How to Elope in California [Updated for 2021]

A bride and groom eloping at Laguna Beach in California.

Table of Contents

So you’re thinking of eloping in California… I couldn’t have picked a better place myself! With elopements steadily on the rise, California has quickly been becoming a hot spot for couples wanting to elope with breathtaking scenery, warm weather, and a perfect honeymoon vacation. However, figuring out the legalities of tying the knot in California can be confusing, which why I wrote this guide all about how to elope in California.

Why Elope in California?

Before we get into the nitty gritty details of how to elope in California, let’s talk about why you should definitely have California as a top contender on your list of potential places to elope. Maybe you’re on the fence and constantly looking through different blog posts and articles about where to elope, or maybe you’ve already solidified your decision on eloping in California. For those of you on the fence, this is for you.

I’ve been lucky enough to call California my home for the past 8 years. Being from Northern California, more specifically, a town called Redding, I’m an expert on all things the beautiful NoCal has to offer. From hikes and outdoor activities to food and shopping, you’ll never be bored visiting NoCal (and SoCal). Because my husband is from Southern California, and has lived there his whole life, I’ve had countless opportunities to visit and drive through this entire state, and while I still have so much to explore, it continues to be my all-time favorite state I’ve ever lived, visited, and shot in! 

When you think of California, you probably think of warm weather, beaches, and surfing, but this state has so much more to offer. Not only is California notorious for its amazing weather and beaches, but it’s also notorious for having the most national and state parks in the United States! With 9 national parks and 270 state parks, you have endless options to choose from when it comes to picking your dream elopement location. 

According to multiple sites, California is also ranked as #1 for being the most beautiful state#1 for being the most fun state, and #2 for having the best food. Did I also mention that California has more than 200 waterfalls and 400 beaches? From cliffside coasts to large cities, California truly has everything to offer for your dream elopement.

Now that I’ve convinced you, let’s dive into everything you need to know about how to elope in California.

A bride and groom at Burney Falls on their elopement day in California.
A bride and groom at Burney Falls on their elopement day in California.

When is the Best Time to Visit California?

The best time to visit California is March-May. Within these months, the weather is warm, prices are low, and tourists have yet to make their way to the state. Not only will you avoid the summer rush, but you’ll also witness some of the most beautiful sights California has to offer during this time period.

One of the biggest perks about eloping in California is the great weather. The entire state, with a few exceptions of course, has absolutely amazing weather year-round from January to December, such as San Diego and San Francisco. Plus, certain parts of California go through all four seasons, meaning that if you want to elope in California with snow, you can! This is one of the many reasons California makes a great state to elope in all year-round. Let’s break down the pros and cons about each season of California.

Spring

NoCal (April-June)

  • Blooming wildflowers
  • California’s greenest point
  • Waterfalls are at their peak
  • The temperature averages between 73-80
  • No tourists
  • Higher chance of seeing wildlife

SoCal (March-May)

  • California’s superbloom happens in the spring
  • Warm temperatures, but not as hot as summer
  • Less tourists than summertime 
  • Prices are cheaper
  • Start of festival season

Summer

NoCal (June-September)

  • Cooler temperatures in the mountains
  • Lots of lakes and waterfalls for swimming
  • Fun events like farmers markets
  • No snow in higher altitude areas

SoCal (May-October)

  • Constant sunshine
  • Perfect time to visit the beach
  • Lots of festivals and events

Fall

NoCal (September-December)

  • Lots of colorful leaves and scenery
  • Cooler temperatures
  • Less tourists
  • Start of snow

SoCal (November-December)

  • Cooler than summer but still warm enough for the beach
  • Less tourists
  • Less expensive
  • Known for the food festivals

Winter

NoCal (December-March)

  • Snow for snowy elopements
  • Lots of winter activities
  • Depending on the area, lots of greenery from rain
  • Cooler temperatures

SoCal (December-February)

  • Cool temperatures than summer, but still very warm
  • Famous ski resorts
  • You can ski in snow then tan at the beach in the same day
  • Best time to visit California’s famous deserts, like Joshua Tree National Park
A bride and groom exchanging vows at Sunset Cliffs in California for their California elopement.

Choose a Place to Elope in California

Because California is such a large state, you have so many different scenery options to choose from. With so many beautiful places, you can’t go wrong with choosing a place to elope in California.

Here’s a comprehensive list of all the most breathtaking places in California for your elopement. If you want a more in-depth look at some of these locations, check out this informative post filled with all the best places to elope in California.

If you’re considering a popular area in California for your elopement, make sure you pick the time of day that works best for your ceremony. I recommend sunrise elopements in national parks due to the popularity, but the season you decide to elope in, your comfort with crowds, and the specific area you decide to elope in also affects this. 

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

Get Your California Marriage License and Permits

California marriage license requirements

1)  You must be 18 years or older to get married/elope in California. If you’re under 18, you must have written consent from a parent or guardian and permission from a superior court judge. The court may require you to go through non-denominational premarital counseling if you’re under 18.

2) A California marriage license is only valid for 90 days.

3) You don’t need to be a resident of California to get married in California.

4) You must have a witness present at your ceremony, and they need to be 18 years or older.

5) Both of you must be present to apply and sign the marriage license. If both of you aren’t present, you can’t obtain the license.

To view everything you need to know about the marriage laws in California, check out the official site here.

California marriage license documents and information

1)  You and your partner’s full names, addresses, places of birth, and date of birth.

2) Name and place of birth for you and your partner’s parents. You’ll also need your mother’s maiden name.

3) A valid ID: driver’s license, passport, military ID, or state issued ID.

