THE ABSOLUTE BEST PLACES TO ELOPE IN CALIFORNIA
elopement destinations for the adventurous
WOndering where the best elopement destinations in California are?
Well look no further. California has one of the most diverse landscapes in the United States. Everything from rugged sea cliffs and sandy beaches, to vast deserts, lush old growth forests, massive lakes, and snow capped mountains can be found in the golden state. You’ll even find volcanoes, lava flows and hots springs! So if you’re looking to elope to California choosing your destination is often the toughest part. I hope to make that task a little easier for you. While adventuring through California, I'm always on the lookout for great elopement destinations. You can't just turn off being an elopement photographer after all. Over the years I've come across more than a few locations I thought would make for an ideal place for an intimate elopement ceremony and felt it was about time I shared them with you here.
You’ll find popular places you might expect to see, and others you may never of heard of, and I'm always adding more. So if you are planning to elope to California but have yet to decide on a destination, might I suggest one of my favorite locations below. Once you have found the perfect destination, check out my guide to eloping for the best experience possible.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Let’s start with the most obvious, it’s not a California icon for nothing. Yosemite holds a special place in my heart. My great grandfather bought a cabin just outside Yosemite before I was born so growing up I frequented the park. I attribute my love for the outdoors to the majestic granite peaks of this almost magical valley. You can't go wrong with a Yosemite wedding.
WHEN TO VISIT : Mid May through June is when the waterfalls are at their peak and the wildflowers are in bloom, but you'll be elbow to elbow with 500,000 other park visitor. For a bit more solitude try visiting the park in the Winter or Fall
BEST FEATURES: Massive waterfalls, majestic granite peaks, quiet Meadows, and towering giant Sequoias.
IMPORTANT INFO : If more than eleven people are attending your elopement there are only a few places in the park you can have your ceremony. While the valley stays open year round, much of the park is closed September to May.
The Alabama Hills
If you are looking for stunning mountain views to be the backdrop to your elopement, your search is over. The Alabama Hills have been featured in countless movies and tv shows for almost a hundred years. It’s not tough to see why. This rugged landscape will have you feeling like you’re starring in a western all your own. Not many couples can claim to have the highest peak in the lower 48 towering in the background of their wedding photos.
WHEN TO VISIT - The Alabama Hills are accessible year round, but this is the high desert so it can get mighty cold in winter.
BEST FEATURES - Mountain Vistas, stone arches, rock arches
IMPORTANT INFO - Bring layers, watch out for high winds, and most importantly, don’t forget to check out the rest of the Eastern Sierra while you’re here!
WHERE TO STAY - There’s dispersed camping among the hills themselves and plenty of hotel and airbnb options in the town of Lone Pine.
EL MATADOR STATE BEACH
El Matador State Beach in Malibu California is a little slice of coastal heaven and easily one of the best locations for an elopement in Southern California. The unique erosion of the rocks has led to an array of towering sea stacks, spooky caves, and majestic stone arches. This natural beauty has led to this beach being featured in numerous movies and magazines. It's easily one of the most spectacular beaches in Southern California.
WHEN TO VISIT - Any time of year is great for a visit but if you're planning to get in the water for photos, Which I recommend, aim for the warmer months. Try to avoid the weekend crowds.
BEST FEATURES - Sandy beaches, sea stacks, caves, amazing sunsets.
IMPORTANT INFO - Parking is rather limited here fills up fast in the busier months.
WHERE TO STAY - You're in the middle of Malibu so you'll find no shortage of hotels nearby.
Hestia Retreat Center
Here’s a Northern California destination sure to delight. Just shy of the Oregon border you can elope to the enchanted forest of the Hestia Retreat Center near the majestic Mount Shasta. This little slice of heaven even comes complete with a healing mineral spring bathhouse . Wanting to do your ceremony indoors? They have two magical yurts on the property for you to choose from. And even offer an all-inclusive, no-stress elopement package for adventurous, bohemian couples looking for a sacred spot to exchange their vows, relax, and celebrate.
WHEN TO VISIT - Year round!
