Big Sur Elopement Guide
Big Sur is a truly breathtaking place. Imagine yourself standing on a cliff over the sea, wind in your hair, on a laughter-filled adventure of a lifetime. Does the idea of a Big Sur elopement give you chills?
If you dream of a wedding day that’s outside the box, one that’ll let you live out your wildest dreams, one that’ll let you get married in a way that reflects who you are, and one that’s free of pressure, expectations, and rules – read on! Let’s make this a reality.
What you’ll find in this Big Sur Elopement Guide:
- Why you should elope in Big Sur, California
- Best Time to Elope in Big Sur
- The Legal Stuff: Permits, Officiants, and Marriage License Laws
- Best Big Sur Elopement Locations
- What to Do
- Where to Stay
- Example Timelines
- Alternatives to Big Sur
- Big Sur Elopement Inspiration
- Big Sur Elopement Tips
- The Cost of Eloping in Big Sur
- Big Sur Elopement Packages – Are you ready to elope Wild & Free?
Why you should elope in Big Sur
Before we dig into the nitty gritty, you’ll need to decide if a Big Sur elopement is right for you! Here are a few reasons why I think the answer is a big ol’ yes.
The Remote Location
Big Sur is south of San Francisco and north of Los Angeles, on a remote stretch of coastline. Though the area is popular with visitors, it’s easy to forget about the tourists when you’re surrounded by ocean views! Your elopement day will feel completely intimate, and you can end the day staring up at the blanket of stars.
You don’t even have to get out of the car to have an incredible day at Big Sur (but like, you definitely should), because Highway 1 is known for being one of the most beautiful drives in the country! As you wind down the curvy roads, you’ll be greeted with views of the rocky cliffs and the majestic ocean at every turn – and you might even spot some sunbathing seals.
Of course, the best reason to elope in Big Sur is for the absolutely incredible views. There are countless state parks, hiking trails, and overlooks along the way, and you can stand on a cliff over the water or head down to the beach. With views of the ocean and of the giant coastal Redwood trees, you’ll never run out of things to do!
Best time to visit Big Sur for your elopement
Not sure about the best time to elope in Big Sur? Weather can be a personal preference (I’m down for anything!) but heavy tourism may make your elopement day far more difficult when considering the lack of privacy + parking! While accounting for temperature and the number of visitors, here are the best times of year to elope in Big Sur, California:
Winter in Big Sur
A coastal low of 60 can feel pretty chilly especially with the sea breeze! While tourism and lodging rates are at their lowest, the chance of rain is the highest (with 8+ days of the month receiving much-needed precipitation). If you choose to elope in Big Sur during this season, you could have the place all to yourselves, but will need to come prepared with warmer elopement outfits and coats to warm up in between photos.
Spring in Big Sur
This is one of my favorite times to visit Big Sur for elopements, as the cliffs are extra lush with vibrant greenery and colorful flowers! Temps are starting to get warmer, tourism is still manageable, and by April, the chance of rain has dropped down to only a few days amounting to 1-3 inches total. Still, come prepared with warm gear but enjoy all the beauty without the crowds.
Summer in Big Sur
With great temperatures and almost no rain, the summertime is the peak of the tourism season. Accommodations are at their highest prices, parking along the 1 is extremely limited, and many visitors are on the trails. In recent years, the area has struggled to accommodate for the increase in summer visitors- leading to restroom shortages and backed-up traffic. If you want to elope in Big Sur during the summer, it is imperative to choose a weekday (Monday-Thursday) in order to have the best experience!
Fall in Big Sur
Fall is another wonderful time to elope in Big Sur. Starting in September, the crowds lessen, giving you more privacy and more space for your intimate ceremony. The temperatures are still delightful and you don’t have to worry about the rainy season picking up until November!
Wild & Free Tip
Pick a Weekday, Regardless of Time of Year
This tip always makes the top of my list because it’s ESSENTIAL to having the kind of Big Sur elopement of your dreams. It’s no fun running into crowds, struggling with parking, or having people in the background of your photos! Choosing a weekday (and maybe even a slightly off-season time of year) for your elopement can set you up for success! It also gives you first dibs on securing your most desired vendors and accommodations.
