A Complete Guide on How to Elope in Big Sur
So. You know you want to Elope–you just don't know how, right?!?
If you've never eloped before or been to an Adventure Elopement–you probably can't quite imagine how the whole thing works! Luckily, you found me! I am not just there to show up and take photos on your wedding day. I am here to guide you every step of the way. Don't have any idea where to start looking for local vendors? Don't worry–I send you an extensive list of all the best in the business from florals to vintage car rentals. Don't know where you can have a ceremony and say your vows in Big Sur? Let me tell you about all of your options, and the pros and cons to each location. Are you having guests attend, but don't know what sort of accommodations are available? I have a complete guide on hotels, cabins, and Air BNB's from Monterey to Big Sur!
I have created this How to Elope Guide to walk you through planning your elopement step-by-step. I want your elopement to be the best day ever, and the planning process to go as smoothly as possible. So, grab your partner, a glass of wine, and a notepad–because it's time to start planning your dream day!
Your "How To Elope" Checklist
1. Decide What Time of Year
spring, summer, fall, winter
You don't need to know exactly what month you want to elope in, but deciding which season speaks to you the most, can help you narrow it down.
Are you a huge fan of warm, sunny golden hour? Are you obsessed with blooming, fields of wildflowers? If you are unsure of what the weather in Big Sur is like–just ask me! I can tell you when we get the most rain, when it will be the windiest, and even when there might be the least amount of tourists!
Because Big Sur is located in Northern California–there really is no "bad time" of the year to elope. We are blessed with pretty good weather all year round. There are definitely some advantages to eloping in off-season - you get to avoid the crowds, and there is just something so gorgeous about the white winter light!
Big Sur is also known for its microclimates. This means that you could be saying your vows in the sunny redwoods and an hour later, we are climbing rocks in a dense layer of fog on the cliffs at Garrapata. Typically it can be 5-10 degrees colder on the coast than it is in the redwoods, which is why I always advise my couples to have some sort of jacket or coat, even if you end up not needing not!
SPRING (April, May): 55-70°F, 15% rainy days in a month
SUMMER (June, July, August): 65-80°F, 5% rainy days in a month
FALL (September, October): 65-85°F, 10% rainy days in a month
WINTER (November, December, January, February, March): 50-60°F, 30% rainy days in a month
2. Hire Your Elopement Dream Team
local vendors are so important!
Obviously, I would like to be your first choice when it comes to a photographer/guide, but no matter who you end up choosing–my biggest piece of advice–is make sure they are a local! I was born and raised on the Monterey Peninsula, and I know the area (specifically Big Sur) like the back of my hand. I know where it is safe (or not) to take my couples, I know where and when the tourists and traffic are, and I have spent countless hours scouting secret locations for my couples.
Being a local also means I have relationships with local florists, hair & makeup, bakeries, and officiants. All of my couples receive a detailed preferred vendor list as soon as they book with me.
On average, a Big Sur elopement costs around $10,000, including the wedding dress and suit, bouquet, photographer, cake, marriage license. Considering the average wedding costs $30,000, this is why everyone should consider eloping! I currently offer 3, 6, and 8 Hour Packages. I recommend the full day elopement package the most often to my couples if they really want the full "Big Sur" experience and want to explore 3 or more locations.
3. Choose the Perfect Place to Stay
A cabin? A resort? a yurt?
Your accommodations on your wedding night can really set the whole tone of your elopement. The first thing you need to ask yourself is where do you want the actual ceremony to take place? This answer will determine how the rest of your day goes, and has a very large impact on where might book to stay. If you want to get married in the redwoods, a cabin is probably a good choice. If you imagine saying "I Do" on the cliffs, then maybe an Air BNB in Carmel is the right choice. And if you have guests coming to your ceremony, then you definitely need to look into an actual Big Sur venue.
4. Find the Perfect Wedding Attire
This might feel like the most overwhelming task of all!
There are just so many choices these days when it comes to choosing what to wear for your wedding! Dresses, suits, tuxedos, jumpsuits-endless possibilities! My number one piece of advice I tell clients is to choose something you are comfortable in! You are most likely going to be wearing this piece of clothing all day, so make sure you can move around without restriction. After all, we're going to be climbing rocks, running on the sand, and dancing on the cliffs!
If you’re planning to wear a dress, I have created an entire blog dedicated to finding the perfect style for your Adventure Elopement. It includes tips on how to choose the perfect dress for your location and activity choices and links to all of my favorite designers and online stores.
5. Choose Your Activities
Hiking? picnic? motorcycle ride?
