Evynn LeValley Photography
Big Sur elopement getaway car

Big Sur Elopement Guide-From A Local

I have been fortunate to live in Big Sur, and experience life as a local, and for the past 15 years have been capturing elopements and intimate weddings along this stretch of the California. How fast time flies!

With stunning cliffside views, Redwood forests, and beautiful beaches, it makes sense Big Sur has become one of the top elopement locations in the world. With years of photography experience in Big Sur and local knowledge, I finally sat down to write a Big Sur elopement guide. The number one question I receive always starts with where to have an elopement ceremony. Depending on whether you are envisioning your wedding day being surrounded by Redwoods or overlooking the ocean, here are my recommendations.

Best Redwood Locations for Elopement Ceremony: 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Pfeiffer State Park

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Henry Miller Library

Big Sur Grange

Post Ranch Inn

Ventana Big Sur

Best Ocean View Locations for Elopement Ceremony:

Garrapata State Park

Wind and Sea Estate

Paion

Post Ranch Inn

Ventana Inn

A Private Ranch Venue— More information is available upon request.

Pfeiffer Beach

Should I elope at a venue or State Park in Big Sur?

Some of the Redwood venues, including Glen Oaks, Post Ranch, Wind and Sea, and Ventana, give you the option of walking from your cliffside balcony or cabin in the forest directly to your ceremony location. These venues often cause the least amount of wedding day stress. Knowing your ceremony location is within walking distance is always a bonus. Another aspect to consider is that venues can generally accommodate larger parties, if you do want to bring guests.  However, venues can lock you into a higher price, so eloping at the state park can be a more affordable option. State parks can provide an adventurous thrill, hiking trails to find the perfect ceremony site off the beaten path, is exactly what some couples envision.

Below you will find photos and insight into the venues I have mentioned.

Post Ranch Inn

Post Ranch Inn is the perfect venue for a Big Sur elopement with stunning views in all directions and an intimate feel. Their elopement package fee, includes two people, you and your fiancé. They offer five ceremony locations, an officiant, your choice of wedding flowers, Marriage License, and a bottle of Champagne with a pair of customized flutes. There are many reasons to consider Post Ranch Inn, and there are options for guests.

Glen Oaks

Glen Oaks stands out for its serene setting in the Redwoods with the Big Sur river running along the properties edge. The riverside cabins are fully renovated, modern, and beautifully decorated. Towering Redwood trees, a restaurant for breakfast and lunch on site, outdoor bath tubs at some of the cabins, and the river, definitely an idyllic elopement location. Their website has a contact form where you can request more information about pricing, number of guests, and other services.

Ventana Inn

Ventana Inn offers two ceremony locations, which are only available on Monday through Thursday for elopements. Generally, Ventana Inn’s fees are higher than other venues’ fees, but they have added on fees for additional services on your elopement day. This venue is the epitome of luxury! It is stunning, and it has so much to offer. The access to meadows, hiking trail, and pools, the restaurant, and spa set it apart from other venues. It is also an all inclusive resort.

Wind and Sea

Wind and Sea has a flat fee to host events on their property, which includes the rehearsal dinner, elopement ceremony, the dinner reception, and a cocktail party, which can include the house to stay at. It can accommodate six people for a minimum of two nights. Twelves guests can stay for an extra fee. Elopements at Wind and Sea are always a dream.

Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park elopements are another fave, for the rugged open landscape feel. It’s one of the best locations on Highway One, and the scenery and colors change with the seasons. It’s important to have a local photographer with you to navigate the trails to your ceremony location since there are plenty of hidden locations here that are easily missed. The most important thing to keep in mind when planning a Big Sur elopement in Garrapata State Park is that there is a rush fee for permits requested within sixty days of the elopement. The permit costs $400 for groups of 25 people or less and $550 for up to 50 people.

