When it comes to elopement locations in the US, Big Sur is one of the top places people come to get married. With its vast coastal views and redwood forests, it's a place full of wonder and natural beauty. As a Big Sur elopement photographer and a local who spends countless weekends exploring the endless trails in the area, I'm here to help you craft an epic day that feels genuine to your love story. Check out this guide for location recommendations, best months to elope, day-of timelines, and planning tips! (Updated October 2020)
Table of Contents
This Big Sur Elopement Guide covers:
1. Elopement Locations (Eloping at a State Park, Eloping at a Venue, Unique Places to Stay)
2. Sample Budget (Lower vs. Higher Budget)
3. Weather and Time of Year (Best Months)
4. Day-Of Timeline (Elopement Timeline, Intimate Wedding Timeline)
5. Planning Tips
6. Things to Do
Big Sur Elopement Locations
Where to start when planning your Big Sur elopement? There are so many locations to elope in Big Sur - the first decision is choosing where you want to have your elopement ceremony. Remember that unlike a traditional wedding, you don't have to stay in one place! Do you imagine saying your vows under the giant redwoods? Or overlooking the coast with the ocean waves behind you? Think about what inspires you and makes you two feel the most like "This is so us."
Once you narrow down what you envision your ceremony to look like, the next step is deciding whether you want to elope at a state park or a venue. While both state parks and venues offer redwood and coast views, logistics-wise it is typically easier to plan for a coastal ceremony at a state park, or a redwood ceremony at a venue. One of the best ways to get the best of both worlds is to elope at a redwoods venue and then continue on to the coast for portraits.
Overview of the Big Sur Landscape
If you haven't ever been to Big Sur, you may not realize that it is actually quite a large area and can take up to 1 hour to drive from the north end to the south end. Many of the coastal areas are in the north end whereas the redwood areas are in the middle and south end. As you drive down Highway 1 from Carmel, you'll start to see the stunning coast of Big Sur the moment you leave town, starting with Garrapata State Park. Known for its coastal trails, this is the perfect place to start your adventure. Continuing down Highway 1, you'll cross the iconic Bixby Bridge. Once over the bridge, you won't find many coastal access spots, but you'll start to see the giant redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Parks. From there, you'll find Big Sur venues, hotels, and restaurants. If you're planning for both the redwoods and coast, plan for 30-45 minutes of travel between the two.
Eloping at a State Park
COAST: Garrapata State Park | Andrew Molera State Park | Point Lobos State Park
Garrapata State Park is one of the easiest to access and most beautiful spots for cliffside coastal views. To elope here, you'll need the elopement permit which costs $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. This area is just 15 minutes south of Carmel & Monterey, which offers more options for accommodations and restaurants such as Il Tegamino or Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant for an intimate dinner reception.
REDWOODS: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park | Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | Limekiln State Park
Eloping at one of the redwood state parks can be trickier, as you do have to pre-select specific locations within the park and are limited to very narrow trails. If you aren't ready to hike and check out the area beforehand, it may not be the best option for you - check out the redwood venues instead. For 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. If you're not having your ceremony but still want to take photos here, you'll need to apply for a photography permit and are limited to Mondays-Thursdays. *Due to COVID-19, the Big Sur state parks have implemented stricter requirements and guest limits for elopement permits. Check the park website for details.
BEACH: Pfeiffer Beach (*not state park) | Garrapata State Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is famous for its hole-in-the-rock formation, and rightfully one of the must-see spots in Big Sur. Good news - permits are not required to elope here! However, there's 2 challenges:
Eloping at a Venue
Many Big Sur venues offer all-inclusive packages that include accommodations, ceremony/reception sites, planning, and catering, which is perfect for intimate weddings of 10-25 guests. But they can also work for elopements with no guests as well! Check out these Big Sur elopement venues:
Cabin in the Woods: Glen Oaks Big Sur + Big Sur Roadhouse | Big Sur Grange
Luxury Coastal Stays: Post Ranch Inn | Ventana Big Sur | Wind & Sea | Hyatt Carmel Highlands
Redwood and Garden Venues: Loma Vista Gardens + Big Sur Bakery | Henry Miller Library
Glen Oaks Big Sur
For a romantic escape to a cabin in the woods, Glen Oaks Big Sur is the way to go. Elopements with no guests are allowed for no additional site fee as long as you are staying there. For intimate weddings, the Bridge House can be booked for a ceremony for up to 20 people.* The property is separated into two areas - the upper area with the Adobe Motor Lodge and Oak Tree Cottages, and the lower area with the Redwood Grove and Bridge House. A trail connects the two, and continues onto Dorwood Camp which is the perfect place for an intimate elopement in the redwoods. Check out photos from H + K's Glen Oaks Big Sur Elopement! *Due to COVID-19, Glen Oaks is currently only allowing elopements with no guests and will be reconsidering intimate weddings starting May 2021. Check out the nearby Big Sur Grange for 2021 intimate weddings.
Loma Vista Gardens
For mountain or garden views, Loma Vista Gardens offers two different elopement sites for a private 2-hour ceremony for up to 25 guests. It is one of the rare places where you can get above the cloudline for a ceremony overlooking the valley. If you're looking for a venue to host your ceremony and dinner all in one place, Loma Vista also offers intimate wedding packages on weekdays and select Sundays.
