How to Elope in Northern California in 2024

How to Elope in Northern California in 2024

Are you ready to elope in Northern California but unsure where to start? As a Northern California elopement photographer, I’m here to guide you through the process and help make your elopement day absolutely perfect. Northern California is an absolute dream location for an elopement, with its rugged coastlines, towering redwood forests, and serene mountain landscapes.

Your wedding day only happens once, and eloping is such a special and intimate way to celebrate your love. And yes, it can be really adventurous too, if you’d like it to be! And if so, you are my people! 

In this blog, I’ll share my top tips and insights to help you plan the most incredible Northern California elopement. From choosing the perfect location to navigating the legalities, I’ve got you covered every step of the way. 

Your Northern California Elopement

couple running the beach eloping in mendocino california

Why Northern California?

Long story short – beautiful views and plenty of adventure opportunities! But if you want more details, read on!

If you choose to elope in Northern California, you get to choose from numerous scenic locations, allowing you to have a meaningful celebration tucked away in the beauty of the breathtaking landscapes. As the famous naturalist John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” Northern California is home to some of the most awe-inspiring mountains and wilderness areas in the country, making it an ideal destination for adventurous couples. Can I join you in your adventures? My bags are packed! 

Torn between which setting you love most? Many of these beautiful places are nestled into each other or are a nearby drive. You can enjoy a stunning hike under a canopy of redwoods with waterfalls rushing down a wall of greenery and then end your day with a private picnic on the most stunning beach.

The Northern California region offers a diverse range of stunning landscapes and unique experiences with ample opportunities for all types of adventure. Northern California elopement activities can include hiking, kayaking, chartering a boat, helicopter, or seaplane, skiing/snowboarding, snowmobiling, or even going up in the sky in a hot air balloon! There are endless activities year-round for all types of adventure lovers.

black and white couple walking through el capitan meadow on elopement day

Best Time of Year to Elope in Northern California

If you choose to elope in Northern California, each season can look wildly different depending on your location. Overall, each season can have a big impact on the overall vibe and experience of your day. You can always check the weather patterns of your chosen elopement location online or ask your elopement photographer for advice, as well!

Spring & Early Summer

This is the best time in Northern California, especially for wildflower enthusiasts. The coastal regions like Big Sur, Point Reyes, and Mendocino are blanketed in vibrant blooms, creating a truly breathtaking backdrop for your elopement. The weather is mild and comfortable, perfect for hiking, exploring, and soaking in the natural beauty.


Coastal regions (San Francisco, Big Sur, Point Reyes, Bodega Bay, Jenner & Mendocino) can be chilly and windy throughout summer. They can also experience heavy fog, or as locals in San Francisco call it, “Karl,” which makes for a more moody, atmospheric vibe. If you’re dreaming of those classic golden hour sunset shots, you may want to consider an “Indian Summer” elopement in late August to November instead.

Summer is also peak tourist season, so you’ll want to be mindful of crowds, especially in popular destinations like Yosemite and Big Sur. But don’t let the crowds scare you if you’d like to elope in summer because the energy and liveliness can be a fun addition to your elopement experience.


It’s a stunning time in Northern California, particularly in the Lake Tahoe region, where the fall foliage is simply breathtaking. If you were looking for fall foliage in Yosemite, know that the Redwoods DO NOT change colors!

The coastal areas enjoy a beautiful “Indian Summer” during this time, with warm, sunny days and fewer crowds. 


For adventurous couples, winter can be an incredible time to elope in Northern California. Destinations like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite transform into winter wonderlands, perfect for activities like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. However, due to potential road closures and unpredictable weather conditions, you’ll need to be prepared for an extra night or two in Lake Tahoe or Yosemite.

Ultimately, the best time of year for your Northern California elopement will depend on your personal preferences and the specific experiences you’re hoping to have when it comes to activities and scenery. Consider the weather, crowds, and activities that are most important to you!

5 Best Northern California Elopement Locations

Northern California has some of the most beautiful elopement locations in the world. Yeah, I may be a bit biased since this is home, but seriously, just look at the views! These are my top 5 favorite Northern California elopement locations!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is probably one of the most well-known locations in Northern California. Here, you’ll find towering cliffs, waterfalls, meadows, and beautiful forests. You can exchange your vows against iconic landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome or go off the beaten path to find a hidden spot to make yours. 