Most couples have no idea that they can include so many classic wedding traditions in their elopement day. Still want to toss your bouquet? Throw it to your partner on the beach! Want to feed each other a slice of wedding cake? Now you only have to order a small, gorgeous wedding cake for two, and you can cut it and enjoy at your cabin in the woods! Picked out your wedding song and want to have a First Dance? Just send me your song to download and I will play it on my portable speaker while you dance above the clouds cliffside. The best place to start this process? With a few questions. Ask yourselves things like:
• What are our favorite activities to do together?
• What do we do for fun on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?
• How could we incorporate what we love to do on our elopement day?
Think outside the box! Get creative and don’t be afraid to splurge—it’s your wedding day, after all! That's the great thing about eloping–YOU get to choose to do whatever you want to do on your special day, and no two elopements are alike!
Here are just a few other ideas I give to my clients:
• Rent a vintage car to drive down Highway One
• Is one of you a musician? Bring your instrument and serenade your partner
• Do you love to read together? Bring your favorite books and read and have a drink down by the river
• Soaking in a hot tub
• Have a picnic
6. Figure Out All the Legal Stuff
1. MAKE ARRANGEMENTS ON HOW AND WHERE TO GET YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE.
The requirements for each state are different, so once you’ve chosen your location, you can research exactly what is involved and how to go about obtaining your license. (To help you out, here is link to the Monterey County website if you decide to obtain your license once you're here.) This process may take more than a day or so, and it may require booking appointments in advance, so make sure to start early and you shouldn't have a problem! On the day of your wedding, you will need to have both an officiant and a witness sign your license. But, guess what !?! I am actually ordained, so I can sign your license as your officiant. However, this does NOT mean that I can actually perform your ceremony. I only have two hands (and both of those are taking super important photos), so I won't actually be saying anything, except "I now pronounce you married!" I decided to get ordained for those couples that just wanted it to be the two of them, just wanted to be able to say their own vows to each other, and those that couldn't find an officiant. Keep in mind thought, I can't sign as the officiant AND the witness, but it is very simple to find another person on the day of your wedding who would be happy to sign as your witness!
2. THE SECOND LEGAL DOCUMENT APPLIES IF YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED ON PUBLIC LANDS.
The second legal document applies if you’re getting married on public lands, such as Garrapata State Beach. It’s a Special Use Permit, which gives you permission to hold an event within that area. To get married here, you'll need a wedding permit which costs $400 for up to 25 people or $550 for up to 50 people, with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 60 days prior to the event date. If you're working with a planner that already has a permit and insurance for the area, you can elope there for a lower fee as long as there's less than 10 people. You’ll be asked to fill out some details about your event (location, number of guests, etc.), pay a modest fee, and then the Parks Service will issue your permit. If you’re getting married at Garrapata, and have any amount of guests, I highly recommend obtaining a permit. If you are eloping at one of the many venues in Big Sur, then a permit is not necessary.
7. Create a Timeline
Actually, this is my job!
After you have filled out the questionnaire, chosen your activities, and decided on your locations-it's time for me to get to work on creating your timeline for the day. This ensures that everything runs smoothly and that everyone is on the same page for the time we will be spending together.
SAMPLE 6 HOUR TIMELINE
2:30 Photographer arrives
2:40 Getting ready photos in cabin
3:15 First look around Glen Oaks property
4:00 Ceremony in the redwoods
4:30 Leave for Beach
4:45 Arrive at Pfeiffer Beach
5:00 Picnic & wedding cake set-up at beach
6:45 Leave for Garrapata cliffs
7:20 Arrive at cliffs
7:30 First Dance, champagne spray
7:45 Golden hour! Shoot around rocky cliffs through blue hour
8:30 Photographer departs
8. Get Ready For Your Big Day!
GATHER EVERYTHING YOU NEED & PACK
Whether you’ve been planning your elopement for one year or one month, it’s probably felt like forever to get to this point—but you’re finally getting married. It’s time to pack! A week before your actual wedding, I will be sending you a checklist to pull together everything you need for your day. The sooner you begin to set things aside, the less stressed you’ll be when the time comes to travel to your elopement destination.
9. It's Time to Celebrate!
Be present, be you, and let your authentic emotions soar.
Remember, your day might not go exactly according to plan, but that’s half the adventure. I will do everything I can to make your elopement dreams come true, but if you’re willing to roll with the punches and embrace what comes your way, you’re bound to have an amazing elopement experience (no matter what!).
Soak in every moment and enjoy your intentional, meaningful, perfect-for-you day together.
Relax, breathe, and don’t stress about anything, photos included. If you have a beautiful experience together and feel alive throughout your day, great photos will follow.