25 Best Places to Elope in California | California Elopement Guide

20 Best Places to Elope in California | Gorgeous California Elopement Locations

California Elopement Guide


Updated: 09/23/2021

Nowhere in the US will you find landscapes as diverse as California’s! The moody fog over the rocky beaches and the snow capped mountains in the north turn into palm tree studded surf spots and vast, rocky deserts in the south, which is why a California elopement is perfect for any couple! No matter what kind of scenery, what kind of adventure, and what kind of wedding day you’re dreaming of, you’ll find it here. Prepare to dream big with our 25 best places to elope in California!

What you’ll find in this California Elopement Guide: 

25 Best Places to Elope in California

  1. Joshua Tree National Park
  2. Malibu
  3. San Diego
  4. Glamis Sand Dunes
  5. Catalina Island
  6. Orange County
  7. Lake Elsinore
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Palm Springs
  10. Sierra Nevada Mountains
  11. Big Sur
  12. Red Rock Canyon State Park
  13. Sequoia National Park
  14. Channel Islands National Park
  15. Yosemite National Park
  16. Santa Barbara/Central Coast
  17. Death Valley National Park
  18. Monterey Bay
  19. Shasta Cascades
  20. San Francisco/Bay Area
  21. Lake Tahoe
  22. Redwoods National and State Parks
  23. Humboldt County
  24. Klamath Mountains
  25. Mendocino County

Best Places to Elope in Southern California

The landscape of California is diverse, with different scenery throughout the state. So when you look for the best places to elope in California, you’re going to have a lot of options – all of which are going to vary a ton in what it has to offer! Here are some of the best places to elope in Southern California.

Where to Elope in California:
Joshua Tree

boho elopement in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is every boho, free spirited couple’s dream! The desert is one of the best places to elope in Southern California for vast, rocky scenery, and the park features the unique bristled Joshua Trees that make a great backdrop. 

Check out our Joshua Tree Elopement Guide

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to elope in California

For more info, check out this guide to eloping Wild & Free in California’s Joshua Tree National Park! You’ll find my recommendations on the places to elope, best seasons to visit, how to elope in the park, what to do to make your day epic, and more.

Where to Elope in California:
Malibu

Malibu Elopement wedding on the beach and it's one of the best places to elope in California

West of Los Angeles is Malibu, a city known for its iconic fishing pier, idyllic surfing beaches, and the homes that sit on the coastal bluffs. With the beautiful villas, fine dining, and the incredible scenery, how could you say no?!

Check out Niki + Tiff’s Malibu Mountain Elopement and Tyler + Zach’s Malibu Beach Elopement

Couple running on Malibu cliffs at sunset for elopement pictures

Where to Elope in California:
San Diego

Maybe I’m biased as a San Diego local, but I think this is one of the absolute best places to elope in Southern California! You’ll find beaches, rolling hills, sandy cliffs, and scenic parks, all within 30 minutes of each other. Some of my favorite places to elope here include Sunset Cliffs, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and Balboa Park.

Check out the 10 Dreamy Places to Elope in San Diego and our Sunset Cliffs Elopement Guide

Elopement wedding ceremony at Sunset Cliffs
Anza Borrego Elopement Location in California
Anza Borrego is one of the most underrated places to elope in California

Want to elope in San Diego? Check out this guide where you’ll find my recommendations on places to elope (beaches, parks, and more!), best seasons to visit, how to elope in Southern California, what to do to make your day epic, and more.

Where to Elope in California:
Glamis Sand Dunes

Sand dunes elopement inspiration for list of best places to elope in California

The Glamis Sand Dunes, a few hours east of San Diego, offer some of the most unique places to elope in Southern California! The sand dunes will have you feeling like you hopped on a plane to Morocco, without the jet lag. The sunsets are to die for, and who doesn’t want to play in a giant sand box?

Where to Elope in California:
Catalina Island

Southwest of Los Angeles is Catalina Island, known for it’s laid back island atmosphere and blue ocean water. The beaches will make you feel like you’re in Greece, and you’ll find tons to do – on land and in the water. Walk around the local shops, take a zipline over the island, go snorkeling among the reefs, or even take a submarine to explore the rich ocean ecosystem.