Pfeiffer State Park

Pfeiffer State Park is mostly known for its campsites along the river and under the Redwoods, as well as the diverse range of hiking trails. This location would be best for the couple looking for an adventure elopement, who might also want to camp. It does require more planning because each permit is for a very specific location. A local photographer can help navigate trails to your location. It can also be helpful to explore the area on your own beforehand. The elopement permit costs $425 for groups of up to ten people. Permits must be requested 45 days in advance, or there will be a $75 rush fee. With all of this information in mind, planning for this location is key.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns

Julia Pfeiffer Burns has the same guidelines for getting a permit for a specific location as Pfeiffer State Park. If you’re hoping to plan a Redwood elopement, this is a wonderful option. Again, working with local vendors will make your day run more smoothly at this location. A beautiful park, with towering trees, and a creek that flows through it, as well as the famous lookout with the waterfall (I would avoid the waterfall looks for ceremonies, due to the crowds).

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is not located within a state park. It’s on federal land, so you will only have to pay the $12 entrance fee. A permit is not required. Pfeiffer Beach has always been one of my favorite beaches in California, its claim to fame are the keyhole rock formations. It’s an idea setting if you want to avoid permits, however in the summer months this beach can be jammed pack, and they will close the entrance. So weekdays are definitely best, and off season months.

When is the best time of year to elope in Big Sur?

This question comes with its challenges because the answer changes year to year based on the type of weather we are having. I have photographed rainy weddings in September and hot, sunny weddings in January. To say the least, the weather in Big Sur can be unpredictable. There are microclimates along the coastline, so weather can change drastically within a few miles. Having a local photographer who understands the climate can be huge on your wedding day, especially if you need to adjust locations based on the weather.

fall & winter

Winter in Big Sur is often my favorite, as the off-season presents a quiet, slower pace in the town. Puffier clouds start to form this time of year, and there are more dramatic weather shifts, which can create the most romantic images. Although, it is a riskier season with rain. Fall is a gorgeous time, and it tends to be the best weather all year. I always love it when the foliage begins to change color. Every month in Big Sur has its benefits, and you can’t go wrong with your choice. Just keep in mind summer can be the most crowded, so book in advance.

spring & summer

Spring is beautiful with the greenery and flowers, and if rain is present, I always feel like it adds a dynamic element to the images. Something to keep in mind is that Spring is the windiest season. Summer is a very busy time in Big Sur, so prices for elopements will most likely be higher this time of year. Restaurants will be bustling with tourists, and crowds will form to view the iconic locations along the coast.

How many hours might you need for photography coverage?

Your elopement day timeline should feel relaxed. I am sure part of your decision to elope is to avoid the stress of a hectic wedding day. I always advise working backward from sunset so your elopement will end as the sun goes down. This way, you will have photos captured at golden hour. This is the best light of the day. Elopement photographers can tag along for as many hours as you have envisioned. Some couples desire a photographer for a few hours or capturing the entirety of the day. Either way, the day is about just the two of you, and it should be tailored to your ideal vision.

A three to four hour elopement timeline, might look something like this:

4:00-5:00 pm Getting ready, details, a first look if that is desired before the ceremony.

5:00-6:00 pm Ceremony photos and photos on location wherever the ceremony took place. 

6:00-8:00 pm Driving to locations, Redwoods, Cliffs, or the beach. This timeframe will capture golden hour of sunset.

How do I find local vendors in Big Sur?

I always recommend hiring local vendors. Big Sur, as I mentioned earlier, is unpredictable in many ways. Having a local who can guide you, keep you feeling at ease, and support you if any challenges become present is critical to the success of your wedding day. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to try and help couples who hired a photographer or vendor that cancels on them due to fear of the highway if it’s raining. Some non-local photographers and vendors may have trouble finding the venue if they aren’t familiar with Big Sur. Since cell service is extremely limited in Big Sur, having vendors who know the town well is key to having a seamless, relaxed wedding day. It’s also beneficial to hire locals who are connected to the community, and are able to truly cover all basis’s with their local knowledge and connections.

Whether you hire me or someone else, I strongly advise keeping your vendors as local to the area as you can. I provide all of my couples with a local vendor guide.

