A Local Big Sur Elopement Photographer's Guide to Eloping in Big Sur
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 local Big Sur elopement photographer who spends countless roadtrips 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!
Table of Contents
This Big Sur Elopement Guide covers:
1. Elopement Locations (Planning a Big Sur Elopement vs. Intimate Wedding, Eloping at a State Park, Eloping at a Venue, Where to Stay, Dog-Friendly Big Sur Locations)
2. Elopement Budget (Budget Breakdown)
3. Weather and Time of Year (Best Months)
4. Day-Of Timeline (Elopement Timeline, Intimate Wedding Timeline)
5. Planning Tips
6. Things to Do
Already feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don't worry, I promise you that every couple starts off the planning process feeling the same way. This guide is just a way to help you get an idea of what's possible, but I'm here to help guide you every step along the way. As a Big Sur elopement photographer, I provide all of my couples with:
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." If you're still not sure, check out these elopement galleries for ideas!
Planning a Big Sur Elopement vs. Intimate Wedding
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.
Why does guest count matter so much when getting married in Big Sur?
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
Garrapata State Park is one of the easiest to access and most beautiful spots for cliffside coastal views. This area is just 15 minutes south of Carmel & Monterey, which offers more options for accommodations and restaurants for an intimate dinner reception. It has countless turnouts from Highway 1, each one leading out to the coast where you can spend hours adventuring there. One thing to note about Garrapata State Park is that the best spots often are found by location scouting beforehand, as many of the trails are hard to distinguish from another until you spend time exploring them. As of 2021, Garrapata State Park was also allocated funds to restore and improve trail access, as well as permanently close certain trails that have been damaged. Because of the constantly changing landscape, I highly recommend hiring a photographer who is familiar with the area and able to work with you to find back-up locations.
To elope here, you'll need the elopement permit which costs $400 for up to 25 people, with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 60 days prior to the event date. If you're working with a planner that already has a permit and insurance for the area (like me!), you can elope there for a lower fee as long as there's less than 10 people. This means you don't have to fill out any paperwork, and you can get the micropermit anytime before your date - even if it's a last minute elopement! Trust me, I've helped couples plan elopements even with less than a month lead time.
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 $425 for up to 10 people (children and vendors included), with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 45 days prior to the event date. This permit can only be obtained on weekdays unless you are having a campsite elopement or not having a photographer. If you're not having your ceremony but still want to take photos here, you'll need to apply for a $100 photography permit and are limited to Mondays-Thursdays.
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 a few challenges to be aware of:
Eloping at a Venue
Many venues offer Big Sur 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, offering more privacy for an intimate ceremony and a place to get ready without needing to drive to another location! Check out these Big Sur elopement venues:
If you're not sure about which venue fits for what you're looking for, I'm here to help as your elopement guide and photographer and can provide you with more info on the ins-and-outs of each venue! In addition to these venues, I also have access to private and unlisted venues.
Glen Oaks Big Sur | See photos from A + J's Big Sur Wedding
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.
Big Sur Grange | See photos from E + C's Big Sur Grange Elopement
Situated right next to Glen Oaks Big Sur, this community hall offers a ceremony and reception site perfect for intimate weddings with guests. There are various options for ceremony sites, ranging from a small redwood grove to a maple grove along the river. Big Sur Grange can be rented for both small and large weddings, with the ceremony outdoors and the reception outdoors or indoors. One downside is that Grange shares a parking lot with Glen Oaks, so if there is a wedding at Glen Oaks, it can feel like your ceremony is in a parking lot. Choose an off-peak date (Monday through Thursday) and/or off-peak season to avoid this.
Big Sur Lodge | See photos from E + J's Big Sur Lodge Wedding
Nestled right in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur Lodge brings you right into the redwoods. With both elopement packages for 2-10 guests and wedding packages for larger events, it's a beautiful redwoods ceremony site with the option to host an intimate dinner reception on the patio. Popular trails at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are just within walking distance of the ceremony site, but just be sure to obtain a photography permit for the park as well. One thing to note about Big Sur Lodge is that it can be quite public with hikers walking within viewing distance of the ceremony site, so keep that in mind when planning!