Where to Elope in California:
Orange County

Laguna Beach is an awesome elopement location because of it's VW buses and restaurants

Orange County is one of the best places to elope in Southern California if you want to combine stunning beaches with urban life – and if you want to take a detour to DIsneyland! Hunting Beach and Laguna Beach offer opportunities for surfing and for relaxing by the water, and you can explore the local shops and restaurants after your ceremony.

Gorgeous california elopement location, Laguna Beach with couple on the beach at sunset
Best place to elope in Orange County, California is O'Neill Regional Park
Couple laughing at sunrise in O'Neill Regional Park

Where to Elope in California:
Lake Elsinore

Lake Elsinore Wildflowers in the spring with couple kissing amongst them

This is one of the lesser known, but best places to elope in Southern California. Lake Elsinore is about 60 miles inland from Huntington Beach, and the 3,000 acre lake surrounded by mountains makes a pretty scenic elopement backdrop. It’s also popular for kayaking, swimming, and paddle boarding!

Lake Elsinore is also home to Walker Canyon –which is blooming with wildflowers in the Spring. With its recent Instagram fame, Walker Canyon can get a little overrun with tourists, but don’t worry, I have a beautiful little spot to avoid the crowds if you’re looking for a background of California poppies for your elopement location!

Couple walking in wildflower field in Lake Elsinore

Where to Elope in California:
Los Angeles

The urban metropolis of Los Angeles offers tons of outdoor recreation just miles from the city! Though it’s best known for being the center of the US film industry, you’ll also find gorgeous beaches, rolling hills, mountain peaks, and desert views nearby. Stargaze from the observatory at Griffith Park, explore the jagged Vasquez Rocks, or hit up the cute mountain town of Big Bear!

Where to Elope in California:
Palm Springs

In the desert of California is the town of Palm Springs, best known for being close to the Coachella festival. It’s a small but vibrant community, with mountains creating a backdrop for the desert scenery. The windmills in the valley make for a unique landscape, and a fun photo op!

Best Places to Elope in Central California

Central California is generally considered to be the area between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and some of the best places to elope in California can be found here! Here are a few of my favorite Central California elopement locations.

Where to Elope in California:
Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada mountains are one of my favorite places for a California elopement! There are cute mountain towns, hot springs, deserts, and some of the best mountain views – and on top of that, the mountain views are some of the most easily accessible in the state.

In the spring and summer, the mountain wildflowers bloom, blanketing the area in yellows, reds, and purples. And in the fall, the changing leaves create a different, but just as stunning, landscape of reds and yellows!

Where to Elope in California:
Big Sur

Couple celebrates after their Big Sur elopement wedding ceremony at one of the best places to elope in California

You’ve likely seen Big Sur recommended as one of the best places to elope in California countless times – but once you lay eyes on the sandy bluffs, the incredible ocean views, and the forested mountains, you’ll know why! The winding highway will take your breath away, and standing on the cliffs over the ocean will seal the deal – this is an incredible place to say your vows.

Check out our Big Sur Elopement Guide, Ereene + Juan’s Boho Elopement, or Katherine + Nico’s Glen Oaks Elopement

Big Sur elopement location with the big sweeping landscape and setting sun

For more info, check out this guide to eloping Wild & Free in Big Sur! You’ll find the best time to elope at this Central California elopement location, my favorite spots, permit info, what to do to make your day epic, and more.

Where to Elope in California:
Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park offers a different type of California scenery. The layers of red create scenic desert cliffs and rock formations, making for a unique place to elope! Hiking through the vivid colors is even more incredible in the spring – if the winter was wet, the desert flowers bloom!

Where to Elope in California:
Sequoia National Park

Groom playing his guitar during Sequoia Elopement in California

Sequoia was the United States’ first national park! It’s a landscape made up of giant trees, some of the tallest in the world. The huge mountains and towering trees create a magical landscape that you’ll love exploring on your elopement day!

King’s Canyon is adjacent to Sequoia National Park, so you can head over and explore the rugged canyon, with mountain peaks stretching into the distance.

Check out Jessica + John’s Sequoia NP Elopement

Sequoia National Park is one of the best places to elope in California

Where to Elope in California:
Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are located just off the coast of Central California, and are only accessible by boat! The Channel Islands National Park encompasses the five islands and their unique landscapes, with each one offering different coastal views.

