Guide on How to Elope in Big Sur
Before I moved to the US, I had never heard of Big Sur. When Stephan and I were just dating he took me there and I could not believe what my eyes were seeing, it looked like a movie scene! Fast forward to 2019 and this became our workplace. This truly is one of the most incredible locations in California, for engagement sessions and elopements, and it’s no wonder why so many couples decide to elope in Big Sur.
On this complete and updated guide, you will find:
- Big Sur Rules & Regulations
- Big Sur Elopement Locations
- Best Times to visit Big Sur
- Where to Stay in Big Sur
- Bonus Tips!
Why elope in Big Sur?
Big Sur is known for having the most iconic coastline in the entire United States. But, what a lot of people don’t know, is that Big Sur also has gorgeous locations inland. Hikes and paths surrounded by redwoods, rivers, mountain views, you name it. Big Sur has it. So if you choose to elope in Big Sur, the worst part will be choosing where! You’ll have a wild variety of landscapes to pick from and, in my opinion, that’s a great problem to have!
Whether you decide to elope on the beach, on the cliffsides, or in one of Big Sur State Parks surrounded by trees, you are sure to have a beautiful wedding day!
#1 Big Sur Rules & Regulations
Because Big Sur is such a massive area, there isn’t just one process to apply for a wedding permit – which is the case in most National Parks. Instead, you’ll have to contact the Special Events Coordinator by phone at 831-624-3407.
Before contacting them, make sure you already know your ceremony location, how many people will be there (including your vendors, like photographer and officiant for example), and what time of the day your ceremony will be. Knowing this will give the Coordinator a better idea of how much your application will cost and if it will get approved or not.
A good rule of thumb is to keep everything simple when getting married in the outdoors. To get your permit approved, you will most likely have to keep the maximum amount of participants under 10 people, and you won’t be able to bring chairs or any decoration besides a handheld bouquet. I know these rules seem intimidating at first, but the only reason they exist is so we can continue to preserve these beautiful locations.
Now let’s talk about WHERE you can get married in Big Sur. When you choose to elope in Big Sur, you’ll have 3 options:
- Public Lands
- Private Lands
- State Parks
Eloping in Public Lands
Big Sur is an extremely large area and has loads of public lands. Each protected public land has different rules, and some might require a permit for weddings and elopements. But, the good news is that it’s usually inexpensive.
Doing your research and assuming you might need some kind of permission is better than winging it and finding out later that what you’re doing isn’t legal. Since every single public land is different, you’ll have to contact the Special Events Coordinator, as I mentioned before.
If you choose to elope in public land, it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles, and make sure there’s no damage to the chosen area. Mother Nature is our workplace and your wedding venue (pretty amazing, right?), so I can stress enough about how important it is to preserve it as best as we can! If you want to know more about Leave No Trace, get our guide here!
Eloping in Private Lands
Later in this guide, I will give you a list of some of our favorite Big Sur wedding venues, but I just wanted to talk about some of the advantages of eloping in private lands.
Private lands such as lodges, wedding venues, and hotels will guarantee your privacy, as you will be able to reserve the whole location for your wedding – which is something that isn’t possible in the outdoors.
The other big pro is that you will be able to expand your guest list! Some private lands can hold weddings with up to 200 guests, which, again, it’s definitely NOT possible on public land.
Eloping in State Parks
State Parks are Public Lands, but I wanted to dedicate a section specifically for them. Did you know the Big Sur region has 10 State Parks?! Yes! Crazy, right? It’s amazing how many beautiful hikes and camping sites there are in Big Sur. A very important thing to note is that, if you choose to elope in a State Park, you WILL most definitely need a Permit.
Prices vary, and the process can be different for each State Park, but don’t let that stop you! With a little bit of research (and help from your photographers), we will make it happen! When you visit each State Park’s website, you’ll see there is a phone number and an email to contact the Special Events Manager. As an example, on Garrapata State Park’s website, you’ll be able to find that on the right column, where it says “special events”.
Don’t skip this process! You don’t want your ceremony interrupted by a State Park worker, asking you to show him your permit.
Getting Legally Married in California
Getting married in California is NOT complicated, but, as with any legal process out there, there are things you need to know. I would highly recommend you check out my other article:
#2 Big Sur Elopement Locations
From Public to Private lands, I wanted to share with you a list of our favorite elopement locations in Big Sur!
