California is an absolutely breathtaking place for an adventurous elopement. Between the coast and the mountains, and the drastic difference between northern and southern Cali, your options are endless!
If you’re looking for the perfect elopement location in California for your unique and meaningful day, here are our top choices for elopement destinations in the Golden State:
Best Places to Elope in Northern Cali
Redwood National and State Parks
Imagine being surrounded by the world’s tallest trees and the world’s largest body of water while tying the knot. Redwood National and State Parks are known for their charming and magnificently tall trees called redwoods.
Although the redwoods are what draw visitors in, there is an abundance of other plant and tree life to discover in the parks. There is also plenty of wildlife to see, as well as whale sighting opportunities, with the Pacific Ocean being just down the way.
Muir Woods National Monument
Another absolutely dreamy place in California with large redwood trees is the Muir Woods. It’s so close to San Francisco and very easy to access, which makes it more populated, so you’ll want to stick to a weekday if possible for this location to avoid the crowds.
My husband and I got to visit this park in 2019, and even found some great places to stay and eat/drink in the nearby town of Mill Valley! While you’re in the area, I also recommend driving around the Panoramic Highway to the coast there. The whole region is absolutely stunning.
One thing that nature and love have in common? Magic!
You can experience the wonder of both of these at the same time when you elope on or near one of Fort Bragg’s glass beaches. Glass beaches are unlike any beach in the world – miles of dazzling sea glass that originated from the beaches being used as landfills in the earlier 1940’s are spread out along the coast.
Gualala + Point Arena
In 2018, we had an absolutely amazing time exploring this hidden gem in Northern California. Since it’s farther away from the busy and crowded San Francisco Bay area, you can easily find several great trails along the coast here that feel really secluded and intimate.
We found a great beach near Gualala that would be super dreamy for an elopement, as well as a great beach to camp on at Anchor Bay Campground. And if you drive a little farther north on the coast, you’ll come to Point Arena Lighthouse, which has beautiful trails along the coast, complete with lots of seabirds and sea lions!
Known as America’s All Year Playground, Lake Tahoe has all the excitement one could possibly ask for. It is the largest alpine lake in North America, and one of the ten deepest in the world. Once your marriage is finalized, you can explore the lake via hiking, biking, camping, swimming, boating, rafting, horseback riding, and more!
Our lead photographer, Kaitlyn, also used to live in Reno, Nevada for two years, so she’s super familiar with some of the best spots in Tahoe to elope!
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Whether you are thinking of a beautiful garden or an ocean setting, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has 47 acres of scenic landscapes to choose from for your elopement day. The most favorable weather to schedule a ceremony occurs between the months of July and September, but the coast has nice weather year-round and there is always something blooming to see.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
This hidden gem of a national park is one of the lesser known and lesser visited parks in the state with a really interesting history. Lassen Volcanic NP is definitely a place for geology lovers and water lovers alike: formed from ancient volcanos, there are still lots of active geologic activity going on and there are some really amazing waterfalls, lakes, and mountain views here as well.
Waterfalls are one of our favorite things to photograph — especially as a backdrop to adventurous and water-centric elopement days. The waterfalls at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park are by far the largest and most lush-looking waterfalls we’ve ever seen outside of other more tropical places like Hawaii or Costa Rica. It’s truly an amazing place to elope in northern California, and we’d love to take you there!
If you and your fiancé are wine lovers, then a Napa or Sonoma Valley elopement will be a dream come true. California’s wine country has sweeping views of valleys, hills, gardens, and grape vines that make for a gorgeous outdoor elopement or destination wedding.
Point Reyes National Seashore
One of our favorite scenic destinations along California’s coast for elopements is Point Reyes! Since it’s farther from San Francisco Bay and the busier city life, you can often expect fewer crowds here, especially on weekdays in the hedge seasons of spring and fall. It’s got a nice mix of trees (like at the Cypress Tree Tunnel), top-down views from high up on the coast by the lighthouse, and tons of open space by the shoreline to get your feet sandy.
What’s more peaceful than hearing the sound of waves crashing and water falling during your elopement ceremony? Almere Falls will give you and your partner a ravishing view of a 30-foot tall waterfall that flows directly into the Pacific Ocean as you wed. There will be no shortage of photo opportunities here!
