HOW TO PLAN YOUR SMALL WEDDING IN BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA COAST
Eeeeeek I hope this means you're considering getting married of the coast of California, in the famous Big Sur! It's by far one of the most gorgeous locations California has to offer. If you love serenity, wine tours, elephant seals, and peaceful hikes then Big Sur is possibly your place!
SO YOU WANT a COASTAL BEACH wedding?
Buckle up because this is going to be a long and super informational post! Big Sur is BEYOND one of the most gorgeous locations on the West Coast. As a seasoned traveler and photographing my fair share of Big Sur elopements, I take so much pride in being able to help clients plan their wedding day and make it as easy and stress free as possible!
Okay so let's jump right in shall we! Why does guest count matter so much when getting married in Big Sur? ✿ Ceremony/Venue options: For elopements with 0-10 people, you'll find more ceremony and venue options ✿ Ceremony permits: State Parks in Big Sur require permits for up to 10 guests (including yourselves and any vendors). ✿ Locations: some locations are harder to get to so keep your guest restrictions in mind. ✿ Having guests will effect the overall look of the day and timeline. Getting all guests together in one spot without cell signal can be tricky.
Garrapata State Park Garrapata State Park is one of the easiest to access and most beautiful spots for cliffside coastal views. It has countless turnouts from Highway 1, each one leading out to the coast where you can spend hours adventuring there. One thing to note about Garrapata State Park is that the best spots often are found by location scouting beforehand, as many of the trails are hard to distinguish from another until you spend time exploring them. As of 2021, Garrapata State Park was also allocated funds to restore and improve trail access, as well as permanently close certain trails that have been damaged.
To elope here, you'll need the elopement permit which costs $400 for up to 25 people, with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 60 days prior to the event date. If you're working with a planner that already has a permit and insurance for the area, you can elope there for a lower fee as long as there's less than 10 people. This area is just 15 minutes south of Carmel & Monterey, which offers more options for accommodations and restaurants like Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant for an intimate dinner reception.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park | Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | Limekiln State Park
Eloping at one of the redwood state parks can be trickier, as you do have to pre-select specific locations within the park and are limited to very narrow trails. If you aren't ready to hike and check out the area beforehand, it may not be the best option for you - check out the redwood venues instead.
For Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns, the elopement permit costs $425 for up to 10 people (children and vendors included), with a $75 rush fee for permits requested less than 45 days prior to the event date. If you're not having your ceremony but still want to take photos here, you'll need to apply for a photography permit and are limited to Mondays-Thursdays.
Pfeiffer Beach (*not state park) | Garrapata State Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is famous for its hole-in-the-rock formation, and rightfully one of the must-see spots in Big Sur. Good news - permits are not required to elope here! However, there's a few challenges to be aware of:
If the parking area is full, you won't be allowed to enter until other cars have left. It can be extremely windy, which may be uncomfortable for having a ceremony. During rainy season, the road may be flooded over. During wildfire season, it may be closed for periods of time. If planning to have a ceremony at Pfeiffer Beach, it is always good to have a backup plan. But it is one of the rare free options to elope in Big Sur, which is a huge plus!
THE MOST POPULAR LOCATIONS IN BIG SUR
Big Sur Redwood Venues:
Glen Oaks Big Sur Big Sur Grange Henry Miller Library Big Sur Lodge Ventana Big Sur Post Ranch Inn
BIG SUR VENUES TO ELOPE AT
Big Sur Garden Venues: Loma Vista Gardens Big Sur Coast Venues: Hyatt Carmel Highlands Wind & Sea Ventana Big Sur Post Ranch Inn
✿ What should we pack for our elopement?
Bring warm layers, shoes you can comfortably walk with on steep trails, and a bottle of champagne! Stilettos are not ideal for most locations in Big Sur. Also consider bringing a small blue tooth speaker you can use if you want to have your first dance out in the wild or wherever you choose to elope.
✿ What should we NOT bring for our elopement?
Please do not bring confetti, rice, glitter or anything similar for tossing, even if it is labeled biodegradable. Unfortunately it is harmful to the environment and wildlife, stays put for a long time and leaves a big mess! Also, do not bring smoke bombs or sparklers. These can easily ignite wildfires. In order to keep nature pristine and accessible for future visitors, we need to be careful of how we impact the land on your elopement day.
