How to Plan a California Destination Elopement


So you’re wondering how the heck to plan a California destination elopement? I know elopement planning might be a little bit overwhelming at first, considering all the options you have to choose from. But trust me, it doesn’t have to be that hard! All you have to do is follow this guide, and you’ll be stress-free planning in no time. 

Choose your destination 

There are soo many awesome destinations to choose from in California! To make it easier for you, I’ve broken up the locations by Northern and Southern California.

Northern California 

Yosemite National Park

If you know me, you know that Yosemite is one of my FAVORITE California elopement locations! I mean, what’s not to love about it? In fact, I have an entire Yosemite Elopement Guide up on my website for you to check out. The waterfalls, glaciers, and cliffs that Yosemite offers are insanely beautiful, and anyone would be lucky to elope there. If you want to check out a real Yosemite elopement I’ve photographed, you can read Juanita & Andres’ blog post!

Big Sur

Another one of my absolute faves, Big Sur. The versatility that you can get when you elope at Big Sur is crazy; you can elope on the beach, in the forest, or at a venue! I also have a Big Sur Elopement guide on my website for those of you interested in eloping here. To see a Big Sur elopement in action, you can check out Shelby & Charles’ blog post!

San Francisco 

Switching gears a little bit, San Francisco would be another awesome California destination elopement location. The city of San Fran is seriously like no other, and you would have so many options when it comes to eloping here. You could take photos with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the background, or it in the heart of the culture-filled city.

Southern California

Joshua Tree

Ugh, I don’t think I’ll ever get over how beautiful Joshua Tree is. Located in the desert near Palm Springs, JT is the ultimate southern California Destination elopement spot. Plus, there are so many adorable Airbnb’s that are an experience within themselves! If you’re looking for a desert elopement location, JT would definitely be for you. Check out my Joshua Tree Elopement Guide for more info!

Santa Barbara

Definitely an overlooked town in California, Santa Barbara would be a beautiful, intimate elopement destination. This spanish-inspired city is quaint but full of personality, not to mention the beach is amazing! A ton of couples choose to honeymoon in Santa Barbara because of the quiet yet luxurious atmosphere. 

PS – If you love shopping, you have to visit the Paseo Nuevo mall while you’re there!

San Diego

If you want to be all up in the hustle and bustle of Southern California (but don’t want to elope in LA), San Diego seriously has it all. The beaches, gardens, the food, I promise you won’t be disappointed if you choose SD as your California destination elopement location. 

Create a moodboard

Once you’ve chosen your California destination, it’s time to start planning! But this is the fun part of planning: creating a moodboard. My favorite tools to create elopement moodboards are Pinterest and Canva, and they’re both free! You can use my Pinterest profile for alllll your inspiration needs, as I’ve shot weddings and elopements all over California. This moodboard will not only be helpful for your photographer, but your other vendors too. 

Set a budget

Okay so onto the less fun part of planning: setting your budget. Although it’s not glamorous, it has to be done! I recommend sitting down with your partner and having a realistic conversation about how much you want to spend. And if you have family or friends contributing, take that into consideration as well! Decide if your budget is going to be set in stone, or if you want to give yourself a budget “range’ to allow for flexibility. 

Choose a date

Choosing a date for your California destination elopement shouldn’t be difficult, especially if you know what season you want to elope in. I recommend learning about what the best time of year to elope at whatever destination you choose before making a final decision! Especially if you’re eloping at a national or state park like Yosemite, Big Sur, or Joshua Tree, the weather can be drastically different based on the season. There might even be road closures during certain times of the year, so make sure to do your research!

Book your photographer

Once you’ve got your date figured out, it’s time to book your photographer. Look for one that has experience shooting at the location you choose, and can help you with the planning process! Most importantly though: choose a photographer that you really connect with. I always know if a couple is gonna be a good fit or not within a few minutes of hopping on a consult call together. If they can laugh at my jokes and handle my personality, then chances are we’re gonna become best friends! I’m so lucky to work with some of the best couples ever, ones who remind me why I love doing this as a job. 

Book your venue

Now that your photographer is locked and loaded, let’s talk venues! If you’re getting married at a national or state park, you might not even need to book one. If you decide to elope in Big Sur, I have an entire blog post dedicated to my Top 5 Big Sur Wedding Venues to help you out. Or if Big Sur isn’t the vibe you’re going for, don’t worry. Check out my favorite California Microwedding Venues blog instead! When searching for a venue, here are the things to keep in mind:

  • Do they have indoor or outdoor spaces?
  • Do they require a planner or day-of coordinator?
  • Are rentals included in the venue cost?
  • How many hours are we able to use the venue?
  • Do they have special packages for elopements or microweddings?

Book your other vendors

After your photographer and venue have been booked, you can start booking your other vendors. If you’re planning a California destination elopement, chances are you won’t need that many vendors since your guest count will be low. But here are the ones you should be thinking about booking:

  • A florist for bouquets, boutonnieres, decorations, and arrangements 
  • A planner or day-of coordinator to ease the stress
  • A videographer so that you can have an elopement video to look back on
  • A private chef/caterer for your post-elopement meal
  • A baker for your cake/desserts

How to plan a California destination elopement

Those are all my tips, tricks, and recommendations for planning your California destination elopement! You should have all the info you need to make planning as stress-free as possible. And if you’re thinking “Sadie Mak, I need you as my photographer,” then YAY! To get in touch with me about your date, you can fill out my contact form

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