You’ve weighed your options. You’ve considered the pros and cons of weddings vs. elopements. You’ve looked into hot international elopement destinations. After plenty of deliberation, you’ve decided that your hearts are set on a California elopement, and you’re ready to bring your plans to life. We’re rooting for you, and we’ve sifted through everything you need to know to make your California elopement dream a reality. Below we have compiled all the most important information, including both the logistics of legality and our top picks for places to elope in California.
The Legal Lowdown
The good news is you do not need to have California residency or U.S. citizenship to get married in California. But, there are some other requirements that are needed, depending on your county. Here are the steps you need to go through to become legally married in California.
Step 1: Be at least 18 years old. If you’re not 18, you must seek permission from the Juvenile Court system.
Step 2: Prepare your documents. Get your documents together for the marriage license, such as your photo ID and birth certificate. Each county may have different documentation requirements, so make sure to check.
Step 3: Open your wallet. The cost of a marriage license in California will most likely be between $35-$116, depending largely on your county.
Step 4: Get a marriage license. Check the county’s requirements for marriage licenses. The initial steps involved in obtaining a marriage license can vary by county. Hours of operation and appointment waiting time will also vary by county. You will have to appear in person with your documents to file your marriage license application. Once you’ve got your marriage license, you can get married anytime during the next 90 days. You can even get married immediately if you want; there’s no waiting period in California like there sometimes is elsewhere.
Step 5: Have your ceremony. Make sure you choose an officiant type that is listed in the CA Family Code Section 400. If you are having a public marriage ceremony, you will need at least one witness (but no witness is needed for a private marriage ceremony). You can have your ceremony wherever you want, as long as it’s in California. Additionally, it doesn’t need to be in the same county in which you received your marriage license.
Step 6: Whoever solemnized your wedding must bring the license to the County Clerk’s office. It then becomes a marriage certificate, which you can request a copy of within around ten days.
One last note, if you were previously married, you may have an extra step. You will need to bring the exact date that your last marriage legally ended. If that previous marriage ended within 90 days of your new marriage license date, then you must bring a copy of the certified divorce or death record when you apply for the marriage license.
But that’s all! That’s everything you need to know to get legally married in California. Now back to the fun part…considering elopement destinations! Let’s look at a few magical parks, towns, and regions in which to tie the knot, followed by some of the most beautiful and unique venues we could find.
California Elopement Destinations
Burney Falls: Theodore Roosevelt nicknamed this place ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’ A simple google search will show you why: It’s absolutely gorgeous. If you and your partner connect over a love of nature and/or bodies of water, this could be the ultimate symbolic destination in which to begin your marriage. If saying (well, shouting) your vows next to the deafening sound of a powerful waterfall sounds inspiring to you, Burney Falls might be a good choice. However, consider not doing your elopement here between June and August if you want to avoid the crowds. Any other months should be fine and offer their own seasonal beauty. Also, check with McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park about obtaining a permit.
Yosemite: Massive waterfalls. Towering Sequoia trees. Striking rock features. Your wedding day will include some of the most meaningful moments of your life, and the splendor of the physical landscape should be a match for the brilliance of your inner landscape on that day. Nature lovers will have trouble choosing a suitable elopement spot in Yosemite, due not to a shortage of choices but the opposite: every vista is more stunning than the last. Eloping in Yosemite also means that you can tie the knot and then celebrate with a hike or a picnic directly afterward.
Death Valley National Park: True, the name doesn’t exactly lend itself to rosy visions of a long life filled with happiness…but don’t be deceived: Death Valley National Park is one of the coolest places to elope. With its majestic rocky hills and mountains surrounded by vast expanses of desert sand as far as the eye can see, being in Death Valley really feels like being on another planet. Eloping here can make you feel like you’re truly in your own world together, far away from the stresses and demands of daily life. Starting your marriage in such a place can feel like the world has fallen away, and there’s only that moment. It allows you to focus entirely on each other, forgetting your cares and worries and living in a dream for a day.
Malibu: Think coastal bluffs and surf town charm meet gorgeous villas and world-class dining. Despite the fact that it only has a population of 10,000 inhabitants, Malibu has a reputation–and for a good reason. If the two of you are people who feel at home on the beach, Malibu is the perfect place for your elopement. It has some of the most picturesque beaches in California, and you might even see surfers pulling off some stunning moves. If you’re a surfer yourselves, a post-wedding surf sesh will definitely be in order!