Golden Gate Bridge
Make the big day adventurous and memorable. The Golden Gate Bridge is a staple in San Francisco, and is recognized by people all around the world for its astoundingly tall towers, sweeping cables, numerous appearances on television and movie screens, and last (but not least) it’s reddish color. Having this landmark as the backdrop to your ceremony will surely boost your adrenaline!
Best Places to Elope in Central California
Say your “I do’s” alongside the scenic and intimate Sacramento River, then go explore the astonishing Sierra Nevada and Central Valley mountain range in Redding, California with your soulmate.
Yosemite National Park
Choose from Yosemite National Park‘s 1,200 square miles of exquisite meadows, valleys, forests, mountain overlooks, and famous waterfalls. Regardless of setting you choose, you will be swept off your feet when you hear your future spouse reciting their vows and when you take in the serenity of the High Sierra.
Some of the most popular spots for elopements in Yosemite include Glacier Point Amphitheater, Lower Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Fall, and Merced Grove.
Pfeiffer Beach + Big Sur
Pfeiffer Beach in the Big Sur area of California is not an easy one to find, but it is definitely worth the search! The gem is known for not only its purple-tinted sands, but also a giant rock with a hole in it (Keyhole Rock) that makes the perfect peephole for sunsets in the winter months. An ideal place of romance for your central-California elopement!
Live life on the wild side! Known as the hottest spot in the world, Death Valley temperatures can peak over 120 degrees during the summer. But if you can manage to stay very hydrated or visit during the cooler months, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you see.
Colorful badlands, snow-covered mountain peaks, elegant sand dunes, and stark canyons galore. It is truly an ideal destination for adventure elopements, but isn’t for the faint of heart.
Located just south of Monterey Bay, Carmel is a dreamy little town with the sounds of the Pacific nearby for you to enjoy. It’s probably one of the best spots for an elopement in California that combines coastal adventures, delicious food, plenty of wine, and lots of local shops and boutiques. This makes it also a fantastic place to combine both your elopement and a honeymoon all in one spot!
Kings Canyon National Park
Want the Yosemite Valley vibes without as many visitors? Check out Kings Canyon! This place actually has an even deeper canyon than Yosemite – the deepest in the United States at over a mile and a half deep.
Tall sequoias, rock cliffs, and stunning waterfalls make this another fantastic choice for an epic outdoor elopement. You might even consider camping and stargazing as part of the big day!
Best Places to Elope in Southern California
Do you and your partner fantasize of having a destination elopement somewhere in the Mediterranean like Italy or Greece, but would prefer to stay in the US? If so, Santa Barbara is the next best option, as it has a Mediterranean feel. Whether you choose to stay low or climb high, the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains allow for countless picturesque spots to express your commitment.
Joshua Tree National Park
Double the desert, double the fun! Many think of the desert as hot, dry, and bland. But in reality, deserts have a compelling variety of scenery, plants, and animals.
Joshua Tree is a combination of two deserts: the Mojave and Colorado deserts combine their explicit ecosystems in southern California to create a fun scene to get married in.
Channel Islands National Park
If you’re anything like us, you probably love really dramatic landscapes surrounded by water. Channel Islands is one of those places.
Like something you’d see in New Zealand or the Faroe Islands, this national park is just dreamy for couples who want to be surrounded by unique island formations and ocean waves, without the crowds of busier places like Hawaii.
Also part of the Channel Islands in California, Santa Catalina Island is much more developed than the National Park, and has plenty of amazing amenities, places to stay, and epic places to elope!
Imperial Sand Dunes
Hoping for a desert vibe with sand dunes without having to make the trek out to Utah or New Mexico? No worries! Imperial Sand Dunes has you covered. The best way to get around and explore as much as you can in a short period of time is by renting an ATV or side-by-side and driving out into the dunes.
Also, fun fact: this place has been featured in some major films, including Star Wars, The Scorpion King, and Jumanji 3.
Looking for an Elopement Photographer for your California Elopement?
Skyewater Photo + Film is an adventure elopement and destination wedding photo and video team based in Colorado. We help couples plan elopements all over the US, and offer insight for more than just photography: from planning assistance, finding and booking locations, vendor references and more! Reach out to our elopement photography and videography team today to get more info!