weekends. If you are eloping on public land, special event permits are only given for these weekdays from May through September. If you do decide on a weekend outside of this window, you may have some competition to secure that date. Big Sur state parks only issue one permit to one party per area for that day. Your permit application could be denied if someone already has a special event permit for that day in a completely different part of Big Sur.
Lastly, weekdays are best because it gives you a better chance to secure the vendors that you want! A lot of wedding vendors are busy on the weekends with “traditional” weddings at venues. Because of this, they won’t have as much availability for a weekend date.
Where to Stay in Big Sur
Big Sur stretches along the coast so there are quite a few different towns you can stay in depending on where you’re eloping. Lodging can book up in the area so I always recommend that you book sooner rather than later. Here are some options for you + your guests:
Lodges | Hotels
Glen Oaks Big Sur– updated cabin in the woods vibe
Ventana Big Sur– luxurious glamping stay
Post Ranch Inn– rustic elegance while still being comfortable
Big Sur Lodge– cottage style cabin vibes in the heart of Big Sur
Tree Bones Resort– yurts and glamping
Fernwood Resort– both cabins and camping
Airbnbs: surrounding cities where you can look for an Airbnb include: Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas, Marina, Carmel, and Seaside. Always check with your Airbnb host to see if you can have an event. It’s important to know that some places require site fees and liability insurance.
Even if you are eloping, you still need a marriage license to be legally married. There are 2 different types of marriage licenses but for this blog I will talk about the commonly used public marriage licenses. You can obtain this through the Monterey County Clerk’s office and you must have your ceremony within 90 days of your application (you will have to apply and pay the $90 application fee again for a new one if time expires). Also, you both will need to be present in the office to give proof of age and identification at the desk or kiosk. In California, you need to have an officiant and 1-2 witnesses to sign your marriage license. (I’m happy to sign as a witness if needed!)
Depending on where you’re eloping in the Big Sur area, you will need an elopement permit or special event permit (Limekiln State Park being the exception). I am more than happy to help with permits and any questions you may have. Some basic information for you would be:
I’m happy to help and answer any other permit questions to help couples apply for the correct permits!
Here are some other tips that will help your elopement in Big Sur be as seamless as possible:
I offer more than just someone taking photos on your wedding day. I’m here to help you plan & figure out locations, timeline, vendors, and more! I know how stressful it can be to plan an elopement, I’m here to not only help plan, but also document one of the most important days of your life! I have a very laid back approach & will not be all in your face to turn your day into a nonstop photoshoot. You should to be able to enjoy your day & document the day authentically as it goes. I also offer a super helpful wedding guide to my clients that will give you all of the great tips!
When you work with me as your elopement photographer, you not only get a photographer but a friend as well. We will be spending a good amount of time together so it’s important that we vibe well. If you’re interested in working with me, reach out here! I’m happy to send over my packages and services that I offer!