If your heart is set on eloping in Yosemite, I have the perfect planning guide for you!

yosemite ceremony at taft point
yosemite sunset ceremony at taft point
yosemite valley
Black and white Couple getting ready during Yosemite elopement
Yosemite elopement packages

Redwood National and State Park

Redwood National and State Park offers many different backdrop and adventure opportunities for your elopement day. Here, you’ll find ancient, towering redwood trees, beaches, and vast prairies – so many stunning places to explore!

Redwood elopement couple enjoying their day
CA Redwood Elopement couple walking through the forest
Redwood elopement forest

Big Sur

Big Sur is a stunning coastal region in Northern California known for its rugged cliffs, crashing waves, and redwood forests. Here, you can exchange vows overlooking the Pacific Ocean, hike to hidden waterfalls, or have an intimate ceremony in the serene forest. 

Big Sur elopement couple on the beach at sunset
Big sur elopement Location bixby bridge

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe offers a picturesque setting for your Northern California elopement. Here, you can enjoy paddle boarding, hiking, and skiing, all while surrounded by mountains. It’s a great location choice for both summer and winter elopements!

lake tahoe winter elopement couple in the snow
emerald bay elopement couple
emerald bay elopement

San Francisco

San Francisco is a beautiful elopement location idea if you’re looking for a mix of fun downtown vibes and natural beauty. There are gorgeous rugged coastlines, beautiful parks, cozy streets,  and, of course, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!

And if you’d like more in-depth insight and a few more Northern California elopement location ideas, check out this blog!

san francisco city hall elopement couple
seaplane elopement couple

Cross-County Marriages

If you obtain a marriage license in one county, you are not restricted to getting married in that specific county. You can have your wedding ceremony in any California county. However, the license must be returned to the county where it was issued for official recording. 

Validity Period

The marriage license is typically valid immediately upon issuance and for up to 90 days. This means that you must have your marriage ceremony within the 90-day period, and the completed license must be returned to the county clerk’s office for recording. 


In California, couples have the option to self-solemnize their wedding, which means they can act as their own officiants during the marriage ceremony. This allows couples to exchange their vows and legally marry without the need for an external officiant. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Self-Solemnization Rights: California law permits self-solemnization, allowing couples to marry without an officiant. This is particularly useful for couples who prefer a private and intimate ceremony.
  • Marriage License Requirements: Even if you choose to self-solemnize, you must still obtain a valid marriage license from the county clerk’s office before the ceremony.
  • Completing the Marriage License: When you self-solemnize, both partners must sign the marriage license as the officiants. Ensure that you follow the county’s guidelines for completing and returning the license.
  • Witnesses (Optional): While not required for self-solemnization, some couples choose to have witnesses present during the ceremony. Check with your county clerk’s office to confirm local regulations.


Be sure to understand the specific documentation and requirements set by the county where you obtain your marriage license. Each county may have slightly different procedures. 

Recording the Marriage License

After the ceremony, the signed marriage license must be returned to the county clerk’s office for official recording. Check the deadline for returning the license to avoid any issues.

If you’d like an officiant to hold the ceremony for you, my husband and I are both officiants!

Hot Tip

If you don’t want to worry about all these things for your elopement, you can get legally married beforehand and then head out for your adventures later!

couple exchanging rings on adventure elopement

Average Cost of a Northern California Elopement

The cost of eloping in Northern California can vary widely depending on how you choose to go about your day. You can elope as cheaply as the cost of a marriage license and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. But if you’d like to add activities, get nice elopement attire, travel, accommodations, get a photographer, and other vendors, the costs will be much more. 

On average, a full-day or multi-day elopement experience can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000+.

point reyes adventure elopement couple on the beach

Northern California Elopement Vendors

As you’re planning to elope in Northern California, there are several incredible vendors you should consider to help make your day extra beautiful and special.

  • Starting with an elopement photographerthat’s me! As your expert adventure elopement photographer specializing in Northern California elopements, we’re in for an incredible journey together. I’ll be your trusted guide, ensuring we capture all the joy and excitement along the way. Consider me your go-to partner and planning guru, taking care of every detail so you can relax and enjoy the experience. From crafting personalized location suggestions to coordinating timelines and securing permits, I’ve got you covered in creating the perfect elopement in stunning settings.  Check out my packages here!
  • While you can self-solemnize in California, you may want to have an officiant to hold a ceremony for you. My husband and I are both ordained and would be honored to officiate your ceremony!
  • Just because you’re eloping doesn’t mean you have to skip the bouquet! Consider hiring a local florist.
  • If you’d like to add some more luxury to your elopement day, you could also consider a private chef or yoga instructor or having a professional provide you with a sound bath! The options are endless!

