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How to elope in Big Sur

The Journal

California is home to some of the best elopement locations in the States. Wherever you choose, you really can’t go wrong, but we believe that a Big Sur elopement is something really special. So how exactly do you elope in Big Sur? Great question!

Groom standing behind Bride kissing at Big Sur

Big Sur is a stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. It is bordered to the east by the San Lucia Mountains, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. It’s traversed by the narrow, two-lane highway State Route 1, which is known for winding turns, seaside cliffs, and views of the often-misty coastline. The region has numerous state parks for hiking, camping, beach sight seeing, and your perfect elopement.

We’ve compiled this Big Sur elopement guide to help you decide where, when, and some other ideas for making your elopement a unique experience. We can’t wait to dive even further into helping you put together a day that feels like you! This guide is the best place to get started for how to elope in Big Sur!

When to Elope in Big Sur

Bride and Groom holding each other at Big Sur

When thinking about how to elope in Big Sur the first thing we want to get squared away is how to deal with weather at Big Sur. There is always the possibility that it will rain, even if the forecast you’ve checked a million times claims clear, sunny skies. Don’t worry! Rain (and the inevitable fog) make Big Sur absolutely breathtaking, so your photos and your day won’t be ruined by weather. However, don’t rely on clear skies; keep an open mind, and pack accordingly! (We have a small recommended packing list at the end of this blog, so keep reading!)

Secondly, the best time to visit Big Sur is between April and November. We highly, highly recommendthat you avoid trying to elope in the winter months (December-February) because there will almostalways be road closures and treacherous conditions (landslides, sinkholes, etc) caused by major rainfall,as well aswildfire activity. This isn’t to say that you aren’t allowed to elope in the winter here, but youwill have a much better experience during those warmer months. In the spring, you’ll encounterwildflowers in many areas. In fall, lighter crowds and beautiful weather.

Lastly, the day of the week also matters at Big Sur, just like in other amazing locations like nationalparks. Monday through Thursday are going to be your ideal day to elope, not only because of thelikelihood of lighter crowds, but also because getting a permit to elope in Big Sur can get tricky. Let’stalk about that next!

Permits (for the Big Sur Sector State Parks)

Because Big Sur is made up of a variety of public lands like land trusts, wilderness areas, and state parks, as well as private lands, each area has different requirements for how and when you can plan an elopement there. Specifically for the state park locations, Friday through Sunday are off limits.

We’ve compiled a list of links for you to read up on each state park’s rules and regulations. Note that the first three parks on this list limit to one elopement or wedding per day among them. This means that if there is an elopement permit issued for Andrew Molera State Park on a certain day, no one else can have their elopement on that same day in either Julia Pfeiffer Burns or Pfeiffer Big Sur parks. Complicated, we know! You can get a longer, up-to-date PDF guide for special events by emailing the contact found on these linked pages.

Again, these permit regulations are specifically for the state parks in the Big Sur area. If you choose a location outside of these, the rules are different, but we wanted to mention the specifics here because a lot of the land within Big Sur’s boundaries belongs to one state park or another. This can start to feelcomplicated and confusing because Big Sur isn’t regulated by one entity; we’re here to help you figureout all that detail when you book with us, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Where to Elope in Big Sur

Bride and Groom on top of jagged rock in Big Sur

Let’s get into the nitty gritty for some other location specifics! The first question you should ask yourself before you get too overwhelmed with choices is: do you want a coastal elopement, or a woodsy one?There are tons of options no matter what you choose. This fully depends on your style and what kind of theme you’d like to see in your wedding photos, so talk that over with your partner before going much further with location planning.

Big Sur is huge. Regardless of where you get married, you’re guaranteed to see incredible views of the trees, rivers, and ocean. You have the option of choosing to elope on public land (like the state parks we mentioned in the permits section) or private land, which includes venues like lodges, resorts, restaurants, etc. Here’s some of the pros of both public and private locations:

Pros of public land:

  1. Certain locations will contain a more adventurous experience built in (like hiking to your ceremony spot, etc.)
  2. It will either be free or less expensive than a private venue
  3. Having that alone time with your partner surrounded by the peaceful beauty of Big Sur is priceless!

Pros of a private venue:

  1. You are guaranteed more privacy than in a public space, where the general public will still be allowed to wander through
  2. Easier to access the property (this is handy especially if you have guests attending!)
  3. Many private options will have a place for you to get ready on site
  4. You won’t have to worry about permits or park closures

We also want to give a few mentions for our personal favorite locations for your elopement.

