Planning a wedding or elopement in
Golden beaches, rolling green hills, vast desert plains, blue granite mountains, and rough coastal shores… Southern California has everything you could ever dream in a place to elope.
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.
Visiting Southern California
Best Time of Year to Visit
One of the most beautiful things about Southern California is that there really is no bad time of year to visit. However, depending on where you go will determine your overall experience. For example, in the desert, Winters can be very cold (and snowy) and the Summers can be unbearably hot (I’m talking 120 degrees hot). The coast on the other hand is mild all year round!
Best Places to Stay
Another beautiful thing about Southern California is that there is never a shortage of amazing places to stay. There are endless options for hotels, inns, or private residence rentals such as VRBO or Airbnb. In fact, of all the places I’ve traveled in the US, I’ve found Southern California to have the some of the most abundant, cost effective, and beautiful options!
Things to Do in Southern California
No matter when you are in Southern California, there is bound to be an overwhelming number of things to do. When you’re in the desert, you can visit one of the many National Parks or State Parks. When you’re by the coast, you can walk along the many beaches, shop and eat at the many boardwalks, or visit one of the endless parks or museums. Whether in the city or out in the middle of “nowhere,” there’s always something new to discover.
Best Places to Get Married 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 & Palm Springs
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!
A few of my favorite Joshua Tree venues for elopements:
For something more romantic or to host a larger group, check out some of my favorite spots in Palm Springs:
Santa Barbara falls just north of Los Angeles but feels like a world away. It hosts the perfect blend of "coastal cool" and luxury, and whether you'd rather surf waves and hike the foothills or if you'd sip on wine relax by the pool - there's a little something for everyone.
Check out a few of my favorite inns and hotels for weddings in Santa Barbara here:
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.
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
Hair and Makeup
What weather can we anticipate?
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. As long as you stay on the coast, Southern California offers warm temperatures and sunshine year round. However, if you’re visiting the inland desert regions, late Fall and Winter (November-April) are your best bet. In the winter, you can expect periodic snowfall with minimum accumulation. In the summer months, you can expect scorching (and unbearable) temperatures.
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 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.
Do you have any other general travel suggestions?
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.