Planning a wedding or elopement in
Northern California is so beautiful and diverse, and honestly one of my favorite places in the United States. Between Mendocino and San Luis Obispo includes everything from cozy coastal towns, high desert, and alpine forest.
In this guide, I’ll be sharing my favorite locations, vendors, and travel advice for couples looking to elope in places like Big Sur, Yosemite, Napa Valley, or even the Bay Area!
Visiting Northern California
Best Time of Year to Visit
The best time of year to visit Northern California is traditionally said to be Spring, Summer, and Fall. In my opinion, however, the most beautiful time of year to visit is the Spring where crowds are fewer and the wildflowers are in full bloom. Winter months can get a little too cold for an outdoor wedding, but is still a beautiful time to vacation.
Best Places to Stay
The best places to stay in Northern California really depend on where you go! Northern California is incredibly diverse and varies in population, climate, and culture from city to city. Luckily, Northern California has a ton of hotel options that are both safe and beautiful for all budgets, as well as seemingly endless rentals on Airbnb and VRBO.
Things to Do in Northern California
Northern California attracts people from all backgrounds because it really has something for everyone. From endless wineries in the Napa Valley, to swanky bars and restaurants in the Bay Area, to coastal hikes and surfing along the coastlines of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo, there's something for everyone.
Best Places to Get Married in Northern California
Mendocino is an unspoiled section of Northern California that in all honestly, feels more like the Oregon coast than it does California. It features expansive rolling hills and a long stretch of coastal cliffs, and is much quieter than the rest of the state. There's not a whole lot going on in Mendocino, but for many, this only adds to the charm.
Here are some of my favorite venues for an intimate wedding wedding in Mendocino:
The Bay Area
If you were hoping for something more Urban the city of San Francisco itself would serve as a beautiful backdrop. However, it’s the nature around the city that draws in so many adventurous couple sessions and elopements. Here are my top 5 places to elope near San Francisco:
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Stinson Beach
- Mt Tamalpais State Park
- Marin Headlands
- Muir Woods National Monument
Big Sur and Monterey County
A desolate stretch of coastline between the Bay Area and San Luis Obispo, Monterey County is one of the "last frontiers" of coastal California. It's a refreshing break from the city lights and crowds of the cities, and between the massive rolling hills and rough, jagged cliff side you feel so tucked away from the world. There are endless nooks and crannies to escape and spend the day, and you can be sure to leave your time here feeling renewed and inspired.
San Luis Obispo
What's typically considered the line where Northern meets Southern California, San Luis Obispo (SLO) is the perfect year-round area to visit the coast. Never too hot, and never too cold, there are plenty of activities to keep anyone of all ages busy and happy. From turquoise waters and expansive beaches to rolling grass hills and expansive dunes, there are also endless places to sneak away for stunning photography.
Sonoma and Napa Valley
If you dream of an Italian country-side wedding or elopement, but can’t get around to sending yourselves or your loved ones to another country, Napa Valley could serve as the perfect destination. I recommend booking a private estate in Napa Valley (inquire via Airbnb) or a cozy vineyard or inn for a small wedding with your favorite people:
Yosemite National Park and Sierra Mountains
Whether you’re looking for easy access or a multi-day hiking elopement, Yosemite National Park has something for everyone. To get you started, here are my top 5 places to elope in Yosemite National Park:
- Glacier Point for the iconic view of Half dome at sunrise
- Sentinel Beach for a river-side ceremony under the towering granite walls of Yosemite Valley
- Taft Point for the best view of Yosemite Valley from above at sunset
- Lembert Dome Loop for vast alpine meadows and a birds eye view of Yosemite at the summit
- Mariposa Grove for a full day hike under the giant Sequoia and Redwood trees
Northern California Elopement Vendors
Hair and Makeup
What weather can we anticipate?
One of the best parts about Northern California is that there really is no bad time of year to visit.
The coast is relatively mild year round, not boasting freezing nor sweltering temperatures. In the winter, however, you will definitely want a coat and to bring with you a few layers wherever you go! Even in the summer, the ocean breeze can cause a chill, so plan accordingly.
Once you move inland, you can expect tons of snow in the winters and hot, dry weather in the summers. The summers and fall are also known for forest fires, which can be an added risk for anyone planning a wedding or traveling in from out of town.
What's the best way to get around?
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 won't get you very far outside your particular 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.
Do you have any other general travel suggestions?
Don’t rely on your cell phone if you’re going to be spending a lot of time along the coastal highway or deep in the mountains or forest. Depending on your chosen location, cell service may be spotty (or non existent) especially along the rugged central coastline around Monterey county. 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! Hats and sunglasses are also highly recommended.
Plan for varying temperatures. Although Northern California is known for it's brutally hot summers and sunny days, don't be surprised if the actual air temperature fluctuates frequently throughout the day. Overall, Northern California weather says pretty mild on the coast, but once you get inland things can flip to really cold or really hot in a matter of a few miles, especially with a change in elevation.
Bring a camera. I wasn't kidding earlier when I said that Northern California is one of the most beautiful and diverse areas of the United States. If you've never been before, you'll be shocked by the number of incredible sights you'll pass - both architectural and natural - and you'll definitely want a keepsake of your time there.