The Ultimate Guide to Elope in Big Sur, California
Eloping is a wonderful option for adventurous couples. The idea of taking a plane or taking a road trip to a special destination to say ‘I do’ is pure romance. If you’re planning to elope in Big Sur, look no further! This elopement guide in Big Sur will help you pick the best time, location, and walk you through everything you need to know.
About Big Sur, California
Located in California, south of Monterrey, this natural beauty has the Pacific Ocean with its cliffs to one side and the Redwood forest to the other. Known for its state parks that attract campers, hikers, and nature lovers, it offers many great places for you to celebrate your ceremony and capture breathtaking photos.
Since Big Sur is in sunny California, the weather is not a problem most of the year. Winters are not harsh but can get chilly. I would not recommend you elope from November to February. March thru October is ideal. Foggy mornings and nights are common but will not interfere with your plans, and they can surely add a certain touch of mystery. The sunnier and warmer months of June-August are touristy but popular for a reason. (hello beautiful weather!)
Remember that Big Sur is a global tourist attraction. Many of the state parks are packed during summer weekends. If you prefer to have a private ceremony and celebrate it during peak season (June, July, and August), I recommend you have a weekday elopement.
If you are looking for a natural location accessible and close to civilization but feels like a secluded space, Big Sur is your place to elope.
How to get to Big Sur.
If you are traveling by car, Highway 1 (or the PCH as the locals call it) will be an experience in of itself. A highway full of twists, overseeing the ocean with many stops to admire the natural beauty of this 90 mile stretch of coastal highway. Driving down the PCH will have you feeling like you’re living a Lana del Rey fantasy with your beau and the wind in your hair.
When traveling by plane, there are three options for you, depending on your route.
- Monterrey Airport (30 miles from Big Sur)
You will find direct service from Las Vegas, Denver, and Phoenix. And most airlines that fly to San Francisco and San Jose International airports have commuter flights to Monterrey Airport.
- San Jose International Airport (120 miles from Big Sur)
All airlines available and ground transportation services. Shuttle flights to Monterrey Airport also available. (This is also a location Southwest flies into if you’re looking for a good flight with two free checked bags).
- San Francisco International Airport (150 miles from Big Sur)
All airlines available and ground transportation services. Shuttle flights to Monterrey Airport also available. (Southwest also flies into this location as well). This is my typical method of travel to Big Sur due to the ease of use, direct flights from major airports, and cheaper flight optiosn than San Jose or Monterrey. It’s about a 2 hour drive from SFO to Big Sur.
How to get married in California
Making your marriage legal is an especially important part of your elopement, sometimes taking a plane and arriving at a beautiful location sounds like the ideal way to start your life together, but legal matters are crucial. There are two ways to go for couples that elope. If you are traveling from abroad or out of state, you can get legally married at home and perform a symbolic ceremony in Big Sur. If you are a local, I would recommend you to tie the knot legally in California.
Here are some facts about getting your marriage license in California:
- Both parties must be at least 18 years old.
- A blood test is not required.
- Both must appear together, in person, with proof of age and identification.
- Marriage license is valid for 90 days and effective immediately.
- You need at least one witness.
- Once you have your license, a ceremony can be performed at the location of your choice within the State of California.
- Proof of residence is not necessary.
- Both need to appear in person to pick up the certificate with a valid ID.
- Your license needs to be mailed in within ten days of your ceremony.
- You need to request and pay for copies when mailing the license.
Where to Elope in Big Sur
Now it’s time to find the perfect place for your ceremony. There are some considerations when choosing where to elope. Big Sur offers a beautiful coastline and views of the ocean, and inland is filled with State parks and magical forests. Nature is what defines this stunning location.
If you’re focusing on sticking to a budget for your destination elopement, I’ve outlined a few options below that will be more cost effective than others. While some of the options may cost more, the convenience of them is amplified. Wedding venues will, of course, always be the easiest place to host an elopement or destination wedding in Big Sur, California. But it will certainly not be the cheapest way to elope in Big Sur.
Since the options are multiple, I recommend you start by choosing what works best for you. You can get married on private lands, like a wedding venue with views of the coast or secluded in the forest. Or you can choose public land to say I do, such as a state park or national forest. Both are great options with their pros and cons. And here is all you need to know about them.
Public Land vs. Private Land.