Henry Miller Library | See photos from A + G's Henry Miller Library Wedding
An eclectic place of art, music, and literature, Henry Miller Library offers a wedding ceremony/reception site for larger weddings or a private redwoods canyon for elopements and intimate weddings up to 30 people. You might even run into the friendly cat roaming the grounds! The redwoods canyon is perfect for those who don't mind a little adventuring - it'll bring you right to an intimate space where you can say your vows under the giant trees.
Loma Vista Gardens | See photos from B + S's Loma Vista Gardens Wedding
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 | See photos from S + G's Wind & Sea Wedding
For an intimate wedding overlooking 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.
Ventana Big Sur | See photos from M + R's Ventana Big Sur Elopement
One of the most iconic and romantic resorts in the United States, Ventana Big Sur offers elopement and intimate wedding packages for those looking for an all-inclusive package. Though more expensive than most other Big Sur venues, it has a variety of activities within the resort, from dining at the Glass House where you can watch the sunset, to getting up close with falcons, to walking around its own private redwoods trails. With two main ceremony options - one that's a vista point overlooking the ocean, and another that's in the redwoods, it is the perfect place to go for a luxury experience.
Big Sur Elopement Packages
While the hotels and venues mentioned above allow you to bring in your own vendors, some offer elopement packages that already have select vendors included. This can include the ceremony site, photographer, bouquet, boutonniere, champagne toast, and/or cake. Big Sur elopement packages from luxury hotels like Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn typically range from $2000-4000 for no guests and $5500-6500 for an intimate wedding with guests depending on day of the week.
Where to Stay in Big Sur
For places to stay, most of the venues above provide accomodations. For a cabin-in-the-woods experience, check out Glen Oaks Big Sur or glamping at Ventana Big Sur (but unfortunately photography is not allowed at the Ventana Big Sur glamping area due to restrictions by the Coastal Commission). For a more luxury stay, Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn can't be beat. 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, and site fees may apply.
Dog-Friendly Big Sur Locations
Big Sur is not known for being especially dog-friendly, but that definitely doesn't mean you can't bring your dog to your elopement! It's also just a 30-45 minute drive to Carmel, one of the most dog-friendly cities and perfect as a home base if you're wanting to be closer to restaurants, activities, and shopping. There are so many different ways to include your dog in your day - whether that's booking a dog-friendly hotel and getting ready with them, choosing a dog-friendly ceremony site, or spending some time at the beach running around with your pup. I believe pets are a part of the family (we named ours Bixby after the bridge!) so don't worry, I got you. As part of the planning services included, I provide a list of dog-friendly hotels, ceremony sites, and restaurants, as well as ideas on how to incorporate your dog into your day.
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 $8,000-$12,000 for their elopement. Vendors that need to book out the day and travel to Big Sur will typically cost more.
Here's a sample breakdown of how couples typically budget for their elopement with no guests (intimate weddings with guests will range widely):
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 elopements even in the off-peaks months of November. 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! If there's one thing to know about Big Sur weather, it's that it can be sunny on one day and cloudy on the next in any time of year (in fact, oftentimes the summer and fall can be cloudier than the winter). Also note that wind can be a factor - coast and beach areas tend to be windier than redwood areas.
Big Sur is also known for its microclimates. That means that the weather can quickly change from one mile to the next even within the same day - you could get warm sun in the redwoods and foggy clouds on the coast. Typically it can be 5-10 degrees colder on the coast than it is in the redwoods, hence why many couples prefer to start their day in the redwoods and end on the coast. I even experienced one elopement where we were driving in hail for a minute, saw a rainbow come out, and got to our destination where we saw the sunset!
Wildfire season is also another important factor to be aware of. This is typically during the late summer and fall. Pfeiffer Beach, which is managed by the Los Padres National Forest, often has closures during this time in order to concentrate firefighter efforts in California. Because of the unpredictable conditions of eloping outdoors, It is important to hire someone who is familiar with the Big Sur area in case you need to change plans.
