Imagine standing amongst the giant redwood trees, a quiet stillness in the air, with just you and your partner breathing in the mountain air. The moment you look into each other's eyes, you know - you are so lucky to have found each other. No other eyes on you, no months of stressing over planning, no need to worry about tablecloth colors or chair types, just the two of you coming together to celebrate what your wedding day is all about. As a California wedding and elopement photographer, my goal is to help you create a day that reflects all the things you love about each other - a day that captures genuine and authentic moments. If that sounds like your perfect wedding day, read on for everything you need to know about planning an elopement in the California redwoods! P.S. Planning a larger wedding? Check out the blog post on Redwood Venues in the Bay Area & Santa Cruz.
What does a modern elopement look like?
Let's first clarify one thing: what is an elopement? An elopement traditionally referred to a couple getting married secretly by themselves. However, modern elopements are often done with the knowledge of family (though not always), and sometimes even with an intimate group of guests. The term "intimate wedding" may be used for elopements with guests up to 10, or even 25 people. If you have guests, what differentiates an elopement from a traditional wedding? Typically elopements/intimate weddings don't follow the wedding playbook: they may not have a venue, wedding party, DJ, reception, amongst other things. Because there aren't any restrictions, couples may include unique activities like getting ready together in a cabin, grabbing pizza and beer for lunch, having a private chef cook dinner, dancing under the stars, or hosting a picnic bonfire for their guests.
Check out these sample galleries to get an idea of what your redwoods elopement could look like!
Deciding Between an Elopement vs. Wedding
The big question. For me, I never knew elopements were a possibility. It never crossed my mind because I had never seen anyone else elope. Looking back, I would've eloped if I knew more about modern elopements. There's no right or wrong choice for everyone, it's a deeply personal decision to create a wedding day that's authentic to who you are. Here are the most common reasons couples choose to elope:
Choosing a California Redwood Elopement Location
The stretch of California from Big Sur all the way up to northernmost end of the state is dotted with countless redwood forests. When choosing an elopement location, there are a few factors to consider:
Budgeting for an Elopement
One thing for certain is that eloping almost always costs less than the average $30-40k spent on a wedding. But just as wedding budgets can range immensely, elopement budgets can range even more depending on what you envision for your elopement experience.
Most couples will, of course, choose to splurge on some aspects and skip other aspects entirely! The beauty of elopements is there's truly no one way to elope - you can splurge on your dream photographer to capture your epic adventure in the woods, or you can buy that dream dress you've been eyeing on Pinterest for years. By skipping the most expensive costs of planning a wedding (venue and catering for 100+ people) as well all the extra costs that add up quickly (invitations, decor, florals, the list could go on), you get to choose how you want to invest in your wedding day.
Planning an Elopement
1. Narrow down a general location.
California is a big state! The first step is to narrow down a general location. There are five major areas with California redwoods:
2. Hire a local elopement photographer.
While traditionally you decide on a venue and a date before hiring a photographer, planning an elopement can be quite different! Your photographer may be the one (and only) person with you throughout the entire day. Many couples choose to hire an elopement photographer who can also serve as their planner. The reason for this is that no amount of research will ever match the expertise of a local elopement photographer who has spent time scouting different trails and seeing the locations through the lens of photographing couples in the landscape. A skilled photographer who is familiar with the area can provide location recommendations and make changes even when needed on the day of to find the most beautiful spots for your elopement that also offer privacy and intimacy. You'll quickly find that you'll likely be leaning on your photographer quite a bit, so choosing someone you trust is one of the best decisions you'll make when planning your elopement!
3. Decide on a date.
You found a local elopement photographer who fits everything you're looking for - awesome! The next step is to choose a date. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a date:
4. Choose a ceremony location.
There are two types of redwood locations where you can elope: 1. Public Parks 2. Private Property (i.e. Airbnb, venue, hotel, cabin). There are pros and cons to both.
Reach out to your photographer on what options are possible in the location you've chosen! If eloping at a public park, be sure to check the park's permit process. Sometimes this may be listed under wedding permits. Use the links below to find permit information on popular redwood elopement spots (locations are listed in order of south to north). Keep in mind that these are not the only redwood locations to elope - there are countless redwood parks throughout California!
5. Research and book vendors.
Besides a photographer, you may want to hire other vendors as well!
OTHER VENDORS/THINGS TO BOOK: While couples will usually book the above vendors at the minimum for their elopement, you can also choose to make your elopement day a full day experience and even keep some aspects of a traditional wedding day if they're important to you! Here are some other vendors to consider:
6. Shop for your wedding outfits.
Whether you've always dreamed of getting married in an elegant bridal gown, or want to rock a jumpsuit with pockets, there's so many different options to feel like the raddest married couple out there!
A big question brides often ask is "What shoes do I wear?!" Always make sure to wear comfortable shoes, and remember that your shoes won't show up in most photos if you're wearing a floor length dress. For cute and functional hiking boots, check out Kodiak, Blundstone, or Danner shoes. You can also look for bridal boots depending on your comfort level and how much hiking will be involved on your wedding day.
7. Plan your day.
This is a great step to work with your photographer and/or planner on. Think about what moments are most important to you. If there are aspects of a traditional wedding that you want to include, do it! This is also the perfect opportunity to get creative - you can plan a whole day of adventure starting with cooking breakfast together in a romantic cabin in the woods, and ending the night dancing under the stars. Since most redwood locations are also near the ocean, I always recommend chasing the sunset together for those beautiful golden hour portraits (what's more romantic than that?!) Just make sure to plan around sunset time so you don't run out of light!
Elopement Timeline (No Guests)
Intimate Wedding Timeline
8. Create a checklist for the week of.
Now that you've got a plan, create a checklist for things to do the week of so you don't forget!
You made it! Take it all in, treasure the moments, and celebrate how amazing it is that you get to marry the love of your life.
Don't worry if you're in the early planning stages and feel a little lost! As a California elopement photographer, I provide all of my couples with:
Fully inspired and ready to start crafting a day full of adventure together?
From my first correspondence with Lynn when I was looking for an elopement photographer, she was nothing short of kind, helpful, knowledgeable, and experienced.
Once we decided to go with Lynn, she was my elopement planner and photographer all in one. From working on an itinerary to timelines, locations, securing park permits, and even styling us on the day of the shoot. Despite having not met Lynn until the day of the elopement, we felt like fast friends. She was amazing to work with and we did a six hour shoot- which I’m sure is exhausting on her end, I was running off a wedding day high. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and the elopement photos speak for themselves. I cannot recommend her enough. Her work is beautiful, but she is also such a kind person and a joy to work with! Thank you so much Lynn! - K + G, from their Santa Cruz redwoods and coast elopement
5/25/2020 08:57:45 am
Wow, one of the most thoroughly written blog posts about elopements! Everything, from the location lists to timeline examples are on point and very helpful. Thanks!
5/25/2020 11:04:28 am
This is so insanely helpful and the photos are beautiful too! You seriously included everything- even on the park distances from the airport!!
5/26/2020 07:12:13 am
Wow, this information is SO helpful! It can be overwhelming getting into planning, but this is such good advice!
5/28/2020 12:46:35 pm
Now this is one heck of a guide! I love how you've listed out every last detail- including a break down of costs! And can I just say, that image with the big ol' pup made me squeal! Love it!
It got me when you said that we can splurge on a good elopement photographer if we choose that way to get married since they can capture amazing photos in the woods. I would love that kind of experience with an intimate audience as well. It would definitely be a good idea to opt for that kind of wedding if my partner and I are actually on a limtie budget for this milestone in our life as well.
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