Locations, guides, and all the important things to consider when planning YOUR Big Sur Elopement & wedding

Bride and groom hold hands while looking out over the ocean at their Big Sur elopement

Rocky coastal cliffs with crashing waves beneath and lush green forests with towering redwood trees are just a few of the iconic sceneries that you’ll find in Big Sur, California. One of the things we love most about this area of the California coast is that the views here are endless and so versatile. On one side of Highway 1 are lush green mountains and on the other side, there are beautiful wildflowers covering the rugged coastal cliffs. And of course, best of all is the beautiful beaches between Monterey and Big Sur. This is why Big Sur is such a perfect place to photograph and capture engagement, wedding, and elopement photos, so if you’re wondering if you can truly have it all…you can!

Explore Some Of The Most Adventurous and Beautiful Big Sur Elopements, Weddings, and Engagements


1) Choose the best location around Big Sur that speaks to your heart

2) Book an elopement photographer you can connect with. Send us an inquiry for a FREE consultation

3) We’ll talk and plan on EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW to make your elopement at Big Sur the best day ever

4) Apply for a California marriage license

5) Check if your Big Sur ceremony location requires a permit and, if so, apply for one (we can help with this)

6) We’ll adventure around the location you picked, take in the beauty of California coast, create memories, and we’ll photograph the heck out of you two.

7) Eat the cake, pop the champagne, and celebrate your marriage! Yay!!!

Step 1: Choose the Best Location and Best Time to Elope in Big Sur


When it comes to eloping in Big Sur, there are two main options that you may come across in your research. Private land vs Public land…but what is the difference, what are the benefits of each, and what does that mean for your elopement?

Many people think of Big Sur as being a stretch of land just along the coast of California, but it is in fact much larger than that. Big Sur is a 71-mile region along the coast of California’s Highway 1 that also goes inland. It is made up of state parks, national forests, and miles and miles of wilderness regions as well as some private land scattered throughout.

With so much land to explore, couples can choose a couple of different locations for their elopement day, but keep in mind that it may take a couple of hours to drive from one end of Big Sur to the other, so you will want to be sure to allow for enough time to get to each location. In addition, the cell service throughout this area is very limited, so we will want to map out your itinerary and locations in advance.

Despite how large Big Sur is, it does attract a lot of attention, and certain areas can get quite crowded (the park is estimated to bring somewhere between 4.5 and 7 million visitors a year!). We’ll go over the best time to elope in Big Sur to ensure the most privacy for your elopement day later on, but first, let’s discuss the differences between Public and Private lands.

Private Land

Private land is land that is not owned by the government, so think Airbnb, venues, and restaurants. These are great options for elopement ceremonies as they can provide the maximum privacy and they generally won’t have any guest or pet restrictions or permit requirements.

Another great option with Private land is if you choose an Airbnb for your elopement ceremony, you have a built-in getting-ready location that can also double as your ceremony location. We call that a win! Most Airbnbs are also either in a secluded part of the forest or on the coast with private beach access, so you will be surrounded by nature and able to access beautiful locations within minutes, whether you choose to elope in the forest or on the coast.

Benefits of Private Land Ceremonies:

  • Maximum privacy
  • Fewer guest / pet restrictions
  • No permit requirements or hour limits

Public Land

With so many state parks in the Central Coast region, you can’t go wrong when choosing to elope at a location on public land in Big Sur. Some of the State Parks in this region are:

  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • Garrapata
  • Point Sur State Historic Park
  • Andrew Molera
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns
  • Limekiln

While all of these state parks have something unique to offer, keep in mind that each of them has different rules and restrictions so you will want to be sure to research and contact the Special Events Coordinate to confirm event requirements for the region you choose.

Benefits of Public Land Ceremonies:

  • Relatively inexpensive fees
  • Iconic views with built-in adventures


We have included a list of some of our favorite Big Sur elopement locations, but keep in mind that Big Sur often experiences closures and temporary shutdowns due to washed-out roads and population so be sure to research to ensure your location will be open on your elopement day.

  • Soberanes Point Trail – accessible all year long; located in Garrapata State Park
  • Garrapata Bluff Trail and Beach – a short walking trail accessible all year long; near Carmel
  • China Lookout – coming from the south, this area marks the end of Big Sur just before Point Lobos and Carmel-By-The-Sea
  • Pfeiffer Beach – centrally located, this beach is one of the main attractions of the Big Sur region
Bride and groom sit on a rock on the beach during their sunset elopement in Big Sur


The Best Time of Year to Elope in Big Sur

As with most of California, Big Sur has relatively mild weather making it a great location to visit many months out of the year, but we have to say that Big Sur is especially enjoyable between April and November. Late summer to early fall is known to be some of the best months to visit due to the dry, clear weather, but keep in mind that time is also wildfire season in California, so if there are fires, we will work to keep in touch regarding your elopement plans.

Springtime brings an abundance of wildflowers to the Big Sur region and is one of our favorite times to visit. The Calla Lillies are especially stunning between mid-February to mid-March and make a beautiful backdrop for your first look or first dance.

The summer months can bring a layer of fog to the coast, but don’t let that deter you. Moody photos are our jam and we promise you won’t be disappointed, whether rain or shine!

Due to heavy rain in the winter months, we advise against planning an elopement in Big Sur during this time due to potential road closures and road washouts.

The Best Days of the Week to Elope in Big Sur

Another thing to consider when deciding when to elope in Big Sur is the day of the week. We typically advise our couples to elope on a weekday when possible. This helps avoid the crowds and tourists that are more likely to visit these popular locations during the weekends and provides you more privacy for your ceremony and photos.

Additionally, if you are eloping on public land, you will need to get a special events permit which are only allowed to be used Mondays through Thursdays.

One other perk of eloping on a weekday is vendor availability. Since weekends tend to be popular for large weddings, many vendors have more availability during the weekdays to accommodate elopements and you will likely have better luck booking your preferred vendors even on short notice.

Sunrise vs Sunset

While both times of day are beautiful, sunset is our favorite time of day to elope in Big Sur. As the sun sets in the west, it provides gorgeous beams of light on you and your partner as you run around the beach together, say your vows, or sway in rhythm to the music for your first dance.

Step 2: Find The Best Big Sur Elopement Photographers and Book The One You Can Connect With

Moody elopement photos on the cliffs at Big Sur elopement


We are huge believers in “there’s a photographer out there for everyone”. We don’t know how you ended up here reading all these words but we know you are here for a reason.

Growing up, Henry never thought one day he would become an elopement photographer. He went to school for nursing and started working as a Cardiac ICU Nurse for a while before his heart found photography and more importantly, his heart found a need for documenting memories from seeing how short life truly is.

When we grow old, photos remind us of how we once looked. When times get tough, photos let us re-live those times when life was much easier and full of hopes and dreams. When we lose our loved ones, photos are the only thing that lives on and allows us to immerse in the nostalgia and memories. Photos are timeless. Photos are sacred.

This is why we don’t mess around when it comes to creating a safe space for our couples to express themselves, to feel how they feel, to be who they are meant to be, so we can truly capture their true authentic selves.

Besides the main focus of capturing memories and moments, we are also huge believers in “Leave No Trace”


As experts in adventure elopement photography, we care a whole lot about “Leave No Trace”, which is where we go on adventures for photos but also making sure we leave things the way they are by doing our parts to preserve the beauty of nature. Here are some things we do and expect our couples to do (not limiting to):

  • Stay on trails
  • Not climbing over fences, roped-off areas, or places with visible signs of “Do Not Trespass”
  • No meadow stomping
  • No confetti inside National Park (doesn’t matter if they are bio-degradable or not): Each National Park has their own living organisms, plants, animals, etc. By leaving things behind, we can harm these living organisms. Bio-degradable confetti takes a while to degrade and might need rain or water to speed up that process. In the meantime, other animals might still be able to ingest them. If you are thinking about confetti, we can do so at your cabin (if allowed)

Step 3: Transportations, Accommodations, Pets, and EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW to Elope in Big Sur

Bride and groom kiss in front of a vintage car during their elopement in Big Sur


As mentioned previously, the Big Sur region expands many miles so where you choose to stay will depend on where you are planning on having your elopement photographed. With that being said, please keep in mind that even with finding the perfect place to stay, we might still have to drive around for photos since some locations within the Big Sur region can be quite spread out. Please see some well-known places listed below as examples:

Hotels / Lodges [some of these places also offer services for wedding and elopement venues in Big Sur)

Campgrounds [yesss if you are feeling adventurous and want to bring your Camper Vans, RVs, Trailers, or Tent for your adventure elopement, check out these places]:

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: a 1,000 acre state park with surrounded by the redwoods and coastal views. Centrally located near Pfeiffer Beach and the Henry Miller Memorial Library
  • Ventana Campground: Tent camping only with 60 campsites and 15 luxurious glamping sites. Located near the ocean and other amenities such as restaurants and the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
  • Kirk Creek Campground: In Los Padres National Forest with stunning views from every site. First come first serve
  • Limekiln State Park: Reservations six months in advance; no dogs
  • The Village RV – Want to go camping, but don’t have your own equipment? The Village RV will drop off an RV wherever you would like to stay and will even pick it up for you after your stay. Convenient!

Airbnbs near Big Sur

  • Closest towns around the region: Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Seaside, Marina, and Salinas.
  • These places are more flexible since you can pick lodging based on what they offer, capacity, and amenities. Since you’re staying outside public lands, you also have fewer restrictions on what you can do with your wedding.

Although the list above is quite extensive, we did not list everything we’ve found since we don’t want to overwhelm you with information. When we plan on your adventure elopement, we will narrow down places that are more relevant to your needs. Also, keep in mind that Big Sur reservations can book up far in advance, especially in the summer months so be sure to book your reservations as early as possible.

