Joshua Tree National Park | Best Places to Elope in Southern California | Alyssa Vanzo Photography

Eloping in Southern California

Your complete guide

Eloping in Southern California

California is beautiful, but it’s also massive. It spans nearly the entire west coast of the United States, and covers over 163 thousand square acres of land.

After visiting the state of California many times, I’ve developed a deep fondness for its vast and diverse landscapes + many sub-cultures. However, because California is so massive, it was nearly impossible for me to create a single elopement guide; there are just way too many amazing locations, talented vendors, and different travel recommendations depending on where in California you are. So instead of one single guide, I broke all the information down into three different location guides for the State of California:

  • Southern California (You are here!)
  • Central California (Coming soon!)
  • Northern California (Coming soon!)

In this guide, I will walk you through all the beautiful locations in Southern California that I would recommend for an adventurous elopement or small, immersive wedding. Locations for your ceremony, where to stay, who to hire… I cover it all.

Southern California Quick References

Best time of year to elope


Best airports to fly into


Best way to get around


Best place to stay


Where can I elope in Southern California?

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Located in the Colorado Desert just outside San Diego County is a stretch of dry, desert mountains. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and features a wide range of wild life and views for miles across open terrain.
While Anza-Borrego is a stunning landscape, there isn’t much in regards to accommodations, so it works much better as a day trip for photos or a simple vow exchange.
Do be careful about what time of year you plan on going… Anza-Borrego is scorching hot (upwards of 120+ degrees farhenheit) in the Summer months, leaving the best window for visiting between November and January.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is one of those National Parks you don’t expect much from (probably because of it’s name), but blows you away once you see it in real life.
Although it’s all desert, the colors and textures of the soil and land formations shift drastically as you drive through the park. Death Valley has salt flats, colorful mountain ranges, and white limestone formations that are all sure to make a lasting impression.
Death Valley is up there on my list of my favorite National Parks I’ve ever been to. Here are some of the areas of the park that stood out to me during my own visit:
  • Twenty Mule Canyon
  • Artist’s Palette
  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Badwater Basin

Joshua Tree National Park

Known for it’s towering rock formations, golden tones, night-sky visibility, and of course – the Joshua tree – Joshua Tree National Park is a desert-lovers dream and the perfect place to elope in the late Fall and early Spring.
And if you’re looking for something a little different – just outside Joshua Tree is the Mojave desert, which features a ton of open roads and the Mojave sand dunes!

And of course, if you’re looking for some cool digs to spend your elopement weekend or host an intimate gathering, Joshua Tree National Park has some of the most unique Airbnb options of anywhere else in the US.

A few of my favorite Joshua Tree venues for elopements and photography:

Palm Springs

While Palm Springs is famous for it’s boutique motels and relaxed vibes, it also has some of the most stunning estates and natural desert landscape offered in the United States.
For more chill or retro vibes, check out these fun digs:
For something more romantic or to host a larger group, check out a few of my favorite villas and estates:

Los Angeles

I know when I think about Los Angeles, the first thought that comes to mind is insane traffic, people everywhere, and a lot of concrete – not exactly what couples want in an elopement location.
However, if you look hard enough, you can find some really stunning corners throughout this major city in southern California:
  • Places like Malibu and Laguna have stunning resorts and private rentals for beach-side weddings and elopements. I recommend looking into Proper Properties, the Malibu Beach House.
  • If you travel more inland, the outskirts of Los Angeles offers some really beautiful hiking trails and mountain views.
  • For a more urban feel, downtown Los Angeles offers some rooftop lounges and restaurants with stunning views of the city. I recommend looking into the Proper Hotels, either Santa Monica or Downtown Los Angeles.

San Diego

Similar to Los Angeles, San Diego is a big and busy city on the southern California Coast. Although San Diego is a major city with tons of people and crazy traffic, there are a few beautiful escapes:
  • The city of San Diego offers a ton of fun and unique bars and restaurants, but also classier options as well
  • Coastal neighborhoods like La Jolla and Sunset Cliffs are known for their sweeping ocean views and rugged coastline. For wedding venues, I recommend the Estancia La Jolla.
  • If you travel only an hour inland, the outskirts of San Diego offer expansive desert views and a quick reprieve from the hustle of city life. Check out the stunning ceremony and reception spaces offered by Red Jeep Tours!

Southern California Elopement Vendors




As long as you stay on the coast, Southern California offers warm temperatures and sunshine year round. However, once you move inland, you’ll start to see more extremes on either end of the spectrum. In the winter, you can expect periodic snowfall with minimum accumulation. In the summer months, you can expect scorching (and unbearable) temperatures

The best time of year to visit Southern California really depends on where you go. If visiting coastal cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, Spring time is absolutely beautiful.

