Big Sur Elopement Guide – Everything You Need to Know About Big Sur

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

Table of Contents

Why Elope in Big Sur?

Big Sur is undoubtedly one of the best places to elope in California. So much so, that it often hits the lists of being one of the best places in the US 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 eloping in Big Sur. In 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?

#1: Choose a Season to Elope in Big Sur

Fall

Fall is a great 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). I personally think that fall is the best time to visit. The beaches are less crowded, prices go down, and the weather is nice. Generally, fall is a great time for any California elopement.

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. The temperature also drops into the 60s which isn’t bad by any means, but it also isn’t the most pleasant temperature. If you’re wanting to elope here in the winter, it’s important to plan ahead and create backup plans in case the weather is bad.

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. While spring is a great time for your Big Sur elopement, you’ll need to think about the dangers. 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. I recommend late May or all of June for an elopement during the spring if you want to decrease your chances of getting caught up in a slide.

Summer

Summer offers the best weather temperature wise in Big Sur, but this means that it also comes with the crowds. There is also a ton of fog during the mornings that doesn’t go away until midday, so if you’re wanting an all-day elopement on the coast of Big Sur, I recommend choosing a different season to exchange your vows, especially if you want to avoid the fog to be able to clearly see the coast. However, if you love the Pacific Northwest feel and love those foggy images, summer is the best season for you.

McWay Falls in Big Sur, California

#2: Find Your Big Sur Ceremony Location

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. 

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most popular elopement locations 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 these beautiful trees.

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.

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 elopement locations 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.

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

#3: Obtain Your 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 these state parks have very specific rules for what qualifies as an elopement. For example, you can’t have any seating, more than 10 guests, or decor other than 1 bouquet. 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 price for elopements.

#4: Book Vendors for Your Big Sur Elopement

Booking your Big Sur elopement vendors should be done in advance in order to secure the vendor you want and decrease stress. Vendors will really help you to make sure that your Big Sur elopement vision becomes a reality. I recommend booking or starting your search for your vendors as soon as you decide to elope, as they can be booked awhile in advance. 

Elopement photographer

Something great about elopement photographers is that they often offer planning assistance in their elopement packages. This is why I always suggest booking a photographer first, as they can help plan your elopement day and connect you with additional vendors. 

Officiant

Since California is not a self-solemnizing state, you’ll need to find an officiant for your elopement. Something cool about officiants is that basically anybody can become one. In fact, I’m an officiant myself! If you’re looking for a way to incorporate your friends and family into your elopement day, this is a great option.

Florist

Florists are another really important vendor for your wedding day. I recommend checking out Pinterest for floral inspiration. It’s also important to know what flowers you can and can’t have in Big Sur, as some areas don’t allow dried florals or certain types of flowers. Your florist will be able to help you with all these nitty gritty details. Plus, the bouquet will really help tie everything together, and it looks amazing in pictures! 

Hair and makeup artist

If you want to look the absolute best on your elopement day, a hair and makeup artist is a must. Not only is it super relaxing, but it’s also super beneficial, especially if you decide to have an adventure and hike. Makeup and hair artists know all the tricks for making everything stay in place, even when hiking! They’ll really help you make you feel your absolute best on your special day.

#5: Purchase Your Big Sur Lodging and Flights

Flights

You have a few airports to choose from to get to Big Sur. The closest airport to Big Sur is the Monterey Regional Airport. However, this airport definitely isn’t the most accessible and is often more expensive due to its small size. If you’re wanting a more accessible airport, I recommend flying into the San Jose International Airport or the San Francisco International Airport. The drive from San Jose is just under 2 hours, and the drive from San Francisco is just over 2 hours.

Lodging

Big Sur itself doesn’t have a ton of different lodging options, especially during its off-season. However, you still have a few options to choose from. For hotels, I recommend checking out Post Ranch Inn, Glen Oaks Big Sur, Big Sur River Inn, and Big Sur Lodge. Post Ranch Inn is a personal favorite. It’s a 5-star hotel and offers the best views of Big Sur. Their rooms are absolutely beautiful! As far as Airbnbs, there aren’t any options in Big Sur itself that I could find.

If you’re into camping, there are a ton of different campsites in Big Sur that you can check out as well. From the beach to the redwoods, there’s an option for everyone.

I personally recommend staying in Monterey, Salinas, or Carmel-By-The-Sea. All these towns are about a 45 minute drive up the coast. Here, you can find plenty of options for lodging from hotels to Airbnbs. Plus, these towns offer more activities and dining options for your elopement.

The Big Sur bridge in California.

#6: Celebrate Your Big Sur Elopement​

Your Big Sur elopement is over, so now it’s time to celebrate then share the news with friends and family. If you decide to stay in Big Sur, definitely take time the time to explore the beautiful area. If you decide to honeymoon elsewhere, don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs.

Once you return, you can officially announce your Big Sur elopement. There are some incredibly unique ways you can announce your elopement. I’ve seen social media posts, intimate dinners, large parties, mailing cards, and that’s just scratching the surface! 

Big Sur Elopement Packages

I personally offer Big Sur elopement packages and specialize in elopements in California. To view all the information about my California elopement packages, click here.

Big Sur elopement 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 $2,500

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 adventure elopement?

Snag your FREE elopement guide! The same exact one I send to all my couples, filled with tips and tricks about how to prepare for your dream elopement, whether it’s a sunny elopement in Big Sur or a cold elopement in Alaska!

A free guide all about how to elope, created by a California elopement photographer.
A free guide all about how to elope, created by a California elopement photographer.

Snag your FREE elopement guide! The same exact one I send to all my couples, filled with tips and tricks about how to prepare for your dream elopement, whether it’s a sunny elopement in California or a cold elopement in Alaska!

Brianna Parks, a California elopement photographer.

Hey there, I'm Brianna!

I’m a California elopement photographer who had a big traditional wedding, and I can’t tell you how many arguments there were about my day.

I was pressured to pick a certain venue, certain colors, certain guests, and it felt like I was spending thousands of dollars to play host at a party that had nothing to do with the connection between my husband and I.

Don’t fall into the trap society has constructed around big weddings. Instead, buy the plane ticket, get the wedding dress  dirty, and turn your stressed out wedding day into a carefree, adventure filled elopement experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Brianna Parks, a California elopement photographer.

Hey there, I'm Brianna!

I’m a California elopement photographer who had a big traditional wedding, and I can’t tell you how many arguments there were about my day.

I was pressured to pick a certain venue, certain colors, certain guests, and it felt like I was spending thousands of dollars to play host at a party that had nothing to do with the connection between my husband and I.

Don’t fall into the trap society has constructed around big weddings. Instead, buy the plane ticket, get the wedding dress  dirty, and turn your stressed out wedding day into a carefree, adventure filled elopement experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

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