Your Big Sur Elopement Guide

Your Comprehensive Guide to a Big Sur Elopement

It’s an idyllic picture: sweeping hills with scenic cliff-sides; the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing against a rugged expanse of coast nestled beside the Santa Lucia Mountains. Big Sur provides some of best views that California has to offer, and can a gorgeous location for an elopement! Read on if you’re considering planning a Big Sur elopement! We know that planning an elopement can be a lot to navigate. To help, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about eloping in Big Sur!

Table of Contents

  1. Weather & When to Elope in Big Sur
  2. Big Sur Elopement Locations
  3. How to get a license to elope in Big Sur
  4. Elopement Day Timelines 
  5. Planning Tips 
  6. Things to do in Big Sur

Weather & When to Elope in Big Sur

While Big Sur is absolutely breathtaking all year round, there are times that may be better suited for a more intimate Big Sur Elopement. Peak season in Big Sur is during the summer months of June-August. You’ll find the most crowds here, with little to no rain, and sunnier, warmer weather. Accommodations will also be at a higher price point at this time, as this is when many tourists make their way to Big Sur.

If you’re looking at having a Big Sur elopement, we recommend planning one during off-peak seasons.

There are far less crowds present during September – November. Temperatures range from low 50s to high 70s, with low chance of rain. Eloping anytime in December – February will get you the least amount of crowds. You’ll also likely score some deals with lodging and local accommodations. However, we don’t always recommend having a Big Sur elopement during winter months. Heavier rain can lead to dangerous road conditions or even road closures. There is also a greater chance of rain on your elopement day, with the weather being in the high 60s to the low 40s. 

Where to have your Big Sur Elopement

Big Sur offers a large array of options to couples when it comes to venues! There is public state land, as well as options for private venues such as lodges, inns, and quite a few airbnbs in the vicinity that allow for weddings & elopements (just check in with the airbnb host!). 


There are seven State parks and two State reserves within Big Sur’s borders, and most of these federal lands allow for couples to apply for a permit to hold special events such as an elopement. However, some of these venues offer an “Elopement” permit for smaller, more intimate affairs, rather than the typical “Special Event” permit, which has strict eligibility requirements (more on this later).

The State parks that allow you to apply for a permit are as follows:

  • Andrew Molera State Park
  • Garrapata State Park
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
  • Garrapata State Park

Each of these venues are beautiful and have their own charm and wonder to them. 


Andrew Molera State Park provides access to a stunning beach just a mile trek into the park. It is home to the oldest historic structure in Big Sur and a popular surf spot.

Garrapata State Park is one of the more popular locations, as its known for its beach access and coastal views off of Highway 1. In comparison to Andrew Molera, its less of a hike to a picturesque location; however, easier access does mean more tourists to contend with.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in comparison, do not provide beach access, but both are home to beautiful waterfalls (McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Falls, respectively) nestled in a grove of magnificent redwoods. If a more rustic vibe is more your style, either one of these venues might be an enticing choice for an exchange of vows.


Now, if you’re looking for spaces that don’t require permit application, then you have two options:
Limekiln State Park and Pfeiffer Beach.

Limekiln, similar to its permit-required counterparts, provides access to a small, somewhat rocky beach, but also holds a lot of history and grandeur with Limekiln Falls, groves of redwoods, and the limekiln ruins. 

Pfeiffer Beach is noted for its “keyhole” rock formation, a popular photo spot for tourists. The sand on the north end of the beach is naturally tinted purple from the manganese garnet rock cliffs, which can offer a bit of whimsy to any photo shoot. However, be careful for the occasional uncovered beach goer, as Pfeiffer beach has been known to be a popular spot to disrobe…if you know what we mean (haha).

Additionally, there are blocked out dates for weddings at Pfeiffer beach from March 15 to October 15, so its best to plan your elopement sometime between August to October, and to be aware of the weather. The beach has been known to get flooded closer to the rainy season.

One thing to note if you decide on a State Park/Federal Land elopement, each of these locations span for miles and do require a bit of hiking to find that perfect spot, but this is a small price to pay for the romantic reward you would be reaping.

Also, you should be aware that both permits (elopement or special event) do not secure you complete privacy in your chosen venue space. You’re not allowed to block any pathways and/or section off space for your ceremony, and most places do not allow for seating, but the beauty of an elopement is the spontaneity of it. Right?

In all honesty, people do notice when something special is happening on their hiking trail, and most try to be respectful, but eloping in a thicket of trees comes with a few risks in the form of a wandering hiker now and again, or maybe a few woodland creature crashers. But, all-in-all, there’s a bit fun in that.

Now, if you have read all this and decided that a public, federal land space is not for you, there are still so many other options.


Below is a list of fantastic lodges, inns, gardens, and restaurants that can accommodate for a ceremony or reception with a guest list under 100 people. All of these locations carry with them a quaint, rustic, and natural vibe, but the benefits included the added security of privacy, ability to secure vendors, and the ease of not having to hike far into a State Park or beach for the perfect view.

