The West Coast is a truly beautiful place to get married. You have all different types of scenery in this little stretch of the country, with seemingly ENDLESS options to choose from. With many couples choosing to have a destination wedding on the West Coast due to its beauty, I’ve decided to put together a blog to aid you in the planning process! Planning a West Coast wedding requires, as with any location, careful consideration of location, weather, budget, vendor selection, details, legalities, and sustainability to create the wedding of your dreams. I will be covering all of those topics in this blog, so sit tight, grab a snack, and get to reading!
First, let’s define the “West Coast,” which consists of California, Oregon, and Washington. Each state has its own stunning landscapes, diversity in venues, and an overall vibe that’s completely unique. Let’s chat about some of the highlights of each state!
In California, you get everything from warm beaches to fruitful vineyards to snow-capped mountains. The climate is pretty mild in CA all year long, so you won’t have to worry too much about the weather posing a threat to your big day (although, we’ll chat about that later!). Here are some of my absolute favorite places in California to get married:
Big Sur: Big Sur is a stunning coastal region in California known for its dramatic cliffs, rugged coastline, and beautiful redwood forests. It offers breathtaking ocean views, picturesque beaches, and iconic landmarks like Bixby Creek Bridge, making it a perfect destination for a romantic and intimate wedding! There are several luxury resorts, boutique hotels, and outdoor venues that cater to weddings, providing a serene and natural setting for couples looking to tie the knot amidst the MOST stunning natural beauty.
Yosemite: Yosemite National Park is a world-renowned destination known for its epic granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and seemingly endless wilderness. It offers an insanely beautiful backdrop for couples wanting a majestic and awe-inspiring West Coast wedding location! Yosemite has several beautiful wedding venues, including historic lodges, meadows, and outdoor locations like Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley Chapel, where you can exchange vows just the two of them or with a few friends and family surrounded by nature.
Napa Valley: Napa Valley is a world-famous wine region in Northern California known for its vineyards, rolling hills, and luxury resorts. It’s a popular destination for couples who appreciate fine wines and want a romantic, rustic, and elegant wedding! Napa Valley has numerous vineyards, delicious wineries, and luxury estates that double as high-end wedding venues with stunning views, lush gardens, and picturesque wine country scenery. It’s a sight you can’t get anywhere else in the U.S.!
San Francisco: San Francisco is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and Victorian architecture. It’s a perfect destination for couples who want a chic, urban, and culturally rich wedding or elopement! SF has various wedding venues, including historic hotels, trendy restaurants, and rooftop venues that offer stunning city views, waterfront vibes, and unique backdrops for a modern and sophisticated wedding. Oh, and did I mention that they have the MOST beautiful city hall ever?? If you don’t believe me, check it out here!
Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara is a picturesque coastal city known for its beautiful beaches, Spanish-style architecture, and Mediterranean climate. It’s a romantic destination for couples who want a beachfront or coastal wedding with just a hint of elegance and charm! Santa Barbara offers numerous wedding venues, including luxurious resorts, historic estates, and beachfront locations that provide the best ocean views, super lush gardens, and a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere for a romantic wedding celebration. It’s also an amazing honeymoon destination for couples who want a lowkey vibe, access to the beach, and super tasty restaurant options.
Torrey Pines State Park: Get ready for a breathtaking coastal wedding here! Torrey Pines State Park is a scenic coastal reserve located in San Diego, California. With its stunning cliffs, sandy beaches, and unique Torrey pine trees, it’s a one-of-a-kind location for a nature-inspired celebration by the sea. This state park has options if you want a large celebration or an intimate elopement with you and your boo!
Malibu: Malibu is a cute little coastal town known for its pristine beaches, picturesque cliffs, and luxurious beachfront properties. It would be the perfect destination for couples who want a chic and glamorous beach wedding! Malibu offers various venues, including beachfront estates, coastal vineyards, and upscale hotels that have stunning ocean views, private beach access, and a chic and trendy atmosphere for a stylish and memorable event.
Joshua Tree: For the adventurous couple, Joshua Tree offers a bohemian and rustic wedding experience in a mesmerizing desert landscape. Get ready for unique rock formations, Joshua trees, and starry night skies for a wedding like no other! Joshua Tree has several outdoor wedding venues, including rustic cabins, campgrounds, and private estates that offer a unique and natural setting for a one-of-a-kind wedding experience.
