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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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 when I visited in March, the trees were blooming so beautifully!
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
Saddle Mountain Ranch is a cute glamping site near the entrance of Big Sur at Carmel-By-The-Sea.
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.
Organizer & Hair and Makeup: Wildflower Bride Styled Shoots
Jackets: Shop Laura Ann
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