Initially, this whole idea came to mind when I started to answer questions about the pros and cons of getting married in the Bay Area from a friend whose engagement I shot in the Embarcadero. The idea of a San Francisco destination wedding was something she’d always dreamed of and she wanted to know why she should or shouldn’t opt to get married in this iconic California city. This had me thinking about the different pros and cons of getting married in northern vs southern California and the handful of other options in between. In a state with a huge variety of climates, cities, and abundant nature, there’s something for everyone in one of the biggest and most populous states in the country. As someone who spent a long time calling herself a San Francisco destination wedding photographer, I’ve had the chance to see what makes both southern and northern California fantastic places to tie the knot. For a native Californian, someone living somewhere else in the states, or anyone abroad, I intend to paint a picture of what locations make a good fit depending on what you’re looking for in California.
Southern California Destination Wedding
I’d consider San Diego an incredibly overlooked area to get married primarily because every sunset it gets seems to be somehow better than the last. If I didn’t take the photo above, I’d think it was Hawaii, more of the more popular destination wedding locations. Before my first visit, I don’t know if I would’ve ever expected much out of a San Diego destination wedding but now I’d jump at the chance to be a part of one! From Sunset Cliffs to La Jolla to the rugged peninsula of Point Loma, there are so many locations where crashing waves in the background could soundtrack the most memorable ceremony. A summer wedding in San Diego is almost guaranteed to end up on a blog because it looks prettier than a Royal Caribbean commercial. The one San Diego wedding photographer I know says she prefers shooting there over anywhere else in California because it has the best light of any place she’s ever shot. I haven’t spent enough time there to necessarily have the same opinion but judging by her photos, I certainly can’t say she’s wrong! I’d consider a San Diego destination wedding if you’re vegetarian, most of your Instagram photos are of sunsets, or you call yourself a Yogi.
Those who have visited the south of France or Italy’s western coast know a comparison to either is high praise, which is why it’s a big deal to call Laguna the Amalfi Coast of the United States. To be compared to what is considered the world’s most beautiful beach is no small feat and it’s what makes Orange County real estate some of the most expensive in the entire country. Skip past Anaheim and head deep into Orange County to experience what makes the beaches here worth choosing a venue on the water, even if it means stretching your previous wedding budget – you can always just invite fewer guests, right? An Orange County destination wedding is guaranteed to provide jaw-dropping sunsets, good vibes, and great waves to catch before or after the big day. The OC has all the right ingredients for a destination wedding photographer to feel confident in accepting an inquiry, knowing they’ll get superb photos. Once you hit Newport, just about every half mile has something worth stopping for, so prepare to be overwhelmed with incredible options for where to say, “I do.” Choose an Orange County destination wedding if you want beachy bridal portraits, have ever called yourself half-mermaid, or just want an alternative to the typical SoCal choice of LA!
I’ve had the pleasure of shooting Los Angeles destination weddings before and I couldn’t recommend it more. With so many options to choose from, it’d be hard for even the biggest LA skeptic to write off the city as a poor place for a destination wedding photographer to capture some absolutely stunning moments. Ample sun, stunning natural beauty, and people with great design taste inevitably result in a wedding day people will be glad they flew in for. In the city’s boundaries are trendy untraditional spaces like warehouses and lofts, impeccable luxury venues, and plentiful picturesque views of the Pacific ocean that add grandeur to any wedding ceremony, or any Los Angeles elopement package. I’ve discussed the benefits of choosing a Los Angeles destination wedding before and I’m happy to say since it was written, everything great I gushed about still stands true.
Northern California Destination Wedding
A place I called home for nearly a year, Northern California is completely distinct from its southern counterpart. The two are so different, in fact, there have been multiple campaigns to split into two separate states for as long as I can remember. In Northern California, you leave behind the sunny beaches and deserts of SoCal for rolling hills, dense forests, and gorgeous lakes. Overall, not a bad exchange for any outdoorsy couple! From Tahoe to Napa to the world-famous San Francisco, Northern California brings an indefinable quality to the table that can’t be found anywhere else. It also happens to be a playground for any destination wedding photographer who wants to capture amazing couples. Here are just a few easily accessible NorCal locations you’d be lucky to say you got married in!
If I was really pressured to give an answer, I think Napa Valley in the autumn is the most beautiful place to be in the entire country. Besides being the perfect place to elope, Napa also makes for an excellent town to host a destination wedding. This is even truer when you consider most people have a visit to wine country on their bucket list anyway. If you’re into wine, prepare to be stunned, and if you’re not a fan of a good Cabernet, prepare to be converted. Having been a San Francisco destination wedding photographer for so long, I held my breath with every new inquiry waiting for a Napa Valley wedding to come my way but, as of writing this, I have yet to have the chance to shoot one! To this day, I’d take any excuse to make the journey up to Napa because, through all seasons, it’s a charming and fascinating place that just feels good to be in. In my opinion, those are all the check marks required to make it the ideal destination to have your wedding. Choose a Napa Valley destination wedding if you know the difference between new and old world wine, love rolling green hills, and get excited for sweater weather every year.
Where everyone goes when they’re burnt out on their city, whether it’s San Franciscans crossing the Golden Gate Bridge or people from Silicon Valley making the trek up the peninsula, the North Bay of San Francisco is arguably the most beautiful part of the Bay Area. Marin County, which makes up most of the north bay, is both the least populated and least urbanized part of the entire bay area, making it the perfect choice for those who prefer the company of redwoods over highrises. As a destination wedding photographer, I always felt the golden hills of Marin and the scenic Pacific beaches were ripe with opportunity for great photos. Frankly, I haven’t seen as many photos in Marin as it deserves, which is why I’m such an advocate for more wedding there. As a side note, Marin makes for a phenomenal place for an elopement, whether it’s Marin Headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge or Mount Tamalpais at golden hour, affectionately called Mount Tam, pictured above. All in all, I’d say Marin particularly stands out because of its untouched natural beauty along with the unquestionably best views of the Bay Area. Choose Marin if you love day-long hikes, houseboats, or the feel of a small town full of friendly people.