When we refer to public land, we are talking about protected areas and publicly accessible areas. Most state parks require permits to celebrate your elopement, even if it is a tiny celebration. A disadvantage can be the lack of privacy. You might encounter hiking groups or tourists if you choose a popular location. Even if you need to pay for a permit, it is still more affordable than private wedding venues. The cons to public lands such as national parks is that when applying for a wedding permit (and photography permit) you can be denied. Especially in a time of the pandemic, limits on wedding permits have been imposed by California. If considering a national park, be sure to plan accordingly with ample time and a backup plan.
Private land is venues, restaurants, or lodges. The major pro of these locations is that there is no need to worry about anything. They often offer accommodation, food and are easily accessible. Some of the best locations are in private land, and they have all the amenities and access to nature. Privacy is guaranteed too. The cost will be higher but you’ll not need to pay for a specific wedding permit or a photography permit as long as you stay within the land of the venue.
Overall, your decision will depend on your preference about location and amenities, and your budget too. They are both great options. It is just a matter of budget, preference, and feel.
Public Land to elope in Big Sur.
Garrapata State Park
An amazing choice for spring elopements, you will find hills filled with wildflowers. It also has access to the beach so that you can have a great ceremony with the sunset as a backdrop. Trails are easily accessible, located just 20 minutes from Monterrey, and you will find plenty of parking spaces.
This is a sandy and rocky beach, the largest park in the coastal area of Big Sur. You will find trees, grooves, a river, and open meadows. A beautiful location surrounded by nature. This location is also dog friendly!
Private Land to elope in Big Sur.
(no wedding or photography permits are needed at these locations)
It has all the comfort of a venue with access to the Pfeiffer State Park. They offer many locations for your ceremony, catering, and even a wedding coordinator. Have your ceremony in the redwoods and then walk across the street for sunset beach portraits!
They offer an exclusive space in the redwoods; you can have an intimate ceremony or a larger one. It is easy to access, and they offer accommodation in their beautiful cabins.
If you prefer ocean views, this is the place for you. They have wedding facilities, more than 30 rooms with awesome views of the pacific, a gourmet kitchen, and a private house with five bedrooms to accommodate all your wedding party. It is also pet friendly!
Free locations to elope in Big Sur
Free locations are rare to find. Big Sur has few publicly accessible beaches. Pfeiffer Beach is one of them. No permit is required, and elopements are not allowed from March 15th to October 15th. This location is dog friendly so be sure to bring your favorite furry friend!
Los Padres National Forest is another great option for adventurous couples, they do not require a wedding permit, and there are many amazing places for your ceremony. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed and looked after.
Limekiln State Park, the only park in Big Sur that does not require a permit for elopements, is a great option for redwood forest elopement with lots of vegetation and fresh air. Creeks and waterfalls along the trails will make you feel like you are far away from civilization.
Permit Requirements and Locations in Big Sur, California
Permits for elopements are required in almost all state parks. They are easily granted for small gatherings, with ten or fewer attendants. Make sure you request your permit a couple of months ahead. The average cost for these state park elopements in Big Sur will be around $300 and some locations will require a refundable damage deposit. You can read more about that here.
Here are some of the requirements to obtain a permit for your elopement:
- Big Sur elopement should happen during day hours.
- Prohibited during holidays.
- State Park Staff might monitor your event.
- Only one permit is granted per day in the Big Sur area (apply early).
- No exclusive access is granted. Attendees should not block trail access, trailhead, or any location.
- No decorations allowed, only a hand-held bouquet.
- 10 people are the maximum number of attendees, including vendors, children, and officiant.
- Music is not allowed.
- No seating allowed.
- Receptions are not allowed.
- Food and drinks are not allowed.
Where to stay in Big Sur during your elopement
Big Sur is a location that offers all types of accommodations, from a luxurious all-inclusive resort to camping sites. Airbnb and glamping are options too. The sky is the limit, but if you are unsure about where to stay during your elopement, here are some options for a unique stay.
- Fernwood Resort located along the Big Sur river can choose to camp or stay at their forest cabins.
- Treebones Resort is where nature meets comfort. With ocean and mountain views, you get to glamp at their yurts and enjoy delicious food.
- Post Ranch Inn is an intimate location with breathtaking views of the ocean, a great option for luxurious elopers.
Amazing AirBnBs to stay at during your elopement in Big Sur
So, there you have it! All you need to know about eloping to Big Sur, California. If you’re considering eloping in the future, we hope that this information helps you make an informed and helpful decision! Of course, we would love to be a part of your elopement and having inclusive and standalone elopement collections for Big Sur and all the surrounding counties. Send us a message here and we can chat all about it.