Where to Elope in California:
Yosemite

Epic California elopement location, Yosemite National Park at sunset

Yosemite National Park is one of the best places to elope in California, and one of the state’s most iconic elopement locations in the country! The scenery is unreal, with glacier carved mountains and valleys, granite cliffs, and some of the most incredible waterfalls.

Check out Lissa + Nate’s Yosemite Elopement

elopement couple sitting on a rock in one of the most gorgeous places to elope in California, Yosemite National Park

Where to Elope in California:
Central Coast

Absolute best place to elope in California is Montana De Oro because it's so peaceful and beautiful

The Central Coast is 350 miles of some of the most incredible coastline! It’s been nicknamed “The Original Road Trip,” and stretches from Santa Clara, south of San Francisco, to Ventura, just north of Los Angeles. The coastal views, sunsets over the ocean, countless national and state parks, cute beach towns, and world class wineries make for an incredible elopement location! Check out Santa Barbara for Mediterranean architecture and a beach-mountain view combo, Montana de Oro State Park for stunning canyons and hills, and the Carizzo Plain National Monument for a breathtaking wildflower covered hillside!

Bride spinning in wildflowers for Carrizo Plain elopement location
Santa Barbara elopement couple kissing under a tree
Santa Barbara elopement couple in a lavender field
Beautiful glowy sunset light and a bride in a boho Grace Loves Lace gown
Couple in Montana De Oro with 2-piece boho outfit

Where to Elope in California:
Death Valley

Death Valley elopement location on list of best places to elope in California

In the summer, Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on earth – but as long as you don’t visit in the summer, it’s one of the best places to elope in California! The desert landscape is unique, with sand dunes, jagged peaks, and colorful hills created by layers of sediment.

Where to Elope in California:
Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay includes scenic seaside cliffs and gorgeous beaches, where you can often see wildlife lounging around. The history and architecture reflect Spanish Missions, and along with the landscapes you’ll find some of the best restaurants and wineries around! Santa Cruz is full of shops and eateries, Monterey has the best aquarium in the country, and Point Lobos Natural Reserve has some incredible rocky scenery! 

Best Places to Elope in Northern California

Northern California is totally different from the sunny south. The beaches are rugged and rocky, and the palm trees are replaced by coastal Redwoods. Much of the year is overcast, creating a gorgeous fog over the coast, and snow capped mountains farther inland. If you’re eloping in Northern California, here are some of the best elopement locations!

Where to Elope in California:
Shasta Cascades

The Shasta Cascade region is the perfect Northern California elopement location for outdoor enthusiasts. Lakes, campgrounds, and trails cover the mountains, with plenty to explore! Mt Shasta rises nearly 10,000 feet above the forest, and the surrounding town is perfect for skiing. Meanwhile, Burney Falls offers one of the most beautiful falls in the state, and Lassen Volcanic National Park has a volcano peak with hydrothermal sites and bubbling mud pots all around!

Where to Elope in California:
San Francisco/Bay Area

The Bay Area is one of the most beautiful places to elope in California

The Bay Area is hands down one of the best places to elope in Northern California, spanning the hilly city of San Francisco and the surrounding beach, forest, and hill covered counties. Check out the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Marin Headlands for hilly, rocky headlands, and Land’s End for incredible views right in the city!

Check out our San Francisco Elopement Guide and this Marin Headlands Elopement.

Couple having fun on beach that is one of the best places to elope in California

For more info, check out this guide to eloping Wild & Free in San Francisco! You’ll find the best time to elope at this Northern California elopement location, my favorite spots, what to do to make your day epic, and more.

Where to Elope in California:
Lake Tahoe

The gorgeous blue water of Lake Tahoe draws visitors from all over the world! The lake straddles the border of California and Nevada, offering hiking, skiing, and beaches for relaxing or for hopping in the water.

Check out Haley + Jazz’s Emerald Bay Elopement.

Where to Elope in California:
Redwoods National Park

There’s nothing as jaw dropping as the towering, majestic Redwoods. The tree groves offer some of the best places to elope in Northern California, with trails winding through the giants!