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
Big Sur Elopement Day Of Timeline
Your elopement day deserves to be treasured and documented with the same care and importance whether you have 0 guests, 10 guests, or 100 guests. Think of your day as a day to be experienced and a day to make memories - it's not just about the epic landscapes! Your wedding day starts the moment you wake up. And one of the best things about choosing to elope is that your day can be anything and everything you want it to be. Do you love to share slow mornings together, drinking a warm cup of coffee, dancing in the kitchen as you make breakfast? Start your elopement day doing exactly that! Love to play board games? Pack your favorite game and play it in your cabin or at a picnic on the beach. Procrastinated on your vows? Spend a little quiet time together writing your vows. Want to get ready together but also still have a first look? Get ready in a place where you can still talk to each other or get walkie talkies. The options are truly limitless!
Elopement Timeline (No Guests)
6 HOUR TIMELINE
1:00 - 2:30 Getting Ready in a Cabin
2:30 - 3:00 First Look in the Redwoods
3:00 - 3:30 Ceremony
3:30 - 4:00 Travel to Coast
4:00 - 5:00 Picnic on the Beach
5:00 - 7:00 Chasing the Sunset on the Coast
Intimate Wedding Timeline
8 HOUR TIMELINE
12:00 - 1:30 Getting Ready
1:30 - 2:30 First Look + Portraits in the Redwoods
2:30 - 3:00 Ceremony Details
3:00 - 3:30 Ceremony
3:30 - 4:00 Family/Group Photos
4:00 - 4:30 Travel to Coast
4:30 - 6:30 Chasing the Sunset on the Coast
6:30 - 7:00 Travel to Reception
7:00 - 8:00 Toasts + Dances + Guest Candids
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?
We cannot say enough wonderful things about our experience working with Lynn as our photographer, and Keith as our officiant!
Lynn was amazing to work with from beginning to end. She sent us a ton of inspiration and ideas to really help us dream up how we wanted to spend our special day. Lynn was super open to fun and unique ideas – and because we opted for 8 hours (which we highly recommend… why not! it’s your special day!!) we were able to really have fun and make our day everything we wanted it to be, including multiple dance parties! She was also so amazingly organized and had a helpful list of recommended vendors and Google Map of all the key places that clearly showed the different beautiful locations to make it suuuper easy. We were in Big Sur, it was our first time visiting, and Lynn was clearly an expert in the area. She took us to all the most beautiful places that we would never have been able to find without her and probably aren’t in any guide books! Lynn was like a photographer, Big Sur guide and most importantly, friend all in one. Eloping can feel very surreal but it was really wonderful to have Lynn there with me. Lynn is a wonderful human being and just has a lovely spirit, warm vibe and we instantly felt super comfortable with her. I am a super type A person and did a ton of research and overthought every decision ever. But PLEASE benefit from my experience and make your life easy and reach out to Lynn, you will be SO HAPPY and not regret it!! I would recommend her to anyone. -J+G, Big Sur Elopement
Oh my goodness there are so many things to say about Lynn!
I'll start off by saying that my fiancé (now husband) and I decided to elope during the pandemic and we had no idea where to even begin. I magically stumbled upon Lynn's website where she offered elopement packages in the redwoods of Big Sur. After scrolling through all of her incredible photos on her blog, and also realizing how OCD detail oriented she is (my kind of woman), I was immediately sold. Lynn was very kind and we decided on the 6 hour elopement package which gave us enough time to travel to all the photography spots I wanted (+time for 1 more!!). She very quickly sent over her very detailed and organized wedding planning checklist that literally has everything you need to do to plan your wedding. If I didn't have that checklist, I would've been totally lost! She was so organized and had thoughtful touches like links to photo examples of each location site, local restaurants that she recommends, make up/hair artists, officiants, tips, venues, and all the possible site venues on her personalized google maps. We chose to elope at Glen Oaks Big Sur in the redwoods, which I HIGHLY recommend!! So beautiful and picturesque! We then got to travel to the beach/coast to take incredible photos. Lynn knows all of the beautiful spots and knows exactly how to capture the light to make a beautiful photo even more stunning. Hanging out with her the whole day was just like hanging out with a friend! We also chose to have her husband, Keith, officiate our wedding and he wrote the sweetest words that truly made our ceremony so special. I couldn't be happier with how our photos turned out and if you have any doubt in hiring a photographer for this area...DO IT!!!! I interviewed a few make up artists and they all agreed that Lynn was THE photographer to have, who can get very booked because literally everyone wants to work with her. So definitely reach out to her ASAP and see what the hype is for yourself. Your only regret will be not getting the date you want because you took too long to book with her! -E+C, Big Sur Elopement
Words cannot express our gratitude, respect, and appreciation for Lynn (Artist/Photographer) & Keith (Officiant/Robin-hood).