If you want to learn more about our inclusive elopement options you can find that information here. We’ll help you find travel, accommodations, wedding vendors, and get everything you need squared away for a stress-free elopement.
Where to Eat in Big Sur!
While Big Sur is large, it’s actually pretty challenging to find places to eat and enjoy a drink along your 3 hour trek from one end to the other. Since the largest and most populated areas are actually north of Big Sur, I’ll be focusing on coming from the North to get to Big Sur.
Big Sur Lunch Options in Carmel by the Sea
1. La Bicyclette Restaurant – french cuisine inspired and simple menu with a few apps, some simple and powerful dinner dishes, and some wood fired pizzas. Very chic and lovely. Intimate and would be a good stop. http://www.labicycletterestaurant.com/ –
2. Folktale Winery & Vineyards – just 20 minutes from downtown Carmel is Folktale Winery. This lovely winery is a bit more on the casual side but could make for a really good start to the evening. This would also make for a nice appetizers and wine stop. Saving room for dinner later. https://www.folktalewinery.com/
3. Portabella – located in Carmel, this location is very intimate and serves up a lovely lunch fare. They boast al fresco ocean view dining so that could be a winner. https://www.portabellacarmel.com/
Here’s a good restaurant to consider for dinner.
1. Seventh & Dolores Steakhouse. https://www.7dsteakhouse.com/ This elegant steakhouse has excellent celebratory dinner options, a variety of steak, fish, and even a few vegan options. I also verified that they have reservation availability and they do for indoor or outdoor seating, whatever your preference.
https://www.7dsteakhouse.com/ – this location was also reviewed by Michelin and while it doesn’t have a star, it’s been highly praised.
2. Flying Fish Grill–you’ll need to call for a reservation. http://www.flyingfishgrill.com/cuisine/ I hear the Halibut is amazing and it’s one of the best stops in Carmel. This is an Asian restaurant and they have some fun two person dinner options as well done in a clay pot.
3. Aubergine – Ever fancied eating at a Michelin Star Restaurant? Aubergine, in Carmel by the Sea, provides that option. Although they are only open from dinner and not on Mondays, this is a great option for my foodie friends who want to try something amazing. https://auberginecarmel.com/
Restaurants in Big Sur
While I mentioned that Big Sur is tricky to navigate with food, it does offer some dining options. Here is a list of the top 5 places in Big Sur that you could stop at for a snack, a drink, or even dinner.
- Deetjens at Big Sur Inn – European flair with candlelight rooms in the heart of Big Sur. This location, just south of Pfeiffer Beach is about an hour from the start of your south bound journey into Big Sur. They offer a cellar with plenty of wine and beer and amazing dinner and breakfasts. They’re closed Wednesday and Thursday. Be sure to make a reservation.
- Sierra Mar – located at the Post Ranch Inn, south of Pfeiffer Beach, this location, while not earning a Michelin Star, has been ranked and reviewed by the Michelin Guide and has ranked up highly. Lunch and dinner require reservations and dinner is a four course prix-fixe menu that will set you back around $150 a person. This is the perfect stop for an evening of romance in Big Sur. They offer vegan options and can accommodate food sensitivities with advanced notice.
- Nepenthe – specializing in just a few menu items, Nepenthe, located near the other two restaurants above has a more approachable fare with cost in the 20s and low 30s. This lovely space has views overlooking the coast and ocean and is situated in the redwoods alongside the Pacific Ocean.
- Big Sur Roadhouse – also located near the other restaurants (are we sensing a trend here?) this is another more approachable option with fun artistic and mid century flare indoors.
- Sur House – Sur House, located at the resort Alila Ventana Big Sur, is a sure fire way to impress your partner. Alila Ventana was reader’s choice spotlight in Conde Nast 2022. Sur House has a prix fixe dinner menu around $100 a person so it won’t be quite a steep as Sierra Mar and does include a gorgeous resort to enjoy and view. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all your weary travelers.
Dog Friendly Big Sur Locations
I’ve received a lot of requests to update this blog with dog friendly locations for elopements. Having your favorite furry friends at your elopement is a great idea! Here are a few dog friendly locations in Big Sur, California!
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Los Padres National Park
- Andrew Molera State Park
- Sand Dollar Beach in Los Padres National Park
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