Let’s be real, even though planning an elopement is way less stressful than planning a gigantic wedding, there is still a ton to research, choose, and coordinate. Well friend, consider this your opportunity to sit back, relax, and let me do some of the heavy lifting for you as I guide you through all of the important information you’ll need to know for planning your elopement in San Diego. We’re going to walk through this guide step by step, and by the end you’ll walk away with some tangible planning ideas and TONS of fun inspo.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased because I live here, but I can’t help it. I LOVE San Diego. With dozens of beaches to explore and a perfectly temperate climate, San Diego is incredibly popular with both locals and tourists alike. Located in the very bottom southwest corner of the United States, this gem of Southern California is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and Mexico. The county boasts breathtaking beaches, tons of adventurous activities, and some truly incredible food, making it an absolutely perfect spot to have a beautiful (and relaxing) elopement.
Ready to talk plans? We’ve got a lot of info to cover, so let’s get into it!
1. Locations: The Best Places to Elope in San Diego
2. Making Your San Diego Elopement Legal
3. The Best Time of Year To Elope in San Diego
4. Room and Board: Where To Stay And What To Eat
5. Make It A Getaway: Top Things To Do In San Diego
6. Crucial San Diego Elopement Planning Tips
7. San Diego Elopement Packages
Alright! Let’s talk locations! Remember, this is your elopement and you’re free to break all those traditional wedding rules! For example, you could go to multiple locations during your elopement (e.g. one spot for the ceremony and one for sunset photos) or include a unique activity as part of the day’s celebrations. This is your time to celebrate and San Diego has no shortage of incredible locations for you to adventure to.
Since San Diego has such amazing weather, parks, and ocean views, I’m going to focus mostly on the area’s best outdoor locations!!
The area that comprises Sunset Cliffs is just one and a half miles long, but it holds some of the most jaw dropping views in all of the county. With dramatic cliffside formations, hidden caves, and expansive ocean views, this natural park really does have the best sunset viewing around. (Pro Tip: This area can get crowded! I highly recommend scheduling an elopement on a Monday – Thursday, and getting a permit).
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
A true natural oasis in the middle of a city, Torrey Pines has some of the rarest trees in the world as well as jaw dropping ocean views and gorgeous nature trails that lead straight from the cliffs down to the ocean. Just a heads up, you will need to purchase a permit in order to elope here, but the views are so worth it.
Home to the San Diego Zoo, a botanical greenhouse, a Japanese garden and so much more, Balboa Park has an enormous variety of locations that would make for a truly unique elopement. You can find out more information about permit requirements, here.
Gorgeous. Just insanely insanely gorgeous. Thirty seven acres of some of the world’s most beautiful plant life, including the nation’s largest bamboo collection!
Coronado has a number of different beaches, but the area just outside of the Hotel Del Coronado is particularly beautiful (especially around sunset!).
Bonus Locations! Not In San Diego, But Very Close
Below are some elopement locations that are not technically within a 2 hr drive of the city!
El Matador State Beach (Malibu)
Okay! So that was a lot of info about locations. What should your first steps be? My advice is to think about what type of landscape inspires you the most. What are you most drawn to? What feels most like the two of you? Then I suggest researching some of the options above and narrowing down your list based on other factors like your budget, your guest count (if any), or your desired amount of privacy.
First, something I want to clarify is that the day you elope and the day you legally get married don’t have to be the same. For example, the couple in the photo gallery above chose to legally get married and deal with all of the paperwork prior to the day of their elopement. But the day that they consider their wedding day, the day that they will celebrate each year to come, is the day that they said their vows to each other at Sunset Cliffs. (Fun fact, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did the EXACT same thing! They eloped three days before their big ginormous legal wedding).
Okay, so let’s talk about how to legally tie the knot. In order to get legally married in the state of California, you will need to apply for and obtain a marriage license. There are two types of marriage licenses: public (the most common) or confidential. You can read more about the differences between each of them here.
You will also need to have an independent officiant to preside over the ceremony or you can have anyone over the age of 18 who has gone through the proper steps to become ordained in the state of California. Also, depending on the type of license you choose, you may need to have a witness present (FYI I can happily sign as a witness!).
It’s true—the weather in San Diego really is pretty glorious all year round. That being said, there are some seasons (and days of the week) that will be better than others for eloping, especially if you’re planning to elope outdoors.
Quick Seasonal Tips: San Diego has an average temperature of 72 degrees near the coastal areas, making it a very easy place to elope pretty much any time of year. January – February tend to be the rainiest months and August – September are definitely the hottest (helloooo heat waves). Tourist season is generally Memorial Day – Labor Day and the latter half of December (so basically any time there are school breaks).
The Best Season to Elope in San Diego: Fall. Particularly late Fall (i.e. late October – November) is going to give you the best combination of warm weather and smaller crowds. During this time of year, the weather is still plenty warm, the rainy season hasn’t quite started yet, and the tourists and crowds are far lower than any other time of year.
