Eloping in California: Your Complete Guide in 2024

January 11, 2024
10 min

Eloping is a romantic journey that provides the couple the freedom to plan the wedding of their dreams without the burden of a large, conventional ceremony.

When planning how to elope in California, you should know all the best tips, logistics, locations, and everything else.

Why elope in California?

Firstly, California has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and it simply emanates charm! It is the perfect location for an elopement ceremony because of its diversity in terms of the natural amenities it has. Every type of terrain may be found in this state, including sunny seashores, vast deserts, snow-capped mountain ranges, lush woods, towering granite cliff sides, and more. This vast natural state is ideal for a couple that wants everything because there are unlimited possibilities to choose from! Everything you've ever wanted is there, plus much more. California is the ideal location for your first of many future anniversaries.

Secondly, California is an extensive state, and because of its size, different weather may be found in different parts of the state. The nicest thing about eloping in California is that the state enjoys great weather from January to December. You are therefore certain of having a good climate on your wedding day wherever you decide to elope in California. There is never a bad moment to run away to California.

Lastly, Hollywood is located in California! As a result, it is expected that this culturally diversified state will be enlightened and artistic, with sculptures, historical paintings, and decorative arts that include European and ancient artwork. The immersive and participatory nature of the art will be just what your elopement needs to be really unforgettable.

California Elopement Checklist

The best part of elopement is that it comes without rules. However, this doesn't mean there isn't any planning involved. Planning ahead for significant activities and to-dos will help you save on last-minute chaos, time, and cash.

couple eloping near the ocean

1. Select Your Dream Elopement Destination

California offers a plethora of stunning elopement spots throughout the year. This step is an exciting opportunity to envision your ideal location as a couple. Discuss with your partner the kind of environment and landscape that resonates with both of you. You can choose beautiful beaches, mountains, or deserts, depending on the atmosphere you like. Remember to secure any necessary permits, as many California elopement locations require them.

2. Choose the Perfect Date

Regardless of the season, California boasts amazing locations for elopements. The choice of your elopement date should align with the type of location you've selected and its seasonal characteristics. For instance, avoid a summer elopement in inland California when temperatures can soar. Consider the availability of your guests if you plan to invite them, and take logistics into account when finalizing the date.

3. Understand Visa and Documentation Requirements

If you or your partner are not U.S. nationals, it's crucial to have the necessary travel visas and marriage documentation. Requirements typically include:

  • Full names, addresses, dates, and places of birth for both partners.
  • Birthplaces and parents' names.
  • Valid government-issued photo identification (e.g., state ID, passport, driver's license).
  • An application fee of $90-100, which varies by county.
  • A copy of your divorce decree if either of you has been previously divorced.

4. Reserve Your Accommodation

If you're traveling from out of town, book your flights and lodging. It's advisable to have a buffer of a few days before and after your elopement date to accommodate any potential rescheduling. Choose accommodations close to your elopement location and essential amenities.

5. Hire Your Photographer

The photographer is a central figure in your elopement, as they know the hidden, picturesque spots that aren't widely known. Popular locations can be crowded, so your photographer can assist in finding secluded spots for your wedding day.

6. Select a Meaningful Ceremony Venue

Choose a location that holds significance for both of you. The things around should match the promises you make, making a special beginning to your journey as a couple.

7. Book Other Vendors

Just like traditional weddings, elopements can be tailored to your preferences. Consider details like florals, ceremony archways, table décor, an officiant (if not self-solemnizing), and any other service vendors you may need. Your list of vendors can be as short or extensive as you desire.

8. Plan Your Travel

Determine your mode of transportation to California, whether it's by car or plane, based on your location and budget. You can also enlist a travel agency to manage your travel plans, allowing you to focus on your big day.

9. Live Your Dream Elopement

Finally, savor every moment of your special day. It's a time to fully enjoy the experience.

free elopement checklist

Can we self-solemnize?

Yes, you can self-solemnize your marriage in California. With self-solemnization, you and your partner can marry each other without an outside officiant. This means you don't need a priest, minister, or judge. Couples can choose this option to say their vows and make their marriage official in their own way.

It's a convenient choice for those who prefer an intimate and personal ceremony, and California law permits this form of marriage solemnization. But, it's essential to ensure that you follow all the legal requirements and get a valid marriage license to make the marriage binding, even in self-solemnized ceremonies.

When is the best time to elope in California?

In California, you can get married at any moment. Every season offers a unique enchantment to the table.

Spring: In NorCal, wildflowers explode with colors as breezy summer weather approaches SoCal.

Summer: The Summer in Southern California is all about the sun and enjoyment, whereas Northern California offers cooler summer days and pleasant breezes in the mountains. 

Fall: The colder weather in Southern California makes beach and lakeside weddings more memorable. The mountainsides and forests of NorCal are ablaze with vivid shades of red, orange, and yellow since it is the leaf-peeping season. 

Winter: Although SoCal winters are generally moderate, desert evenings may get very cold. NorCal’s snow-capped mountains give off a dreamlike atmosphere. 

Trees in California

How to make eloping in California legal?