Big Sur marriage license laws, wedding permits, & officiants
Along with incredible scenery, epic adventures, and endless fun, there’s also a little bit of paperwork to do for your Big Sur elopement!
Big Sur Marriage Licenses
To obtain your marriage license for your Big Sur elopement, you can make an appointment at any County Clerk’s office in California. You can go to an office close to home or along your travels, even if you’re coming from out of state! You can then use your license anywhere in California. If you’d like to learn more about California’s marriage license options and which might work best for your ceremony, visit the Ultimate Guide to Your Elopement Ceremony.
Big Sur Officiants
Now that you have your marriage license, you’ll need a Big Sur wedding officiant to legally tie the knot! I can help you find officiants in the area to perform your ceremony OR if you’re interested in a self-uniting ceremony, I can sign as your wedding officiant! I’m ordained with the Universal Life Church. If you’d like to read more about what a self-uniting ceremony looks like, visit the Ultimate Guide to Your Elopement Ceremony.
Wild & Free Tip
Have a self-uniting ceremony!
A self-uniting ceremony means that you don’t have an officiant to perform the ceremony – it’s just you and your partner, saying your vows and committing to the rest of your lives together. While the state of California does require an officiant to sign your marriage license, as an elopement photographer, I got ordained to help my couples out with this one! Have me sign as your officiant after you have your ceremony, and you won’t need to worry about the logistics of meeting an officiant in the middle of Big Sur, where service is spotty.
Big Sur Wedding Permits
Many of the public lands and state parks in Big Sur require a wedding permit. If you choose to use any of these parks for your ceremony, note there is a permit fee of $300 – $400 and possibly an additional $400+ refundable damage deposit depending on the park and wedding size. To apply for an elopement permit, you’ll need to contact the Special Event Permit office to ensure your date is available, and they’ll email you an application. You can find contact info and information on what is and isn’t allowed here.
For conservation purposes, here are the items the park does NOT allow:
- More than 10 people
- Pets, unless at the Pfeiffer campground
- Signs, unless at a campground
- Music, acoustic or amplified
- Alcohol, unless pre-approved wine for religious purposes
- Large items/alters unless a preapproved chuppah for religious purposes
- Glass or porcelain
- Lanterns or candles
- Rice, birdseed, bubbles, flowers, flower petals, or confetti
- Birds or butterflies
For conservation purposes, here are the items the park allows:
- 1 handheld decoration (bouquet)
- Campfire (only at campsites)
Best Big Sur Elopement Locations & Wedding venues
The best thing about eloping in Big Sur is the diversity and sweeping grandeur or its landscapes. The magical forests covered in coastal mist, the dramatic ocean views… what more could you want?!
To find the best Big Sur elopement location or wedding venue, I recommend you use private land for your ceremony – this will help ensure total privacy, and during the busy season, you won’t get caught in the peak season traffic along Highway 1. After the ceremony, I can take you on an adventure to some of my favorite secret spots along the coastline!
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Big Sur elopement locations. Because there’s only one road through Big Sur, any road damage to Highway 1 will make the area inaccessible. Landslides occasionally cause closures, and California’s summers often bring wildfires that can cause park closures. So when you elope in Big Sur, it’s super important to book with someone who is an expert on the area and can help you go with the flow and provide backup options!
Now, onto my favorite Big Sur elopement locations!
Wild & Free Tip
Get access to an exclusive Lookbook!
A self-uniting ceremony means that you don’t have an officiant to perform the ceremony – it’s just you anBelow you’ll find a quick overview of a few great places to tie the knot, but I know that gathering all this info on eloping in Big Sur can be overwhelming. So when adventurous couples book with me, I give them access to an exclusive Wild & Free Big Sur Location Lookbook, filled with all the best off the beaten path spots – so you can find your dream location!