Where to Elope in California:
Humboldt County

Humboldt is a county in Northern California, located on the moody coast. Here, you’ll find trails that lead through the coastal Redwoods and out to the ocean, with some of the most gorgeous scenery! This is where you’ll find the Redwoods National Park, along with the remote Lost Coast Trail and the tiny, but adventure filled, Patrick’s Point State Park.

Where to Elope in California:
Klamath Mountains

The Klamath Mountains are a remote mountain range in Northern California, with high peaks that are snow covered in the winter, and dry and warm in the summer. There are several national forests within the mountain range, perfect for couples who want mountain views – and free camping.

Where to Elope in California:
Mendocino County

Mendocino County is on the coast of Northern California, with ocean scenery, forest views, and charming towns! Mendocino Headlands State Park offers undeveloped seaside bluffs and sandy cliffs, while the charming town of Fort Bragg has several beaches, cliff side hikes, and secret local gems.

Best Hidden Places to Elope in California

Secret Wild & Free Spots

You’ll find incredible beauty all over the state, but some of the best places to elope in California are the ones less traveled! Scenery is important, but there’s nothing worse than trying to say your vows surrounded by crowds of tourists – which is why I’m always looking for hidden gems. Secluded beaches, easy to get to mountain scenery, and any place where you can tie the knot in total privacy.

All of my couples get a list of location recommendations, making finding the right spot easy!

Wild & Free Tip

Take good care of your elopement location!

All locations mentioned are outdoor areas that need your love and care! To ensure your little slice of California is still accessible in the future and exactly as you remember it, please follow all Leave No Trace principles (especially with wildflowers). Public lands or park permits may be required for your ceremony. As your experienced California elopement photographer, I can help you navigate picking a location, acquiring permits, and following LNT principles to enjoy these beautiful, wild places to the fullest!

Best Places to Elope in California FAQ

Where’s the most popular place to elope in California?

The most popular places to elope in California are Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Big Sur, San Diego and San Francisco! Each of these spots have grown in popularity due to their incredible beauty. If you’d like help eloping in any of these areas (or if you’d like similar views but without the potential crowds), just get in touch.

Where can I elope in California? 

You can elope almost anywhere in California, besides private land and restricted areas. Many parks don’t require permits but of the ones that do, they have permit systems to help you properly get married on public land.

Can you elope on the beach in California?

Yes, you can elope on the beach in California as most are public spaces and state parks. Keep in mind that some beaches require a permit for special use.

When & How to Elope in California

Needless to say, California is huge! Like, almost the size of the entire country of Germany huge. So the climate, landscapes, and weather varies a ton, and so does the best time to elope. Southern California is mega different from Northern California, so when you’re figuring out your elopement plans, keep that in mind! The first thing to consider is weather in different parts of the state.

The Best Time to Elope on the Coast of California

The entire state of California often gets a rep for being sunny and warm year round – and while this image isn’t super accurate for northern parts of the state, it’s usually pretty spot on for the beaches in SoCal. Here are the best times to elope on the coast in each part of the state!

Southern California 

If you’re tying the knot close to the coast, you can expect warm weather year round, but if you’re right on the beach, the breeze can be chilly! Temperatures rarely dip too far, but summers are definitely the warmest, and the lows in winter are usually in the 50s or high 40s.

Northern California 

The beaches in Northern California are an entirely different story! For much of the year, they are foggy and rainy, and while it rarely snows on the coast, it can get pretty cold. Summer is the best time to elope on the coast of Northern California, because the sun is likely to be shining and the temperatures will be much more moderate! The ocean always brings a breeze with it, so anytime you’re by the water, be sure to layer up.

The Best Time to Elope in the Mountains of California

In high elevation, mountainous areas throughout the state, the changing seasons are much more dramatic than they are on the coast! Summers are warm and sunny, perfect for hiking, while winters usually bring snow and freezing temperatures. 

If winter sports are your jam, you’ll love having a winter wonderland elopement! But if you like sunshine and blue skies, summer in the mountains is probably more up your alley. Keep in mind that spring starts late and fall ends early, as these higher elevation areas see much more snow.