However, if you’re visiting the inland desert regions, late Fall and Winter (November-April) are your best bet.

Southern California is large enough and populated enough that there are nearly infinite options for  accommodations. Bigger cities like Los Angeles and San Diego have beautiful and afforable hotel and motel options, while the desert offers some of the best AirBnb and private estate rentals in US.

To travel throughout the state of California, I highly recommend having a car. Public transportation via subway, bus, taxi, or uber is available in some areas, but not in the mountains or desert and even in the cities it’s not too reliable.

There are train and subway options in the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, but they won’t bring you very far if you wish to travel outside the city.

If you’re planning on staying on the coast the entire time, most California cities now offer grab-n-go electronic scooter rentals such as Lime and Bird which can be a fun and cheap option to get around quickly.

If you are coming from out of state and must rent a car, I recommend pick up and drop off at whatever airport you fly into.

Don’t rely on your cell phone if you’re going deep into the desert. Depending on your chosen location, cell service may be spotty (or non existent). Be sure to download driving + print hiking maps ahead of time, and communicate you whereabouts with loved ones or vendors.

Bring your sunscreen. If you aren’t used to the California, or if you have sensitive skin like myself, you’ll want to be sure you come prepared with tons of sunscreen for your face and body! Trust me – some of the worst sunburn I’ve ever experienced was in Southern California after only 15 minutes outside. Hats and sunglasses are also highly recommended.

Plan for outdoor adventures at sunrise or sunset. Temperatures shift in the California desert are no joke, especially because you’ll likely be in areas without shade. Sand and dirt will quickly absorb then reflect heat back up at you as the sun gets stronger throughout the day, so sunrise is highly recommended for hikes in the open desert or sand dunes.

Stay out late. Especially if you are visiting a place like Joshua Tree or Death Valley, the visibility of the night sky in Southern California is amazing. Of course, if you are close to big cities such as San Diego or Los Angeles there will be a ton of light pollution… but out in the desert you are sure to catch a beautiful view of the milky way.

Bring extra snacks and water. Rest stops can be few are far between in the desert of Southern California, so be sure to bring plenty of extra nourishment for long days in the car! I usually stop and grab a gallon of water and box of granola bars to keep in my car before any long day spent outside.

Questions about eloping in Southern California?

Questions about eloping with me?

How can we legally marry on our elopement day?

To legally marry in the state of California requires a valid California marriage license, an authorized officiant, and two witnesses.

For those who invite a few loved ones, you could ask one of them to officiate your ceremony and another to act as your witness. If it’s just the two of you, I’m happy to help you find an officiant and act as your witness! Or, I am also ordained through the Universal Life Church and could act as your officiant. In regards to a witness, there are usually plenty of people around the park (such as another visitor or one of your vendors) who I’m sure would be happy to help you out.

For out of state couples, I recommend taking care of all the legal bits back at home and saving your experience in California for your ceremony and celebration.

Can our elopement include guests like friends and family?

Of course – I mean it when I say “your day, your way”. Eloping doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the presence and support of loved ones in favor of a beautiful and unique experience. There are plenty of ways to get your loved ones involved and get the best of both worlds.

You could have a “rehearsal dinner” or a reception. You could bring them along when you shop for your dress or when you sign your marriage license. You could even invite a few of your closest loved ones to join you and make it an intimate, destination wedding. The options are endless.

What happens during the planning phase?

This is where the fun starts. Once you book, I will work closely with you to help find your perfect location(s), recommend vendors, brainstorm styling ideas, and more. We will work together to craft the day of your dreams, keeping in mind logistics such as guests, weather, sun position and of course, your priorities.

All of my Southern California Elopement Packages are customizable and includes bespoke planning assistance. When working with me, you almost get a photographer and planner all in one, which I think is pretty cool.

Southern California Elopement Packages

What’s included in my destination elopement packages:

  • Half day, full day, or multi-day photography coverage options
  • Online gallery and slideshow with high-resolution and web-size image downloads
  • In-depth elopement planning guidebook + other resources sent to you as soon as you book
  • Unlimited planning assistance including vendor recommendations and location scouting
  • Customized photo books and vintage film video packages available as add-on options
  • No additional travel fees!

Investment begins at $4000

Ready to elope in Southern California?

How to Guide for Eloping in Joshua Tree National Park
How to Elope in Southern California
Joshua Tree Elopement Guide

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