BEST FEATURES - stunning Mountain views, stargazing, quiet forests, yurts, and mineral spring baths
IMPORTANT INFO - If you plan on visiting June-September, book early as it’s the busy season and fills up fast!
WHERE TO STAY - A two-night stay in the A-frame house for up to 8 people is included.
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia is the land of giants. These ancient groves have grown to their monstrous sizes over thousands of years. One step into this old growth forest and you’ll understand why John Muir was enamored with this place. As the Giant Sequoia have stood the tests of time, so to will your vows made beneath these towering giants. Come walk through the forests unlike any other in the world.
WHEN TO VISIT - The park is open year round, but it is best to avoid the peak summer season if you want to avoid the crowds.
BEST FEATURES - Giant Sequoia, old growth forests, alpine peaks, waterfalls.
IMPORTANT INFO - The drive up to sequoia is a long and winding road that is currently undergoing construction. Expect lots of delays.
Lovers point, Pacific Grove
A picturesque slice of California's coastline conveniently located in the quaint town of Pacific Grove. You don’t always have to go out of your way to find amazing landscapes. Offering barnacle covered sea rocks, gorgeous views of Monterey Bay. and a plethora of dining and shopping, it's an ideal elopement destination. Don't forget to make the hour drive to Big Sur!
WHEN TO VISIT - Anytime of the year is a great time to visit the beach in California.
BEST FEATURES - Easy access, sea rocks, sandy beaches ocean views, sunsets.
IMPORTANT INFO - Parking can be scarce on the weekend as such a beautiful beach draws a crowd.
WHERE TO STAY - There are multiple hotels within walking distance, can't beat that.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Joshua Tree National Park is an enchanting place. It is a landscape where two distinct desert ecosystems come together forming a truly unique landscape. From the parks namesake vegetation, to the surreal geologic features, and the world class sunrises and sunsets, it's easy to see why Joshua Tree is such a popular place for elopements in Southern California. Don’t forget to stay till after dark! As they say “Half the park is after dark”.
WHEN TO VISIT - Temperatures in the summer average close to 100°, not exactly ideal temps to explore in. The fall is the ideal time to explore the desert.
BEST FEATURES - World class sunrises and sunsets, unique vegetation, beautiful rock formations, amazing stargazing
IMPORTANT INFO - The desert is a tough place, make sure to bring lots of water, avoid the midday heat. There is no cell service in the park.
WHERE TO STAY - There are nine campgrounds in the park. Depending where you are in the park, the closest hotels are either in Twentynine Palms or Coachella with Palm Springs just a little further away. Airbnb has some great places in the area as well!
You simply can’t go wrong with eloping to Big Sur. It is a stretch of rugged coastline along California's central region that is nothing short of awe inspiring. With dramatic sea cliffs, towering redwoods, and a never ending barrage of awe inspiring views. Just what you want for the setting of your elopement. And with a wide array of world class hotels, quaint inns, impressive airBnBs and fantastic camping options, accommodations won’t be a problem.
WHEN TO VISIT - September to October is often considered the best time to visit. The Big Sur region receives the same number of visitors annually as Yosemite, so avoid the peak seasons of June-August.
BEST FEATURES - Dramatic coastline, sea cliffs, lots of wildlife, Redwood forests, hot springs, the drive itself.
IMPORTANT INFO - The southern route through Big Sur has been closed for some time but should be reopening July 20th, 2018.
WHERE TO STAY - You'll find no shortage of charming inns along Highway One. The town of Big Sur itself has numerous hotel and cabin options as well as campgrounds.
RED ROCK CANYON STATE PARK
Here's one off the beaten path. Red Rock Canyon is one of the most stunning desert landscapes California has to offer yet few people know it exists. The park features towering cliffs with a stunning display of vivid colors and unique formations. Each canyon in the park is different and beckons to be explored. There are even Joshua Trees.
WHEN TO VISIT - As with most desert locations in California, It's best to avoid the summer months when possible. Spring and Fall are ideal.
BEST FEATURES - Vivid rock formations, slot canyons, caves, Joshua Trees, desert sunsets.
