How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

So you just got engaged – and you’re already dreaming of your Southern California elopement! With so many possibilities in the Golden State, it can be overwhelming to know which direction to start off with. I personally love the beautiful region of SoCal, and I get so excited when I hear that couples are planning to elope here. So without further ado, here are all my tips on how to plan a Southern California elopement! 

Create a vision for your Southern California elopement

It’s time to make your Pinterest board come to life! If you haven’t already, start getting elopement inspiration from social media or your favorite SoCal photographer on Instagram. Keep in mind you should be using these photos for what they are: inspiration. No wedding or elopement is going to look exactly how you saw it curated on the internet. But places like Pinterest & Instagram are great platforms to start getting some ideas of what you want your elopement to look like! 

For example, do you want to elope at sunrise on the beach? Or maybe during golden hour in the city? Or do you envision your southern California elopement somewhere like Joshua Tree, or a different national park? The amazing thing about California is that there’s so many different scenery options to choose from. And don’t even get me started on the venues!! We’ll talk about nailing down specific locations a bit later in the blog. But for now, try and get a general idea of what your elopement vision is. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

Set your Southern California elopement budget

Once you’ve got an overall vision for your elopement, it’s time to talk money. Even though you’re not planning a huge, traditional wedding, you should still have a budget in mind that you want to stick to! This will eliminate any issues down the road when booking a venue, booking your vendors, and choosing your elopement attire. Talk with your partner about how much money you realistically want to spend on your Southern California elopement. I recommend browsing vendor prices while making your budget. This is so that it can be as accurate as possible!! If you’re traveling to SoCal from out of the area, remember that you’ll need to account for travel expenses in your budget as well. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

What time of year do you want to elope in Southern California?

Instead of setting an exact date at this stage, I recommend figuring out what time of year you want to elope instead. Now, the stereotype that California doesn’t have seasons is kinda true… the weather is beautiful all year round, especially in the southern region! But let’s say you want to elope somewhere like Joshua Tree National Park. You probably don’t wanna do that in the summertime when temps can get over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Early spring in Southern California can sometimes bring light showers, but I don’t think it’s anything to be too worried about. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

Where do you want to elope in Southern California?

When planning your Southern California Elopement, there are three main options to consider location-wise. You can elope on the beach right by the water, at a more traditional indoor or outdoor venue, or at a national or state park! Here are my top 3 picks for each category:

On the beach // Southern California elopement locations

Santa Monica State Beach

Located just west of DTLA, Santa Monica State Beach is one of the iconic beaches in Southern California. There’s also tons of things to do at this beach! So after your elopement we can head over to the pier & boardwalk to take tons of photos. If you do elope during the off season (AKA anytime but the summer time) there will be a lot less crowds, more parking, and an average temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Coronado Beach in San Diego

Okay so there’s actually five different beaches in Coronado… each with their own beautiful features! If you want to elope in San Diego but can’t decide between a venue and the beach, why not take advantage of both? The infamous Hotel Del Coronado venue is at the southern end of Coronado Central Beach, so you can elope at the hotel then go straight to the beach for photos after. Or, you can elope on the beach and then hold a mini reception at one of the indoor venues the hotel offers! 

Another beach option is Ferry Landing Marketplace, where you can enjoy a beautiful sandy beach area and sweeping views of San Diego Bay as well as Downtown San Diego. And after your elopement, we can hop on the ferry and take some photos! 

Sunset Cliffs

This San Diego elopement location is so much more than just a beach, which is why it’s one of my favorites!! It’s technically considered a “natural park” rather than just a beach because of its unique coastal features. The park sits on a total of 68 acres in SD, with dramatic cliff formations, caves, intertidal areas, and of course, a sandy beach at the end! With the best sunset views in all of San Diego, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to elope here. 

El Matador Beach

Sand, sea caves, and massive rock formations? Say less! El Matador is one of Malibu’s best-kept secrets, and definitely one of the best beaches around. It’s a stunning location for a sunset elopement because the views are unreal! There’s not a ton of parking for this beach, which is why it’s typically never overcrowded. And that of course makes it a great elopement spot!!

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

At a venue // Southern California elopement locations

Balboa Park

This location isn’t specifically an elopement venue because it’s an urban park that encompasses over 1200 acres, but man is it one of the most beautiful spots in San Diego. There are so many different indoor and outdoor venue spaces at Balboa; The Prado, The San Diego Museum of Art, the Casa del Prado Courtyard, the Marston House Gardens, and countless more. There are stunning places to take photos all around Balboa Park, so we definitely won’t run out of opportunities! 

Saddlerock Ranch

By far one of the most beautiful and epic elopement venues in Malibu, Saddlerock Ranch dates back over 300 years when this area of the Santa Monica Mountains was part of the original Spanish Land Grant. This venue sits on over 200,000 acres and limitless outdoor and indoor locations for your Southern California elopement. And to top it all off, you can go wine tasting or get wild & crazy and go on a wine hike in the vineyards!