They made us feel like family and very special! It stormed during our wedding day and I was anxious all night afterwards, wondering if I messed up the photos by looking like a disaster; My now husband comforted me all night and morning, he continued to repeat, “Dude, we have Lynn, she’s the best there is, it will be perfect”. Lynn worked tirelessly to get us our preview, it was so fast, unexpected and such a treat to open, we can't stop staring at our photos!Our sincerest thanks goes to their team for making our Big Day so EPIC! Our family and friends are in awe of your photography, they could not wait to share it with others. Lynn, your talents/artistry belong in galleries, magazine covers (Vogue, National Geographic, Conde Nast), and shared internationally. You are a compelling story teller through the lens; a compassionate believer in true love stories; and a visionary through unknown paths and unexpected events. Thank you so much for staying calm and putting up with all my long-detailed emails and endless anxiety. I hope you know that you are worthy and deserve all the beautiful things in this world. Keith, your compassion spoke wonders through your ceremony, you made our love story come to life with your beautiful words. It was like you have known us as a couple since the beginning. Thank you so much for braving the cliffs (and staying balanced) to position my train perfectly, carry my hair brush, drag around my bouquet, and endless other tasks!! Lastly, your handkerchief saved my hands (I feel and face planted into the ground), you are genuine and thoughtful, and Lynn is so fortunate to have you as a life partner! Both together were absolutely dynamic! We are extremely beyond blessed to work with Lynn & Keith Lewis; They were the coolest team to collaborate and experience new adventures together! We even asked if we could be their forever friends, and they accepted! -D+B, Big Sur Elopement
The hardest part about planning our elopement day was getting the process started.
Once I found Lynn's profile and reached out to her, rest was so easy! Not only is her work beautiful but she is responsive, professional and made us feel so comfortable during our ceremony and the photoshoot. Her husband, Keith, made our ceremony feel so special and personal and we felt as if we'd known them for many years! If you are thinking about eloping, I recommend Lynn and Keith 100%. If we had to do it all over again, we would choose them again and again! Trust me, you won't regret it. -P+T, Big Sur Elopement
Lynn is a fantastic elopement and wedding photographer and was such a joy to work with.
Lynn is a fantastic elopement and wedding photographer and was such a joy to work with. I found her elopement guides through Pinterest, fell in love with her photography style, and the rest is history! She is an AMAZING resource for someone planning their own destination elopement like I did. She was so helpful and responsive through the planning process. Because my husband and I eloped just us two, Lynn and her husband Keith (who was our officiant) were a big part of our elopement. They helped us stay calm and focus on enjoying our day, while ensuring it went exactly as planned (like when almost forgot my veil in the hotel!) She turned our photo previews around in 1 day (amazing!!), and I was shocked at how beautiful they turned out. She is a true artist. If it was socially acceptable, I would decorate my entire house floor to ceiling in our wedding photos! When you hire Lynn, you get SO much more than a photographer. We are so so grateful! - E+N, Big Sur Elopement
We chose Lynn to photograph our elopement-style wedding because of her style of photography and knowledge of the area we wanted to get married (Big Sur).
She went beyond our expectations!! She captured every moment and emotion throughout the day beautifully. We are not used to being photographed and were concerned we may look awkward but she helped "pose" us (more so set up moments for us) without it looking or feeling stiff. Although our ceremony start time was 45 minutes later than anticipated (my fault), she kept us on track with our photoshoot so we could get to our desired locations and have enough time without feeling rushed. Thank you Lynn for sharing and documenting this day with us! - C+D, Big Sur Elopement