The Best Time to Elope in the Deserts of California

The desert can make a unique elopement location – but unlike most other parts of California, you don’t want to be here in the summer! Temperatures can climb over 100 degrees, so spring and fall are a much better choice. Winters are usually pretty mild, but mornings and evenings can be significantly colder than daytime temperatures, so bring layers and be prepared for potential dustings of snow.

Wild & Free Tip

Good weather means more crowds!

One thing to know about eloping in California, and anywhere else for that matter, is that peak tourist season always coincides with good weather. In most of California, peak season is summer, and the warm weather will draw out more visitors. The desert is the exception, with its peak happening in the spring and fall.

To avoid the crowds and get some privacy for your elopement day, there are a couple things you can do! First, I recommend eloping during shoulder season – this is the time right before and right after the peak, when weather is still likely to be favorable, but there are way fewer people around.

And no matter what time of year you elope in California, plan your ceremony for a weekday! Saturdays and Sundays (as well as holidays and long weekends) are always busier, so avoid the weekend warriors by eloping during the week!

How to Elope and Legally Get Married in California

After you’ve got your incredible California elopement location picked out, it’s time to learn how to get legally married in California! You’ll need to know a couple things about California marriage laws and how to elope in California to ensure your marriage is official.

How to Get a California Marriage License 

To get a California marriage license, the two of you will need to go in person to any County Clerk’s Office in the state. If you’re a local, I recommend going to whichever one is closest to home! But if you’re traveling for your California elopement, look for an office close to where you’ll be staying. Some offices require an appointment (and others don’t, but recommend making one anyway to avoid backups and long waits), so check ahead of time and make an appointment that fits into your schedule!

Wild & Free Tip

I always recommend making an appointment with the County Clerk to get your California marriage license for your elopement, just to avoid any headaches or last minute stress! But, if your local office is backed up and you can’t find an appointment time, don’t worry! Check the neighboring counties, since you can get your marriage license anywhere in the state.

California Marriage License Requirements

To get your California marriage license, you’ll need to bring a few things to the County Clerk. You need a photo ID (like a driver’s license or passport), and for the marriage license application you’ll need to know your parent’s names, mothers’ maiden names, and your parents’ places of birth. Some offices require a certified copy of your birth certificate as well, so be sure to look up the office you’re going to and double check for any specific requirements! If you’ve been married previously, you must also bring proof of divorce, death, or annulment.

California Marriage License Fee

The California marriage license fee varies by county, so be sure to double check, and also check if your office is one that only accepts cash – there are a few of those! An Orange County marriage license is $65, while in San Francisco it costs $112, and most counties fall within this range.

California Marriage License Waiting Period & Expiration

There is no waiting period for a California marriage license, which means you can tie the knot as soon as you get yours! But, the license expires after 90 days, so your ceremony must take place within that time.

Types of California Marriage Licenses

There are two types of marriage licenses in California, which is pretty unique! Both types are legally valid.

Public California Marriage License

The most common type of California marriage license is the public license. This is the standard marriage license, and with this one, your marriage is public record. You will need an officiant and at least one witness to sign the marriage license!

Confidential California Marriage License

For those looking for a little more privacy, you can apply for a confidential marriage license in the state of California. The application process is the same (but you will need to specify ahead of time if you are hoping to apply for the confidential license), but there is one added requirement – the two of you need to be living together and provide the same address for your marriage license application. Once you’re married, the marriage record is only available to the two of you, and is not public record. You can order certified copies of your marriage certificate to provide as proof of marriage.

With this one, you still need an officiant – but no witnesses are required! This type of marriage license is good for couples who don’t want their personal info to be public (like your mother’s maiden name, your address, that kind of thing), or who want to have a super private elopement ceremony without having to worry about witnesses!

Do You Need Witnesses to Elope in California?

A lot of people wonder if you need witnesses to elope in California – and the answer depends on the type of marriage license you get! With a public marriage license, you need one witness – but this is still pretty neat, because most states require two. The only requirement is that your witness is over 18 years old, so if you’re having a private ceremony and aren’t planning on inviting any guests, you can find any adult at your ceremony location, or ask a fellow beach goer, or one of your vendors, or anyone you spot throughout the day!

But, with a confidential marriage license, no witnesses are required at all – yay!

Do You Need an Officiant to Elope in California?

