California Elopement: The Most Epic Locations + Planning Guide

California Elopement: The Most Epic Locations + Planning Guide

Congratulations on your engagement! We here at Off Path Photography are so excited for you and would love nothing more than to help you research locations for your California elopement. We love to capture gorgeous photos as we join our couples on the most epic adventure of all – marriage! So let us walk you through some of our most favorite places we’ve been in California as the wedding photographer for some of our couples.

#1 – Yosemite

This national park is not just a great valley, but a shrine to the beauty of nature, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.

Landscape image of a california elopement destination by The Off Path Photo

This California elopement location is a dream for any outdoor enthusiasts who love mountains and waterfalls. First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

Wedding Permits

As you can see, beautiful Yosemite National Park is chock full of photo opportunities for your California elopement, but they have some specific requirements you have to abide by in order to say, “I do” on the park grounds. A special use permit is required for any wedding or commitment ceremony held at any location within Yosemite National Park. The permit cost is $150 (if event monitoring is required, you will be charged an additional $50 per hour). These permits aren’t granted for holiday weekends and holidays. 

Bride spinning around in her gorgeous bridal dress at Yosemite National Park during their elopement shoot, captured by Off Path Photography

Ceremony Locations

Yosemite allows you to pick from a list of 12 locations you can hold your ceremony. While each location is the same permit price, not every location is available year-round due to inclement weather. Yosemite also wants their wedding couples to know beach areas are open to rafters and visitors at any time: this could be disruptive to your ceremony, so they recommend early morning nuptials between the hours of 8 am and noon. 

Park Rules for Your Big Day

This stunning national park also has some requirements and restrictions when it comes to the details of your ceremony that you will need to review before planning special details like your bouquet. For example, the use of hardy flower bouquets and boutonnières are preferable, to ensure seeds do not fall and germinate in the protected environment. Baby’s breath is prohibited, and the use of native flower arrangements is also preferred.

Lodging for Your Yosemite California Elopement

There are some fantastic options when it comes to booking lodging for your California elopement in Yosemite national park. They have everything available from stunning lodges to rustic tent camping. Whatever your vision is, you can find the perfect fit with this list of places to stay provided by the National Park Service. 

#2 – Big Sur – The Coast & The Redwoods

Big Sur is actually a pretty large area! Traveling from the northern to the southern part of Big Sur can take an hour or more of driving time. If you decide to hold your California elopement here, you’ll have a lot of locations to choose from. Big Sur has both a beautiful, rugged coastline as well as the world-famous  Sequoia Redwoods, so depending on your style of adventure, Big Sur could be the perfect place for you!

Beautiful, rugged coastline at Big Sur, one of the most epic California elopement locations, taken by Off Path Photography

Locations & Potential Wedding Permits

#1 – Garrapata State Park and Andrew Molera State Park

If you want to elope on the coast, some of the most gorgeous locations are Garrapata State Park and Andrew Molera State Park. These locations are filled with hiking trails and panoramic views of the ocean. You will need permits to get married in either of these parks: they cost $400 for 1 hour for up to 25 people, with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 60 days prior to the event date. Should you be working with a planner that already has a permit and insurance for the area, you can elope there for a much lower fee as long as there are less than 10 people attending.

#2 – Redwoods, Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns

If you are dreaming of a California elopement in the Redwoods, Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns, the elopement permit costs $300 for 4 hours for up to 10 people (children and vendors included), with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 30 days prior to the event date. Also, if you’re not having your ceremony there, but still want to take photos, you’ll need to apply for a photography permit and are limited to Mondays-Thursdays. 

The view of the lush Redwoods, a dream California elopement destination

#3 – Pfeiffer Beach

Should the beach be where you are envisioning your California elopement, then Pfeiffer Beach is an excellent choice. It’s famous for its hole in the rock formation and you don’t need a wedding permit to get married here! However, there are a few things to take into consideration and you may want to have a backup plan in place if this is your spot to elope: 

  • If the parking lot is full, you have to wait until a spot opens up to be able to get to the beach. 
  • It can be extremely windy, which may be uncomfortable for having a ceremony.
  • During the rainy season, the road may be flooded over.
  • During wildfire season, it may be closed for periods of time.
Breathtaking view of the beach at Big Sur, one of the top California elopement locations, photo by Off Path Photography

If you are looking for something more reliable with less risk due to weather, and tourist activity, then you may want to consider booking one of the many amazing venues available in Big Sur. Many of them offer elopement packages that include accommodations, ceremony/reception sites, coordination, and catering, which is perfect for intimate weddings of 10-25 guests. But they can also work for elopements with no guests as well!​ Here is a list of the different Big Sur elopement venues based on the vision you have for your special day:

Big Sur Redwood Venues:

Big Sur Coast Venues:

Big Sur Garden Venues:

Lodging in Big Sur

Most of the venues above provide accommodatoins if you are planning to stay in the Big Sur area post-wedding. For a more rustic cabin in the woods experience, check out Glen Oaks Big Sur, or if glamping is more your style, Ventana Big Sur is perfect. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed at the Ventana Big Sur glamping area. This is due to restrictions by the Coastal Commission. So, that is something to keep in mind if you book here. 

For a more luxurious stay, Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn are excellent choices! Alternatively, you could have your elopement at an Airbnb. However, always check with the owner beforehand as most Airbnbs in the Big Sur area do not allow events. Keep in mind that there are more risks involved with an Airbnb choice. This includes last-minute cancellation from the owner and liability issues, and site fees may apply.