As your adventure photographer and Northern California elopement planning guide, I am here to help connect you to some amazing, talented people! 

Unique Adventure Elopement Activities to Include

Eloping surrounded by the beauty of the great outdoors is an absolute dream! Adding fun activities you love to do with your partner on your day allows you to take it all in more! Whether you’re planning a full day or a multi-day elopement, there’s no shortage of incredible activities to incorporate into your celebration.

  • For nature lovers, hiking is a must. Explore the stunning trails of Yosemite, trek to breathtaking waterfalls like Burney Falls or McWay Falls, or simply wander hand-in-hand through the serene redwood forests. You could even start your day with a private yoga or sound bath session to connect with the natural world around you.
  • If want even more adventure, why not go horsebackriding or kayaking? Paddle through the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe or explore the rugged coastline of Big Sur by kayak. For a truly unique experience, consider chartering a boat or seaplane for a one-of-a-kind aerial tour of the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. 

One of my couples included an excursion with Seaplane Adventures during their elopement, and you can see how that went here! Their day was also featured over at Wandering Weddings.

helicopter elopement couple on an adventure
holding hands on seaplane ride over san francisco
  • Speaking of San Francisco, the city offers a wealth of adventure opportunities. Take a seaplane or helicopter ride over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the stunning Northern California coastline. Or, charter a boat for a sunset sail, complete with cocktails and sneaking a peek at a Giants baseball game.
  • If you’re eloping in Mendocino, don’t miss the opportunity to ride the historic Skunk Train through the heart of the redwoods. Sip a cocktail in the forest as you take in the magical scenery.
  • In Big Sur, renting a classic car and driving the iconic Pacific Coast Highway is an absolute must. Stop at all the best viewpoints and hidden gems along the way, and make the road trip part of your elopement experience.
  • Lake Tahoe is a winter wonderland with endless opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing at resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly. You can also take the gondola up and ice skate the Olympic rink on top of the mountain!! For a truly unique experience, consider taking a clear kayak out on the lake or going for a hot air balloon ride, with your ceremony taking place high above the sparkling waters.
  • In Yosemite, you can’t go wrong with a bike ride through the valley, a hike to one of the park’s many waterfalls, or a snowshoe adventure through the winter landscape. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try one of the “7 top ways to get wet in Yosemite” – a list of the best swimming holes and water activities in the park.
  • In Point Reyes, consider taking a guided horseback ride along the beach, followed by a picnic lunch in a secluded spot. It’s a truly magical way to experience the rugged beauty of this stunning coastal region.

Northern California Elopement Timeline

Your elopement timeline will be uniquely yours! It’s all about you and your partner, where you’ve chosen to elope, what activities you’d like to include, transportation times, and more. My most popular Northern California elopement package includes 8 hours, aka a full day coverage, and this is how a rough timeline could look.

Example 8-Hour Elopement Timeline

  • 12:30 pm: getting ready photos at the airbnb, writing your vows together, etc.
  • 1:30 pm: first look
  • 1:50 pm: head out to the ceremony site
  • 2:30 pm: your intimate ceremony, exchanging vows in a breathtaking location
  • 3:00 pm: celebrate with a post-ceremony picnic, complete with your favorite craft cocktails and a small selection of gourmet bites.
  • 4:00 pm: do some adventuring while taking your elopement photos with the views
  • 5:45 pm: sunset photoshoot, capturing the golden hour (the timing here really depends on when the golden hour is on the day – something I always calculate and keep in mind!)
  • 7:00 pm: enjoy a romantic dinner at a local restaurant or have a private chef experience at your lodging
  • 8:00 pm: cake cutting, end the day with stargazing or a cozy hot tub session

Multi-day Elopement Timeline

When planning an elopement, a multi-day timeline offers unparalleled flexibility. For me, this typically involves a longer day followed by a shorter one. This setup is perfect for couples who want to do it all and not think about the time. You can celebrate one day with loved ones and go solo adventuring the next or vice versa. 

By spreading out the activities over two days, you can eliminate the stress of trying to cram everything into one day!

elopement details

Where to Stay in Northern California

Luxurious Hotel Stay

You can enjoy adventure and the great outdoors and still love to be boujie! Want access to amazing amenities and feel like you are in a spa 24/7? Enjoy delicious 5-star food, in-room massage, and breakfast in bed? And still be close to amazing locations to explore? Yes, please!


