Why Elope in Big Sur?

Big Sur is undoubtedly one of the best places to elope in California. In fact, Big Sur is known as one of the best places in the world to visit. One of the best parts about Big Sur is the remoteness that this coastal stretch offers visitors. You won’t even feel like you’re in California, but instead, have been transported to somewhere such as New Zealand. 

Known for its hikes, dramatic cliffs, turquoise water, and blooming wildflowers, you really can’t go wrong with planning a Big Sur elopement. Within this costal stretch, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the Pacific Ocean like you’ve never experienced it before. Exchange vows on the cliffside, eat a romantic dinner at a local diner, then finish the night off watching the sunset over the horizon. Can you picture a better day than that?

A bride and groom snuggling on a beach in California for their elopement.

The 8 Best Places to Elope in Big Sur

Big Sur has a variety of different elopement locations to choose from for your elopement or small wedding. With multiple parks and public lands, you have endless scenery options to choose from. From dramatic cliffs and crashing waves, to open meadows and redwood forests, you’ll surely be able to find something you love. While I only included 8 locations within this list, there are plenty more!

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the best places to elope in Big Sur. It’s located within the Los Padres National Forest and is one of the most visited beaches in Big Sur. Pfeiffer Beach is known for its iconic keyhole arch and purple sand. It can be an adventure simply just trying to find the beach, but it should definitely be considered for your elopement, specially during sunset. Plus, there are no permits required to elope at this beautiful spot. Score!

Ancient Redwoods

The redwood trees are a must-see if you decide to elope in Big Sur. These ancient redwoods trees will make you feel like you’re in a forest fairytale right on the coast. With so many different hidden locations, it’s not hard to find a secluded and intimate elopement location within the trees. There are also numerous wedding venues within the redwoods as well!

McWay Falls in Big Sur, California

McWay Falls

McWay Falls is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and is undeniably Big Sur’s most iconic waterfall. With the waterfall being 80 feet high, it’s pretty hard to miss it. Unfortunately, there is no access to get down to the beach with the waterfall due to its danger, but you can still have your ceremony and watch the sunset at the McWay Falls lookout. It makes the perfect backdrop to any ceremony and photo.

Loma Vista Gardens

Loma Vista Gardens is stunning elopement location located in the heart of Big Sur Valley. It’s an outdoor venue surrounded by cacti, fruit trees, succulents, and redwoods. It’s a great spot for an intimate elopement with friends and family, especially if you want to celebrate with a small dinner after. Loma Vista Gardens is the perfect Big Sur wedding venue for the rustic, plant-loving bride or groom.

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park is known for its trails surrounding the coastal cliffs of Big Sur. This is a great area to visit in the late spring to see all the wildflowers, or in the fall to take a cool, unpopulated hike around the coast. It’s also known for Molera Point, a lookout within Big Sur that allows you to see the entire coast and its rolling hills. It’s truly one of the best places to elope in Big Sur.

Carmel River State Beach

Carmel River State Beach is an absolutely breathtaking white sand beach in Carmel. The beach only stretches a mile long, but it’s definitely a sight to see. With 360 views of beautiful Big Sur, it’s the perfect elopement location for anyone looking for a small white sand beach on the coast of Big Sur.

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Glen Oaks Big Sur has to be one of my favorite Big Sur elopement locations, hands down. Glen Oaks is a lodging and event center located right in the middle of Big Sur’s towering redwoods. For lodging, Glen Oaks has cabins that are super modern and comfortable, but rustic and woodsy on the outside. It’s the perfect location if you want to elope near redwood trees in a quiet and secluded area.

Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park is located in northern Big Sur and is another one of the best Big Sur elopement locations. It’s a beautiful place for a ceremony or couples portraits. In Garrapata, you’ll find a beautiful beach and dramatic coastline that stretches on for miles. It’s a great option if you’re wanting an area that’s a bit more secluded.

