Hey there! I’m Alissa, a California wedding and elopement photographer. I love helping couples plan the beach elopement of their dreams in this beautiful state, and I’ve put together this guide to help you with the planning process! Keep reading for a breakdown of what time of year you should elope in CA, the best beaches to elope at, and a list of activities for after your elopement!
Why plan a California beach elopement?
In case you didn’t already know, California is one of my favorite places ever! I was born and raised in Carlsbad, San Diego, and have always loved the beaches of Southern California. I mean, come on, we’re known for our awesome beaches! If you and your partner are lovers of the sunshine, sand, and warm weather, then planning a beach elopement in California would be right up your alley. Whether you’re from out-of-state or grew up here like I did, you won’t be disappointed in choosing SoCal as your elopement location.
Another great reason to elope here is that California is also an amazing honeymoon destination. Talk about a two-in-one! Just imagine tying the knot with your toes in the sand, having a delicious meal afterward, and then staying at a beautiful resort for a few days to soak up the newlywed life. Not to mention, Southern California has some pretty amazing restaurants if you’re a foodie!!
If you’ve decided that a California beach elopement is the right choice for you, I love you already. Keep reading for all my planning tips and tricks!
What time of year should you elope in California?
Time for the first step!! What time of year should you elope in California? Well, the weather is kind of AMAZING here all-year-round (with a few exceptions, of course), but let me break down some of the seasons for you. The spring months can bring some fog and rainfall, so keep that in mind when choosing the date for your elopement. At the same time, there’s always a chance of unpredictable weather at the beach, so be prepared for that! We’ll chat a little more about a plan B later on.
The most obvious (and popular!) choice is to have a summer elopement, but that’s also when everyone else is at the beach. If this is your favored option, then we can plan for a sunrise elopement early in the morning, or choose a more secluded beach for you! Don’t worry, though, we’ll talk all about the different beaches soon.
Set a budget for your California beach elopement
Even though you’re not planning a large, extravagant wedding, you should still be setting a budget! Talk it over with your love and settle on a budget that both of you are comfortable with. I suggest browsing vendor prices so that you can have an accurate ballpark range before deciding on your budget!
If you’re traveling from out of state, it will most likely be less expensive to hire wedding vendors who are local to California. If you hire out-of-state vendors, you’ll probably have to pay more in travel fees! I would be more than happy to give you a list of recommendations that I have personally worked with and trust to make your elopement as perfect as can be.
Here are the vendors you should be factoring into your Calfirnoa beach elopement budget:
- Photographer (that’s me!)
- Elopement planner/designer
- Hair & makeup artist
- Elopement attire
Which California beach should you elope at?
California truly has some amazing beaches, but here are some of my favorites!
Laguna Beach is in Orange County, California, and would be one of my top picks for your elopement! It is home to the only marine reserve in all of Southern California, so the water is absolutely pristine. There are technically over 30 beaches and coves in Laguna Beach to choose from, so I’ll help you narrow down your options once we’re officially working together.
Sunset Cliffs in San Diego is actually a natural park, not just a beach! I love Sunset Cliffs because it offers such a variety of scenery for your elopement. We could spend all day running around this 68-acre park and taking photos! As the name suggests, the cliff formations are the MAIN highlight of this location. You get amazing views of the ocean and the most incredible sunsets imaginable from the viewpoint of the cliffs! Of course, you also have the sandy beach, multiple caves, and even little intertidal areas for us to explore before or after your elopement.
La Jolla is another seaside area in San Diego, but this beach is known for its rugged coastline! There are sooooo many things to do in La Jolla (we’ll talk about that more later!) and multiple gorgeous beaches. This area is also very beautiful in autumn if you wanted to plan a fall elopement on the beach when there are fewer people! Torrey Pines Natural reserve is also nearby if you wanted to go on an adventure before or after your elopement and take photos.
Last, but not least, we have Huntington Beach! This beach town has 10 miles of uninterrupted coastline with tons of luxurious resorts along the infamous Pacific Coast Highway. The Huntington Beach Pier is also a must-see if you decide to elope here! Nicknamed “Surf City,” this is the perfect location for couples wanting to see professional surfers do their thing.
Book your California elopement vendors
Once your date and location are locked in, it’s time to book your elopement vendors! If you choose me as your elopement photographer, I can totally help you throughout this entire process. I’ve worked with so many awesome vendors that I know you would love to have a part of your big day!
How to legally elope in California
This is the part that some couples forget about! It’s always important to familiarize yourself with the legalities of getting married in your chosen state. Lucky for you, I’ve done all the research for you! Every state’s marriage laws are different, but here are California’s:
First, both you and your partner have to appear at the County Clerk’s office to get your marriage license! You have to bring your photo ID and possibly your birth certificate, depending on which county you’re eloping in. Once you get your marriage license, it is valid for 90 days! If you don’t get married within the 90-day period, then you’ll have to get a whole new license. If you’re coming from out-of-state, I recommend stopping by the County Clerk as one of the first things you do!!
