April 19, 2023


Planning Resources

California is undoubtedly one of the largest states in the US. With over 840 miles of coastline and a plethora of dynamic environments, there is surely lots to explore. The views certainly do not disappoint; from California’s ever-rolling hills, colorful beaches, impressively vast forests, raging blue waters, foggy overlooks, and snowcapped mountains, there is an adventure waiting for everyone. California is more than the “Hollywood/movie star” stereotype it’s usually associated with.

One of the things I look forward to most as both an Adventure & Elopement Photographer is the location scouting process. It’s not only an opportunity for more travel, (because who wouldn’t want ANOTHER excuse to travel?!), but it is a critical part of learning as much as I can about an area so I am well-informed. When I’m location scouting, I’m observing things like lighting, weather patterns, wildlife habits, local vendors, crowd patterns, the duration of travel time between point A to point B, etc. Yes – unexpected and spontaneous things happen in the natural world and in real life all of the time, but the point of scouting is to use my previously acquired knowledge to navigate those situations to still deliver an experience that is wholesome and worthwhile.

In February 2022, I was on a 8-day assignment in northern California shooting for an adventure company and scouting for one of my couples eloping in early 2023. I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to put together this elopement planning resource since I could work at my pace, and could allot a desirable amount of time in each designated area to capture its essence.

First up, Big Sur

One of the most fascinating facts about Big Sur is that it is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous U.S. The views along this famous California highway are unbeatable. The epic scenery found within Big Sur’s bounds will leave you both breathless and in awe. The drive through Big Sur contains an abundance of scenic overlooks that are easily accessible along the highway, and a variety of gorgeous hiking spots that lie along the vast coastline as well. Big Sur’s dynamic range and landscapes offer an array of areas to say “I do” with plenty of surrounding locations for photo opportunities and exploration. It is one of the most sought out natural attractions in California, so in order to avoid large crowds of people, I suggest planning your elopement during the week and starting your day early for the best experience possible.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

This reserve is a true Sonoma County gem. If you’ve ever visited Sonoma County, you would know that this area is home to some quite spectacular forest views. This state park proudly protects 805 acres of coast redwood trees, which are an incredible sight to see. If you’re looking for a unique spot with redwoods to have your elopement in, but want a more secluded location with far less tourists and an easier permitting process, this place should be high on your list. Armstrong is full of quiet hiking trails that are lined with these massive beauties, luscious blankets of ferns, and tranquil streams. Nearby, there are a variety of vineyards and wineries to stop in, providing excellent service, tours, and products to indulge in. If you’re considering having your elopement here, I recommend starting around 10 am to catch the magical rays of sunlight that beam through the treetops in the early afternoon. The results of this are impeccable.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes is truly a must-see spectacle in Marin County. Roughly located about an hour from San Francisco, it is a desirable destination to spend the day exploring, but still close enough to civilization for food, drinks, and other necessary accommodations for your trip. There is an overwhelming abundance of the Earth’s beauty in every direction. With this preserve spanning over 71,000 acres, this corner of the planet is home to over 1,500 species of plants and various wildlife with unbeatable views of the pacific ocean. You can expect to see rainbow-colored grasses, crashing shorelines, rolling hills, elephant seals, deer, coyotes, elk, and so much more. Point Reyes is a nature-lover’s dream come true. This national seashore is very popular, but with there being many access points available, it’s fairly easy to avoid crowds. You’ll find that there are other things you may enjoy here such as a lighthouse that stands on the preserve with historical significance, and opportunities to whale watch and observe the elephant seals with their pups if the time of year is right. You don’t want to skip out on this amazing destination.

South Lake Tahoe

Perhaps one of the most well-known areas to visit in California is South Lake Tahoe. This city lies within the Sierra Nevada mountains, and offers its visitors a long list of recreational activities to partake in. Lake Tahoe is a wonderful option for couples who are thrill-seekers and dabble in outdoor ventures such as snowboarding, skiing, hiking, boating, fishing, etc. You can find ski resorts, marinas and beaches throughout the entirety of this picturesque city. Vibrant sunrises await behind breathtaking snow-capped mountains daily, with a vastness of lake views. With shops of all kinds, unique restaurants, and breweries fixed in the middle of town, South Lake Tahoe is quite the hub for tasteful nightlife to enjoy after a long day of hiking or hitting the slopes. If you’re looking for an active spot to have your winter elopement, Lake Tahoe is it.

While this resource only covers a handful of enchanting destinations in Northern California, I can assure you that there are corners of beauty laid generously within this part of the North America. Eloping in California is a desirable option if you’re located in the U.S. and want to stay fairly local to the states, or if you’re visiting from another part of the world for much of the same reasons. There is simply something for everybody to discover here. You will find an immense amount of magic in the lands, which will in turn invoke that inner connection between you, your love, and the Earth.

As with every place on Earth and within society, there are a multitude of pros and cons that should be equally acknowledged. While California offers spectacular vistas and is a whirlpool of adventure, there are some harsher realities that should be brought to light. California is a notoriously expensive state in the U.S. The inflation of the cost of living here does have a ripple effect that is quite noticeable. For example, a bag of grapes that are grown in the state of California can cost up to $17+ , and fuel prices are beginning to exceed $6 per gallon. Even if you don’t reside here, you will feel these effects when it comes to travel accommodation costs, especially if you plan on renting a vehicle or grocery shopping if staying at an Airbnb/hotel. Because of the massive population, California is one of the most polluted states in America. Granted, you are most likely to see the increased effects of that pollution along big cities, but it is extremely evident. While there are hardworking people dedicated to preserving California’s natural areas, it is still dire to practice those LNT principles during your visit in both secluded and highly trafficked areas.

Interested in a gnarly California elopement? Let’s make it happen. We’re here to offer you guidance and helpful insight from our own experiences to create the adventure you’ve been waiting for. You can find us right here, we’ll see you in the golden state!

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