Big Sur Redwood Forest Elopement and Wedding Venues:
- Limekiln State Park
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (permit required)
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (permit required)
- Glen Oaks Big Sur
- Ventana Big Sur
- Henry Miller Library
- Big Sur Grange
- Loma Vista Gardens
- Big Sur Bakery
- Big Sur Lodge
- Big Sur River Inn
Big Sur Coastal Cliffside Elopement and Wedding Venues:
- Garrapata State Park (permit required)
- Andrew Molera State Park (permit required)
- Secret Wild & Free Spots
- Rocky Point Restaurant
- Wind & Sea Big Sur
- Ragged Point Inn
- Ventana Big Sur
- Post Ranch Inn
Big Sur Sandy Beach Elopement and Wedding Venues:
- Limekiln State Park Beach
- Andrew Molera State Park Beach (permit required)
- Garrapata State Beach (permit required)
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Wind and Sea Big Sur
- Point 16
Wild & Free Tip
Chat up an expert!
The best thing you can do for your elopement in Big Sur is book someone who knows what they’re doing! An elopement isn’t the same as a traditional wedding – tying the knot outside you’ll need to think about quickly changing weather, outdoor safety, and more. Choosing a location that’s gorgeous, but not crowded, can feel impossible – but believe me, there are plenty of local secrets in Big Sur, and that’s where I come in! As an elopement photographer I’ve got your back every step of the way, to ensure your day is stress free, fun, and everything you want. Don’t let uncertainty or stress come between you and the wedding day you deserve!
What to do in Big Sur on your elopement day
A Big Sur elopement isn’t just a 20 minute ceremony and some quick pics! You’re looking for a true adventure – and around here, we’re all about that. The most incredible elopements last all day, and there’s no limit to the things you can do when you tie the knot at Big Sur. Dance on the beach to Neil Young, grab some ice cream, have a 5 star dinner, sleep in a tree house, hike a little trail, pop some champagne, cruise down Highway 1 in a VW bus, hit up a local bakery for a wedding day treat… whatever will make your day the best day of your life – so far. Go big and celebrate hard – a small guest list doesn’t make the fact that you’re committing the rest of your lives to each other any less of a big, big deal.
Here are just a few ideas of things to do on your elopement day in Big Sur!
Visit the Henry Miller Library
The Henry Miller Library isn’t the rent-a-book kind, but it’s a unique cultural landmark that reflects the creativity and quirk of Big Sur. It features displays of local artwork, live performances, and collections of writing, poetry, music, and more inspired by the landscape of Big Sur.
There are tons of trails along the beaches and in the coastal forest of Big Sur. You can take short walks to oceanside waterfalls, and descend from the rocky cliffs to the water of the Pacific Ocean. On the beaches, you can often see seals sunbathing or playing in the water!
Drive the Old Coast Road
The main road through Big Sur (Highway 1) is breathtaking, but the solitude you’ll find on the Old Coast Road is incomparable! The road is dirt, and generally pretty accessible with any vehicle, but I do recommend high clearance as sometimes there are branches or rocks along the way. In the wetter months, you’ll definitely want something with all wheel drive, as it can get muddy, and you don’t want to get stuck! The scenery from the Old Coast Road is one of a kind, and even more incredible than what you’ll see from the highway! Just take a turn onto the dirt road right before the Bixby bridge, and marvel at the views of the ocean as you drive the road less traveled.
Have a Picnic
What’s better than a picnic on the beach? Grab a blanket, pack a delicious elopement day meal, and head down to the water to enjoy the coast. While most places in Big Sur don’t allow campfires, you can find some day use areas or campgrounds with fire rings!
Where to stay around Big Sur for your elopement
During your elopement, it’s crucial to have a home base to come back to! Exploring is a ton of fun, but there’s nothing like a cozy place to relax after a day of adventures. In and around Big Sur, you can choose from rugged campgrounds and luxurious resorts, and just about anything in between.
Big Sur Hotels & Resorts
You’ll find oceanfront views and incredible places to stay along the coast! Check out Ventana Big Sur for a luxurious place tucked into the woods, with several suite options, including private hot tubs and patios perfect for relaxing. The Post Ranch Inn has mountain facing and ocean facing rooms, along with amenities like an infinity spa, and honeymoon packages perfect for any eloping couple! Glen Oaks is one of my personal faves, because if you’re eloping solo,they’ll let you do a free ceremony on the property with your booking – there are fireside rooms, cabins and cottages, and some of the most beautiful Redwood groves.
Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins
For nature loving couples, a camping elopement can be a unique way to experience the coast. You can find Big Sur campgrounds here, offering everything from tent spots to cabins! You can rent these cabins by the river, and find unique tiny houses here!
Big Sur Airbnbs & Vacation Houses
For private places to stay, you can always check Airbnb and find cabins and houses to stay in! You’ll find something for any size elopement, whether it’s just the two of you or you’re bringing some guests along.
Wild & Free Tip
Pay attention to your getting ready space!
Before you book your stay at Big Sur, make sure that wherever you’ll be getting ready has good lighting! That means windows and natural light – this will be better for photos, but will also ensure that your makeup will look great in all lighting.
Sample Big Sur Elopement Timelines
Here are some example elopement days in Big Sur, to give you an idea of what your day can look like!
“Just Us” Big Sur Elopement
- 8:00 Breakfast and coffee together
- 10:00 Hair and makeup begins
- 12:00 Drive to Lime Kiln State Park
- 1:00 Put on ceremony attire
- 1:30 First look & couple’s photos
- 2:00 Ceremony
- 2:30 Drive to beach
- 3:30 Beach picnic & champagne
- 5:30 Couple’s photos
- 7:00 Drive back to Airbnb
- 8:00 Hot tub, dinner, cake cutting
Big Sur Elopement With Family
- 10:00 Hair and makeup begins
- 12:00 Put on ceremony attire
- 12:30 First look with parents
- 1:00 First look & couple’s photos
- 2:00 Ceremony
- 2:30 Photos with family
- 3:30 Picnic lunch
- 5:30 Drive to beach
- 6:00 Sunset photos
- 8:00 Drive back to Airbnb
- 8:30 Toasts, dinner, champagne
Wild & Free Tip
Get a custom timeline made!
Part of my job as an elopement photographer is making a timeline for each couple! So I’ll be able to guide you and help figure out the best way to set up your day. At Big Sur, I always recommend doing your ceremony somewhere forested during the day, so that the sun isn’t too harsh. Later, we can head to the coast to catch the sunset!
Alternatives to Big Sur for your elopement
If you love the landscape of Big Sur, but you aren’t sure about getting there, getting permits, or you just want something less busy, here are a few other options for your elopement day!
The city of Malibu is west of Los Angeles, with countless beaches to explore. This beach town is the perfect place for an oceanside elopement, and offers plenty of rental homes to stay in along the coast.
Montana de Oro State Park
This park is south of Big Sur, named “Mountain of Gold” for the golden wildflowers that grow along the coast. Like Big Sur, there are dramatic ocean bluffs and rocky formations peeking through the water, with secluded beaches and coastal plains.
Mendocino Headlands State Park
The Headlands in Mendocino are known for cliffside trails and scenic beaches, with 347 acres of remote bluffs to explore. Mendocino is farther north, a few hours from San Francisco!
Further north up the coast of California is the county of Del Norte, a moody seaside place where you can hike through forests of Redwood trees and end up by the ocean! The rocky beaches and misty wooded groces make a maggical elopement location.
Just outside of San Francisco are the Marin Headlands. The hill covered peninsula offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the iconic mist that often covers the area. You’ll find dramatic cliffs over the ocean, without having to go too far out of the city!
If you want to elope a little farther away, the Oregon coast offers tons of secluded, remote locations across the entire state!
Big Sur Elopement Inspiration
Are you looking for dreamy inspo pictures to add to your boards? Check out our Big Sur Elopement Inspiration board on Pinterest!
Want creative elopements from all over the world to fill your Pinterest feed? Give us a follow on Pinterest and enjoy all the beauty!
Big Sur Elopement Tips
Before you head to Big Sur, there are a few things you should know!
Cell phone service is very rare in Big Sur, so you’ll need to be prepared. Be sure to download offline maps so that you know where to go, and be very clear about where and when you’ll be meeting any vendors or guests. Walkie Talkies can help if you’re in separate cars!
