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How to elope in California

Are you thinking about having your elopement or adventure wedding here in California? Don’t know where to start researching how to elope in California? You’ve made the brave decision to get married YOUR way and you’re bringing the focus of your day back to what really matters – which is the two of you. Huge congrats to you both!

I’ve written out some helpful information to get you started, including the California state marriage laws and what the typical weather will be like per season. I’m also sharing a full list of stunning California elopement or adventure wedding location ideas so you can have a fun, meaningful, and a totally YOU wedding here in California.

Why elope in California?

Point Reyes

California literally has it all — miles and miles of white sandy beaches, the desert, beautiful National Parks and forests, as well as many pretty courthouses. But why not think outside the box? Hike up a mountain and say your vows at sunrise. Hold your ceremony on the beach then go for a surf. You don’t even need to be too adventurous – elopements happen in all shapes and sizes and in this post I’m going to share with you some ideas on how to elope in Southern California. The best part? The weather is great all year round from January to December!

yosemite elopement location
Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park

You can go as simple or as elaborate as you like. You can DIY your whole elopement or you can hire a planner to help scout the venue and source vendors. Add a personal touch to everything you do. Choose your ideal location and everything else will fall into place. I worked with a couple in July who got married on the beach, and the bride and I made the flower crown and bouquet ourselves! Of course if you don’t fancy DIY I also know the vendors who can make that happen for you.

Marriage laws in California

Below is a list of California’s marriage law requirements and the documents that you’ll need to bring with you when you apply for your marriage license.

    1. You both must be 18 years or older unless you have parental consent. Under 18? You will need written consent of at least one parent (or guardian) and permission from a California superior court judge.
    2. You don’t need to be a resident of California or the US to apply.
    3. Same Sex Marriages ARE allowed.
    4. Both of you MUST be present to apply and sign your marriage license application.
    5. There is NO waiting period to get married in California.
    6. After you’ve received your marriage license it’s valid for 90 days.
    7. You are required to have a witness over the age of 18 to be present during your ceremony.
Best wedding photographer Los Angeles Kate Hampson
Laguna Beach

Information and documents needed to elope in California

    1. Full name, address, place of birth, and date of birth for you AND your partner.
    2. Name and birth places for each of your parents, including mother’s maiden name.
    3. Valid, government issued photo ID for both of you. Such as: valid driver’s license, passport, military ID, or state issued ID.
    4. $90-100 cash for the application fee. The exact amount varies by each county.
    5. If you’ve been divorced previously, you will also need to know the date of the dissolution. If the divorce was finalized less than six months prior, then you will also need a copy of your recent divorce decree.
    6. Some counties may also require a copy of your birth certificates.
Lake Tahoe

Ok, so you’re legally allowed to get married! How do you go about getting the license needed then?

Where and how to elope in California

You can get a marriage license to any County Clerk’s office, where you will have to appear in person. You can apply online in some counties, but that won’t save you a trip to the clerk’s office. Even if you complete the application online, you may still have to go to the office to pick up your license. It will save you time when you get there, though. Just do an online search for the county name and with the words “marriage license” or “county clerk.”

Best wedding photographer Los Angeles Kate Hampson
Hermosa Beach

Here’s what you need to know in general:

    1.  County Clerk’s offices are open weekdays only. They often close at lunchtime and are least busy in the middle of the week. Some locations take appointments, and others stop taking applications up to half an hour before closing time.
    2. A marriage license is immediately valid only in the State of California and remains valid for 90 days. Keep this in mind if you plan to get married at Lake Tahoe, where you might end up in the state of Nevada instead. Use this guide to find out more about getting married at Lake Tahoe.
    3. Government-issued photo ID: A driver’s license or passport is required for proof of identity. Other forms of ID may also be acceptable if you also take a certified copy of your birth certificate.
    4. Your married names: Both parties can choose the name they will use after marriage. Discuss this before you go to avoid delays (or worse, fights). You can’t change your first name, but you can choose to keep your last name or use your spouse’s last name. You can create a hyphenated last name like Swift-Perry or change your middle name to create something similar such as Lord Swift Perry.
    5. Payment: The license fee varies by county, and you can look it up on the County Clerk’s website. You can pay in cash, by pre-printed check with a California address, or a money order written out to the County Clerk. Some locations accept credit and debit cards with an extra fee but check in advance before you count on this option.
    6. For those who are divorced, you will need to know the exact date your divorce was finalized. If it was within the last 90 days, take your divorce decree with you. Not divorced yet? You will need to be!
    7. If you previously registered as a Domestic Partner and are marrying the same person, California domestic partnership statutes permit an individual to be both married and in a registered domestic partnership, so long as it is to the same person. If you are in a Domestic Partnership with someone else, you may need to consult an attorney to dissolve that legal relationship first.
Lake Tahoe