Walk outside your door to enjoy the fresh air and amazing views of your stunning location. Stay for just yourselves, or rent out an entire camp for friends and family! Hipcamp is a great resource for finding unique glamping experiences, offering a variety of options! You can also check out AutoCamp to find beautiful and luxurious Airstreams in the Russian River, Yosemite, and Joshua Tree.

Another thing that might come to mind when you think of glamping is those cute canvas cabins. One that I highly recommend in Mendocino – Mendocino Grove!

Tree Houses

Yup, you heard it right – you can make your childhood dreams come true and stay in a tree house! Post Ranch Inn and Pinecone Tree House offer enchanting treehouse accommodations for a whimsical and secluded stay.


With options nestled in the redwoods, perched on the cliffs of Big Sur, or in other scenic locations, Airbnb/VRBO provides a range of choices for a beautiful stay, whether for just the two of you or with your closest loved ones! There’s something for any price range, but note that during peak tourist seasons, most places will be more expensive and book out quickly!

Things to Consider Planning Your Elopement

When planning your Northern California elopement, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Cell Service: Many of the remote, natural areas in Northern California, like the mountains and forests, can have spotty or limited cell service. This is something to be aware of, especially if you need to stay connected for any reason during your elopement. This is why I also recommend you download the area map, so you’re not relying on data to navigate the area.
  • Road Closures: Certain areas, like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, can experience road closures due to winter weather conditions. This is particularly important to consider if you’re planning a winter elopement. Be prepared to be flexible and have backup plans in place. 
  • High Seasons: Popular destinations like Yosemite and the hiking trails can get quite crowded during peak tourist seasons. If you’re looking for more privacy, consider eloping during the shoulder seasons when there are fewer visitors. Sunrise and sunset times, and weekday elopements are better if you’d like to have a more intimate experience. If you elope with me, I’ll help you adventure off the main paths for most incredible views and more privacy!
  • Travel: Many of the best elopement locations in Northern California are a couple of hours or more from the nearest major airport. Planning ahead and adding on extra time to get to point A and B will help you stay on schedule. As your Northern California adventure elopement photographer, I got you! Together we will make the best timeline for your day with backup plans in mind. 
  • Backup Plans: Despite your best efforts, things don’t always go as planned. Be open to embracing life’s adventures and have backup plans in place, whether it’s for inclement weather or unexpected crowds. If you’re worried about a bit of rain, I have the cutest clear umbrellas you get access to if you book me as your Northern California elopement photographer. 😉

My Northern California Elopement Packages

Hi! I’m Christina! Documenting love in the great outdoors and helping my couples create an unforgettable, meaningful experience is my everything! That is what this is all about! I’m here to celebrate you and get to know what is most important to you so we can make it happen! Eloping in Northern California is truly an amazing way to celebrate the future you are building together.

My Northern California elopement packages offer a half-, full-, or multi-day experience! I offer a ton of flexibility in designing our time together and would love to get to know you more to help you plan! To learn more, head over to my contact form, and we can get together on a call!

  • Help you hand pick a location
  • Provide resources and custom location guides on lodging, activities and the best places to indulge in delicious foods
  • Scout locations with boots on the ground to find the best places and lighting for your ceremony and photos
  • Secure the right location permits to make sure your wedding is legal!
  • Recommend vetted vendors to help make your dream of a day come true. 
  • Create your custom timeline (2-3 options to choose from!) with room to breathe and enjoy your day.
  • Deliver a joyful experience along with swoon worthy photos in your own online gallery!
  • Have a backup plan for it all!
  • Deliver sneak peaks within 72 hours and a full wedding gallery within 6 weeks! 
  • Provide a Fine Art Wedding Album design for you to print and hold onto your photos to thumb through for years to come. 



Serving the PNW, Lake Tahoe,
San Francisco, Big Sur,
Santa Cruz and beyond.

Here for the madly in love, adventurous at heart seeking to celebrate their love for each other and the great outdoors in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ready to take you to some incredible places and help you create unforgettable memories. 

My warm and whimsy storytelling style and approach will have you in all your feels, staying present and in the moment so you can have the time of your lives. Your stunning photos will help you relive all of your joy for years to come.

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Yosemite, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Redwood National Forest, San Francisco and beyond


Yosemite, Big Sur,
Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe,
PNW, San Francisco, and worldwide