Planning an Elopement in San Francisco: Everything You Need to Know
San Francisco, also referred to as the Bay Area, is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph in California. It’s one of the best elopement locations in California and has some of the most unforgettable experiences for couples all around the world. San Francisco is known for the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, City Hall, small beaches, towering redwoods, and to-die-for Ghirardelli sundaes (they’re incredible). As a San Francisco elopement photographer, I created this complete guide that covers where to elope, San Francisco elopement packages, marriage licenses, laws, and so much more!
Best Places to Elope in San Francisco
Below are just a few of the many different places you can elope in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking for cliffside views or downtown vibes, San Francisco truly has it all.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It’s extremely diverse and actually holds a third of California’s plant species. With so many different areas to explore, you can’t go wrong choosing this area for your elopement. Plus, if you’re wanting to have your ceremony in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, this would be a great location to choose.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is about a 1 hour drive from the heart of San Francisco. If you’re wanting a location close to, but not as busy as San Francisco, Point Reyes is the perfect spot. This location is also very similar to Big Sur. It’s known for its beautiful views of the coast, dramatic cliff sides, and famous lighthouse. Plus, because it’s so close to the city, you can get both nature and skylines, all in one day.
Marin Headlands is a location within in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Famous for its views of the Golden Gate Bridge, rocky cliffsides, and beaches, Marin Headlands is a beautiful location filled with all different types of scenery.
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is another breathtaking coastal stretch about an hour out from downtown San Francisco. This stretch of land has dozens of hiking trails, lookouts, and beaches. There are also wildflowers and plants that will make your images pop. Plus, the fog in this area makes for some insanely epic pictures!
San Francisco City Hall
The San Francisco City Hall is one of the most beautifully designed pieces of architecture in San Francisco, and it’s the perfect spot for any indoor elopement. The San Francisco City Hall is known for its grand staircase, neutral colors, and beautifully marbling. This elopement location is quickly gaining popularity and should be booked at least 3 months in advance.
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Mt. Tamalpais State Park is another place to elope in San Francisco that’s a bit further away from the actual city. With this location about 1 hour and 30 minutes away, it makes a great location to elope at if you want to avoid the crowds. Right on the coast, this park offers incredible views of the ocean and has a vast amount of rolling hills filled with lush greenery.
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is like a little piece of Redwood National Park, close to the heart of San Francisco. About 45 minutes from the city, Muir Woods is a great place to elope if you’re wanting to stay close to San Francisco but want to elope surrounded by nature and redwood trees that downtown can’t offer. This location does have specific times ceremonies are allowed though, so be sure to doublecheck with them.
Baker Beach is the most popular beach in San Francisco due to its incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, it’s only half a mile long, making it one of the shorter beaches out there. Due to the length and popularity of this beach, I recommend a sunrise elopement if you choose this elopement location.
Downtown San Francisco
Hop on a trolley, shop around Union Square, or explore Chinatown near Downtown San Francisco. There are also various hiking trails around the city that will provide you with some stunning lookout points of the skyline. There are also many different walking paths near the bay if you’re wanting to incorporate water on your special.
How to Get a Marriage License and Elopement Permit in San Francisco
To elope in San Francisco, you’ll need to obtain a California marriage license. To do so, make an appointment with the County Clerk’s Office in San Francisco through their online reservation system. They schedule appointments Monday – Friday from 9:00am – 3:30pm. Be sure to bring your completed application, I.D., and $113 for the marriage license fee. The marriage license is good for 90 days and doesn’t have a waiting period.
Pro Tip: If you elope in San Francisco, you do NOT need to get a marriage license within the county. The license can be obtained in any California county, as long as it is returned to the same county after signing.
You will also need an officiant and one witness.
Also, if you decide to elope outdoors, you’ll need to obtain a location permit. Each location has different fees and processes for obtaining a permit. Always contact the park manager, special events coordinator, or corresponding office to get a location permit. You can also ask your photographer. They will be able to point you in the right direction.
Where to Stay for Your San Francisco Elopement
San Francisco is known for having some epic places to stay, whether that’s at a hotel, Airbnb, or campsite. Below, you’ll find a list of all my favorite Airbnbs in San Francisco. There are also thousands of 5-star hotels and campsites if you prefer something other than an Airbnb.
Serene Oasis in the Midst of Silicon Valley – If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown, the Serene Oasis House is the perfect place. Situated amongst a hillside, this stylish home is the perfect getaway for honeymooners or couples who want a peaceful elopement.
The Retreat & Hot Tub in Lush Garden – Similar to a villa in Bali, this retreat is equipped with a rain shower, tropical themes bedroom, and hot tub surrounded with luscious plants.