Where and how to elope varies by county

In Los Angeles County, you can apply for a marriage license online, but you have to pick up your license in person. You can get information about fees, civil ceremonies and other information at the County Clerk website.

In San Diego County, appointments are required, even if you just want to get a license. You’ll find details at the County Clerk website, where you can also find the current license fee and locations for civil ceremonies. If you print and fill out the application form you find on the website, you can save time when you get there.

In San Francisco County, you can print forms in advance at the County Clerk website. You can also make an appointment through their website up to 90 days ahead of time. Civil Ceremonies are performed at City Hall, weekdays only.

Lake Tahoe is complicated. Part of the lake is in California and part in Nevada, and the laws are different. Some chapels in California issue marriage licenses on premises, but in Nevada, you have to go to the courthouse. More about getting married at Lake Tahoe.

Paddleboarding for the wedding reception, Lake Tahoe

You can view the full details for the requirements and information needed >HERE< and you can see a full list of the county clerk’s offices to apply for your license >HERE<.

The ceremony

You can be married by a judge, priest, minister or rabbi of any religious denomination who is 18 years old or over. Active and retired judges can also perform the ceremony. You probably know about people getting ordained online which allows them to perform marriage ceremonies. I myself am ordained, so it’s really easy to not have to search around for an officiant willing to hike to a waterfall, for example, if your trusty photographer can marry you! California also offers an option to get a family member deputized for a day, but it’s a complicated and expensive process.

how to elope california
La Jolla

You need one witness to sign the marriage certificate. 

What happens next?

After the wedding ceremony, you still aren’t official. You have to return the marriage license to the County Clerk who will record it and can issue official copies. Ask a trusted person to send this off, your officiant should be able to help you.

Peak seasons

Since California is one of the most popular travel destinations and places to elope you will want to check and see when the peak seasons are for the area you’re thinking of eloping in.

Are you planning on eloping at one of the gorgeous National Parks here? You can find the information for the peak seasons for each park on the National Park Services website. For all other locations you can do a simple Google search or talk to a local ranger or guide to find the information.

Also take into consideration that some locations are more popular than others which means they will be more crowded with people during the peak seasons. So if you’re wanting a more private elopement ceremony you may want to do a little digging online to find a spot that’s not as common or more off the beaten path.

On the whole I’d recommend March-May and September-October if you are thinking of Yosemite or one of the popular National Parks. Even with hiking to get off the beaten track, Yosemite gets super busy in the summer.

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

The weather

One of the biggest benefits of eloping in California is that there isn’t a bad time of year to get married. The weather in California is fabulous all year round! Sunshine not your thing? If you’re a fan of atmospheric fog (which I am) then Northern California will be the best place to head to for your elopement. The temperatures do get colder in the Northern part though so take that into consideration.

how to elope california
San Francisco

Southern California stays sunny most of the year, except for the occasional gloomy days in May-June. I didn’t believe it myself but ‘June Gloom’ does exist at both ends of the state! As for the types of locations, Southern California has a wide variety of spots that would be perfect for your elopement. The list is varied, but includes the mountains, deserts, forests, and the many beaches.

Big Bear elopement location
Big Bear

For information on the average temperatures and to see what the weather will be like during the timeframe and in the location you’re eloping just do a quick Google search.