Palm Springs: Get your groove on in Palm Springs, a desert oasis with mid-century modern vibes and hot springs! It’s a hip and trendy destination for a fun and stylish wedding in the heart of the desert. You’ll see lots of couples planning a unique and out-of-the-box wedding or elopement here in Palm Springs… are you next?!
Oregon is known for its natural beauty personified by the diverse landscapes, forests, waterfalls, and coastline. This state is also a haven for all my outdoor and adventure enthusiasts! If you’re planning an adventure-type elopement with just you and your partner, you will have endless activities to partake in in Oregon. Additionally, for couples wanting an especially eco-conscious and sustainable event, Oregon offers plenty of venue options that put an emphasis on these values. Here are some of my absolute favorite places in Oregon to get married:
Portland: Get ready for the ultimate hipster vibes and quirky charm in the eclectic city of Portland! With its stunning parks, industrial-chic venues, and iconic bridges, there are endless possibilities for unique and creative wedding photos here. From the colorful murals of Alberta Arts District to the scenic beauty of Forest Park, Portland offers a diverse range of backdrops for your wedding day memories.
Cannon Beach: Prepare to be mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of Cannon Beach. Seriously, the Oregon Coast is a gem in itself. With its iconic Haystack Rock, powdery sand, and dramatic coastline, Cannon Beach is perfect for a romantic and intimate coastal wedding. Imagine exchanging vows with the sound of crashing waves and a stunning sunset as your backdrop, creating picture-perfect moments that you (and your guests) will remember forever!
Bend: If you’re nature enthusiasts, Bend is a dream wedding location! With its majestic mountains, sparkling lakes, and lush forests, Bend offers endless opportunities for the most epic wedding setting you can imagine. From scenic hikes at Smith Rock State Park to sunset ceremonies by the Deschutes River, Bend is a nature lover’s paradise for a wedding that’s rustic, adventurous, and oh-so-stunning.
Samuel L. Boardman Scenic State Corridor: Calling all nature lovers! The Samuel L. Boardman Scenic State Corridor is a photographer’s paradise with its rugged cliffs, dramatic sea stacks, and dense forests. This coastal wonderland offers an epic backdrop for an intimate elopement or a grand ceremony, with the crashing waves and golden sunsets creating a dreamy and awe-inspiring setting for your big day.
Cape Kiwanda: Get ready for some more major coastal charm at Cape Kiwanda! This picturesque location boasts towering sand dunes, rugged cliffs, and stunning ocean views. Imagine exchanging vows on the sandy beach with the sound of crashing waves and panoramic views as your backdrop. It’s a romantic and adventurous spot that will make your wedding photos truly stand out.
Columbia River Gorge: This natural wonder is a dream come true! With its towering waterfalls, scenic vistas, and rugged beauty, the Columbia River Gorge provides an enchanting backdrop for a romantic and adventurous wedding. Imagine exchanging vows with the iconic Multnomah Falls or the stunning Wahclella Falls in the background, creating breathtaking and unforgettable wedding photos. The Columbia River Gorge also has numerous hiking trails and hidden gems for a truly unique and intimate wedding experience!
Last, but certainly not least, we have Washington! This is where I’m based, so naturally, my love for this state runs deep. Washington is home to some of the most beautiful sites on the West Coast with such a wide variety of scenic options. Whether you want mountains, wildflower fields, lakes, or viewpoints, we’ve got it all! WA has also taken the lead in progressive marriage laws since 2012, making it a landmark state for LGBTQ+ couples to get married. Here are some of my absolute favorite spots in Washington for your big day:
Seattle: The Emerald City offers a perfect blend of urban chic and natural beauty for your wedding day. From the iconic Space Needle to the picturesque waterfront, Seattle has a vibrant cityscape that’s perfect for an urban wedding. The city’s unique architecture, colorful murals, and trendy neighborhoods provide endless opportunities for a creative and memorable wedding or elopement! Don’t forget to check out my list of the best intimate wedding venues in Seattle here.
Olympic National Park: Prepare to be captivated by the majestic beauty of Olympic National Park! With its towering peaks, lush rainforests, and pristine coastline, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a stunning backdrop for a nature-inspired wedding. From the rugged Hurricane Ridge to the enchanting Hoh Rainforest (which we’re talking about next!) you’ll be surrounded by awe-inspiring landscapes that make for truly breathtaking wedding photos.