Grass Room DTLA

If you want to elope right in Downtown LA, I promise you’ll want to check out this venue. With a flowing 6,000 sq ft site plan and fully amenitized features, Grass Room is one of the most distinctive event venues in the area. It was originally built in the 1920s and has served DTLA throughout the years in many different ways. Today, they accommodate large and intimate events alike, all while being energy efficient and sustainable AF. Between the secret jungle, the courtyard, the Ocean Dining Room, and the Back Alley Lounge? You and your guests will have an unforgettable experience at the Grass Room. 

The London West Hollywood

The luxury of Beverly Hills is one of the defining features of Southern California without a doubt. So if you’re looking to get in on some of that luxury for your elopement, The London West Hollywood is the place to do it. Combining glamor, style, and modern luxury, this hotel has a total of 5 event spaces that are sure to take your breath away. 

Pasadena City Hall

If you truly want to have a simple elopement at a minimal but still beautiful venue, have you thought about eloping at Pasadena City Hall? You can rent out the entire place for yourselves, and the grounds are perfect for elopement portraits.

Santa Barbara City Hall

Just on the cusp of Central and Southern California sits a historical, Spanish town called Santa Barbara. A popular vacation spot for celebrities and California natives alike, this coastal town would be the perfect, quiet Southern California elopement location. The City Hall is just perfect for intimate elopements if you want simplicity and style all in one. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

At a national or state park // Southern California elopement locations 

Joshua Tree National Park

Where the Mojave and Colorado desert meet is the increasingly popular California national park: Joshua Tree. This park is unlike any other area in California, and has become an iconic elopement spot in recent years! There are tons of Airbnb’s within and around the park for convenience and also just a fun getaway for you and your love. Keep in mind that there’s no cell service in many areas of the park. If you wanna elope here, shoot for the fall or spring when the weather isn’t blazing hot or freezing cold! 

Palomar Mountain State Park

Located in San Diego County, this state park is unique for the region that it calls home. It gets twice as much rainfall than the surrounding area does, making it especially lush and green compared to other regions in SoCal! There are large pine, fir, and cedar trees all throughout the park, giving a gorgeous backdrop and scenery for your Southern California elopement. 

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This one technically is considered a state reserve vs a state park, but a beautiful elopement location nonetheless! The reserve itself is about 1500 acres, complete with bluffs and beaches that you can explore before or after your elopement. The hiking trails are relatively easy, and you can see sea lions, dolphins, and gray whales from the beach! 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

Elopement locations outside of SoCal worth mentioning! 

Big Sur

The diversity of scenery that Big Sur offers is seriously what makes it such a great Claifnroa elopement location. You’ve got beaches, forests, lodges, and venues to choose from! The weather here is beautiful here all year round, and there are so many towns nearby that you can explore after your elopement. 

Yosemite

If you want to elope at Yosemite, the best months to do so are between June & September to avoid road, trail, and campground closures. Yosemite National Park is best known for its sunrise views and cascading waterfalls, but there are so many other sites within the park that are 10000% worth seeing and eloping at! You can also have a winter elopement at Yosemite if you want to have snow in the background, but your option might be a little bit more limited. 

San Francisco City Hall

Possibly one of the prettiest government buildings I’ve ever seen, SF City Hall would be a perfect elopement venue if you wanted to explore the infamous NorCal destination. It’s grand, historical, and dare I say luxurious! And of course if you elope here, we have to run around the city and take photos afterwards!

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

Book your elopement vendors

Once you’ve decided on your location, it’s time to lock in your Southern California elopement vendors. I would recommend booking your photographer & videographer as early as you can, because those are the vendors that get booked in advance the quickest! You can also ask your photographer for vendors that we’ve had really good experiences with. If you want to make your life a little easier, you can hire an elopement planner that can assist you with anything you need during the process. Especially if you want a decorated setup at your venue or elopement location, a planner can be a godsend!

If you’re having any sort of reception after your ceremony, you might want to look into food options for you and your guests. You can hire a private caterer, have a food truck, or just have an intimate dinner at a nearby restaurant. On the same note, of course you can’t forget about dessert! Even if it’s just the two of you eloping, you can celebrate by having a cake or other dessert for after your ceremony. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

What are the California elopement laws?

If you’re eloping in California, you need to make sure you know exactly how to do it… legally. Here are the steps you should follow!

  • You must obtain a marriage license in the county you’re eloping in 
  • Some counties have an online application process. But no matter what, you have to appear in person for the application to officially be processed
  • Before you go to the County Clerk, both parties should have a valid photo I.D., a copy of the final judgment if you’ve been married before, and a copy of your birth certificate
  • Once you receive your marriage license, you have 90 days to get married. If you wait longer than 90 days, you have to apply for a new license! 

When the date of your ceremony rolls around, California requires at least one witness present to sign the marriage license. There’s no official age requirement to be a witness, but they must be old enough to be conscious of what they’re signing. If you want to elope with just the two of you and no guests, then your photographer can totally be your one witness! You must also have an officiant to solemnize the marriage and return the license to the County Clerk within 10 days. 

How to Plan a Southern California Elopement
How to Plan a Southern California Elopement

How to plan your Southern California elopement 

Well, now you know how to plan a Southern California elopement from start to finish! I hope you feel as prepared as possible going into the most exciting period of your life. If you’d like to chat about what it would look like for me to photograph your elopement, I would love to chat with you!! You can fill out my contact form on my website and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.