Wind & Sea
For an intimate wedding by the ocean, Wind & Sea Estate offers a luxury getaway and an elopement special for up to 12 guests. Because most Big Sur hotels discourage group bookings and gatherings onsite in order to preserve the peace and quiet of the surroundings, this is the place to go if you've always imagined having your loved ones staying together in one house for the weekend! One thing to note is that Wind & Sea is farther south - be sure to account for a 30-60 minute drive to iconic Big Sur views.
Unique Places to Stay
If you're planning to elope in a state park or a venue without accommodations, the perfect way to start your day is by getting ready in a romantic cabin or glamping. Alternatively, you could have your elopement at an Airbnb, but always check with the owner beforehand as most Airbnb's in the Big Sur area do not allow events. Keep in mind that there are more risks involved, such as last-minute cancellation from the owner and liability issues. Check out these unique places to stay:
For more luxury stays, check out Treebones Resort with yurts overlooking the ocean and one-of-a-kind tree nest or Ventana Big Sur Glamping for glamping in the redwoods.
Alternatives to Big Sur
While the Big Sur coastline can't be beat, if you love the redwoods but are looking for more budget-friendly lodging, dinner options, and accessibility to an airport + major city, Santa Cruz (just north of Big Sur) is a great alternative! This coastal town has redwoods everywhere you look, more cabin options, beaches for days, and a cute downtown area to boot. For eloping in a state park, Henry Cowell State Park - famous for its 40-acre grove of old-growth redwood trees - offers a redwood ring for weddings up to 20 guests and a picnic lot for weddings with up to 150 guests. Check out the Santa Cruz Elopement Guide or How to Plan an Elopement in the California Redwoods Guide for more info!
Big Sur Elopement Budget
Elopement budgets can range widely depending on what you want for your day. As you envision your wedding day, think about what's most important to you. Do you envision a luxury getaway or an outdoors adventure? Do you want to elope with just the two of you, or have a few closest loved ones to celebrate with you? Is this your chance to splurge on the details that matter to you - like a dream photographer, or a dream dress, or a floral installation - because you won't have to budget for a traditional wedding, or do you prefer to keep it low key?
Another thing to keep in mind is that Big Sur is quite far from town - the nearest towns of Carmel and Monterey are 30-45 minutes away from the center of Big Sur, which means that options for accommodations, venues, restaurants, and local vendors are limited and tend to be on the higher end as Big Sur is a destination getaway. Most couples spend between $4500-$7000 for their elopement (typical costs include accommodations, photography, wedding attire, hair/makeup artist, officiant, bouquet, and dinner).
Big Sur Elopement Weather and Time of Year
Located in the Northern part of California, Big Sur can be absolutely beautiful year round - I've photographed some of my all-time favorite sessions even in the off-peaks months of November or January. There are definitely some advantages to eloping in off-season - you get to avoid the crowds, and some of my all-time favorite trails is only accessible in the winter! With that said, when planning for your elopement, considering weather is important because there's typically less flexibility to change plans last minute. One thing to note is that Big Sur can be sunny on one day and cloudy on the next in any time of year - in fact, there have been years where I've seen more sunny days in the winter than in the summer. Also note that wind can be a factor - coast and beach areas tend to be windier than redwood areas.
SPRING (April, May): 60-70°F, 15% rainy days in a month
SUMMER (June, July, August): 70-80°F, 5% rainy days in a month
FALL (September, October): 60-70°F, 10% rainy days in a month
WINTER (November, December, January, February, March): 50-60°F, 30% rainy days in a month
What about time of day? Sunsets in Big Sur are absolutely stunning, whether you get the pink and yellow hues on a sunny day, or the foggy mist setting over the coast. Redwoods are best in the late afternoon, as it can get dark a few hours before sunset, whereas coastal views are best around sunset (anywhere from 5-8 PM depending on time of year). If you're planning to do both, start with the redwoods and end at the coast!
Big Sur Elopement Day Of Timeline
I absolutely believe that your wedding day should be treasured and documented with the same care and importance of a traditional wedding. Whether it's just the two of you saying your vows to each other on the coast or just spending quality time with an intimate group of your closest loved ones, your elopement can be a full day of adventure and celebration. The options are endless - from cooking dinner in a cabin with your favorite love songs playing in the background, to picnicking on the beach and making s'mores over a bonfire with your best friends. Here are sample timelines to get you started:
Elopement Timeline (No Guests)
Intimate Wedding Timeline
For more help on planning, check out the step-by-step guide to planning your elopement!
Big Sur Elopement Planning Tips
Big Sur Things to Do
Big Sur is the perfect getaway if you want to create a full weekend of adventure or extend it to a road trip for a week long honeymoon. Besides hiking through the coast and redwoods, here are things to do in Big Sur:
Make It a Road Trip: Things to Do from Big Sur to San Francisco
Let's make it happen!
Don't worry if you're in the early planning stages and feel a little lost! As a Big Sur elopement photographer, I provide all of my couples with:
Fully inspired and ready to start crafting a day full of adventure together?