Your personal guide on how to elope in California

Amidst a Global Pandemic

Curious about how to elope in California amidst a global pandemic?
If you’re reading this, that probably means you’re an optimist, an adventurer, and someone who values the beauty of the planet around us and the deep connection that is grown from intimacy. There’s a chance you might be here because your dream wedding got wrecked by a world Pandemic, but being the badass that you are, you’ve decided to make the most of it and simply elope in California. It could be that you’ve simply always dreamed of eloping and you’re not really sure where to start, where to look, or what to consider.

Whatever your reason, I’m so happy you’re here because I do believe in the magic of elopements and intimate weddings and I want to share with you tools that will guide you in learning how to elope in California while making your wedding experience feel true to you.

Carol and Julie create a picturesque image showing the true beauty behind california elopements.

I’m all about efficiency and not wasting anyone’s time, so before I go on I just want to cover all of what we’ll be talking about:

1. What is an elopement? Who can come?
2. Is an elopement right for us?
3. What does an elopement look like in California?
4. What do we need to elope in California?
5. How to plan an elopement in California

How to elope in California elopement guide

1. What’s an elopement?

In simplest terms: Elopements are an intimate and intentional wedding experience with up to 30 of your favorite people that focuses on the relationship of the couple and their commitment to one another.

Dogs are always invited.

       An elopement is whatever you envision, it could be a weekend getaway to your favorite little town, where you cook and camp all weekend with your favorite humans. It could be in Napa where you start the morning enjoying a delicious brunch, take your time getting ready, elope at your favorite winery, and then head to the Fairmont Missions for a dinner under the stars. It could be at your parent’s house where you get ready where you grew up, get married in your old backyard, go for a hike with your family and friends, and return for a backyard picnic cooked by your favorite chef. I’m sure at this point you’re realizing that elopements are limitless, especially in a place as vast as Northern California.

Elopements are some of the most intentional weddings I’ve photographed and it’s not because couples who choose to elope are more in love than couples who choose to go the big wedding route. It’s a simple fact that bigger weddings become an event, an animal of its own, often requiring multiple coordinators, transit logistics, family dynamics, expectations from your family members who may not have seen you in 20 years, traditions you question, mass amounts of waste, and a rigid timeline to ensure you get all the photos you want with all the people you want. Just typing that stressed me out a little. But after shooting over a hundred big weddings, the last thing I want is for you to wish you wedding day were over before it even began.

If that paragraph above gave you a little anxiety, the answer to the next question might be a strong yes.

2. Is an Elopement right for us?

The truth is, elopements and intimate weddings are for anyone who values quality time with their loved ones. However, if you’re between deciding on a larger wedding or a more intimate one, these questions might help you in guiding you to the right decision for you.

Feel free to tab your “Yes” and “No” answers on a sheet of paper so you can keep track

Do you get a little sad when you spend a lot of money?
Will you be paying for your own wedding?
Is your primary goal to marry your best friend?
Do you enjoy having a stress free day?
Do you dislike the feeling of having to be somewhere all the time?
Do you dislike large crowds of people?
Do you like keeping things simple?
Do you want to avoid family politics and tensions (if there are any)?
Are you trying to get married during a Pandemic?
Do you want your wedding to feel 100% authentic to your relationship?
Do you want to throw traditions that mean nothing to you out the window?
Do you want to put money into a home or your future rather than a large wedding?
Do you value quality time with the people you love most?

If you answered “Yes” to more than half of these, chances are an elopement is right for you.
If you answered “No” to more than half of these chances are a bigger wedding is the right fit for you.


How to Elope in California elopement Planning guide

3. What does an elopement in California look like?

All of your favorite things wrapped into one (or three) days!
This is where your personalities shine

Most often photographers will sell you on the idea of a one to two-hour elopement photoshoot that doesn’t call for friends or family and that’s great if that’s all you’re looking for, but I’m here to remind you that your elopement is your wedding day! It’s the day you will celebrate every day for years to come as the day you committed yourselves to one another. And frankly, your wedding day deserves so much more than crunching as many photos and locations as you can into two hours.

Your wedding day deserves to be an experience that is tailored to who you are as a couple and what you love to do. It deserves to be filled with your favorite food, drinks and places.

The great thing about eloping in California is that the skies are the limit. Are you an outdoorsy couple that loves being surrounded by wilderness and scenic views? Are you into delicious cocktails, a luxurious dinner made by a private chef, and stargazing from a jacuzzi?

Whether you’re an urban couple or an outdoorsy couple or somewhere in between, California is an elopement dream. The skies for your elopement truly have no limit, the most important thing to keep in mind as you plan your elopement is to stay true to who you are as a couple and what you like to do. Everything else will fall into place, I promise.