4) $90-$100 cash for the marriage license fee. Most offices only accept cash, and the fee varies by county.

How to get a marriage license in California

You can get a marriage license at any County Clerk’s office in California. 

Some counties allow you to apply for a marriage license online which can save you time, but you’ll still need to pick it up at the County Clerk’s office with your partner. Each county is different, and all the rules pertaining to marriage licenses can be found with a simple Google search. Simply Google “[county] marriage license” to find all the information you’ll need about specific counties.

Some offices require appointments. Again, this can be done through a simple Google search. It’s also important to know that the County Clerk’s office isn’t open on weekends, and it often closes early on weekdays.

Something interesting about California is that you don’t need to get married in the county you received your license in. For example, if you got your marriage license in Los Angeles County, you could get married in Orange County. This makes things a lot easier when it comes to getting a marriage license. There also isn’t a waiting period in California, so you can get married the same day you pick up your marriage license!

Do I need a permit to elope in California?

Yes, you need a permit to elope in California. If you decide to elope in a state or national park, a permit is required. If you elope somewhere other than a state or national park, you may not need a permit. Always check with the park or property land office to see whether or not you’ll need a permit for your elopement.

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

Book Your Flights and Lodging to Elope in California

Flights

If you elope in California, you’ll have endless airports to choose from, another perk of eloping in California. The most well known airport in SoCal is the Los Angeles International Airport. It’s the largest and busiest airport in California. It’s extremely accessible from almost any airport in the world, and it often has the cheapest prices compared to smaller airports in California. 

If you decide to elope in NoCal, the cheapest option is the San Francisco International Airport. This is the second largest airport in California and is also extremely accessible, carrying a variety of different airlines.

Other well-known airports in California include the San Diego International AirportSan Jose International AirportOakland International Airport, and the John Wayne International Airport. With dozens of other airports to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find one close to your elopement destination.

Lodging

It’s important to secure your lodging in California early, especially if you decide to elope in the summer or near a national park. If you plan on camping in a national park for your elopement, be extra prepared months in advance to secure a spot. Those puppies sell quick! Often times, the best hotels and Airbnbs are sold out months in advance near national parks and popular tourist sites, so make sure to start your hunt early.

California is known for its super unique and secluded Airbnbs. They also have some of the best 5-star hotels in the United States. I usually recommend an Airbnb over a hotel, simply because it’s more private and intimate, but I also love hotels because of the amenities and accessibility to tourist sites. 

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

Book Your Vendors for Your California Elopement

Don’t forget to book your vendors in advance, especially if you plan to elope during the busy season (spring and summer). Below is a list of vendors you should consider booking for your California elopement, and a timeline of when you should.

Photographer

I’m definitely bias, but I firmly believe that you should book a photographer before anything else. Speaking from personal experience, photographers are usually booked for elopements or small weddings anywhere from 6-12 months in advance. Many photographers offer different elopement packages depending on where they’re located. I personally have elopement packages for international, US, and California elopements. Booking your photographer first is important because many elopement photographers offer services in their packages that may be able to help you find other vendors you might want for your special day.

Florist

Like photographers, many florists are booked well in advance for elopements or small weddings. A florist can help you coordinate colors and help you determine whether real or faux flowers are best for your special day. They’re experts when it comes to texture and color. These two things could really put the final touches on your elopement day. Not only do flowers look amazing in your images, but they’re something you’ll be able to preserve forever in such unique ways.

Hair and makeup artist

Hair and makeup artists can definitely be booked in advance as well, but it’s not as likely. If you’re wanting to feel amazing and confident on your wedding day, I highly recommend investing in a hair and makeup artist, especially if you choose to hike in the California heat on your elopement day. They know all the tips and tricks for making your hair and makeup stay perfect all day long!

Officiant

California isn’t a self-solemnizing state, which means that in order to elope in California, you must have an officiant. There are several people who can officiate a ceremony in California, including a, priest, minister, active and retired judge, etc. Click here to see a list of officiants in California. 

If you’re wanting to do an adventurous elopement filled with hiking, it’s important to find an officiant who is able to perform these activities. I personally have a list of vendors I recommend that I disclose to my couples who book with me. Another option would be to have a friend or family member officiate. It’s super easy to become an officiant online, and it takes no more than five minutes! I’m an officiant myself!

Wedding cake

Some couples decide that they want a wedding cake for their elopement, but most people don’t, which is why it’s at the bottom of the list. If you’re wanting a wedding cake at your California elopement, I recommend having your cake made close to your Airbnb or ceremony site so it stays fresh enough to eat at the end of the day.

A bride and groom hugging by the coast of California on their wedding day.

Celebrate and Announce Your California Elopement

Now is the fun part! It’s time to celebrate and finally announce to friends and family that you eloped in California! Every couple announces their elopement differently. At the end of the day, whatever you and your partner feel most comfortable with is what you should do.

Some people send out announcement cards while others post on social media. I’ve seen a ton of unique ways people have announced their elopements. It’s often one of the most exciting moments of an elopement journey!

Interested in eloping in California? Check out these resources all about how to plan an elopement.

California Elopement Packages

I’m an elopement photographer based in California, and offer elopement packages for California, US, and destination elopements. To view all my elopement packages, click here.

California elopement pricing:

  • 4 hours – 1.5 days of elopement coverage
  • A hands-on California elopement planning experience with unlimited assistance
    • personalized California 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 planning tips? Check out posts about Yosemite Wedding Venues, San Diego Elopement Guide, San Diego Wedding Venues, and San Francisco Elopement Guide.

Need help planning your CALIFORNIA 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 California or a cold elopement in Alaska!

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

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.

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