Elope in Style: Your Ultimate Guide to Courthouse Weddings in California

November 30, 2023

Dear couples-who-want-to-elope-but-you-don’t-want-to-have-a-super-adventous-hiking-elopement, this one is for you!

Are you dreaming of an intimate and fuss-free wedding day? California’s courthouses might just be the perfect fit for you, and they offer some of the most beautiful settings to say your “I do’s”. As your dedicated elopement photographer and guide through this exciting journey, I’m here to help with this guide.

Table of Contents

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is an architectural gem with its Beaux-Arts style, making it a popular spot for elopements. Before you get lost in its grandeur, let’s talk logistics.

Permit Requirements:
SF City Hall requires a marriage license from the County Clerk’s office, which you can reserve up to 90 days in advance. For the ceremony, you must make a separate reservation, which is available for 90-minute slots. As your photographer, I will handle the permit needed for photography, so that’s one less thing for you to worry about.

Photo Locations:
After your ceremony, we can explore the building for stunning shots—grand staircases, ornate balconies, and the iconic rotunda are all at our disposal. Nearby, we can venture to Lover’s Lane in the Presidio or the Sutro Baths for breathtaking coastal portraits.

For a luxurious stay, consider the Fairmont San Francisco, just a short drive from City Hall. If you prefer a cozy Airbnb, the Hayes Valley neighborhood offers charming options.

Santa Barbara City Hall

Santa Barbara City Hall is a Mediterranean-style building that exudes romance. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Permit Requirements:
You’ll need a marriage license from the Santa Barbara County Clerk, with no waiting period after issuance. The ceremony itself can be held in the beautiful Mural Room, Sunken Garden, or other spots within the City Hall by making a reservation.

Photo Locations:
The courthouse itself is picturesque, but don’t miss the Santa Barbara Mission or the beach for golden hour shots. As a local expert, I’ll guide you to the most photogenic nooks and crannies.

Stay at the opulent Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore or find a beachfront rental for the ultimate retreat.

Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena City Hall is an elegant Spanish Colonial Revival structure that promises a romantic backdrop for your elopement.

Permit Requirements:
Secure a marriage license from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. For Pasadena City Hall, you may need to check with the Pasadena Film Office regarding a photography permit, but I will take care of this detail for you.

Photo Locations:
The City Hall itself is stunning, but we can also head over to the nearby Pasadena Rose Garden or even take a short drive to the Angeles National Forest for some nature-infused photos.

The Langham Huntington offers a luxurious stay with a view of the San Gabriel Mountains. For more intimate lodging, browse the many boutique hotels and vacation rentals in the area.

Riverside Historic Courthouse

The Riverside Historic Courthouse is a stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture with its majestic columns and beautiful dome. Its historic charm is sure to add a touch of grandeur to your special day.

Permit Requirements:
A marriage license is required from the Riverside County Clerk’s office. It is advisable to book your civil ceremony appointment in advance as the courthouse may have limited availability. Photography permits are typically managed by the courthouse, and as your trusted photographer, I will ensure all necessary paperwork is in order for our session.

Photo Locations:
The courthouse itself offers a beautiful backdrop with its elegant staircases and grand hallways. Additionally, the surrounding gardens and the nearby Mount Rubidoux Park provide a lovely natural setting for some outdoor shots.

For a luxurious stay, the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is just a short walk from the courthouse and offers stunning Spanish Mission-style architecture. Alternatively, you can find a variety of vacation rentals that offer privacy and comfort in the Riverside area.

San Diego Courthouse

San Diego offers a modern yet inviting atmosphere for your courthouse elopement. With its sunny weather and beautiful landscapes, it’s the perfect place for an easy-breezy wedding day.

Permit Requirements:
You will need to obtain a marriage license from the San Diego County Clerk’s office. Appointments for civil ceremonies are required and can be booked online. I will manage the photography permit process to ensure we have the authorization needed for your wedding photos.

Photo Locations:
The Waterfront Park is right next to the courthouse and is perfect for post-ceremony photos with its lush greenery and views of the San Diego Bay. For beach lovers, Coronado Beach and the historic Hotel del Coronado are just a short drive away, offering a classic Southern California beach backdrop.