The Best Season to Elope in Big Sur

Fall

Fall is the best time to elope in Big Sur. More specifically, the months of September and October. In the fall, the crowds disperse and the fog is lifted (literally). The beaches are less crowded, prices go down, and the weather is nice. Generally, fall is a great time of year for any California elopement (or any elopement for that matter).

Winter

If crowds are your main concern, winter is the perfect time for your Big Sur elopement, specifically in December. However, this is Big Sur’s rainy season, meaning that rain is very likely for your elopement. It’s important to plan ahead and create backup plans in case the weather is bad. It will also be pretty windy!

Spring

Spring is absolutely beautiful in Big Sur. This when the waterfalls are at their peak, the wildflowers are as bright as ever, and the temperature starts to warm up. However, if Big Sur gets a super rainy winter, during the spring, there could be slides and major potholes that close down the highways and back streets.

Summer

Summer is the most popular season in Big Sur. There is also a ton of fog during the mornings that doesn’t go away until midday, so if you’re not a fan of fog, I recommend choosing a different season to exchange your vows. However, if you love the Pacific Northwest feel and love those foggy images, summer is the best season for you.

A bride and groom walking on the beach with birds on their wedding day.

How to Get a Big Sur Elopement Permit

Depending on where you decide to elope in Big Sur, you may need a permit.

What you first need to know is that there are multiple state parks within Big Sur, and each has their own rules and regulations for obtaining an elopement permit. Here’s what you need to know about each state park in Big Sur, and their permit rules.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | Andrew Molera State Park | Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

All of these state parks listed above have very specific rules for what qualifies as an elopement.

You can apply for your elopement permit as soon as you have 1 year left before your wedding date. You can also submit one 30 days before your elopement, but there will be extra processing fees. I always recommend applying as soon as you can. You’ll have a better chance of securing your date, and you’ll have much less stress leading up to your elopement.

The permit costs $300 and can be obtained by emailing the park office to receive an application. You can find everything you need to know about obtaining an elopement permit at any of these parks here.

Garrapata State Park

The permit for Garrapata costs $400 for 1 hour with 25 guests. You must submit your permit 60 days before your elopement, or you will be charged an extra processing fee if you submit it after this deadline. You can find everything you need to know about obtaining a permit here.

Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park is the only state park in the area that doesn’t require a permit for your elopement! Score!

*There are so many different areas and state parks within Big Sur. Be sure to check out the state park’s website about permit rules and regulations. Since COVID, many state parks have been changing their rules and pricing for elopements.

The Best Places to Stay for Your Big Sur Elopement

Big Sur the city itself doesn’t have many lodging options unless you decide to camp. Most people tend to stay in Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pacific Grove to expand their options. However, there are many high-scale hotels and Airbnbs right in the heart of Big Sur if you’re looking for something super close.

Best Airbnbs in Big Sur

Carmel Oceanview Charmer – Located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, this oceanside home will provide you with views of the nearby Santa Cruz mountains and is just minutes away from the coast. There is plenty of natural light too, making it perfect for pictures.

Quaint Countryside Cottage – Located in Carmel Valley, this Plus Airbnb is clean, modern, and minimalistic. While there’s not much space, it’s the perfect size for two looking for an “off-grid” experience.

Big Sur Dream Home – Situated right outside of Big Sur, this home is the perfect paradise for couples wanting something close. The architecture is unique and peaceful. Plus, you can see stars from the hot tub!

5 Acre Home – A personal favorite located right in the heart of Big Sur. Enjoy the stunning ocean views right from the backyard and a whole 5 acres to yourself surrounded with lush greenery.

Best Hotels in Big Sur

Post Ranch Inn – A 5-star hotel situated right on the cliffs of Big Sur that has dining and a spa. The rooms have private pools and incredible views.

Glen Oaks Big Sur – Glen Oaks is a crowd favorite situated within the redwoods. It’s known for their cute and modern cabins and also known as a great place to elope!

Big Sur River Inn – Big Sur River Inn is an affordable 3-star hotel. While not known for its amenities, it’s close to all attractions and is a great place to crash for the night after a long wedding day.

