Where to Get Married in California

September 21, 2018

Recently, a friend asked me where in California she should get married. She’d always dreamed of a San Francisco wedding but had only visited twice and didn’t know much about the city. One of her bridesmaids said LA was a better fit for her but she’d never visited, so she had no idea. Naturally, she came to a California wedding photographer for advice. Our conversation got me thinking about the advantages of getting married in Northern vs Southern California. In a state with a huge variety of climates, cities, and abundant nature, there’s something for every couple in California. In this article, I’m going to examine the popular places for a wedding in California and determine what makes them great!

Southern California Wedding

As much as I love the beach towns in Mexico, there’s something about Southern California that keeps drawing me back. Whether it’s the great weather, laid-back vibe, or the smoky sunsets, SoCal remains one of my favorite wedding destinations. I’m thankful to Instagram for getting me my first Los Angeles wedding because it wasn’t until then that I really appreciated how beautiful weddings here can be. Here are my favorite places for a Southern California wedding.

San Diego

wedding photographer los angeles

I’d consider San Diego an incredibly overlooked area for a wedding. Every sunset over San Diego’s slice of the Pacific seems to somehow be better than the last. If I hadn’t personally taken the photo above, I’d think it was Hawaii, one of the more popular destination wedding locations. From Sunset Cliffs to La Jolla to the rugged peninsula of Point Loma, there are so many locations where crashing waves could soundtrack a wedding 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. I know one California wedding photographer based in San Diego who prefers shooting there over anywhere else in the country. I’d consider a San Diego wedding if you’re vegetarian, most of your Instagram photos are of sunsets, or you call yourself a Yogi.

Orange County


Skip past Anaheim and head deep into Orange County to experience what makes the beaches here worth all the fanfare. An Orange County wedding is guaranteed to provide jaw-dropping sunsets, great weather, and amazing views. The OC has all the right ingredients for a California wedding photographer to feel confident in getting superb photos. Once you hit Newport, just about every half mile has something worth stopping for. For an Orange County wedding, be prepared to be overwhelmed with options for where to say, “I do.” Choose an Orange County wedding if you want beachy bridal portraits, have ever called yourself half-mermaid, or just want an alternative to LA!

Los Angeles


wedding photographer los angeles

With so many options to choose from, it’d be hard for even the biggest Los Angeles skeptic to write off the city as a poor place for a California wedding photographer to capture absolutely stunning moments. Ample sun, stunning natural beauty, and people with great design taste inevitably result in a wedding day your guests 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.  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 Wedding

A place I called home for nearly a year, Northern California is completely distinct from its southern counterpart.  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!

Napa Valley

napa valley elopement photographer

If I had to give an answer, I’d say Napa Valley in the autumn is the most beautiful place for a California wedding. Besides being the perfect place to elope, Napa is also a gorgeous wedding destination. If you’re into wine, prepare to be stunned, and if you’re not, prepare to be converted. 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. Beautiful scenery, great wine, friendly locals, what else could a couple ask for? Choose a Napa Valley wedding if you know the difference between new and old-world wine, love rolling green hills, and get excited for sweater weather every year.

North Bay/Marin

san francisco elopement photographer

Where everyone goes when they’re burnt out on the city, North Bay is my favorite part of the Bay Area. Marin County is both the least urbanized and least populated part of the bay. This makes it the perfect choice for those who prefer the company of redwoods over highrises. I’ve always felt the golden hills and scenic Pacific beaches were ripe with opportunity for great wedding photos.  It’s hard to find a place as beautiful as Mount Tamalpais at golden hour, pictured above. All in all, 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.

San Francisco

san francisco wedding photographer

My husband has always adored San Francisco, inspired by Kerouac’s rosy vision of the city. Until I lived here, I never understood what made this place worth having a wedding in. In the past few months, I’ve come to discover SF as a fantastic place to be a California wedding photographer. SF is characterized by stunning views, unique architecture, and brimming culture. Most tourists make the mistake of visiting over summer, the only season I don’t recommend for a San Francisco wedding. Unless you and your future spouse like cold foggy weather, I don’t suggest coming between mid-June and August. The advice you’ll get from any San Francisco wedding photographer is to come from September to October.  A San Francisco wedding is right for you if you were an art student, have at least 2 pieces of Patagonia clothing, or admire John Muir.

Alternative California Wedding Options

For those who want to go against the grain, California has plenty of options outside the big cities. Outside of Marin and Napa, which are both fantastic options for nature-focused weddings, California offers an abundance of national forests and parks where any nature-lover might be drawn to get hitched. I write about these with such fondness because there’s something especially beautiful about getting away from it all and committing to someone in places like these. Here are the spots in nature best suited to host a California wedding or elopement.

Big Sur

big sur elopement photographer

That’s me pictured above, listening to my husband’s vows during my Big Sur elopement in 2017. A wedding in Big Sur means rugged nature, gorgeous scenery, and being remote to the point of no cell service. This gem on the Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect opportunity for a proper getaway. With fewer distractions, the rocky coast stands out as an even more beautiful marvel. Shooting a Big Sur 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

van life couple

I couldn’t exclude the forest people out there! The couples who would jump to their feet at the idea of saying their vows in Redwood National Forest. I can’t pinpoint what makes the forest such a striking place for a wedding. Part of it is being surrounded by hundred-year-old trees, another is having a verdant backdrop at every turn. The light-rays that shoot through the tops of trees work as incredible devices for unique lighting. I can’t imagine a cooler forest in California to shoot a wedding in than among the dense Redwoods. However, you should be prepared for a long drive from the closest major airport. 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 when surrounded by trees.


yosemite wedding photographer


I’m so excited to write about Yosemite because I have two elopements there coming up next month. It’s impossible not to be inspired by a Yosemite wedding, especially for first-time visitors. I wish I could relive seeing half-dome and El Cap for the first time myself! The next time we visit will be my husband’s first time and I cannot wait to see his reaction. I’ve always loved shooting nature so being able to call myself a Yosemite wedding photographer was on my bucket list for years. Choose Yosemite for your wedding if REI is one of your favorite stores, you compost, or you like breathtaking views. Update: Here’s the first Yosemite elopement!

California Wedding Photographer – Final Tips

Frankly, for weddings, I’d say California is easily the best state in the country. Whether you choose Northern or Southern California to host your special day, your wedding is going to be both memorable and captured beautifully forever. The only real drawback about having a California wedding is having to book everything far in advance. The nature of a highly sought-after location is that you’ll need ample time to book the vendors you want. Or, you could save yourself the hassle by choosing to elope. Whether you’re getting married in downtown LA or the middle of a forest, I’d love to answer questions about your California wedding photographer needs. Fill out a form submission or send an email to donnairenephotos@gmail.com and we’ll get a conversation going!