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Big Sur Elopement Guide | How to Get Married in Big Sur, California (Updated 2022)

Big Sur Wedding day couple holding hands

Big Sur Elopement Guide 

Big Sur is iconic! So much more than just a beautiful coastal highway. Officially named “Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park “, called Big Sur for short. Jaw-dropping cliffs, towering redwoods, waterfalls, and a magical lily valley – Big Sur is an amazing place to say your vows. This is the ultimate Big Sur Elopement Guide; including everything you need to know to get married there from permits to locations and everything in between. 

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How to Get Married in Big Sur

Special Event Permit Required to Elope in Big Sur

You must apply for a special event permit 1.5-6 months prior to your elopement. If you apply less than 45 days out, you’ll most likely get extra fees added on. This is a process I help my clients with so don’t worry about a thing! Here is the state parks website for more info.

Contact the Special Event Permit Office at BigSurEvents@parks.ca.gov or call 831-667-0507 to obtain a Special Event Information Packet, check the calendar for availability, obtain Large Event or Annual permit information, or to apply for a Special Event Permit.

Big Sur Elopement Restrictions and Limitations

In the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) you’re not allowed to get married in Big Sur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. 

You must have 10 guests or less. 

McWay Falls is a stunning sight! One of the few waterfalls that leads to the Ocean; One of three in the USA and one of eight in North America. There is no beach access to the waterfalls (you will get arrested and fined if you try).  Elopements are not allowed at the waterfall overlook. This is understandable – the trail is very popular and not very wide. 

Big Sur has had huge landslides and wildfires in the past, sometimes closing the highway and trails completely. Be sure to keep an eye on the park’s status here

It’s also a good idea to see what events are happening in the area on your wedding date. Click here to see the events happening in Big Sur. You can also check Monterey city, Carmel city, and your lodging to see if they are hosting any retreats/marathons that might book up all the rooms or hold up traffic. 

*Pro-tip: There is no cell phone coverage in Big Sur. Make sure you have an exact location and time if you are meeting people or if possible carpool. Always a good idea to carry a satellite phone when adventuring outdoors. 

California Marriage License

If you’re traveling to Big Sur from out of state, some of my couples opt to get civilly married in their local city first then elope symbolically in Big Sur. They exchange their personal vows and count their Big Sur elopement as their actual wedding day. 

To get legally married in California, you can apply for the marriage license online (click here) two weeks prior to your elopement day. Then you must visit the county clerk in person together with your IDs or Passports. No blood test or waiting period! There is a fee and some county clerks accept cash. The Monterey County Clerk / Courthouse is closest to Big Sur State Park. 

How to get to Big Sur

Flying to Big Sur

The nearest airport to Big Sur is Monterey Airport about 22 miles away. It is not a major airport so the flights are usually more expensive with fewer options.

San Jose Airport is about 77 miles away, that is the airport I prefer to fly into when visiting Big Sur. The drive from the airport is stunning! So green. Then you can stay in Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, or Big Sur. 

The San Francisco Airport is another option, almost 100 miles away. It would make for a fun trip to see the city and the wild coast. You could get legally married at the San Fransisco Courthouse first which is absolutely stunning then have your wild adventure in Big Sur afterwards to celebrate.

Fresno might also be an option. About 3.5 hour drive but Fresno is nestled between Big Sur and Yosemite so if you want to visit both that might fit into your itinerary easier. 

Flying into LAX (Los Angeles) you’re looking at a 5.5+ hour road trip but you would get to experience so much of the beautiful California coast!

Driving to Big Sur

 A Big Sur road trip is one of the most popular ways to experience this beautiful landscape. It is a dangerous highway though – narrow, sharp turns, cliffs, landslides, and plenty of rain throughout the year so be careful. Make sure you have a full tank of gas before entering (it is cheaper to get gas outside the park. Take Highway One. You can drive through all of Big Sur in about two hours. The park itself is actually quite wide, but there is not vehicle access inland. The highway just takes you along the coast. 

From Carmel to Big Sur (Driving South)

You can stop in Carmel to visit all the cute shops and bright villages. As well as experience Point Lobos, which is so stunning.

From Los Angeles to Big Sur (Driving North)

If you start in LA, it is about 5.5 hour road trip to Big Sur. Amazing coastlines to see through Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and all along the way. If you’re a foodie, I’d go this route! Tons of diverse, one-of-a-kind food stops along the way.