My husband has always adored San Francisco, inspired by Kerouac’s rosy vision of the city but until I lived here, I never understood what made this place worth having a destination wedding in. Although I still don’t and probably never will match his level of fondness, I’ve come to discover San Francisco as a fantastic place for a destination wedding photographer, in part because of its stunning views, unique architecture, and brimming culture. Most tourists make the mistake of coming in the summertime, which is the one and only season I don’t recommend for a San Francisco wedding. They always end up shivering in their shorts and t-shirts before buying overpriced hoodies at fisherman’s wharf, which you may not want for your guests. Mark Twain is rumored to have originated the phrase anyone who’s lived in the Bay Area is familiar with, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” Unless you and your future spouse like cold foggy weather, which you may, I don’t suggest coming between mid-June and late August. The advice you will hear from any San Francisco destination wedding photographer is to come during “Indian Summer” which is September to October or Spring, which are both filled with warmer, clear and sunny days perfect for a destination wedding ceremony. A San Francisco wedding package is the right for you if you were an English major, have at least 2 pieces of Patagonia clothing, or admire John Muir.
Alternative California Destination Wedding Options
For those who want to go against the grain further than just having a destination wedding, there are options in California to even further escape the urban sprawl or pricey options of the heavily populated areas listed above. Outside of Marin and Napa, which are both fantastic options for a nature-based destination wedding, California offers an abundance of national forests and parks where any nature-lover might be drawn to get hitched. For those folks who must answer when the forest or the mountains are calling, there are 3 superb options I’m going to recommend, one of which I did myself! I write about these with such fondness because there’s something especially unique and beautiful about getting away from it all and committing to someone in locations like these. Here are the places in nature best suited to host a destination wedding or elopement.
Yes, I’m starting with my own wedding for this one! That’s me pictured above, listening to my husband’s vows during my Big Sur elopement in 2017. A destination wedding in Big Sur means rugged nature, gorgeous scenery, and being remote to the point of having no cell service in most places. This gem on the Pacific Coast Highway is impossible to not look good in photos, and is the perfect opportunity for a proper getaway. Not being able to use your cell phone means guests spend more quality time with each other, and with overall less distractions, the rocky coast stands out as an even more beautiful marvel. Shooting a Big Sur destination wedding couldn’t be more of a dream for me, and I hope to be on the other side of the camera next time I’m out there. Choose a Big Sur wedding package if you like dramatic environments, moody beaches, and spectacular rock formations.
Redwood National Forest:
I couldn’t exclude the forest people out there, the ones who would jump at their feet at the idea of saying their vows in a densely wooded, serene place like Redwood National Forest. There’s something magical about the forest, whether it’s being surrounded by trees that are hundreds of years old or having verdant vegetation at every turn, that makes Redwood National forest a striking place for a destination wedding. The light-rays that shoot through the tops of trees work as incredible devices for cool and interesting lighting, which is a dream for a destination wedding photographer – having nature provide the lighting tricks for you. I can’t imagine a cooler forest in California to shoot a wedding in – just be prepared for a long drive from the closest major airport, it’s quite a distance away from the nearest city. Go for a Redwoods National Forest wedding if you’re calmed by the sound of running water, were a boy or girl scout, or feel most like yourself surrounded by trees.
I’m so excited to write about Yosemite because I have 2 sessions in this iconic national park coming up in the next month. Update: Here’s the first Yosemite elopement! The reason I’m so excited is because a Yosemite destination wedding is guaranteed to drop jaws and make everyone care more about nature for at least 6 months following the ceremony. It’s impossible to not be inspired when attending a Yosemite destination wedding, especially for any first-time visitors. I wish I could relive seeing half-dome and El Cap for the first time myself! The next shoot I have there, this upcoming weekend, will be my husband’s first time attending and I cannot wait until we drive in the park and I get to see his reaction to the wondrous views in every direction. I’ve always loved shooting landscapes and nature but being able to call myself a Yosemite wedding photographer, in particular, has been on my bucket list and I can’t wait to cross it off. Choose Yosemite for your wedding if REI is one of your favorite stores, you compost, or you like breathtaking views.
Destination Wedding Photographer’s Final Tips
I’d easily say California is the best state in the country, and the reasons for why that is could take up another blog entry on its own. Being the best state, at least from the perspective of a destination wedding photographer, also means it’s the best place to shoot a destination wedding in the United States, bar none. Whether you choose Northern or Southern California to host your wedding, know you’re ending up with an option that’s going to be both memorable and enjoyable in the moment and captured beautifully forever. As much as I’ve written about other places I think are perfect for an unforgettable destination wedding, like Tulum, I’ve never seen a Los Angeles destination wedding I didn’t like, I’ve never seen a Yosemite elopement I wasn’t inspired by, and I’ve never gone through photos of a San Francisco wedding I didn’t want to be the photographer for. The only real drawback about having a California wedding, through all this praise, is to make sure you book early. The nature of a highly sought-after location is that you’ll need ample time to make sure you get a venue that’s suited for your vision and to be prepared to pay for it. We, for example, opted in to elope in Big Sur and wait to have a ceremony back home because we didn’t have a long engagement and wanted to keep it simple. Ultimately, every case is different and whether you want to get married in downtown Los Angeles or in the middle of the forest, I’d love to be available to answer further questions about your destination wedding photographer needs. For any other questions or comments, reach out to me by call or text at 786-270-8527 or fill out a form submission and I’d be happy to continue the conversation over the phone!