How to elope in california planning guide

4. How to plan an all-day elopement in California?

Planning most things can seem pretty daunting, especially if you’re not a planner – but there are a few steps you can take to form your dream wedding day vision

Without the stress of an actual wedding day

Step 1:

Brainstorm – as a couple!

This can be a fun time with wine or a beautiful view – but it’s true that the best ideas do come with introspection, a few giggles, and intention. Grab a pen and paper, sit down as a couple and really take in the reality that your elopement can happen anywhere in the world. Your goal is to determine the general location and time of the year you’d hope to elope.

Try not to get too caught up in the specifics, allow your ideas to stay open and vague without too much fact-checking (as that is the next step). And simply imagine from start to finish your perfect day as a couple. You can discuss outloud or write your ideas down separately and then do a fun reveal where you integrate your two ideas into your ideal day.

The important thing is to have fun.

Step 2:

Research your ideas!

Just like step one, this should be a fun and collaborative group effort. Once you have your dream elopement it will be important to do research on what is and is not possible, especially during the time of Covid-19. By figuring out what you can and cannot do you’ll be able to narrow down and finalize your ideal elopement.

Some good logistic to consider are:
– time of the year and what the weather will be like (keep in mind the closer you are to the Pacific the colder it gets). What kind of clothes/shoes should you wear? What time will sunset?
– accessibility of your ceremony location and whether or not permits are needed
– How far are the locations you want to visit from one another? What’s the traffic like in those areas?
– What kind of activities do you want to do? Are you wanting to share a meal with your friends and family or have a day hike with them?

Step 3:

Decision Making

Now that you know what kind of wedding experience you want to have it will be good to start deciding the locations, experiences and dates that work for the ideas you’ve researched.

Before picking your date, consider your location and its availability, weather, and if your location works for the mobility of all guests involved. If you’re getting married outdoors be sure to find a location that is accessible to you and all of your guests. Consider if you’ll want chairs or if you don’t mind everyone standing.
Don’t worry about knowing the exact spot you’ll be saying “I do” – knowing the general location will be good enough and will also allow for you to still spontaneously decide on your exact marriage spot day-of if that’s something you choose to do!
Once you have a good idea of your ceremony location and that it will work with transportation and lodging you can move forward in booking those details.

Step 4:

Finalize your details

Now that your date, location, and transportation are all figured out it’s time to get your details squared away.
Because this is a bit longer of a to-do list it will be good to give yourself deadlines in your calendar and maybe take on each of these steps one at a time.

1) Booking your vendors
Things to keep in mind when bringing on strangers aka professional vendors to your elopement:
Personality – Personalities go a long way here, simply put these are people you’re inviting to your wedding who will also be engaging with your guests. It’ll be important to bring on someone who also feels like one of the team so that the day of your wedding it’ll feel like you’re inviting an old friend.

Experience – How can this individual add to your big plans? Do they get your vision, can they enhance your vision? Do they have the local connections that can make your vision come true? Can they guide you through a weekend timeline that’s easy and relaxed? Consider what each of your vendors brings to the table!

Comfort – If they check 1 and 2 consider checking 3 a home run because comfort is key when it comes to finding vendors that were made for you. Chances are they’ll become your pals that you keep up with years later and not only that, but you’ve included someone you genuinely like to be a part of this special celebration. It’s truly a win-win.

2) Purchase your wedding day attire and accessories

Consider what you’ll be doing over the weekend, the terrain you’ll be walking on and the weather. It might be good to pack your boots or buy an outfit that you know you won’t melt in and can move easily in.

3) Plan and book the activities you intend on taking part in

4) Create your Wedding Day Timeline and build it with plenty of time in between so that you can enjoy your day and not feel stressed out if things start to fall behind. The secret is that almost all weddings (big and small) run a little late, do yourself a favor and take it easy by giving yourself buffer time during your getting ready portion of the day.

Step 5:

Get ready to party!

Now that all of your vendors are secured and your dream elopement is planned, sit back, relax and count down the days until you get to celebrate with your loved ones.

What documents do we need to elope in Northern California?

1)You do not need to be a California resident to marry in California and US citizenship is not required

2) You have to be 18+

3) You have to be present! Unfortunately, marriage by proxy is not legal in California

4) Your marriage license is valid for 90 days after you get it and must be submitted to the country clerk in which it was issued within 10 days of your elopement (you won’t get a copy of this unless you opt into receiving one which costs a little bit more).

5) Once you have a marriage license, you may get married anywhere in California!

6) You only need one witness present at your ceremony (while there is no age requirement, they must know they’re witnessing a marriage and be able to sign their name). However, you may not have more than two signatures present on your license, otherwise, your license will be returned to the sender/officiant and a duplicate marriage license will need to be purchased.

Want to get your license online? Click here to be redirected to SF City Hall!

Elopements I Love