Big Sur Lodge – Similar to River Inn, the Big Sur Lodge is a rustic cabin within the woods that will make you feel like you took a turn to your grandparents house. It’s simple, cozy, and perfect for a few days stay.

Best Camping in Big Sur

Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – The most popular campground in Big Sur, but also the largest. Known as a “mini Yosemite,” this place is great if you’re wanting something in the woods.

Ventana Campground – If you’re more of a glamper, check out Ventana! The tents are the cutest, and the redwood scenery is to die for!

Andrew Molera State Park – There are tons of different campgrounds in Andrew Molera State Park. To see an entire list, check out the maps here.

Fernwood Campground and Resort – Fernwood is a simple campground for couples looking for a lowkey place to stay in Big Sur.

The Big Sur bridge in California.

What You Should Know About Big Sur

#1: It’s busy! Know about traffic. Big Sur is one the most visited places in California, especially during the summer. One of the biggest complaints about the area is the traffic. If you decide to elope during the busy season, allow extra time between locations, and be mindful that you may not be able to get a desired area all to yourself for your elopement. Highway 1 is also very windy, so don’t forget the carsick medicine!

#2: It’s chilly. If you’re not a large fan of the cold and wind, I would consider checking out other Northern California locations for your elopement. Since Big Sur is along the coast, the temperature and wind is fairly similar all year round. If you were picturing sun-kissed Southern California beach weather, Big Sur may not be the place for you.

#3: There is little to no cell phone service. Unlike most towns in California, getting cell service and WiFi is tricky in Big Sur. This requires extra planning and communication between all your vendors to ensure everyone is on the same page. If you absolutely need WiFi and service, make sure your lodging has it available.

#4: Bring extra cash. Big Sur is known as a getaway destination. Most restaurants and lodging options will cost you more than an average town. Bring extra cash for excursions, meals, and other fun things you can do while you’re here.

#5: Get your permits early. You can see everything you need to know about getting elopement permits above, but be sure to get them early to avoid late processing fees. Getting your permits will ensure that you aren’t fined or breaking an rules. Each park and area of Big Sur has different timeframes for permits. Be sure to get yours in to avoid last-minute fees and stress!

McWay Falls in Big Sur, California

Big Sur Elopement Activities and Ideas

Big Sur has nothing short of fun activities and places to check out. Below are just a few of the many different things you could do for your own elopement or intimate wedding.

Big Sur Elopement Packages

I offer Big Sur elopement packages and specialize in elopements in California. To view all the information about my California elopement packages, click here. If you’re interested in a more all-inclusive experience, check out this page.

Big Sur Elopement Package Pricing:

  • 4 hours – 1.5 days of elopement coverage
  • A hands-on Big Sur elopement planning experience with unlimited assistance
    • personalized Big Sur elopement locations
    • vendor recommendations
    • permit assistance
    • customized elopement timeline
  • Online gallery with full resolution and printing rights
  • 24-48 hour sneak peaks 
  • Travel fees to anywhere in California already included
  • Starting at $3,000
  • Interested in something more all-inclusive? Check out this page. My all-inclusive elopement packages include photography coverage, booking of vendors, rental car, lodging, and more! Pricing starts at $9,000.

Want more elopement inspiration? Check out this Yosemite elopement guide, beach elopement at Sunset Cliffs, these Los Angeles wedding venues, and more resources to help you plan your elopement!

NEED HELP PLANNING YOUR DREAM ELOPEMENT?

Snag your FREE elopement guide to help you plan your dream elopement in California, Alaska, or even Spain! Learn everything you need to know about how to plan a “just us” experience.

A free guide all about how to elope, created by a California elopement photographer.
A girl holding a camera and smiling.

ARE YOU READY FOR AN ELOPEMENT EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER?

I’m Brianna, a California elopement photographer who inspires, encourages, and empowers couples to push traditional boundaries and create experiences they’ll remember forever.

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