IMPORTANT INFO - The winds here can be rather fierce. Always pay attention to the weather.
WHERE TO STAY - There are camping options in Red Rock Canyon itself, and Hotels in the nearby city of Mojave.
Santa Cruz offers an interesting mix of landscapes. From the beaches straight out of a postcard, to the awe inspiring redwood forests just fifteen minutes away, you'll find the best of both worlds here. And all only minutes away from downtown with it’s array of accommodations and dining.
WHEN TO VISIT - Anytime of the year is a great time to visit Santa Cruz.
BEST FEATURES - Easy access, Picturesque beaches, Sea cliffs, Giant Redwood forests.
IMPORTANT INFO - If traveling in the summer make sure to reserve everything ahead of time.
WHERE TO STAY - The city of Santa Cruz has no shortage of hotel accommodations and the nearby redwood forests offer great camping options.
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
While the name Death Valley doesn't exactly sound like an ideal place for romance, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Death Valley National Park is in fact a place of great natural beauty. With gorgeous slot canyons, enchanting sand dunes, and dry lake beds, It is a wonderland perfect for eloping. Just maybe not in the summer.
WHEN TO VISIT - The "Hottest, Driest, and Lowest National Park" is not best enjoyed in the summer.
BEST FEATURES - Sand dunes, dry lake beds, towering mountains, slot canyons, rock formations, night sky.
IMPORTANT INFO - The park is very remote. Besides the few facilities inside the park, there are few if any stores or services nearby.
MT SAN JACINTO State Park
This one is truly unique. Mountain tops aren't well known for their accessibility but Mt. San Jacinto is the exception to the rule. Thanks to the aerial tramway in Palm Springs, a ten minute ride takes one from the desert floor below to 8,516 feet. It's a whole lot easier than Hiking from the closest trailhead in Idyllwild, trust me on that one. Depending on the time of year the scenery ranges from meadow filled forests to snowy winter wonderland.
WHEN TO VISIT - The tram is open year-round. Expect cold weather and snow in the winter and perfect temperatures in the summer.
BEST FEATURES - Pine forests, rock formations, stunning vistas, snow, meadows.
IMPORTANT INFO - If you have a fear of heights, the tram might not be your friend. Tickets cost $26 per person. Snow can be deep in the winter months.
WHERE TO STAY - Palm springs has no shortage of hotel options all only a few minutes from the tramway.
Inyo National Forest
You want to elope but are having a tough time deciding where to go. You love the mountains, but you also adore the deserts, and volcanoes are pretty cool too, oh and don't forget crystal clear lakes with waterfalls! Well you're in luck, you can have it all! Inyo National Forest is a gorgeous location, but the surrounding area is just as spectacular. From the Joshua Trees near Lake Isabella, to the pine forests of the June Lake loop and Mammoth Lakes, or the volcanic Mono Craters and almost alien Mono Lake you’ll find a diverse array of landscapes that really showcase what California has to offer. Oh and don’t forget the stunning mountain views all along the way!
WHEN TO VISIT - Visiting May through September will give you the greatest options of where to go.
BEST FEATURES - Crystal clear lakes, towering mountains, forests, volcanic features, high deserts, hot springs you name it.
IMPORTANT INFO - The more popular lakes can be pretty crowded in the summer months, and some areas are potentially closed in winter due to snowfall.
WHERE TO STAY - The town of June lake is a great central location and has many options but more options can be found nearby in Mammoth and Bishop.
Want an elopement destination that's totally unique? How about a lava flow that was carved into spectacular formations by an ancient river? Fossil Falls is a little know site right off highway 395 at the start of the Sierra mountain range that many people zoom right by without ever noticing.
WHEN TO VISIT - It's high desert, but desert nonetheless, avoid the summertime if you plan on being there midday.
BEST FEATURES - Cinder cones, Volcanic rock formations, mountain views, dry lake beds, volcanic sand.
IMPORTANT INFO - It can be easy to miss the turn, so watch for the sign. Be careful around the cliff.
WHERE TO STAY - There is a small campground on site. For hotels, accommodations can be found in the nearby towns of Ridgecrest and Lone Pine.