My Top 5 Pointers For Planning the Best Big Sur Elopement: 

What to Wear:

Big Sur is a rugged coastline! The most stunning locations will require you to wear shoes that you can easily walk or hike in. Prepare yourself for the grand adventure that Big Sur offers. To me, this is the draw and beauty of Big Sur. The hikes and paths can lead you to the most serene creeks and cliffside views, which make for mesmerizing photos.

The most important thing is to come equipped for the adventure. With that being said, if you want adventurous images, come wearing a dress that you can walk or hike in. A large puffy dress will get caught on twigs and sticks making it hard to maneuver, so keep that in mind. Of course, if you aren’t the adventurous type, you can still get phenomenal photos. Be sure to discuss your expectations and the amount of adventure you prefer with your photographer beforehand. A venue will often be a better option for someone who doesn’t want to tackle the trails, beaches, and cliffs.

Where to Eat:

My top choice for your elopement dinner is Deetjens for the romantic, rustic ambiance. Although breakfast here is also a favorite!

Here is a more extensive list of Big Sur restaurants: 

Deetjens Big Sur

Big Sur Bakery

Post Ranch Inn – the most luxurious

Ventana Inn -love lunch here, as well as their bar

Nepenthe– the most iconic restaurant, great for views

Big Sur River Inn

Fernwood

Treebones— on the south coast of Big Sur, currently blocked on the north side due to a road closure

Solstice – Opening Fall/Winter 2023

Where to Stay:

Deciding where to stay in Big Sur is a hard decision, even with few options, I love Deetjens, so it is always my top choice. The rustic rooms with the fireplaces are my favorite. The cabins at Glen Oaks with the river running by are such a treat, so this is a great option too. If I was going to splurge, then I would say Post Ranch Inn.

Here is a list of hotels for more options: 

Post Ranch Inn

Ventana Inn

Deetjens

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Ripplewood Resort

The Big Sur Lodge

Fernwood

Big Sur River Inn

Treebones– on the south coast of Big Sur.

Best Activities to Do While in Big Sur:

1. Enjoy pastries from Big Sur Bakery. 

2. Take a drive to Pfeiffer Beach.

3. Stop for lunch at Nepenthe or Ventana for a meal with a view. Nepenthe is a must at some point within your itinerary for the ambiance and architecture, and it has the best views.

4. A quick pit stop at Coast Gallery for snacks or coffee.

5. Have a drink, read a book, and sit in a chair in the middle of the river at Big Sur River Inn.

6. Go on a hike. Given that Big Sur is renowned for its hiking trails, I highly recommend planning several hikes. Molera State Park has a plethora of hikes, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is well known for the Redwoods and McWay Falls. Soberanes trailhead in Garrapata State Park, if you want a good glute burn with jaw-dropping views. Pfeiffer State Park for walking or hiking under the Redwoods. You can reach out to me directly, and I’d be happy to share more insight.

7. Get a massage. Treat yourself to a massage at Esalen (cliffside hot springs) or a spa day at Ventana Inn. Reservations are required for both.

8. Go shopping at The Phoenix Shop-Located at Nepenthe Coast Gallery, The Hawthorne Gallery, Mother Botanical & Shop, and Henry Miller Library.

9. Check out Henry Miller Library and Fernwood to see if any live music will be playing during your time in Big Sur.

Big Sur Elopement Photographer | Evynn LeValley Photography

I hope this Big Sur elopement guide eases your anxiety about planning a destination intimate wedding. Keep in mind that Big Sur experiences very limited cell service, so prepare yourself for reduced usage of your cell phone compared to what you are currently accustomed to. As a third-generation native of the Monterey Peninsula with over a decade of experience photographing Big Sur elopements, I am here to help. Big Sur elopements and micro weddings have always been my favorite to photograph. It’s such an honor to capture love stories in such an intimate way. Please feel free to reach out to me to discuss your elopement or intimate wedding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 − 3 =