For a sumptuous stay, the Pendry San Diego offers luxury in the heart of downtown. If you prefer a more private setting, consider renting a beachfront property in Coronado or a cozy bungalow in one of San Diego’s charming neighborhoods.

Tips for Eloping at a Courthouse:

1. Keep it simple. The beauty of a courthouse wedding is the ease and simplicity, so don’t overcomplicate things.
2. Arrive early. Give yourselves plenty of time to find parking, get through security, and soak in the moment.
3. Dress comfortably yet beautifully. Courthouse weddings can be just as elegant, so wear what makes you feel special, but remember you might be navigating stairs or walking to photo spots.
4. Bring the essentials. Most courthouses require you to bring your government-issued IDs, your marriage license, and rings if you are exchanging them.
5. Consider a weekday. Courthouses can be less crowded during the week, providing a more intimate experience.
6. Witness requirements. Find out if your chosen courthouse requires witnesses and plan to bring them along or let me know, and I can often serve as a witness if needed.
7. Celebrate after! Plan a special meal or activity post-ceremony to mark the occasion. It could be a picnic in a nearby park or a reservation at a fancy restaurant.
8. Bring a bouquet or a boutonniere. Even in a courthouse setting, these details can add a touch of personal flair to your outfit and to the photos.
9. Be mindful of the public space. Courthouses are working government buildings, so be respectful of the space and the people there.
10. Capture the whole day. As your photographer, I’ll be there to discreetly document your ceremony and the candid moments before and after, telling the full story of your day.

Sample Elopement Timeline for a Full Day

8:00 AM – Wake up in a cozy hotel room or a boutique Airbnb. Enjoy breakfast together, savoring the quiet moments before the day begins.

9:00 AM – Begin getting ready. Whether you’re helping each other dress or doing your own hair and makeup, enjoy these intimate moments. We’ll start with some candid shots capturing the anticipation.

11:00 AM – Head to the courthouse, allowing time for parking and any last-minute touch-ups. We’ll snap a few photos outside the building before heading in.

12:00 PM – Check-in for your ceremony reservation. Take a moment together to breathe and center yourselves before the ceremony.

12:30 PM – The ceremony begins. Exchange vows in the stunning surroundings of the courthouse. I’ll be there to capture every look, tear, and smile.

1:00 PM – Now that you’re officially married, we’ll tour the courthouse for your portrait session, finding the most beautiful spots for your first photos as a married couple.

2:00 PM – We depart for nearby photo spots that we’ve previously scouted, whether it’s the beach, a garden, or urban streetscapes, giving you a variety of backdrops.

4:00 PM – Wrap up the portrait session and head back to your accommodation to freshen up or relax for a bit.

6:00 PM – Enjoy a romantic dinner at a restaurant of your choosing or have a private chef prepare a meal in your rental. Celebrate your new marriage with delicious food and perhaps a toast!

8:00 PM – As the sun sets, we could venture out for a few twilight photos, capturing the magic of the day’s end, or simply enjoy each other’s company reflecting on the day.

10:00 PM – Return to your accommodation. End the day with a nightcap or a walk under the stars, basking in the joy of your elopement and the life you’ll build together.

Remember, this is just a sample timeline! Your elopement is yours to design, and I’m here to help make it as unique and personal as you are. Whether you’re dreaming of an early morning ceremony or a sunset vow exchange, I’ll be there every step of the way, capturing the moments you’ll cherish for a lifetime.

California Elopement Packages

Eloping at a courthouse in California offers a blend of simplicity, elegance, and convenience. Whether you’re drawn to the historic allure of Riverside or the iconic views of San Francisco, each location provides a unique backdrop for your intimate celebration. As your guide and photo + video team, we’re here to ensure that the memories of your elopement are beautifully preserved. Together, we’ll craft a day that reflects your love and sets the tone for the wonderful chapters to come.

If you’re ready to plan your California courthouse elopement, reach out, and let’s start this beautiful adventure together!

Here’s what we offer:

  • Packages ranging from 3 hours to full day coverage
  • Digital + 35mm photographs
  • Digital + Super 8 video
  • a 90+ page elopement planning guide
  • Pre-wedding consultations
  • All travel is included

Packages start at $2600 for just photo & $4600 for photo + video

Check out our full pricing and package information here!

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