California Wine Country: Picture this: You’re standing in an ornate garden set against the backdrop of a sea of vineyards. You’re looking into your partner’s eyes and saying the vows you’ve dreamed of for so long. After the ceremony, you toast and drink fine wine made onsite.
California Elopement Venues
The sites above are all excellent places for an elopement, especially if you’re looking to either book a customized elopement package that takes you out to the wilderness and curates the experience or do it yourself entirely. However, many couples prefer to get hitched at a venue with a space designed specifically for weddings or elopements. If that’s you, here are our top picks.
Beltane Ranch: This is an actual working ranch with a home from 1892, and it’s pretty much the most adorable place ever. When you drive in, you drive along a narrow path with tall old oak trees along the sides, and you’ll see vineyards, fields, and old stone walls leading up to the home. There are lawns with a view, an intimate garden space, and a rustic barn, so you can take your pick and find the perfect spots for your ceremony and reception. However, although the scenery is breathtaking, the best part is the food: Since this is a working ranch, it’s not uncommon for wedding party members to eat freshly picked raspberries, and the chef can customize a menu for you, which showcases their wine pairings, olive oil, and produce–all grown onsite.
Chapel of Our Lady at the Presidio: Although you’re not interested in most aspects of a traditional wedding, you do know in your heart that you want to get married in a chapel. Does this sound like you? If so, check out Chapel of Our Lady. It has a beautiful stained glass wall, a huge arch window, vintage pews, elegant chandeliers, and hand-painted rafters. On the exterior, it’s surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees and other foliage. This chapel offers classic charm and is set in a 1,500-acre park right in the heart of San Francisco, so you’ll be ideally located to explore the city in the days before or after the ceremony.
Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel: Maybe you love the beach but appreciate a little bit of luxury and don’t want to plan everything yourself. If that’s the case, Loews Santa Monica might be a good fit for your elopement. You can have a small ceremony on the beach but enjoy some of the treats that normally come with a more traditional bigger wedding, such as hors d’oeuvres, a 3-course meal, hosted bar, DJ, honeymoon suite, tiered wedding cake, and more. If you plan to elope with a few close friends and family members present, you might also want to treat them a little bit. If that’s your plan, this venue is ideal.
Ojai Labyrinth: This is hands down one of the coolest venues we’ve come across. It’s nothing but a modest circle of stones adorned with very simple wooden furniture. It is strikingly simple and unpretentious, yet its no-frills beauty speaks for itself. Ojai Labyrinth is peaceful and intimate but very exposed; it’s set atop a hill and overlooks desert mountains and valleys. The spaciousness of the surrounding desert is a special type of magical. Standing atop that hill and looking out at the landscape imbues a feeling of infinite potential and possibility. What a perfect note on which to begin your marriage. Check out this video; you’ll see what we mean.
But first…get a prenup!
You might think of an elopement as a spontaneous endeavor: Caught up in the moment, a couple runs away and gets married without prior planning and without informing their families. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with this vision of eloping, it’s actually not the best idea for your relationship. Elopement involves less planning than a traditional wedding, but it’s still usually a carefully-orchestrated endeavor…and a very important part of planning an elopement is drafting a prenuptial agreement first.
Some couples make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to draft their prenups. This puts your prenup at risk of invalidating, especially in California. California law requires that couples wait at least 7 days between finalizing a prenuptial agreement and signing it.
Instead of procrastinating about your prenup, you should start talking about it at least three to six months before the wedding. This will give you enough time to decide what you’d like to include, negotiate, hire attorneys if you decide to use them, and make thoughtful changes if necessary after sitting with and digesting the agreement for a little while.
HelloPrenup offers an interactive prenup platform that can help you get a prenup from the comfort of your own home. Here’s how it works: you and your partner both create your own accounts and fill out a questionnaire separately. The software will guide you through some questions, allow you to fill out your financial schedule, and help you identify any discrepancies between your and your partner’s vision for your prenup. That’s it! Just finalize it, sign it, and have it notarized. Voila! No attorneys are needed unless you want them or if you waive spousal support. In California, if you modify spousal support in your prenup in any way, you need to hire an attorney. Next, you can move on to thinking about how to spend the $1,900 you saved. You might even put it towards your elopement!
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]