Woodsy Silicon Valley Cottage – This cottage is ideal for couples who want more of an “off-grid” experience just outside San Francisco. Filled with basic, yet stylish decor, this cottage is a nature-lovers dream.
Modern Airstream Retreat in the Woods – If you love outdoor showers, hammocks, and tiny homes, this modern airstream may be for you. Not only is it comfortable, but it’s an awesome place for indoor and outdoor pictures due to the amount of natural light.
Sea Cliff Abode – If you’re looking for a luxury experience, consider checking out this modern villa right on the cliffs of San Francisco. There’s tons of open light and lots of rooms, each with different character and designs.
When to Elope in San Francisco
Fall is definitely the best time to elope in San Francisco. Believe it or not, but fall offers the warmest temperatures and the least amount of crowds (aside from the winter season). This is also a great time to visit if you want to avoid the thick, dense fog that San Francisco is known for during the summer months.
Winter is a great time to elope if you don’t mind the brisk temperature. San Francisco is known for its very chilly wind and rain during this time of year. However, it’s the cheapest time to visit and offers the least amount of crowds.
Spring is a good time to visit San Francisco if you want to avoid the summer rush. Similar to fall, this is another great time for an elopement. While the temperatures aren’t as warm and linger around the 60s, it’s still a great time for an outdoor elopement.
Summer is definitely not a great time to visit San Francisco. This is the peak season, meaning millions of people travel all over the world to visit. The crowds and prices for everything is quite high. However, this means that there are numerous events and festivals to check out during this time. San Francisco also has the most amount of fog in the summer, and the temperatures can be quite chilly.
Must-Know San Francisco Tips
#1: Plan for traffic. Make sure to have substantial time between activities. San Francisco is no joke when it comes to traffic, especially during rush hours.
#2: Be aware of high prices. San Francisco is one the most expensive places for tourists, right behind New York. However, there are numerous free and cheap activities to do for your elopement. If you’re wanting to save some money, don’t bother doing all the touristy things.
#3: Bring good walking shoes. Besides public transportation, many people in San Francisco walk. Make sure to bring a good pair of shoes if you plan on walking, and know that the city is very hilly, meaning walking uphill should be expected.
#4: Don’t expect privacy. San Francisco has a lot of people, so don’t expect to have an area to yourself for your elopement if you’re looking at having one within the city. There are tons of locations just outside the busy area that will provide you with the privacy you need.
The Best Things to Do for Your San Francisco Elopement
- Get a water massage (they’re amazing)!
- Split a Ghirardelli Sundae (the one touristy thing you MUST do. They’re to die for!)
- Drive on the Golden Gate Bridge and blast the Full House theme song
- Have a picnic in front of The Painted Ladies
- Grab some food in Chinatown
- Go hiking to see some incredible views
- Buy some sourdough bread at Boudins (also another touristy must do)
- Take a tour of San Francisco by boat
- Try their famous escape rooms
- Take a food tour
- Shop at a farmers market
Elopement Packages in San Francisco
I’m Brianna, an elopement photographer based in Northern California. I offer San Francisco elopement packages that include complete planning assistance for your big day. You can see all my package information here.
San Francisco Elopement Pricing:
- 4 hours – 1.5 days of elopement coverage anywhere in California
- A personalized elopement planning experience with unlimited assistance
- Personalized elopement location recommendations
- Vendor, lodging, and activity recommendations
- Assistance and information to help you with permits, licenses, etc.
- 90+ page elopement planning guide filled with tips and tricks
- Customized elopement timelines
- Optional complimentary officiant services
- Online gallery with full resolution images and printing rights
- 24-48 hour sneak peeks to share with the world
- Travel fees to anywhere in California are already included
- Starting at $6,500
Don’t forget your FREE elopement guide!
An all-in-one planning guide for all things elopements! Whether you’re hoping to hike through the mountains of Washington or sip a margarita on the beaches of California, this comprehensive elopement guide has everything you need to know about how to plan the perfect elopement.
You? You’re the kind of person that gets a lil’ teary eyed looking at an epic view…
That moment when you turn to the person you’re with and ask, “Are you seeing this?” I live for it. Places with trees and mountains and soft breezes that make you say, “I can’t believe this place exists,” I spend pretty much all of my free time searching for and exploring them.
These places have always felt like home to me. And if you’re the kind of person who also feels more at home surrounded by trees than by people? Then we’ll get along really well. The Pacific Northwest is full of secret spots that are too special to share with just anyone. But it would make me happy to share them with you on your wedding day.
(I promise you won’t regret it.)
P.S. I’m Brianna. My mission is to create custom, one-of-a-kind elopement experiences in the Pacific Northwest that allow couples to fully immerse themselves in the highest levels of excitement and wonder on a day designed exclusively for them.