Where to Elope in Santa Cruz California

Where to Elope in Santa Cruz California / Santa Cruz Elopement Ideas

where to elope in Santa Cruz, California

Why Santa Cruz County is a great place to elope:

California is a popular place to get away for an elopement, for good reason. Recently the most popular places to elope in California have been Big Sur and Yosemite. A quick look at instagram will tell you that couples and photographers have been flocking to those places like crazy. Now, I LOVE both those places, but Santa Cruz is a destination that boasts incredible scenery, easy access, and fewer crowds if you know where to go. I love bringing people to places that feel more intimate and wild than some of the National and State Parks that are overrun with tourists.  That’s why today I’m bringing you some ideas about where to elope in Santa Cruz, California!

Santa Cruz county is sandwiched between a dramatic coastline and some stunning coastal mountains. Many people think of the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk when they think of this area, but it is so much more than that! Our county has lush redwood forests with old growth trees (1,000-2,000 years old!) and beaches framed by dramatic cliffs. Santa Cruz itself is a funky little college town, famous for it’s progressive and artistic culture. It is located south of the San Francisco Bay Area within 1-2 hours of all the major airports. Santa Cruz has all the amenities you could need, yet it stills feels like a secluded vacation-land once you leave the bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area. Another cool thing about Santa Cruz? We are located on a sunbelt in the Monterey Bay, meaning we get way more sunshine than the rest of the famously foggy coastline of Northern California.

I offer elopement experiences for couples looking to elope somewhere gorgeous in the outdoors.  Wherever we go during your elopement, it is my priority to make it feel meaningful. Sure, we are going to take lots of fun portraits, but I also believe that your wedding isn’t a photo shoot. It’s about creating real, meaningful and fun memories. Let’s go for an adventure.

Post Outline:

  • Where to elope in Santa Cruz, California
  • How to elope
  • Santa Cruz elopement vendor recommendations
  • Lodging options in Santa Cruz, California
  • Why elope with Melissa

And now… here are a few ideas about where to elope in Santa Cruz County….in no particular order!

Where to Elope in Santa Cruz, California

1. Davenport

Davenport, California is a tiny town in Santa Cruz county that has it all when it comes to gorgeous nature! Crazy coastal views in every direction atop huge bluffs, a cypress grove, a picturesque beach that looks otherworldly in the fog, and nice meadows! Afterward you can walk over to one of the local bars or restaurants to celebrate, or simply plan a cliffside picnic! Davenport is in Santa Cruz county and located about 15 minutes north of the city of Santa Cruz. There are several beautiful spots perfect for elopements and tiny weddings here. If you work with me, I’ll be able to show you the best spots and take the burden of scouting and planning off of your shoulders.

Check out this blog post featuring a couple who held their ceremony at a coastal overlook in Davenport.

Or check out this other blog post to see portraits from an elopement inspiration shoot located in Davenport.

Couple eloping on the Davenport Bluffs, north of Santa Cruz
San Francisco Outdoor Elopement

2. Shark Fin Cove (Cotoni-Coast Dairies)

Shark Fin Cove is easy to miss if you’re driving along Highway 1, but if you pay attention you’ll catch a glimpse of the giant rock shaped like a shark fin. The beach itself is tiny and beautiful, but it can be a bit crowded on weekends. Up above you get a much better view of the scenery, plus a nice flat trail that continues along the bluffs. This spot is easy to access, gorgeous and makes for a great backdrop to an elopement ceremony. It is located off of Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Davenport. Check out the full blog post of this elopement inspiration shoot here.

couple eloping at Shark Fin Cove in Santa Cruz county

3. Panther Beach (Cotoni-Coast Dairies)

Panther Beach is another incredible coastal spot right off of Highway 1, just 10 minutes from the west side of Santa Cruz. A natural arched doorway in the cliff gives you access to an entirely separate beach when the tide is low enough. I love the red and orange tones and texture of the cliff walls at this beach. One of my favorite things to do at Panther Beach is climb up on a rocky point that juts out from the cliff on the north end of the beach. You can only do it in low tide, but it’s spectacular! If you try it, please be careful and pay attention to whether the tide is going in or out. It’s easy to get stuck if you’re not being careful. Check out this shoot and also this elopement for more photos of Panther beach.

davenport panther beach portrait engagement photossanta cruz beach engagement photography sessionsanta cruz california modern candid wedding photographer

4. Henry Cowell State Park

Henry Cowell State Park is a redwood forest with old growth redwood trees in Felton, California. It is a 15 minute drive up scenic Highway 9 from Santa Cruz. Close to the main parking lot is the wondrous Redwood Loop, which is a relatively short and very easy trail circling tremendous old growth trees. The redwood trees there are easily 1000-2000 years old or more. Just beyond the midpoint of the loop is a junction with another trail, which is a designated, reservable spot for wedding ceremonies. Eloping here in Henry Cowell will allow you to have an easy but inspiring journey through some of the most famous redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains! Contact Henry Cowell SP to find out more details about reserving the site for a wedding and obtaining a permit.

Henry Cowell SP Website

engaged couple walking through Henry Cowell State Park redwood loopwhere to elope in santa cruz, california

Want more?