Once you have your actual license, it has to be signed by an officiant and two witnesses. If you’re having a photographer and a videographer, usually we can be your two witnesses no problem! If not, we can usually find someone on the beach who would be more than happy to sign your marriage license. After you’re tied the knot and made it official, your license has to be returned to the County Clerk by the officiant within ten days. And that’s it!! Not too complicated, right? If you have any questions or run into any bumps, I’ll be there with you every step of the way.
Beach elopement rules & regulations
If you’re getting married on the beach, you need to be aware of the rules and regulations! There are different parameters for each specific beach, but for now, we’ll be going over the general things. Most California beaches require a special permit for you to get married. Permits usually cost between $100-$150, so be sure to factor this into your budget!! By the time you apply for a permit, you should already know which beach you want to elope at. It’s a good idea to apply for a permit well in advance to adhere to any time constraints! Some counties require you to apply a certain number of months in advance. But don’t worry, we’ll go through this process together!
What’s your Plan B?
I told you we would come back to this! Inclement weather can put quite a damper on your elopement… if you let it. I recommend bringing some clear umbrellas just in case there’s light rain on the day you’re getting married. Some couples freak out about the rain but trust me, it’s no big deal!! I promise your day will be so magical no matter what. Another option would be to research nearby indoor areas where you could have your ceremony, which we can do together! Be sure to communicate with all of your vendors what your preferred plan B is. If you’re hiring an elopement planner, they will play a huge role in this part of planning!
Where should you stay for your California beach elopement?
Now, it’s time to figure out where you’re gonna stay for your elopement! I’ve included some accommodation options below for three different price points.
Accommodations near Laguna Beach
High-end hotel: Laguna Beach House
Budget-friendly hotel: Pacific Edge Hotel
Airbnb: Beachside Cottage
Accommodations near Sunset Cliffs
High-end hotel: Kona Kai Resort & Spa
Budget-friendly hotel: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs
Airbnb: Bungalow in Point Loma
Accommodations near La Jolla
High-end hotel: La Valencia Hotel
Budget-friendly hotel: The Shoal La Jolla Beach
Airbnb: Boho Coastal Condo
Accommodations near Huntington Beach
High-end hotel: Hyatt Regency
Budget-friendly hotel: The Hotel Huntington Beach
Airbnb: Remodeled 1930s Oceanfront Oasis
What to do after you elope in California
There are SO many things to do in California, you absolutely have to experience more than just getting married here! Whether you’re adventurous or wanna keep things lowkey, here are some of the best things to do depending on what beach you’re eloping at:
Things to do near Laguna Beach
Visit Heisler Park – This oceanfront park has walking trails, gardens, and even a marine refuge area with tide pools and picnic tables! There is access to several beaches from Heisler if you wanted to walk down to the water. There’s a wedding gazebo here too, which could act as your Plan B for eloping at Laguna Beach!
Visit the Laguna Art Museum – If you’re a lover of the arts, you have to visit the Laguna Art Museum! It’s been open for over 100 years, with tons of unique exhibits and tours that you can partake in. The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday!
Go on a Laguna Beach Walking Tour – These tours are completely self-guided, so you can go at your own pace! This is a great way to experience Laguna Beach through the eyes of a local without having to adhere to a strict schedule.
Things to do near Sunset Cliffs
Visit the Cabrillo National Monument – This monument is at the southern tip of Point Loma, making it one of the best spots to watch the sunset in all of California! There are tons of walking trails that allow you to view all the spectacular scenery this monument area has to offer!
Take a day trip to Liberty Station – You could spend an entire day at Liberty Station with your partner!! This is an area in San Diego with restaurants, shops, hotels, events, and more. The Arts District at Liberty Station is definitely a must-see if you want to experience what the local art scene here is all about!
Things to do near La Jolla
Visit the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park – If you’re a marine life lover, this is an activity that you HAVE to do! This underwater water park spans 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands with 4 distinct habitats. You can go kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming here to see all of the unique marine creatures!
Visit the La Jolla Tide Pools – These tide pools are seriously the best ones in San Diego. There are tons of locations to go pooling, including La Jolla Cove, Dike Rock, Hospitals Reef, and more. Check out this website for a complete guide to all of the best tide pool areas, directions, and what to look for at each one!
Go to the La Jolla Open Aire Market – Who doesn’t love a good farmer’s market? The La Jolla Open Aire Market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with tons of local vendors to discover. And one of the best parts: all of the proceeds go towards the La Jolla Elementary School!
Things to do near Huntington Beach
Visit the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve – This reserve is home to the largest saltwater marsh along the coast of California! There are so many beautiful sites here for nature lovers especially. There are 1,300 acres of wetlands with tons of walking trails and scenic overlooks to explore!
Book a spa day at Drift a Waterfront Spa – I had to include a spa option for you couples who want a relaxing day after their elopement! The Waterfront Beach Resort would be the perfect place to wind down, relax, and enjoy yourselves.
Visit the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum – This option is for all the surfing lovers out there! This international museum was founded decades ago and remains one of the top tourist spots in Huntington Beach! If you want to learn all about the history of surfing in California, this would be a great spot to visit.
Ready to book your California beach elopement photographer?
Let’s do it! To inquire with me about photographing your elopement, you can fill out my contact form and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!! In the meantime, come hang out with me on Instagram so we can get to know each other!