Places to Elope in Big Sur

Pfeiffer State Beach, Big Sur, California

  • There is no permit required for elopements at this location. However, weddings and elopements are not permitted from March 15-October 15th. PLEASE BE AWARE: the road leading to Pfeiffer beach can be flooded by a seasonal creek in the rainy season, making it closed or inaccessible at times. If you want to elope here, I’d recommend doing it closer to October 15th to avoid the possibility of flooding (rains generally pick up in November and get heavier December-March. The entrance to the parking lot and the parking lot can flood, which means the park becomes closed to the public). Since it is free, it is popular. The parking lot can fill up quick and you might need a plan B.
  • Famous “keyhole” rock
  • Parking can be very difficult at this location on weekends. I recommend coming here close to sunset on weekdays.
  • Beautiful beach to elope! As with any beach, it can get windy, cloudy, rainy, and sandy.

Calla Lily Valley, Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, California

  • The Calla Lillies typically bloom February-March, sometimes gracing the valley in January and April as well.
  • Watch out for poison oak and invasive plants. This area gets a ton of rain and can flood.
  • Blink and you’ll miss this little hidden valley. It is just off the highway with a small entrance. Takes a few minutes to walk down into the valley. Through the Lillies and over the bridge you make it to Garrapata Beach.
  • Magical place to elope that you can’t find anywhere else!

Bixby Bridge

  • Iconic Bixby Bridge, built in 1932.
  • Just before the bridge is a spot where you can hike down to a few different overlooks.
  • Epic juxtaposition of something historical and man-made amongst towering nature. (Not for you if you’re afraid of heights!)
  • Amazing place to say your vows when you elope. You’ll have an incredible view and feel small near the cliff.

What to do on your Big Sur Elopement Day

Big Sur offers the best of both the ocean and forest so you can fill your day with some amazing activities. Here are some ideas:

Hiking: There is a ton of forest to explore. Giant Redwoods. Waterfalls. Hikes down to the beach. I love the All Trails app for planning hikes. You can also check out the state park’s website for trail info.

Whale Watching: December through April you can see grey whales along the coast of Big Sur. Some of the best whale watching tours are found in Monterey not far away. I did the Princess Whale watching tour in March of 2021 and it was MAGICAL! We saw a few whales. What was extra magical, was seeing thousands of dolphins. It was so so cold, you’ll need thermals and an extra warm waterproof jacket. This is not for you if you get seasick easily.

Yoga: This is the place to feel peace and breathe in deeply. I can’t imagine a better location for yoga and meditation than Big Sur. There are many private yoga practices as well as yoga retreats. The Treebone yurts are a great place to start. Starting off your wedding day with some couple’s yoga sounds so lovely!

Hot Springs: Mmmmmm hot springs, always a great adventure. There are few small hot springs and waterfalls around Big Sur: Sykes Hot SpringsTassajara Zen Hot Springs Esalen Institute Hot Springs.

Picnic: You gotta eat at some point! There are so many romantic spots for a picnic. You could use a picnic table or set a blanket out near one of the beautiful views. There are some delicious eats along the way – I had the best fries at the Sur House! Here are some local places to get food or you can pack a cute little picnic!

Big Sur Lighthouse Tour: Check out this historical landmark. Must book reservations in advance.

Places to stay in Big Sur

Big Sur Hotels, Motels, and Resorts

There are many quaint places to stay in Big Sur as well as camping options. You can also stay in a nearby city such as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey.

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn when I visited in March, the trees were blooming so beautifully!

Alila Ventana Big Sur

Nepenthe

Glen Oaks: Cute cabins and amazing spot to get married in the forest

Treebones Resort: Yurts with a beautiful view

Post Ranch Inn: Amazing ridgeline views

Ragged Point Inn

Big Sur Campgrounds, Cabins and Campsites

Saddle Mountain Ranch

Saddle Mountain Ranch is a cute glamping site near the entrance of Big Sur at Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Big Sur Elopement Packages

If you’re ready to start planning your Big Sur Elopement, then you’re in the right place! I’m a Big Sur Elopement photographer here to help you plan, have, and remember the best day ever! Please contact me for more info on my Big Sur Elopement Packages here.

All of the photos above were taken by me, Kaci Lou Photography.
Creative Team:

Organizer & Hair and Makeup: Wildflower Bride Styled Shoots

Dress: Lulu’s

Florals: L’artistefleur
Jackets: Shop Laura Ann

Vows: Calligraphy by Michelle T
Macrame Bag: Lazy Macrame Babe


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Kaci Lou

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Big Sur Elopement Guide | How to Get Married in Big Sur, California (Updated 2022)

Big Sur Wedding day couple holding hands