Some of these are on public land, and some are private venues.

  • We mentioned Limekiln and Garrapata State Parks already earlier, but we love both of these areas! Garrapata has two miles of beachfront, as well as some coastal hiking trails and a truly amazing view of the Pacific from the cliffs. The trails run from the beach into the redwoods here, so you can have the best of both worlds! At Limekiln, you’ll find (you guessed it!) four old limekilns from a late 1800s lime-calcining operation, as well as a beach, redwood forest, and LimekilnFalls.
  • Ventana Big Sur: Ventana is a luxury resort experience! Meals and other amenities are included when you book here, and they have a concierge service to help you plan your perfect stay.Ventana will give you a secluded, private space with some awesome views.
  • Glen Oaks: Glen Oaks will give you a rustic experience of Big Sur! They offer specific wedding and event services here, in addition to some amazing cottages and suites for your stay.
  • Loma Vista Gardens: Loma Vista has been around since the 1930s, a whimsical place that offers a variety of event spaces for your wedding, as well as different levels of wedding service for those planning a larger celebration or a more intimate one. This is a truly private Big Sur experience for you and your loved ones!

SIDE NOTE: If you’re looking to get a similar coast line but want to go elsewhere check out our blog about Oregon Elopement Locations HERE

Other Activities in the Big Sur Area

Groom spinning the Bride around on the sand of Big Sur

You’re choosing to elope so that you can create a truly unique experience with your partner! Giving you our guide to Big Sur wouldn’t be complete without a list of some one-of-a-kind experiences to check out whether you’re integrating them into your elopement day or planning to explore on your own before or after you get married. Bring your sense of adventure with you to Big Sur, and we promise you’ll have the time of your life.

  • McWay Falls is an 80-foot tall waterfall on the coast of Big Sur that flows year-round, fromMcWay Creek in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park into the Pacific Ocean. During high tide, it becomes what is known as a tide fall: a waterfall that empties directly into the sea. The only other tide fall in California is Alamere Falls, making this a can’t-miss experience.
  • Point Sur Lighthouse stands on a 361-foot-tall rock at the head of Point Sur. This is a historic location, established in 1889. The lighthouse is 40 feet tall and is still operational (as of 2016) and is an essential part of sea navigation in the area! Point Sur is the only complete turn-of-the-century light station open to the public in California. Three hour walking tours are available onWednesdays and weekends throughout the year.
  • The Henry Miller Memorial Library is a nonprofit arts center, bookstore, and performance venue documenting the life of the late artist and writer Henry Miller. Emil White built the house forMiller in the mid-60s. After Miller died in 1980, White dedicated the property as a memorial toMiller and as a gallery where local artists could show their work. In 1981, with the help of theBig Sur Land Trust, the Henry Miller Memorial Library was formed.

Where to Stay for you Big Sur elopement

Bride and Groom on top of rock structure in Big Sur

We think that extending your stay in Big Sur after your elopement makes for an awesome honeymoon.This gives you a chance to explore more than just your ceremony location, and spend some quality time with each other as newlyweds in a gorgeous location. We have a couple spots for you to check out when booking your stay!

  • If you’re looking to splurge:
    • LOCATION:Tickle Pink Inn
    • ADDRESS: 1555 Highlands Dr. Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA, 93923
    • PRICE: Starting $429 Night
    • AMENITIES: Welcome bottle of champagne on ice, with artisan truffles, deluxe breakfast and evening wine and cheese reception.
  • The more budget-friendly option:
    • LOCATION: Carmel Resort Inn
    • ADDRESS: Carpenter St & 1st Avenue, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA, 93923
    • PRICE: Starting at $120 / Night (Cost does go up when booking during the weekend)
    • AMENITIES: Free high speed internet, pet-friendly, BBQ facilities and golf course within 2miles.

A Few Final Tips

Bride and Groom running on the sand in Big Sur

Before we sign off and leave you with a ton of information to sift through, we want to mention some smaller, but still important things as you begin planning.

  • Big Sur is HUGE. It will take at least an hour to drive through from one end to the other. Make sure you account for travel time if your elopement plan includes more than one stop!
  • Cell service is limited here. Make sure you have everything you need before heading out.
  • There are a few things we recommend you pack for your trip: warm layers, good shoes for walking, water, and snacks! These things can often fall to the wayside in the frenzy of planning and making travel arrangements.

Now that you’ve been armed with all the info you need for how to elope in Big Sur, reach out to us! We can’t wait to document your story.

Contact us at [email protected] with any questions and to inquire about having us capture your special day!

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