Best Days Of The Week: Monday – Thursday. Even outside of tourist seasons, San Diego is very very populated and most areas are well known and well travelled. However, you’re likely to have even the most crowded of places mostly to yourself if you go on a weekday (particularly in the morning).
There you have it! For more information on each time of year, you can browse this U.S. News Travel Guide.
Let’s talk food! Holy cow there are SO MANY great places to eat and drink here. San Diego is known as the brewery capital of the country, so if you like beer, I highly recommend checking out any one of the dozens (hundreds?) of our local breweries. For intimate post-elopement reception spaces, Stone Bistro and World Gardens, Karl Strauss Brewery and Campfire all have amazing food and great outdoor spaces.
Lodging: If you’re not getting married at a location that already has lodging, there are some truly amazing options. Below are just a few options out of many! (P.S. I can help you with specific recommendations based on location, when you’re planning your elopement!!)
Hotel Del Coronado a splurge for sure, but such a classic luxury stay
The US Grant Hotel historic hotel in the heart of downtown
Tower 23 Hotel a boutique, beachfront hotel with a modern flair
Omni La Costa Resortloved by locals and visitors alike and features a world class spa
Fun and memorable ways to celebrate before and after your elopement. Simply put, my philosophy on elopements is that this is a time to indulge and to celebrate! And in San Diego there’s definitely no shortage of things to do. Below are just a few things that you can do before and after your elopement in San Diego!
San Diego Zoo And San Diego Safari Park: I can’t help it, this is my favorite place in the whole county. I have to mention it first 🙂 The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are made up of two locations situated at opposite ends of the county. The San Diego Zoo has a larger variety of wildlife and is located in Balboa Park near downtown. The Safari Park is located in Escondido and has large open field enclosures where many animals roam about together freely.
La Jolla Sea Caves Kayak Tour: Adventure through this ecological marine reserve in La Jolla and have a close encounter with the (harmless) leopard sharks!
Charter A Private Yacht: Take a sunset cruise and explore San Diego Bay and the surrounding coastline from the luxury of a private yacht.
Day Hikes: San Diego has dozens of beautiful hikes, many located within the city or just outside. My personal favorite spot for hiking is Torrey Pines!
Indulge In A Spa Day: Get a massage, a facial, or a resort day pass and treat yourselves to some well deserved R&R.
Traffic: Woof. Not as bad as some areas of Southern California, but still something to keep in mind especially if you’re planning to visit multiple areas during your elopement. Generally you can expect rush hour to be Monday – Friday from 6:30am – 9:00am and 4:00pm – 6:30pm.
Hire A Photographer Who Is Familiar With The Area: Oh heyyy, that’s me! In all seriousness though, this one cannot be overstated. Southern California is a very very populated region in a very populated state, so it’s important to hire someone who can take you to spots they’ve found that are off the beaten path.
P.S. It’s no secret that I love San Diego, and I’ve spent countless hours exploring this area at all times of day in all kinds of weather. I would LOVE to help you plan your San Diego elopement!
Be A Good Steward of Nature: In short, leave no trace. Most likely you’re choosing San Diego for your elopement so that you can get married outside right? As I mentioned above, San Diego is very heavily populated, which is why it’s so important to be extra careful to leave the areas you visit as untouched as possible. This includes obtaining permits where they’re required, staying on trails, being careful not to tread on plant life, and packing out any and all trash (including things that seem natural like flower petals, rice, or things labeled as biodegradable).
Let’s talk money honey! Every elopement is unique, which is why all of my San Diego elopement packages are completely customizable. Below is a brief breakdown of what’s included in every package.
Starting at $1,800
Unlimited Elopement Planning Assistance
Location Scouting & Personalized Location Recommendations
Fully Edited High Res Custom Online Gallery With Unlimited Prints & Downloads
Sneak Peek Photos Within 48 hrs
Brittany’s Wedding Welcome Guide
I hope that this guide has helped you learn how to plan an elopement in San Diego, or at the very least has given you a solid launch point! San Diego really is one of my favorite places in Southern California (there’s definitely a reason why we moved here 8 years ago and never left!).
Are you thinking of eloping in San Diego? I would LOVE to help plan your amazing adventure and document your day! Contact me to get this thing started and let’s make it happen!
I'm Brittany Bender. A wedding, elopement, & couples photographer who specializes in capturing candid, natural, emotion-packed photos. I'm based in the local San Diego area, and I serve couples throughout the entire Southern California region and am available for travel worldwide.
[…] You can check out a Sunset Cliffs engagement session here and my guide to eloping in San Diego here. Or if you’re already convinced, slide into my inbox and let’s plan your Sunset Cliffs […]
1 Comment on San Diego Elopement Guide