Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
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Lush forests, stunning coastal escapes, and ruggedly beautiful mountain peaks abound in the Golden State, making it an incredibly popular elopement destination. While some couples dream of lavish ceremonies with hundreds of guests, others are looking for something more low–key—something that puts emphasis on the vows rather than on the chairs, caterers, and minute details that can easily have happy couples stressed to the max. For those looking to enjoy the day a bit more and plan a little less, eloping in California is an ideal option.
But don’t start imaging a secret ceremony without another soul in sight; today’s elopements are about creating intimate moments that feel more personal than extravagant parties, and they’re no longer an excuse not to tell your parents you’re getting married. Instead, eloping has become a fun, shared experience with tiny guest lists—think your parents, a best friend, a photographer, and your beloved pets—all backdropped by gorgeous scenery. While there is an endless list of the most beautiful places to elope in the Golden State, these are a few of our favorites.
Since there are so many different places to choose from, narrowing down the search for your elopement venue can be the hardest part, but there’s a perfect elopement destination for every interest. Whether you’re planning an elopement in Northern California for later this year or whether your latest trip to San Diego’s top beaches has you dreaming of places to elope in Southern California someday far in the future, these incredible locales will leave you feeling inspired.
Big Sur elopements are some of the most photogenic. With Big Sur’s forested groves and oceanic vistas, you can achieve nearly any aesthetic after just a few miles’ drive. Plan your big day at one of the top elopement destinations—such as the awe-inspiring Glen Oaks Big Sur—or opt for a ceremony on the beach or in the forest to save even more cash and skip out on venue fees.
The best part? As one of California’s top honeymoon destinations, Big Sur allows you to continue celebrating your commitment in style. Go glamping in the wilderness or book a room at one of the region’s top hotels for a memorable trip you’ll be proud to post pictures of.
Explore the venue: Getaway Guide: Big Sur
If a San Diego wedding is what your heart desires, you’re in luck. With several different districts within the city itself and dozens of other swoon-worthy towns in San Diego County, there’s no end to the possibilities. Whether you’re picturing your ceremony in La Jolla, on the shores of Coronado, near the flower fields in Carlsbad, or on the beach in Oceanside, San Diego County is home to some of the best elopement destinations in the state.
Explore the venue: Getaway Guide: Downtown San Diego
As one of California’s top tourist destinations, it comes as no surprise that Napa elopements are highly coveted events. There’s an abundant landscape of natural wonders and stunning scenery in every direction, so it only makes sense that the path to “I Do” would lead here. Since the Napa Valley is full of high-end resorts, there are dozens of enviable elopement packages to choose from. Many of them include a cake from the local bakery and artisanal cheese from the region—with some even including multi-course meals, massages, and an overnight stay for about as much as you’d expect to pay for a wedding dress.
Explore the venue: 11 Things to Do in Wine Country
Is there anything more picturesque than an elopement near Palm Springs? When the shadows of the Joshua trees dance across the arid landscape and the desert sky comes alive with the setting sun, there’s no beating the views. Plan to stay at the trendy ACE Hotel & Swim Club or the vibrant Saguaro Palm Springs for an even bigger collection of wedding photos that show off your style.
For the ceremony itself, head out to the desert for a remote exchange of vows, or venture over to Joshua Tree National Park if you don’t mind some company. No matter where you go, you’re sure to understand why this region is considered to be among the top wedding destinations in the Golden State.
Explore the venue: Getaway Guide: Palm Springs
Of all the places to elope in California, Malibu is easily one of the most picturesque. The town is nestled in the mountains northwest of Santa Monica, so ceremonies here feel more intimate than you might expect from a Los Angeles elopement. Complete with rugged cliffs, incredible rock climbing spots, unbeatable views of the Pacific coastline, and enough charm to leave you starry-eyed, Malibu is an underrated Southern California elopement locale.
Explore the venue: Getaway Guide: A Weekend in Malibu
Sonoma County is full of natural beauty, rustic farms, and craggy coastal bluffs. Add in the amazing artisanal foods that come from this region, and you’ll see why this portion of the state has so much to offer. Indulge all of your senses as you explore the local farmlands, savor fresh cheese, photograph the Pacific Ocean, and cruise along Highway 1. Sonoma County has a slower pace than California’s large cities, too, so you’ll have more time to truly enjoy your big day. Book a stay at Timber Cove Resort to extend your experience and start your honeymoon in style.
Explore the venue: The Coastal Escape You Don’t Know About Yet—But Should
The Golden State is bursting with destinations to elope, and with smaller ceremonies finally getting the respect they deserve, there’s no reason not to consider an intimate wedding day. So, if you’re trying to plan a more sustainable wedding—or are wondering how you could survive planning a bigger wedding—remember your favorite waterfalls, tree houses, sand dunes, or beaches, and make all your dreams come true.