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. Alternatively you've decided to make some lemonade from these COVID lemons. Huge congrats to you both!
I am an elopement photographer in California and have put together some helpful information to get you started. You will find 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 fabulous wedding here in California.
Why elope in California?
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. The bride and I made the flower crown and bouquet ourselves for her elopement last year! 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.
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.
You don’t need to be a resident of California or the US to apply.
Same Sex Marriages ARE allowed.
Both of you MUST be present to apply and sign your marriage license application.
There is NO waiting period to get married in California.
After you’ve received your marriage license it’s valid for 90 days.
You are required to have a witness over the age of 18 to be present during your ceremony.
Get in touch!
So you've got this far through the blog post (congratulations!) If your brain has turned to mush, go ahead and contact me via the form below. Ask anything you like about eloping in California, and hopefully I'll have the answer! Also this is the point where you may be deep in research and can't remember how you got here! I'm an elopement and wedding photographer, so if you have all the info and now need someone to turn your vision into beautiful images, let me know!
Information and documents needed to elope in California
Full name, address, place of birth, and date of birth for you AND your partner.
Name and birth places for each of your parents, including mother’s maiden name.
Valid, government issued photo ID for both of you. Such as: valid driver’s license, passport, military ID, or state issued ID.
$90-100 cash for the application fee. The exact amount varies by each county.
For those who have been divorced previously, you will also need to know the date of the dissolution. For a divorce finalized less than six months prior, then you will also need a copy of your recent divorce decree.
Some counties may also require a copy of your birth certificates.
Sequoia National Park
Bolsa Chica Wetlands
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 at 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."
Here's what you need to know in general:
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.
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.
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.
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! I can tell you how to go about getting divorced in California, but it is a long process.
You need 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.
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.
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.
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.
Appointments are required in San Diego County, 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.
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. You will need one witness to sign the marriage certificate.
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.
Sequoia National Park
Speaking of officiants!
I AM A LICENSED OFFICIANT IN THE U.S.
That's handy then! Yes, I can marry you wherever you desire AND take your photos. We can work together to plan the ceremony and any readings, or you can leave it to me. If it helps, I have a killer London accent. You bring the marriage license, I take care of the rest.
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.
Where to elope in California
Now for the fun stuff!!! You can get married practically ANYWHERE. You just need to ensure you have any permits needed and be careful to leave no trace. I have been lucky enough to call California my home for the past seven years and I can’t think of a better place to say your vows. With five years in San Francisco and two years in Los Angeles, I’ve been up and down the State enough to tell you it’s hard to find a bad location! If sunshine and nice weather is important to you, you’ll probably want to elope in Southern California. If you’re a fan of the dramatic landscapes and atmospheric fog, you’re more likely to be inclined to go for Northern California.
California offers nine national parks and hundreds of state parks. You have your pick of beaches, mountains, redwood forests, lakes, deserts and even pretty buildings. I’m looking at you, San Francisco City Hall! It is no surprise then that California is considered one of the best destinations for an elopement.
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. I’m always happy to share my knowledge, just send me a message. Here are some of my favourite places to elope:
La Jolla, San Diego
To see the California State Parks visit the California Department of Parks and Recreation website HERE.
When to elope in California
Whenever you like!! 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.
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.. California is a very popular state for tourists but it is not hard to get off the beaten track to feel you have the place to yourselves.
With the current pandemic, more and more couples are choosing to elope in California. These couples also don't seem to give a hoot about the weather and I don't blame them. It is not the most important part of deciding when and where to elope in California. Even a little rain on your wedding day can make gorgeous photos, and I have a large collection of cute umbrellas. Also, if it is cold you could accesorise your wedding dress with a cool custom jacket like Sammi's here.
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:
Plan ahead and prepare
Leave what you find
Stay on paths and hard surfaces
Pack it in, pack it out
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
The photos are your souvenirs.
Resist the temptations to pick flowers, stack rocks, or carve your name into anything.
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.
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.
Minimize campfire impacts
Be considerate of other visitors
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.
Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
Don't bring firewood from home, which could introduce new pests and diseases. Buy it from a local source or gather it responsibly where allowed.
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.
Hello, deer. Sequoia National Park
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 elopement here in Southern California or take a look at Shannon & Daniel's romantic Sequoia National Park elopement. If your plans are unsure due to the pandemic crisis, take a look at Cristina and James' romantic quarantine wedding at home.
The search for your elopement photographer ends here.
Hello! I'm Kate.
I'm a British award-winning elopement and wedding photographer in Southern California, where I have been proud to call home for two years.
I know photography, elopements and weddings inside out and have boundless enthusiasm and passion for everything I do. Getting to meet amazing people and memorialise their day forever really is my dream job. If you want to elope just the two of you, I'm also an ordained minister and have had the great honor to marry a few of my couples.
Having been a photographer for almost two decades and focusing on intimate weddings and elopements since moving to the states six years ago, I'm going to go ahead and say you are in good hands!
You don't even need to have a date or a location yet. With Covid scuppering so many wedding plans I'm going full-on with the flow. Together we will find somewhere (if you need my help). I've had couples eloping after trying to get married more than once. I've had couples deciding to seize the day and bring some joy to this year.
Get in touch and we'll make something fabulous together!
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