Big Sur, smack dab in the middle of central coastal California, is a photography dream come true. It’s got everything you want. It has cliffs and epic sunset views, the deep blue Pacific ocean, and lots of perfect pull offs for picture perfect moments. So when Jim reached out about a surprise proposal to his now fiancee, Nicole, I knew that this Big Sur surprise proposal was going to be super epic and gorgeous.
Nicole and Jim have been an item for over a decade. That’s a lot longer than most relationships but when you and your partner are such movers and shakers such as these two, it’s hardly questionable as to why things just worked for them.
Like I said, it’s been almost a third of their life time that they’ve been together when Jim reached out to me via my website. His inquiry went something along the lines of, “After 10 years, I’m finally tying the knot with my high school sweetheart. We have been through it all together.. and I mean everything. I’m really excited to do this, and I want it to be at the perfect spot with the right photographer!”
Jim is a perfect dream client. He knew exactly what he wanted and exactly how he wanted it to happen. I got him on the horn (does anyone still actually say that?) and was texting him almost immediately. Due to his work schedule and living together, we had to work a bit more in secret late evening texts to get things planned but finally, we got the ball rolling on this surprise proposal (surprosal/surprisal?).
Jim and Nicole were attending a friend’s wedding south of Big Sur a few hours so his plan was to book a trip up to the San Francisco area and visit the Napa Valley for a winery adventure.
The Surprise Big Sur Proposal
Alongside Jim’s idea of planning for a surprise proposal, I wanted to incentivize the moment and offer a second day of shooting where we had a chance to photograph their engagement portraits in this gorgeous area. So we settled in and agreed on all the details. During time, I sent him places to eat at, locations for proposing, and even exciting things to do leading up to his proposal.
Jim had found this gorgeous AirBnB near Moss Landing, just north of Big Sur, and he booked it and scheduled out a beautiful dinner afterward in Carmel by the Sea (home to a Michelin star restaurant, Aubergine and even filming locations for the original Parent Trap and Basic Instinct).
I booked my flight and stay and scurried out to Big Sur with minimal sleep the day before his proposal and scoped out the space for his proposal, which he had sent me for inspiration and we were able to identify and find.
The day of the proposal in Big Sur
We all know the saying, “man makes plans and God laughs.” Well, it certainly felt that way because a few days before coming out to California, Jim had injured his ankle and was wearing a boot for its healing. So this immediately took off any running beach Baywatch scenes I was secretly hoping we might reenact in Coastal Big Sur for his proposal.
The day of their arrival, due to LA traffic, Jim and Nicole missed their original flight and had to take a later flight, thereby voiding some of the original day plans he had crafted for he and Nicole before his big proposal.
Thankfully, our proposal time was still the same and he pulled up in his red Porsche he rented just for this occasion and met me in the location that I had scouted the day prior. Our plan was for Jim to approach me and ask me if I knew of any good photo locations (as I had a camera in hand). I’d tell him that there was a spot just out on the edge of a cliff and that if they wanted to have their photo taken, I’d be happy to take it.
After seeing the short but somewhat steep trek down to the spot, Nicole instantly did not want to go to the spot but Jim and I encouraged her to come anyway. We safely made it to our spots and Jim took his spot out on the cliff edge overlooking cloudy and majestic Big Sur for his surprise proposal.
The rest–truly is history. Nicole said yes. She was super surprised to hear that I was in on it the whole time and that I’d flown from Indiana to Big Sur to capture this perfect surprise proposal just for them. We did a short mini shoot on the cliffs with them and I also took out my drone to capture some video to stitch in with my phone video that I secretly set up for their proposal.
A Big Sur Engagement
After the proposal, Jim had planned a lovely dinner at a local restaurant in Carmel. Before they ventured off, we were able to give Nicole a breakdown of the following day and that we’d be spending the day adventuring together up the coast at my favorite Big Sur pull offs and beaches for their engagement.
The next day, we drove all the way down to Lucia–which I’d say is a little farther than the halfway point of Big Sur coming from the north, and began our adventure shoot there.
For those of you considering a beautiful time in Big Sur for a proposal, a destination engagement, or an elopement, here’s some places that you should check out.
These range from up north in Moss Landing down to Point Lobos, south of Carmel by the Sea.
For places to consider for your pre-proposal lunch/dinner.
Big Sur | Carmel by the Sea Places to eat and drink!
- http://www.labicycletterestaurant.com/ – 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.
- 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 after the proposal. https://www.folktalewinery.com/
- https://www.portabellacarmel.com/ Portabella – located in Carmel, this location is very intimate and serves up a lovely lunch fare. They boast al fresco oceanview dining so that could be a winner.
- 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. This location was also reviewed by Michelin and while it doesn’t have a star, it’s been highly praised.
- 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.
I think this is a good start to your adventure in Carmel!
We then worked our way back up the road and ended with a lovely local diner dinner at Big Sur Roadhouse and parted ways from there.
Nicole and Jim enjoyed the rest of their week in Big Sur and Napa and I flew back to Indiana for my next adventure.
This session was such a dream and getting capture a real life proposal at one of the most beautiful places in the US really made it even better. Big Sur, regardless the time of year, is always magical regardless of the weather.
I appreciate and love you both Jim and Nicole. I wish you all the happiness and success as you continue down the road of life.
To check out more Big Sur adventures, you can read all about Christina and Dustin’s Big Sur Engagement session or read about how Savannah and Chris secretly eloped south of Big Sur this summer!
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