To elope in California an officiant does need to sign the marriage license – whether it’s a public or confidential license. However, if you’d like to do a self-uniting ceremony, we can help with an officiant signature (read more here!) After your ceremony, you must file the marriage license within 10 days.

Wild & Free Tip

Have a self-uniting ceremony!

I always recommend making an appointment with the County Clerk to get your California marriage license for your elopement, just to avoid any headaches or last minute stress! But, if your local office is backed up and you can’t find an appointment time, don’t worry! Check the neighboring counties, since you can get your marriage license anywhere in the state.

How to Elope: California Elopement Ideas + Inspiration

The best thing about planning your California elopement is all the dreaming you’ll do! Your elopement can be anything you can imagine – and I mean anything. A boho picnic on the beach or a stroll through the city, a day spent surfing or skiing, stargazing or watching the sunrise –there are so many ideas! 

For some California elopement inspiration, check out my Pinterest boards. Pin anything that catches your eye, and start creating a moodboard for your own day!

The Cost of Eloping in California

How much does it cost to elope in California? Between $65 and $15,000 depending on the vision you have for your day. With big, traditional weddings towering well over 30k on average, eloping offers you the opportunity to craft your day in a meaningful way and intentionally invest in your experience. You get to decide what matters to you and how you want to allocate your California elopement budget. Every elopement looks different, but here are some things to consider when it come to the cost of eloping in California: 

  • California Marriage License | $65-$120
    • Pricing of your license will vary by county
  • Traveling in California | $0-$1,500
    • Do you need flights or a rental car? The cost can range from a staycation close by to flights somewhere off of your bucket list.
  • Accommodations in California | $300-$3,000
    • The cost can range from a few nights in a cool Airbnb to a giant rental house for you and all your friends.
  • Food & Drink | $50-$1,000
    • There are so many choices to make your elopement day totally you and fit your budget goals. From private chefs, to styled picnics, to backpacks full of trail snacks from Trader Joe’s — every couple can get their foodie on and enjoy their elopement day celebration!
  • Wedding Permit for Public Lands | $0-$400
    • If you choose a California elopement location that requires a permit, expect to pay be between $100-$400 to the park.
  • Wedding Attire | $500-$3,500
    • You get to decide where to splurge for your elopement day! Is a Rue De Seine gown or a designer suit calling your name? Or are you planning on renting or buying second hand for your wedding attire?
  • Florist | $0-$2,000
    • You can work with a florist to add a gorgeous floral arrangement to your ceremony design or for a single bouquet (which averages around $350). You an also opt for no flowers at all if it’s not your thing.
  • Hair and Makeup | $0-$1,000
    • DIY your hair and makeup or hire an amazing team to pamper you on your big day!
  • Officiant | $0-$800
    • Opt for a self-uniting ceremony and save on an officiant! The average officiant is around $500 without travel fees.
  • Photography | $500-$10,000
    • This is a popular area to splurge on, as many couples invest 50-80% of their entire elopement budget on photography alone. An experienced elopement photographer, that helps you plan and craft an amazing experience for your day can range between $2,500-$10,000. Budget photographers that don’t provide any other planning assistance range from $500-$2,000. We know that these are memories you’ll want to look back on for the rest of your life, so we have experience-based packages –which you can check out here.

Wild & Free Tip

Invest in your memories!

Eloping is about spending money on experiences rather than things, and unlike the single use items often purchased for traditional wedding, your photos are going to last forever. You’ll never regret being able to look at photos from the best day of your life, and reliving every amazing moment!

Are You Ready to Elope Wild & Free?

You deserve a wedding day that’s carefree and full of laughter, not one full of rules and traditions that don’t suit you. And that’s what eloping Wild & Free is all about! 

All of my couples get location recommendations, elopement tips, and everything they need to design their day from beginning to end! So if you’re ready to elope, contact me – and let’s talk about how we can make sure your California elopement is nothing short of incredible.

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Ready to elope Wild & Free?

You deserve an elopement that throws out all the rules and focuses on what matters most.

 

I don't want you to have to do this alone, so it’s ok if you don’t have the details figured out yet -- I’ll help you design your day from start to finish!

 

Wild & Free Elopements is based in Southern California and photographs elopements all over the world.


Direct Email: [email protected]

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