#3 – Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is probably one of the most unique and popular places to elope for couples. This desert landscape is covered in unique plants and animals and is also great for stargazing in the night skies. Joshua Tree National park is also rich in cultural history. 

Groom kissing the bride on the forehead with his hands wrapped around her waist as she looks up at him during their elopement shoot at Joshua Tree

It’s truly a unique place! It makes sense why many couples want to plan a California elopement in Joshua Tree. Something to consider is that it gets incredibly hot here in the summer. So, it is best to plan your wedding day during the cooler seasons of the year. Also, Joshua Tree is flocked with tourists during the summer months as well. So, if you want to avoid the crowds and the heat, aim for fall or winter for your California elopement. 

Wedding Permits Required

Once you have decided to plan your California elopement in Joshua Tree, you’re going to need the appropriate wedding permit. A special use permit is $120, and it’s required for all Joshua Tree wedding ceremonies. Your photographer needs a separate photo permit as well. If you end up not getting a permit, then you’ll get charged a $500 citation fine.  So definitely obtain those permits prior to your wedding day!

Park Rules During Your California Elopement

“Leave no trace” is very important in Joshua Tree! So make sure whatever you bring in, pack up, and take back out with you. Joshua Tree is also a very unique ecosystem. So, it would be wise to use artificial flowers. This is so you do not run the risk of seeds being deposited into the park unintentionally. These things are not permitted inside the park ever: drones, dried flowers, non-battery candles, bubbles, any live animals (doves and birds for example), confetti, rice, birdseed, balloons, or smoke bombs. 

Bride posing in her bridal dress and bouquet during golden hour at Joshua Tree National Park, taken by Off Path Photography

Ceremony Locations

As with most national parks, Joshua Tree has a list of areas you can hold your ceremony that is approved. You can find the full list here – most are perfect for intimate elopement ceremonies. Only the Indian Cove Amphitheater is large enough to accommodate up to 100 guests. Each location will have a max number of guests they will allow. There is also a total number of vehicles you can park there during your ceremony as well, so that is something to consider. Here’s a list of a few locations available, along with the rules for capacity:

  • Porcupine Wash: 12 people Max + 4 cars 
  • Split Rock: 15 people Max + 5 cars
  • Cap Rock: 25 people Max + 8 cars 
  • Hidden Valley Picnic Area: 35 people Max + 8 cars 
  • Turkey Flats: 35 people Max + 8 cars 

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is actually known for its amazing selection of unique and interesting stays on Airbnb. Where you stay can actually be a great backdrop for photos as you get ready for your elopement, and even afterward as a styled shoot! This area has lots to choose from. However, the locations do book up fast so you will want to plan ahead as much as possible. Here is a list of all of the Airbnb properties in Joshua Tree available to rent out for your California elopement!

Bride and groom sharing a passionate kiss in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park during their elopement shoot with Off Path Photography

#4 – Palm Springs

This is another popular location for a California elopement: Palm Springs. It has lots of different scenery for you to choose from. Much like Joshua Tree, Palm Springs offers the desert landscape. It also has sand dunes and hot springs. Plus, it’s so close to so many spots that are perfect for the adventure lovers at heart – like Mt. San Jacinto!


#1 – Aerial Tramway in the San Jacinto Mountains

The aerial tramway is a great location for your California elopement because even in the midst of the blazing heat of a Palm Springs summer, you can escape to cooler weather and beautiful views. The cost is $36 to use the tramway. Depending on the time of year, you can be surrounded by snow on the mountain and then head back down the tramway to swimsuit weather. This is a great location for diverse photo opportunities!

#2 – Coachella Valley Preserve

This location is desert landscape, and while not technically in Palm Springs, it is very close. This protected area does not charge you to elope here. However, they do ask you for a small donation if you are able to give it. Coachella Valley Preserve has lots of large palm trees and cool little areas for photoshoots. It’s a great outdoor location for your California elopement. 

#3 – The Palm Springs Desert

Right next to the visitor center you have a wide-open desert landscape that is super easy to access and available for you to elope and take photos wherever feels best for you. You even have a view of the San Jacinto mountains on the west side of the desert and the windmills to the east. This spot is simple and perfect for anyone looking for the desert vibe for their California elopement!


Palm Springs is not short on locations for you to stay! There are amazing hotels that range from boutique hotels to luxury stays, and even more modest options. And of course, you have the option of Airbnb stays if that is more your style. Joshua Tree is nearby, so looking for unique stays in that area is also an option should you want to!

So Which Epic California Elopement Spot Will You Choose?

Now that you have seen some of the best locations for your California elopement, which one will you choose? Will it be a desert landscape like Joshua Tree or Palm Springs? Or are the Redwoods and the coastal landscapes more your style?

Groom looks at bride as she strolls through Joshua Tree National Park for their elopement shoot, captured by Off Path Photography

No matter what you choose, your California elopement will be nothing short of a spectacular adventure! We’d love to connect with you and hear about the adventure you’re dreaming of for your big day!


Collage of couple during their elopement shoot at Joshua Tree National Park; image overlaid with text that reads California Elopement The Most Epic Locations + Planning Guide
Bride spinning around in her bridal dress during their Yosemite elopement shoot; image overlaid with text that reads California Elopement: The Most Epic Locations + Planning Guide

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