Elope to California: Tempting Adventure Wedding Guide for Michiganders

January 15, 2022


So, you live in Michigan (or the Midwest), but absolutely love the boundless beauty of California. You explored San Francisco, LA and sipped wine in the Napa Valley region. But have you ever cruised down California’s Highway 1 in Big Sur, enjoyed the saline scent in the air, made a random stop to get the freshest Pacific oysters and exclaimed OMG in each turn? 

If the answer is yes, you probably felt like you’re the main character of a Hollywood movie. Highway 1 makes you experience the California coast first hand and the smell of eucalyptus will comfort you for the months to come. Pure magic. 

elope to california


But now, you might feel cursed, because you can’t stop thinking about the life-changing immersive experience you’ve had on the West Coast. You might even be considering eloping to California, but maybe you’re stuck, not knowing where to start.

elope to california

Don’t despair, I am Yana, a Michigan based destination and elopement photographer. I used to live in San Francisco and I will gladly guide you through your exciting elopement journey. Fun fact about the photo above: for the first time in my life, I saw cows on the beach, in Big Sur!

Experiencing magical moments like this alongside my couples is the reason why I love adventure weddings and elopements so much. These intimate ceremonies are becoming a unique alternative to traditional weddings all over the world. Couples are opting to marry under the stars, in the desert, on top of a mountain, at glacier lakes, oceans, anywhere beautiful. And the good news is – you could be one of them! Adventure weddings and elopements are perfect for couples in love with nature and the great outdoors, for adventurers and free spirits that want to have an intimate immersive event instead of a big traditional wedding with a couple hundred guests. 


In this blog post, you will find:


There are some truly gorgeous and diverse locations in California, from high desert, mountains, desert, to rugged coastline off of Highway 1. To narrow down your perfect California elopement spot, think about the season and elements you would like captured in your photographs. California is famous for its sunny weather vibe, but the state is so large that the weather changes from North to South. Are you looking for redwoods, vast wilderness of the Yosemite Valley or rugged coastline of Big Sur? Northern California and Southern California have entirely different climates and landscapes, so keep that in mind when planning your elopement! 

big sur elopement

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.” 

Jack Kerouac, On the Road


If you can’t wait to elope to California to bask in the sun, frolic under the redwoods, hike in the mountains or get mesmerized with the ocean sounds, nature will be your wedding venue. As a destination elopement photographer, I will help you research California locations, help set up your timeline and consult travel logistics. 

Best California locations for eloping

Big Sur

San Francisco Sutro Baths

Mount Tamalpais

Point Reyes National Lakeshore

Muir Beach 

Joshua Tree National Park

Yosemite National Park

san francisco elopement photographer

National and State park permits in California

If you are planning to elope in a national or state park, you will need a permit. Processing can take about a month, so I suggest you make sure that gets approved before you move forward with planning anything else. Permits vary depending on the scope of your elopement, number of guests (if any), and the specific location. If you are getting married in a different state than you reside in, make sure to check legal requirements. To avoid bureaucracy, some couples choose to do the paperwork in their own state and their elopement ceremony becomes a bit more symbolic.


joshua tree elopement


If you are looking for a small intimate venue that can host your elopement ceremony or dinner, here are some ideas:

Big Sur: If you are a bohemian free spirit

  • Luxury wedding venue with stunning views: Ventana Inn
elope to california

To see more from this stunning wedding at the Pelican Inn, please click here.

The Bay Area and the wine country: If you enjoy luxury and fine foods

filoli wedding venue

To see more from this stunning wedding at the Filoli, please click here.

Joshua Tree: If you like unorthodox venues

joshua tree elopement

If you are in it for the mountain views


wedding photography in mount tamalpais


Intimate wedding and elopement checklist

  • Determine your elopement season
  • Determine your ceremony location
  • Determine the time of the day for your ceremony
  • Hire an officiant if you want to make your marriage legal
  • Bring two witnesses
  • Hire a wedding/elopement photographer
  • Bouquet/hair piece and a boutonniere
  • Wedding cake or desert
  • Bubbly
elopement photographer filoli california

To see more from this stunning wedding at the Filoli, please click here.

How to build a California elopement timeline

  • Light is everything! If you want to plan for a truly magical lighting, your ceremony should happen early in the morning or 2 – 1.5 hour before sunset. If that isn’t doable, there are locations with tree cover that are great for mid-day.
  • Allow about 15 minutes to exchange vows, 1.5 hour for portraits, and 20 minutes for photos with friends or family
  • Plan for getting ready photos. Allowing me to document these moments will help tell a complete story of your day. Allow for an hour and a half for hair and makeup.
  • Always cushion your timeline with extra travel time between locations. Also – this will give us an opportunity to make impromptu stops in case we spot a gorgeous location we didn’t know about!
  • To avoid crowds, especially in the summer, plan to elope on a weekday


california wedding photographer
big sur california


I have been working with couples located in California, as well as couples from the Midwest, so I am well versed in what goes into planning an intimate California wedding or elopement. I have scouted locations from Lassen National Park, Big Sur, all the way to the border of Mexico. Some of my couples love the opportunity to have their engagement done locally in Michigan, or the Midwest and then enjoy their California elopement adding another beautiful landscape into their wedding memories. If this is something you’d like to explore, fill out the contact form below and let’s chat about your vision for your California elopement!