✿ Is there cell service in Big Sur?
Not much! Be prepared to be largely without cell service. Certain areas do get service (I always get Verizon service from the parking lot of the restaurant at Ventana Big Sur). Plug in your destinations on your gps app before you head into Big Sur. If you’re planning to hike to a ceremony spot in a state park with guests present, consider bringing two-way radios to keep everyone in communication.
✿ What are some of the best ways to experience Big Sur?
- First and foremost, plan out a couple hours to drive down/up the coast on highway 1. The views from the road are unreal, and there are about a million turnoffs where you can quickly stop to soak in the view.
- Take a hike! Big Sur has old growth redwoods, waterfalls, rivers and creeks, and secluded beaches and coves to enjoy. Some of my favorite hikes are in Julia Pfeiffer State Park and Limekiln State Park.
- Pack a picnic and take it to a beach! Garrapata Beach, Pfeiffer Beach and Sand Dollar Beach are all great options.
- Take a drive and tour Hearst Castle then walk around the Elephant Seal viewpoint right down the road from the castle.
✿What else should we plan for our elopement?
There are many ways to make your elopement day feel special and memorable. Some things to consider: writing personalized vows, planning a first dance, having a musician present, cutting and eating a cake, popping champagne, exchanging letters or gifts before your ceremony, going to a special restaurant for dinner afterward, having a catered picnic, and collecting items from your elopement to put into a time capsule (like dried or pressed flowers from your bouquet/boutonniere, or a sprig of redwood needles from the ground at your ceremony location).
✿ How can we keep the wellbeing of the environment in mind during our elopement in Big Sur?
Please be sure to obtain the proper permits for any public location you choose for you ceremony. Respect the land by staying on trails and using durable surfaces for ceremonies (such as a pre–existing hard-packed clearing with no plant life). If you are in an area where certain places are roped off, do not cross beyond those boundaries. Usually this is in place to restore plant life from previous visitors, or to protect visitors from eroding cliffs. Pack out all your trash and leave the area better than you found it. Please do not trespass onto private property bordering public areas. As mentioned earlier, please do not plan on tossing confetti, glitter, rice or using smoke bombs and sparklers. Thank you for caring about preserving nature and future accessibility to it!
Most of the state parks in the Big Sur region require couples to apply for a permit in order to elope. Limekiln State Park is the only exception in the region. National forest lands do not require a permit in most cases. You may apply for your own elopement permit or special event permit, or in some cases you can skip this process if you work with an event planner who has a special annual event permit for gatherings in this sector.
To apply for a permit at one of the Big Sur State Parks, contact the Special Event Permit Office at BigSurEvents@parks.ca.gov or call 831-667-0507 … If you are applying for a permit at Garrapata State Park, instead contact email@example.com Quick and dirty facts about permits:
According to the state park website, elopement permits are “for very small, simple weddings without decorations in unconventional locations that must be hiked in to. All locations are outdoors, without any coverings.” The state park system allows for only one elopement per day in the entire Big Sur sector (this does not include Garrapata) Permit applications can be submitted up to 6 months in advance of your elopement day if you are applying for an elopement permit. Special event permits and elopements in Garrapata State Park can be applied for up to 1 year in advance. To qualify for an elopement permit:
You must have 10 or fewer people present, including vendors and children (Garrapata State Park allows more) You must not block or hinder any park visitor’s access to a site or trail You must not require seating You must not have any music (acoustic or amplified) or any other amplified sound You must not have any decorations other than “one single hand-held bouquet” You must not not have any other vendors besides an officiant, a planner and one photographer
Los Padres National Forest (USFS trails and roads in Los Padres National Forest are closed until further notice due to the 2020 Dolan Fire damage. Some day use locations may be open. Last updated January 2022.) There are lots of trails and land open to public use on National Forest land. Depending where you are, you do not need a permit to elope. This national forest is HUGE. My opinion: National forest lands will forever be my favorite because you can really get away from the crowds who flock to state parks.
Pfeiffer Beach There is no permit required for elopements at this locations. 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). This location is famous for the huge “keyhole” rock formation Parking can be very difficult at this location on weekends. I recommend coming here close to sunset on weekdays. My opinion: I love this iconic beach, especially since it’s the closest accessible beach in central Big Sur. Beware of the potentially strong, sandy winds though!