Wedding Venues in Big Sur
- Ventana Big Sur – located in between Andrew Molera and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this hotel is worth all the hype. It’s perfect as your getting ready location, first look, and your ceremony and reception! With 5 different wedding ceremony locations to choose from, Ventana Big Sur will not disappoint!
- Glen Oaks Big Sur – located just a 13-minute drive away from Pfeiffer Beach, this lodge is perfect for your Big Sur stay and your ceremony and reception! Surrounded by trees, the ceremony area is breathtaking, making this lodge one of the best wedding venues in Big Sur!
- Loma Vista Gardens – located right by the Big Sur Bakery, this wedding venue hosts from micro-weddings all the way to 250 guests’ weddings. Packages range from $5,200 to $12,850.
Weddings in Public Lands and State Parks
- Garrapata State Park – one of our favorite locations on Highway 1! This is the perfect spot to end your elopement day, watching the sunset over the Pacific ocean! With one of the most dramatic cliffside views in the whole area, this location is a must!
- Garrapata Beach – part of Garrapata State Park, this beach is also one of our favorites in the whole stretch of Highway 1. It usually doesn’t get very crowded, and it’s one of the closest beach access if you’re driving from Monterey or Carmel.
- Pfeiffer Beach – famous for the keyhole rock formation, this location does not require a permit for elopements. BUT, elopements and weddings are not permitted from March 15th until October 15th.
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – famous for its redwood trails, this park is very developed with campgrounds and lodging. It can get pretty crowded, especially in the summer, which isn’t ideal if you want some seclusion, peace, and quiet on your day.
- Andrew Molera State Park – this Park has one of the most accessible trails to a beautiful – and less crowded – beach. It’s perfect for couples who want a little more peace and quiet on their elopement day.
#3 Best Times to Visit Big Sur
Big Sur is beautiful all year round, but our favorite seasons are spring and winter. It’s really amazing seeing the wildflowers covering the cliffsides during the spring! Winter can be foggy sometimes, but we truly love how empty this area is during the winter (even though it’s basically the same temperature all year round, Californians don’t like the cold lol).
I would HIGHLY recommend avoiding this area during the summer, especially during the weekends. If you’re anything like us, you won’t want your experience to be defined by the huge crowds of tourists everywhere.
#4 Where to Stay in Big Sur
There are so many beautiful lodging options in the Big Sur area, and here are some of our favorites:
- Ventana Big Sur
- Post Ranch Inn
- Big Sur Lodge
- Glen Oaks Big Sur
- Big Sur River Inn
- Ripplewood Resort
- Camping in State Parks
#5 Bonus Tips!
- As I mentioned before, wedding permits only tent to get approved for small wedding parties. If your party exceeds 10 people (including you two) I highly recommend booking a hotel/venue for your ceremony, or even better, a super cool Airbnb!
- If you can’t find accomodation on that Highway 1 stretch, look for places in Carmel/Monterey/Salinas. It’s all pretty close to the main areas in Big Sur, like Bixby Bridge, and Point Lobos State Park, for example.
- You might still find that some campgrounds and some State Parks are still closed due to the wildfires we had in 2020. Make sure you check their website for current information. For example, Andrew Molera State Park’s Campgrounds is closed until further notice.
- LNT (Leave No Trace) is very important. In order to keep using these lands for elopements, we must respect the signs and do everything we can to leave everything better than we found. Big Sur’s succulents are very fragile, and we don’t ever, walk on them. If you see a picture where it looks like the couple is walking on them, it’s an illusion.
Now check out this epic day in Big Sur!
Reena & Victor know how to celebrate and have a good time. From casual walks on the beach to champagne toasts at sunset, we had the BEST time with them!
That’s a wrap!
The insane variety of landscapes and the dramatic views of this area is what makes so many couples keep choosing to elope in Big Sur. If you’re coming from out of state or out of the country, definitely don’t rush your trip, and make sure you’ll have time to see all the amazing sights this area of the world has to offer!
I hope this guide has answered some of your questions, but, if you have any more questions, don’t hesitate and get in touch with us! We are California Elopement Photographers based in Fresno, specializing in elopements and the outdoors, and we are here to help!