  • Big Sur Lodge
  • Glen Oaks Big Sur
  • Big Sur Roadhouse
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
  • Ragged Point Inn
  • Big Sur River Inn
  • Loma Vista Inn
  • Loma Vista Gardens
  • Post Ranch Inn
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Point 16

Wherever you decide to elope in Big Sur, you’re almost guaranteed that woodsy, romantic, vintage spirit. And once you decide, then comes the task of setting in motion everything else.

Licenses & Permits


One of the things you’ll need in order to have a Big Sur elopement on State or Federal land is to secure a permit. Many of these places allow for couples to apply for an “Elopement” permit or a “Special Events” permit. Not sure which one to get? It’ll depend on a few factors.

You qualify for a Big Sur elopement permit if…

  • You have 10 people or less
  • You aren’t planning on using amplified or acoustic music
  • You are planning to elope during public hours only (from sunrise to sunset).

If you are hoping for more guests, or are set on getting married after hours, you may need a “Special Events” permit.  We know that the idea of filling out paperwork for your Big Sur elopement can be a headache, but we promise that finding a location, filling out the paperwork, and securing the right permits is an important part of the process.

Our advice? Secure a date, file early, and move on to the more exciting things of the wedding planning process. When in doubt, we always recommend just reaching out to a park ranger. 

Officiant & Licenses

Once you’ve secured a date and a venue, the next is to decide how you want to go about the actual ceremony, starting with how you want your wedding officiated and filing your marriage license.

In the State of California, you can choose to go to a courthouse or city hall and have an official conduct your official union there, and then hold a more symbolic and romantic ceremony at Big Sur. Or you can hire an independent wedding officiant to facilitate your ceremony. 

You could also choose to have your wedding presided over by someone you love, so long as they have been legally ordained and can sign as your officiant on your marriage license. This could be a pastor, a friend, or a family member who has gone through the process of ordination. This is a unique option that can allow for your officiant to cater your ceremony to your specific love story, but hiring a professional is always a great option, since they have the most experience.

Now, when it comes to marriage licenses, be aware of the different types. Most couples will request a Public Marriage License because it allows for you to hold your ceremony outside of the county you filed in. However, some might prefer a Confidential Marriage license because it stipulates that your records are not open for public access and only you and your spouse would be able to request copies for your marriage records. 

If you choose this option, be aware that you cannot hold your ceremony outside of the county you applied for the license in.

Tips on your Big Sur Elopement

Alright, so you’ve picked a date, chosen a venue, filed for all the appropriate permits (in advance!); found someone to officiate your ceremony, and filed for your marriage license. What else is there?

Well, logistically you’re set! But we also know there are other factors that can help you be more prepared, so that you can fully enjoy your elopement day. Read on for some practical tips for your Big Sur elopement!


Every park and every location are different, and will have different policies and requirements. Make sure you know what you are allowed to bring and pack accordingly. Likewise, also know what you aren’t allowed to bring! When eloping outdoors anywhere, a good starting place is to familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace principles. You can find more information at the official Leave No Trace website: lnt.org

If your Big Sur Elopement is on public land, we also recommend looking at the specific requirements listed on the park’s website. There is generally a list available on what’s allowed and not allowed. 


Despite Big Sur being situated in the heart of California, mountains and beaches have a tendency to be windy; especially if you decide to hike into a State Park for your venue space. You’re going to want to have comfortable shoes both for travel and for the ceremony. Opt for hiking boots, comfortable shoes with a good grip, or anything else that’s easy to walk in. Skip the heels! 

Wear layers if possible, or pack a warm coat to throw on at night. Big Sur can get especially windy, and you want to make sure you aren’t cold or shivering while we explore outdoors.


Cell reception is limited or may be spotty! If you’re having a Big Sur elopement, prepare to be a little bit unplugged. A great tip is to download offline maps. If you have a smartphone, the Google Maps app will allow you to download maps and store them offline. Another option is to grab a physical copy from the park or print one online to carry around with you. You may also want to consider other options for keeping in touch with whoever you’re bringing along (think a two-way radio or walkie-talkies!). 

Pack portable electronics as well. Bring battery packs or chargers, and a bluetooth speaker if you’d like to have an intimate first dance! Just be mindful of the volume and any nearby visitors when playing music outdoors on public land.


Be prepared with a first aid kit stocked with anything & everything you may need. Consider bringing hand warmers, bobby pins, safety pins, pain-killers, bug spray, sunblock, and plenty of water/snacks for hiking (if you plan to adventure around)! If you plan on walking back in the dark, make sure you have flashlights or headlamps on hand. It’s also a good idea to think through your attire. Big Sur can get especially windy, so pack a warm coat or jacket.

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Kristine & Charles

Meet Kristine & Charles

Heya! We’re Kristine & Charles, two wedding & elopement photographers based in Southern California. Los Angeles is home, but we travel all over our golden state and beyond. We’ve captured weddings & elopements all along the west coast, and have fallen so incredibly in love with what we do.

Storytelling is something we’re passionate about – from the large celebrations to the quiet moments in between. All of it is beautiful & all of it is meaningful. 

If you’re ready to start planning your elopement adventure or an intimate wedding with loved ones, reach out and let’s get the process started!

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