When eloping in California, you just need to take care of the following legalities:

Marriage License: A marriage license is required to get married in California. You both need to apply and sign for the license in person and must be at least 18 years old. Anyone can get married in California since a marriage license can be obtained without being a resident. Your license may only be used for marriage ceremonies in California and is only good for 90 days after it is issued. There are no refunds if you don't have a ceremony within 90 days; you must reapply and pay for one. You can apply for your marriage license in person or online, depending on the county you go to.

Officiant/Witnesses: You'll need a witness over 18 present throughout the ceremony to make it official (and legal). Any priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination who is at least 18 years old may officiate at weddings in California. With assistance from The Knot, locate nearby officiants and premarital counselling in California. Couples also have the unique option of self-solemnizing their marriage, allowing them to officiate their own ceremony without an external officiant. Additionally, Courtly can always help you with your online officiant.

Self-Solemnizing: In California, one unique legal aspect is the option for self-solemnizing your marriage. This means that you and your partner can officiate your own ceremony without the need for an external officiant. This provides couples with the freedom to exchange vows and make their marriage official through their own words and commitment.

Permits: You will require special usage permission to elope in a national park or state forest (or wedding permit). The price will vary for each park. Before organizing your party, ensure you are aware of the regulations for the various parks in your area.

How much does eloping in California cost?

The marriage license differs from state to state and is the sole expense associated with an actual elopement. Anything above that is considered a luxury. The cost of a marriage license in California is often approximately $80. You can add to this cost by selecting the attire, location, ceremony type, and activities included.

Popular locations to elope in California

You've chosen an ideal state for your elopement, whether you envision a beach wedding or saying "I do" in front of soaring redwood trees. ‍ Remember that this is your special day, so pick a venue that speaks to you. The location you select will determine the atmosphere and tone of the entire encounter. Thankfully, California has quite some options to choose from:

1. Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park, encompassing over 1,000 square miles of desert, is a captivating choice for elopements. The desert is known for its unique landscapes, like iconic Joshua trees and rugged rock formations. The starry night sky adds to the surreal backdrop for a desert elopement.

Joshua Tree Park in California

2. Death Valley

Known for its dramatic landscapes, Death Valley offers some of the most stunning backdrops for big weddings. The park has big sand dunes, snowy mountains, and cool badlands, making a unique place for a special wedding.

3. Big Sur

Big Sur is a romantic coastal region renowned for its breathtaking vistas and towering redwood trees. Couples can say their vows by the rocky coast or in the peaceful redwood forest, creating a romantic atmosphere for their elopement.

4. Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park in California is the perfect place for a magical forest wedding. The towering ancient redwoods create a majestic natural cathedral, and the serene ambiance makes it a perfect place for a peaceful elopement ceremony.

5. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a top elopement destination in California, and maybe the USA in general, due to its stunning natural beauty and photogenic landscapes, including iconic features like Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan. Its combination of accessibility, seasonal beauty, and opportunities for intimate, adventurous elopement makes it an ideal choice for couples seeking a memorable and scenic wedding.

Rocky mountains in Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Valley, CA, USA

6. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is famous for its giant sequoias, like the General Sherman Tree. Elopement ceremonies amidst these ancient giants create a majestic and serene atmosphere. The park has beautiful places like meadows and forests, perfect for couples who love nature.

7. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is known for its clear waters and beautiful mountain views in the Sierra Nevada range. Elopements by the lake are romantic and picturesque, with snow-capped peaks and pristine shores as the backdrop. Couples can say their vows on the beach, by a lake, or on a mountain for a stunning view.

8. San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is an architectural marvel that spans two city blocks. It provides a blend of stunning interior and exterior settings for an intimate elopement ceremony. Couples have various elopement choices at the city hall, ranging in cost, and iconic locations such as the rotunda offer a beautiful and historic backdrop for your vows.

9. Online Destination Wedding

You can have a destination wedding online, from any interesting location. You can complete all the procedures digitally. This gives you a hassle-free and unique experience. You can even choose a backdrop. It's the easiest way to get married online.

forever and always wedding chairs

What is the easiest way to elope in California?

An easy way out of having to arrange for all the legalities is to let Courtly manage your eloping.

Couples may complete the entire procedure online from any place using Courtly, the online marriage platform. A legitimate US marriage certificate can be acquired quickly, easily, and in most cases, in less than 48 hours.

Additionally, another straightforward and easy way to elope in California is by opting for a courthouse wedding. Courthouse weddings are a popular choice for couples seeking a simple and expedited marriage ceremony.

California courthouses typically offer quick and efficient marriage services, allowing you to exchange vows and obtain your marriage license in a straightforward and hassle-free manner. Courthouse weddings are especially convenient for those who prefer a minimalistic and budget-friendly elopement option.

couple getting wed atop a cliff

Can you get married on the same day in California?

In California, you can get married on the same day you obtain your marriage license. There is no waiting period, and once you have the legal authorization, you are free to proceed with your marriage ceremony. This flexibility allows couples to plan and execute their weddings with minimal delays.

Courtly is an online platform that makes it easy to get a marriage certificate in California. They provide a rush service that can be particularly helpful if you plan to marry online and need to expedite the process. Courtly's rush service processes marriage certificates in less than 24 hours, providing quick and efficient documentation.

Let us handle the paperwork.

Getting married is complicated. Courtly simplifies the process and provides everything necessary to get married online, including providing a licensed officiant who can perform a remote ceremony.

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