Thinking of saying “I do” in the beautiful Golden State? I’m stoked for you! California is such an amazing place, with a huge variety of epic locations, and it couldn’t be more perfect for elopements and adventure engagement sessions! Eloping in California isn’t complicated, but there are things you should, and I’m here to give you clarity on them!
First of all, why California?
California is one of the most beautiful states in the US, in my opinion. Where else can you get mountains, desert, snow, lakes, and some of the most incredible coastlines in the world all in ONE place? And if you’re a National Park lover, you should know California has nine National Parks, more than any other state:
- Joshua Tree
- Death Valley
- Kings Canyon
- Channel Islands
Each National Park in California has its own character, which makes them all so unique and different from each other, and all worth visiting!
Another thing that makes eloping in California ideal is the weather. California has amazing weather for most of the year, making your life while planning to get married in the great outdoors a little easier.
Step by Step
1. Contact your County’s Clerk Office to get your marriage license
Every County is different. Some require appointments and some don’t. In some counties, the marriage license costs $45, and some cost $100. Once you’ve picked your elopement location and date, you can start doing your research to find what are the requirements on the Clerk’s Office you’ll use. You DON’T need to be a resident of California to get married here.
2. Bring the documents needed
And what do you need?
- Yourselves (lol, but actually). BOTH of you MUST be present when picking up your marriage license!
- Government issued ID for the both of you
- Cash for the application fee (which will vary county by county)
- You’ll need to know the full name, birth place, and birth date for you, your partner, and your parents!
- Some counties may require a copy of your birth certificate
- If you’ve been married before, you’ll need to show proof of divorce
Other things to know:
- Same-sex marriages are allowed in California!
- In California, you must request to have a copy of your marriage license sent to you, it is not automatically sent. The fee for that may also vary.
- If you wish to do so, you may apply for a confidential marriage license.
- Your marriage license is valid for 90 days. If you don’t get married within 90 days, you’ll have to apply for a new one.
- There’s NO waiting period to get married in California
3. Find the person who will marry you
And who can perform your ceremony? A minister, priest, or rabbi of any religious denomination. You can also have any of your close friends or family member (that’s over 18 years old) get ordained online and perform your marriage ceremony! It’s something a lot of adventurous couples have been doing because it’s the perfect way to have someone you’re close to officiating your wedding, making everything more intimate and special.
Once you’re married, you’ll need your witnesse’s signatures, and your officiant will be responsible for taking the license back to the Clerk within 10 days.
PRO-TIP: double and triple check your license after all of the witnesses have signed the marriage license. Make sure the DATE is correct. This comes from personal experience. Our marriage license was submitted with the wrong date on it, and it was a pain to get it amended! Don’t make that mistake!
How do we pick our location?
With so many amazing landscapes to choose from, this is probably one of the hardest parts of eloping in California, but also THE MOST FUN! With a little research and help from your California Elopement Photographers, you’ll definitely find the perfect location for your day!
Here are some things you can think about before picking your location:
- What kind of landscape do you love the most? Waterfalls, mountains, the ocean?
- Do you want to hike on your elopement day or not at all?
- Will you have guests? You probably want to consider their hiking ability/desire
- Do you want a secluded location, or you don’t mind having a few tourists around?
Always feel free to ask us for help. We are super familiar with certain locations in California, like Yosemite and Sequoia National Park, Big Sur, San Francisco, Mammoth Lakes, and more! BUT, even if we haven’t been to your desired location, don’t worry! We included what we call “location scouting” in every elopement package for that very reason. We’ll be doing research and getting to know your elopement location so that we know the place like the back of our hands by the time your wedding day comes! We LOVE shooting in different areas and finding new spots, it’s one of our favorite parts about this job!
Do we need a permit?
The answer to this question will most likely be YES. If you’re planning to get married on a National Park, State Park, BLM, or a National Forest, you’ll probably need a permit. But don’t stress!
Even though the permit application process is different for each location, it isn’t complicated, and we will help you with that as well!
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a set of principles we can all practice to make sure we leave anywhere we go, better than how we found it. It’s such a privilege to be able to use those stunning backgrounds, like Yosemite National Park and Big Sur, to create the perfect + unique elopement days. But we can’t take calling these lands our wedding venues for granted.
The principles are:
- Plan ahead & prepare
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
We took the Leave No Trace Course created by some of the pioneers in the elopement industry and we are now “Leave No Trace Aware Photographers”. That way, we can help couples create unique wedding experiences that are kind to the planet.
Bonus – Location Ideas
And here it is, one of our favorite parts about eloping in California – the amount of locations to choose from! SO MANY! Here are some ideas for you:
- San Francisco – Sutro Baths, Lands End & Battery Spencer
- Mount Tamalpais
- Big Sur
- Santa Cruz
- Yosemite National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Lake Tahoe
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Mammoth Lakes
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Death Valley
- Sunset Cliffs in San Diego
- Santa Barbara
That’s a wrap!
I hope this blog post gave you clarity! For more elopement inspiration and tips, check out: