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How To Elope in California

WOOOO! Congrats on deciding to elope and choosing beautiful California as your private backdrop. Lucky for you, California has some of the best weather year-round, with diverse landscapes, and an easy marriage license process!

You might be here because…

(A) Being the center of attention is not your jam. Your dream wedding day is slow-paced, full of tiny moments and private vows.

(B) You started planning a large wedding celebration and quickly realized the meaning was getting lost in the details. Or maybe, the stress was too much to handle! It’s okay to do away with elaborate plans and get married YOUR way.


(C) Coronavirus forced you to postpone your big wedding day, but getting married NOW is still very important to you! Maybe you wanted to buy a house this year or your wedding date holds a ton of meaning.

Whatever the case, eloping is one of the most intimate, beautiful, and special ways of tying the knot. I’m here to walk you through how to elope in California!

A Few Basic Tips for Eloping in California

  • YOU MAKE THE RULES. Does the whole “something blue” hold meaning to you? Do you not care if you get ready together or really want to do that separately for a grand reveal? Talk with your partner about how you want your wedding day to look and let it unfold as you dream.
  • DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE THE LOCATION. If there is a destination you have your heart set on and know it’ll make for a relaxing honeymoon afterward, then go for it! But. If you’re not the “adventure” type and I ALWAYS encourage choosing a spot that holds meaning in your relationship.
  • YOU’LL LIKELY NEED A PERMIT. Every location is going to have different rules and permitting processes. Be aware that some permits can cost as low as $75 in Orange County areas, going all the way up to $300 in Yosemite National Park. California is permit-heavy, specifically in national parks and around hot spots for Hollywood productions. Collaborate with your wedding team to narrow down your ideal marriage spot and find out what permits, if any, are needed!
  • KEEP THE TIMELINE LOOSE. As far as an elopement timelines go, there are no real rules around what you MUST do. No guests are waiting for you to show up and entertain. Most photographers will suggest 4 hours of photo coverage to capture the full celebration. This includes intimate moments getting ready, seeing each other for the first time in your wedding outfits, a private ceremony, and sunset photos! While the timing can definitely be altered by the location and extra travel, here’s a general timeline guide:
    • 3 Hours Before Sunset – casual getting ready photos and any “first looks” or helping each other get ready
    • 1.5-2 Hours Before Sunset – Private Ceremony
    • 1 Hour Before Sunset – Romantic Photos
    • 15 Minutes After Sunset – Grab a Celebratory Drink/Picnic/Private Dinner
  • SAVE THE PAPERWORK. You don’t have to do the legal paperwork ON your wedding day if you don’t want to. Unravel this extra layer of stress on the day before or after, so you can have a stress-free experience. Remember… your wedding day is special, not because of the paperwork, but because of the vows and private moments you share!
  • HONEYMOON ALL WEEK. If you don’t live in California, rent out an Airbnb in the area so you can feel at home pre and post eloping! Keep the whole day private, intimate, and relaxed by having a go-to spot for getting ready and celebratory drinks.

California Marriage Laws

  • You don’t have to be a resident to get a marriage license in CA! Which means, it’s a great destination spot if you’re coming from another state or outside of the country.
  • Marriage license fees vary by county. Expect to pay $45-$100 depending on which county assessor’s office you file paperwork with. If you don’t live in California, be sure to research the county office closest to your elopement destination ahead of time.
  • You BOTH MUST apply in person, with valid government-issued identification, but there is no waiting period after the license is issued to get married. You have 90 days to officially be married from the time you get your license, so be sure to plan accordingly!
  • You’ll need a witness and an ordained officiant on your OG wedding date. While I’m not ordained, I know some really talented wedding officiants who will help make your elopement ceremony incredibly special. You’ll also need a witness to sign the marriage license. Your photographer or videographer is always more than happy to sign as a legal witness!
  • #LOVEISLOVE – gay marriage is legal and celebrated in California! (Isn’t it crazy we even have to write sentences like this?!)
  • You both have to be over 18 to legally marry. If under 18, you have to have parental consent.

As of April 20th, 2020, due to COVID-19, Orange County is currently the only county in SOCAL administering marriage licenses – by appointment only.

Elopements vs. Micro Weddings

Planning on inviting some guests? There is a big difference between eloping and having what’s called a “micro-wedding” or an intimate wedding day. If it sounds like you’re leaning towards inviting guests and creating an intimate dinner vibe… you might be having a micro-wedding instead! Read more about what makes a micro wedding different and how to plan one for yourself.

Need help choosing a location for your elopement? Here is a list of my favorite elopement spots in California!


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