Where to elope in California

california redwoods elopement
Redwood National Park

To see the California State Parks visit the California Department of Parks and Recreation website >HERE<.

And of course any of the beaches along the coast!

Best wedding photographer Los Angeles Kate Hampson
Sunset Beach

Important Note: Keep in mind that you might have to get a special use permit for some of these locations to elope there. You can find this information on the National Park Services website, by checking on Google, or talking with a local trusted vendor in that area.

Leave no trace! 

One of your reasons for marrying in our beautiful outdoors is probably because of your deep love and respect for our planet. Bear in mind the seven Leave No Trace principles for planning an adventure elopement:

yosemite elopement location
Yosemite National Park

Plan ahead and Prepare

    • Look up regulations before your visit
    • Research if a permit is required
    • Only bring dogs or pets in areas where they’re allowed and always follow leash rules
    • Know the maximum number of people you can bring with you if you’re eloping
    • Prepare for extreme weather and emergencies

Stay on paths and hard surfaces

    • The use of undesignated trails can lead to erosion, vegetation damage, unsafe trail conditions, and impacts to local wildlife according to this study
    • Areas like meadows, wetlands, and places closed for restoration are especially fragile and easily damaged

Leave what you find

    • The photos are your souvenirs
    • Resist the temptations to pick flowers, stack rocks, or carve your name into anything

Pack it in, pack it out

    • Simply pack out your garbage. Also know that things like confetti, as well as biodegradable foods and their peels need to be packed out as well
    • Look at this graphic to see how long it takes things like food and cigarette to decompose

Respect wildlife

yosemite national park elopement location
Oh deer! Sequoia National Park
    • Give animals their space, don’t try to feed them, and always control your pets or leave them at home
    • Keep in mind that disturbance from humans can indirectly affect animals’ fitness and population dynamics through energy loss and opportunity costs of risk avoidance in wildlife according to the science behind leave no trace principles
    • Minimise campfire impact

Be considerate of other visitors

    • The wilderness belongs to everyone. Simply because someone is documenting a special moment there does not mean they have privilege over others.
    • If you’d like privacy, consider doing your photos at sunrise, sunset, on a weekday, or avoid peak season.   

I hope you have found this guide on how to elope in California helpful and informative. If you have questions please feel free to get in touch here and I’ll be able to guide you in the right direction.

Looking for elopement inspiration? Check out Danielle & Phil’s recent elopement here in Southern California!

Comments

Oh wow, this is everything you need to know! Incredible resOurce for california elopements!

This is such a great guide for elopements! California has so many amazing locations!

This is such a well put together Guide for eloping!!

This is An amazing resourCe for anyone INTERESTED in eloping in CALIFORNIA!

So much great info here–I love that you had a section on LNT!

Great info! Laws vary so much that and this is very helpfull.

Now that is a comprehensive guide to eloping in california, good work kate 🙂

California is an amazing destination for a wedding or elopement! Yosemite is hard to beat but there are so many great options!

As a former Californian; California does indeed have it all! So many wonderful spots to choose from.

This is an amazing resource for couples eloping in California! It’s clear you really know your stuff!

This is a very complete and well structured guide. I think there are tons of valuable information for the couples planning their elopement in california. You are the true expert elopement photographer to guide them through the process

THIS WAS SO INFORMATIVE. WELL DONE. I LEARNED SO MUCH IN THIS GUIDE.

This is such a great resource! California has such great elopement spots so I can see this being super helpful for potential clients. Great work.

I totally agree that California is the perfect place to elope! the state has everything to offer eloping couples!

wow what an all inclusive guide! thank you

I haven’t had any idea that California may be such a great source of elopement spots. So much to select! Great article by the way!

This is such a helpful resource for eloping in California! Perfect for planning and so thorough!!

This is so important because California has sooooo many epic elopement locations that many travel to.

This is such an excellent resource for couples interested in eloping in CALIFORNIA! Dying over the landscape shots of Yosemite!

This is the perfect guide to eloping in California! I can literally smell yosemite from your photos. I love the the spots you recommended for locations too. Those are perfect!

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