Be Prepared for the Road
The road through Big Sur can be daunting if you aren’t used to driving windy, narrow roads. It often hugs the cliffs closely, so if you have a fear of heights, ask your partner to do the driving! The speed limit rarely goes over 25, and as long as you drive carefully and keep your eyes on the road, you’ll be fine!
Even in the summer, it can get really windy by the ocean! No matter when you elope, make sure to pack a sweater or a jacket, so that you can have a blast without shivering your way through the day.
The Cost of Eloping in Big Sur
The best thing about an elopement is that YOU get to decide where you’d like to splurge! If you don’t care too much about a fancy dress, shop the bridesmaid’s section or affordable shops and pass on spending thousands. If you aren’t much of a foodie, pack lots of hiking snacks and call it a day. If you aren’t into fancy hotels, opt for a cabin or glamping! You get to decide what would make your day feel special to you and what might mean the most when looking back on it in 50 years.
Here are some things to think about when you budget for your Big Sur elopement.
- Travel – Do you need flights or transportation?
- Accommodations – You’ll need somewhere to come back to after your adventure so whether it’s a campground, trendy Airbnb, or an upscale resort, find something that fits your vibe!
- Meals – Don’t forget about food! You can pack a picnic, stop at a local eatery, or even hire a private chef.
- Marriage License – Fees vary by county, but average around $90 across the state.
- Wedding Permit – If you need a permit, depending on the park and area will average between $200-600.
- Wedding Attire – Dresses, suits, or whatever you’ll be wearing when you tie the knot!
- Hair and Makeup – You can totally do your own, but hiring a professional is so worth it and helps ensure things stay put throughout your adventure – this usually ranges from $300 to $1000.
- Florals – Add a bouquet, flower crown, boutonniere, or floral decorations to your day! A professional florist ranges from $300 to $1500.
- Photographer – Relive your memories over and over by investing in a photographer you love! Elopement photographer packages average from $3000 – $12,000
Wild & Free Tip
Invest in your memories!
People often regret spending money on all the stuff – the things that you won’t use more than once, the ones that will end up in the trash. But you’ll never regret spending money on your photos! These are the memories you’ll look back on for years and years, and unlike most things, will only get more valuable over time.
Big Sur Elopement Packages – Are you ready to elope Wild & Free?
Eloping Wild & Free means planning a wedding day that’s personal, stress-free, and uniquely you! It means letting go of all the expectations, pressure, and traditions that don’t suit you, and making sure that your marriage starts off with an experience that you’ll remember forever.
I’m an elopement photographer – but my job goes beyond photos. I’m your planning assistant and adventure buddy, ready to help with finding the perfect spot, getting the right permits, and anything else you’ll need to make this experience everything you want (and nothing that you don’t).
Big Sur Elopement Packages include:
- Photography coverage
- Options from 6 hours to 2-days of photography coverage with Joni, who has over 13 years of experience
- Photographer’s travel covered to your destination
- A fun photo experience where you’ll feel comfortable in front of the camera in no time and have all of your special moments captured
- Location Lookbooks to show you ceremony and portrait spots for the dreamiest photos
- Creative timeline design to make everything flow perfectly on your day
- Exclusive planning tools to help you design the best day
- Our helpful magazine + a self-paced planning checklist to guide you through designing your elopement from start to finish
- Questionnaires for us to get to know you and your unique vision
- Vendor Lookbooks to build your dream team
- Alternative reception ideas for those looking to celebrate out-of-the-box
- Sustainability and Leave No Trace education for a wedding day you can feel good about
- Officiant signature for self-uniting ceremonies
- Amazing photos + free downloads
- 3-5 sneak peek images within one week of your day so you can share your gorgeous portraits with friends and family right away
- Your full story in hundreds of edited digital images delivered within two months to relive the entire adventure over and over again
- Your own personal gallery to share your images with family and friends
- Free high-resolution digital downloads for everyone (no paying per photo or per download!)
- Printing rights to all photos
- Access to professional quality prints, wall art, magazines, and albums conveniently available for purchase a la carte right inside your gallery
Elopement packages start at $5600
Ready to elope in Big Sur? Contact Wild & Free, and let’s start dreaming!