How to Plan a Small Wedding in California

General, Elopement Tips & Advice,
3 min read Jul 1, 2020

Whether you’re dreaming of reciting your vows overlooking the vineyards, on the beach, or in your own backyard with a handful of loved ones, planning a small wedding in California has an endless amount of options. And, while it takes a bit of preparation and planning, figuring out exactly how to plan a small wedding in California isn’t all that difficult. We’ll fill you in on everything you need to know to ensure that your California elopement or small California wedding is everything you have dreamt it would be.

Choose your date, time, and location

Yes, California is known for it’s beautiful year-round weather, but depending on where you plan to have your small wedding, temperatures can vary. If you’re on the coast, the weather will likely be much different than if you’re planning a ceremony that is more inland. Similarly, choosing the right date and time is equally important. Double check to ensure there aren’t any major events going on in the town that you’re having your ceremony at, such as the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards (which take place in Los Angeles), or Coachella (which is based in Indio). This will help avoid any additional traffic that may arise from these events. Speaking of traffic: California is infamous for its traffic delays, so ask your wedding vendors what time is best to avoid traveling for both you and your guests.

Hire your dream team

Here comes the fun part: put together a team of vendors that you’re excited to have on your wedding day. Think about what’s essential to you, and create your list by ranking of importance so that you can prioritize which vendors you ultimately want. For instance, if having gorgeous photos captured from your day, find a photographer whose style feels like a good fit. If flowers are your favorite wedding day detail, focus your efforts on finding a florist who can create a dream-worthy bouquet and tablescape.

While you can keep your small California wedding plans simple, consider other vendors like hair and makeup stylists, transportation services, and decor rental companies to really up the wow factor.

Check in on permits

Wineries, beaches, and parks are just a handful of perfect locations for a small wedding in California (as well as a California elopement), but it’s important to note that depending on where you’re planning a ceremony, you may be required to apply for a permit. Make sure to check in with the beach, park, or any other venue to ensure nothing is required to rent or reserve a ceremony space. Reach out to your wedding vendors if you’re not sure who to contact regarding permits or other legal paperwork.

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Get a California Marriage License

To receive a California marriage license, both you and your partner must be present to apply at the County Clerk’s Office and have valid photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or military identification. When you receive your license, it will be valid for 90 days, so make sure you properly time when you go in and apply! Your license must be signed by your officiant, who will need to return the license to the County Clerk within 10 days of your California wedding ceremony. If either you or your partner has been divorced within the last 90 days, a copy of the divorce decree is needed. Always call ahead if you’re unsure of what exactly you need to bring along with you to reduce any stress you may have about the application process.

Get married!

Compile a checklist to bring with you for the morning of your wedding day if you’re worried you may forget something, or hand it off to a day-of coordinator if you’ve hired that service. Leave ample time to arrive at your wedding venue to avoid any last-minute stress if there happens to be traffic, and remember to keep any important documentation – such as your marriage license – on hand. Planning a small wedding in California can be simple and easy if you follow these steps, so all you have to do is enjoy the best day of your life with the one you love.

General Elopement Tips & Advice
Written by Karen Norian

Karen Norian is an elopement photographer and has photographed over a hundred elopements. Karen has also worked as an elopement planner for Simply Eloped. She's been quoted in the New York Times, Brides, Hello Giggles, Bustle, Yahoo, and more.