Bride and groom hold hands on the rocky cliffs of Big Sur during their sunset elopement


We’ve photographed elopements that consist of just the couple and we have also photographed intimate weddings where 30+ family members and friends also came along with the couple. There are no rules when it comes to having your wedding day how you have envisioned it. If you want to read more on this topic, we have written a blog post on 6 Things To Consider Before Eloping.

That being said, the region of Big Sur does have requirements for how many people can attend your ceremony if you are eloping on public land. Events on Big Sur public lands are limited to 10 people and that number “must include the wedding party, officiant/celebrant, all guests including children, any vendors such as a photographer, and any persons that will be at the event” so keep your guest count in mind when deciding on a location to elope within Big Sur.

Bride and groom hold hands while walking their dog across the beach at their Big Sur elopement


If you are thinking about bringing your pets to Big Sur, follow the BARK acronym:

In addition, pets must be with you at all time, no tying them to trees. For a full list of rules with pets, see the official statement from the park itself.

Looking at the list of rules above, you might feel discouraged about eloping in Big Sur. However, don’t be. As a dog father of 3 fur babies, Henry knows how important it is to include your pets on your elopement day. This is why our job is more than just photographing your day; rather, by assisting you from day one with planning and finding the right resources for your elopement day, we can help with making sure you guys can include everything that’s important to you.

Step 4: Marriage License and Legality in California

Bride and groom sit on the rocky coast during their Big Sur elopement photo session


When it comes to eloping in Big Sur, the marriage application process is relatively straightforward. There are two types of marriage licenses, public and confidential, but in this blog, we will focus on public marriage licenses as those are more commonly issued.

Marriage licenses can be obtained from the Monterey County Clerk’s office. Anyone can apply for a marriage license whether or not they are a resident of California or even the US. Applications can be submitted in advance online, but keep in mind that both parties must go into the clerk’s office within two weeks of submitting or your request will be canceled. Both parties must present proof of age and identification such as a driver’s license or passport and pay the $90 application fee. Once you have been issued a marriage license, it is valid immediately and there is no waiting period but the ceremony must take place within 90 days, or else you will need to re-pay the application fee to obtain a new license.


The amount of witnesses required at a ceremony varies state by state. Some states require one or two witnesses and there are even states that allow you to self-solemnize or marry by yourselves. In the state of California, you will need an officiant and 1 witness. If you have family and/or friends who can be there for you, that’s amazing. If not, it’s ok. Oftentimes, we are one or both of the witnesses, and we can recommend a list of officiants for you.

  • You do not have to be a resident of California or the US to apply
  • Same-sex marriages are allowed
  • Both parties must be 18 years old or older (parties under 18 must have a signed court order and written parental consent.)
  • Both parties must be present to sign your marriage license application (applications can be submitted online or in person)
  • No waiting period – once issued, your marriage license is valid immediately
  • Marriage licenses are valid for 90 days
  • Ceremonies must have one witness over the age of 18

Step 5: Apply For a Wedding Permit For Big Sur Public Lands

Again, depending on where you are getting married within the Big Sur Region will determine if you need a permit. However, you might need one or both of these following permits:

1) Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle. You can choose to pay for a one-time visit or you can use your State Parks Pass to enter the park.

2) Special Events Permit: Permit to have a wedding on Big Sur public lands. Contact the Wedding Special Event Coordinator at (831) 667-0507 for the public land you wish to get a permit for. (Note – this information might change over time)

We know permits can be complicated, which is why we also help our couples apply for the right permit(s) during the elopement planning process.

Step 6: Everything Else To Prepare For Your Big Sur Elopement

Bride and groom dance on a cliff overlooking the ocean at their Big Sur elopement

We know that when you seek an adventure elopement, you seek for an experience. An elopement does not mean the day is “less than” a traditional wedding. Therefore, we decided to dedicate a whole page on our site with multiple blog posts and resources on Elopements.

Why eloping? How can we make this day unique and special? What else should we think about? If we can’t have our family with us, what are some other things we can do to let them be involved from afar? These are just some of the many questions we know you might have, and we will be there from day 1 to prepare you and plan with you for a day that none of us will ever forget. It all starts TRUST & INTENTIONALITY.

More information, resources, and what-to-pack reminders will be sent throughout our planning process together.

Thanks for reading and we hope you consider us as your Big Sur Adventure Elopement Photographers. You can read more About Us, Pricing, Elopement Packages and Everything we are about. If you are ready, please head over to our Contact Page to send an inquiry.

Big Sur Elopement Packages

– Photograph by Henry or Sergio

– Explore anywhere in Big Sur. From the beautiful rocky coastline, to the redwood forests, this place has it all.

– Coverage from 4 hours to Full Day

– A personalized elopement experience with unlimited guides and resources as promised above (click here to see everything that is included)

– All your breath-taking photos in a secure & private online gallery

– Travel fees included

Ready to elope? Need our help in finding the most perfect location for you? Need more clarifications?

Henry Tieu & Sergio - Elopement Photographers

Meet Your Intimate Wedding & Elopement Photographers

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