There are a number of other hidden gems in Santa Cruz county! When you book me as your elopement photographer, you will receive tons of guidance on planning your perfect location. I have spent years exploring the beautiful places in Santa Cruz county and love sharing them with couples who work with me!

where to elope in northern california


You can plan your elopement in SO many different ways. The great thing about eloping is the freedom to get married exactly the way you want to, and in the place you want to. When you elope, you are relieved of the pressure of performing certain traditions for the sake of family and friends. Eloping is intimate, relatively easy, and can be full of adventure or very straightforward and simple.

Legally Tying the Knot:

There are three ways to legally marry your partner in California:

  1. You may go to the county courthouse or city hall and have an official preside over your wedding
  2. You may hire an independent wedding officiant to preside over your marriage ceremony in the location of your choice (this could be a judge, justice, clergy member/religious leader, magistrate or “Marriage Commissioner”)
  3. Any individual over the age of 18 may legally preside over your ceremony if they take the steps to get ordained by a religious organization. I have been ordained by American Marriage Ministries and can legally sign as your officiant on your marriage license (but I generally encourage couples to think about hiring or bringing someone who can craft a meaningful ceremony in addition to signing!)

Some couples decide to legally marry each other at the county courthouse and then later exchange vows in a meaningful, symbolic ceremony in their dream location. This could make sense for couples who are traveling internationally for their elopement, or who prefer the simplicity of having fewer people present during their symbolic ceremony. This could also make sense for couples going deep into the backcountry for their elopement ceremony, such as on an overnight trek.

If you plan to hold your legal ceremony outside the county courthouse, I’d recommend hiring an independent officiant who can craft a beautiful, custom ceremony for you. They will take care of the paperwork and submit your marriage license back to the county clerk within a few days of your ceremony.

Marriage Licenses:

In order to be legally married you will need to secure a marriage license. There are different types of marriage licenses available depending on your state. In California, you can either get a Public Marriage License or a Confidential Marriage License.

A Public Marriage License is the most common type of marriage license. This license enables you to hold your official wedding ceremony outside the county where you applied for the license. It requires 1-2 witnesses and an officiant who is authorized to preside over a wedding. As your photographer, I am happy to sign as a witness.

A Confidential Marriage License does not require a witness in addition to an officiant. However, you must hold your wedding ceremony within the same county that you applied for the license. The difference between this license and a public license is that your records cannot be accessed by members of the public without permission.

Santa Cruz Elopement Vendor Recommendations


Hair and Makeup


Lodging Options In Santa Cruz County

Dream Inn

Put simply, Dream Inn feels like the hotel version of a Beach Boys’ song. It is a seaside boutique hotel with a fresh, mid-century modern feel. Bright and colorful in design, you will feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a mid-century vacation dreamland. A luxurious pool is perched right above Cowell Beach. Cruiser bikes are available for rental, and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a short walk away.  The best part? Each room has an ocean view!

Dream Inn Website

Brookdale Lodge

Brookdale Lodge is located up in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Highway 9. This is a great option if you’re looking to elope in the redwoods around Henry Cowell or Big Basin state parks. The Brookdale Lodge has a famous history dating back to 1900. Many movie stars stayed here during Hollywood’s golden era. The most famous aspect of this lodge was the restaurant that featured a natural creek running through the  middle of the dining room before turning south down the mountain. The restaurant is currently being renovated and is promised to re-open soon!

Brookdale Lodge Website

West Cliff Inn

This beautiful historic Victorian inn is across the street from the ocean and a short walk away from the Boardwalk!

West Cliff Inn Website

Sand Rock Farm

This Bed and Breakfast style inn is tucked away in a super peaceful, wooded area of Aptos. The historic building is gorgeously furnished and surrounded by paths winding through gardens and under trees. Sand Rock Farm is perfect for couples looking for a quiet, peaceful experience away from the bustle of the waterfront.

Sand Rock Farm Website

Why Elope with Melissa?

I adore documenting couple’s on their elopement day because I love helping people create meaningful experiences. I love all weddings, but something about elopements feels extra special because they allow couples to live out their wedding day EXACTLY how they want to, without the pressures from family or society. These intimate experiences will be treasured for a long time, and it is an honor to be invited into that experience as a photographer. That said, I offer a lot more than simple photography when it comes to elopements. I recognize that many couples want guidance in planning their elopement day because the limitless possibilities can sometimes feel overwhelming. That, and many couples choose to elope in new places they are unfamiliar with. In order to help couples plan their dream elopement day, I have spent years finding the most beautiful, inspiring locations for elopements in Santa Cruz county and Big Sur. However, there is more to an elopement day than a beautiful location for stunning portraits. Couples who work with me get a photographer who brings the focus back to creating a memorable experience, not just pretty photos.

Are you stuck on how to plan your elopement? Would you like other ideas about where to elope in Santa Cruz, California? Send me a note and I’d love to help you out. I love giving couples a full-on experience that involves help with planning in addition to photography.

Not sold on Santa Cruz? Big Sur is another great destination. Check out my blog post about how and where to elope in Big Sur!



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