Hurricane Ridge: If you’re looking for panoramic mountain views, Hurricane Ridge is your dream come true! This alpine wonderland in Olympic National Park offers sweeping vistas of the surrounding peaks, valleys, and forests. Imagine exchanging vows against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and endless skies. Umm yeah, sounds like a hell of a time!
Hoh Rainforest: Step into a literal fairy tale in the enchanting Hoh Rainforest. With its lush, moss-covered trees, sparkling streams, and magical greenery, this temperate rainforest feels like paradise! Picture yourselves wandering through the misty forest hand in hand, surrounded by the ethereal rainforest, creating a romantic and mystical experience that will totally transport you.
Ruby Beach: Get ready for some coastal romance at Ruby Beach! This secluded stretch of rugged coastline offers dramatic sea stacks, tide pools, and driftwood-lined shores. Imagine walking barefoot on the sandy beach or exploring the tide pools with your loved one, capturing candid and heartfelt moments against the backdrop of crashing waves and stunning sunsets.
The San Juan Islands: Take your wedding to an idyllic island paradise in the San Juan Islands! These picturesque islands off the coast of Washington State offer a tranquil and serene setting for a romantic wedding. From quaint lighthouses to scenic harbors, the San Juan Islands provide a charming and intimate backdrop for your special day, with endless opportunities for unique and unforgettable photos. Don’t forget to check out an elopement I recently documented on Orcas Island here!
Mount Baker: For the adventurous couple, Mount Baker is a playground for epic wedding photos! With its towering peaks, pristine lakes, and wildflower meadows, this volcanic mountain offers a dramatic and awe-inspiring setting for your wedding. Imagine hiking to a high alpine lake or exchanging vows with the majestic mountain as your backdrop, creating an unforgettable and adventurous day with your love.
The North Cascades: Get ready to be surrounded by rugged wilderness in the North Cascades! With its jagged peaks, pristine forests, and glacial lakes, this remote and untamed region offers a breathtaking backdrop for a truly unique and adventurous wedding. From epic hikes to secluded alpine meadows, the North Cascades provide a wild and picturesque setting for your wedding photos.
Mount Rainier: Get ready to be swept off your feet by the grandeur of Mount Rainier! This iconic peak is a breathtaking backdrop for a wedding or elopement, with its snowy slopes, alpine meadows, and sparkling lakes. Whether you’re looking for a romantic elopement or a grand celebration, Mount Rainier provides a stunning and unforgettable setting for your special day. Imagine hiking to a high alpine meadow or exchanging vows with the majestic mountain as your backdrop, creating stunning and adventurous wedding photos that will last a lifetime.
When choosing where to get married, don’t forget to factor in your budget, guest count, and accessibility. For example, if you’re having a larger wedding with a high guest count and older family members, it might not be the best idea to get married at a location that requires extensive hiking. Decide what you truly want to prioritize on your wedding day, and then make decisions accordingly!
If you’re getting married at a venue instead of an outdoor location, be sure to do your research ahead of time. What is the venue’s guest count limit? How long are you able to utilize the venue on your wedding day? What’s their catering policy? Do they require you to have a planner? Before signing any contracts, it’s important that you know all of the answers to these questions!
Once you have an idea of where you want to have your West Coast wedding, it’s time to start thinking about the date. There are multiple factors to consider during this part of the planning process! The weather patterns vary on the West Coast, ranging from sunny and warm in California to cooler and rainier in Oregon and Washington. You have to be a little more careful in the ladder states if you’re planning an outdoor wedding or elopement unless you don’t mind getting wet!
No matter where you’re getting married, though, it’s important to have a backup plan given the unpredictability of West Coast weather. These contingency plans can look like renting backup tents for your outdoor wedding, having heaters in place for your guests in the winter, or providing fans for the summer heat in California. If you hire a wedding planner, they should be thinking about all of these steps for you! Don’t forget that the beauty of West Coast landscapes has much to do with the (sometimes inclement) weather, so embrace whatever comes your way and allow it to add charm and uniqueness to your wedding!
In general, the typical wedding season is from April to September, which is the most popular time to get married. If you’re eloping with just the two of you or a few guests, you have a little more flexibility when it comes to dates, as you most likely won’t be booking a traditional venue. Keep in mind that if you’re eloping at a popular outdoor location, you may want to stick to the off-season for tourists or choose a sunrise/sunset ceremony time to avoid crowds.
One of my number one tips for couples getting married is to hire an experienced wedding planner! This will take so much stress off of you and allow you to enjoy every step of the process. Your planner will also aid in setting a budget range that you’re comfortable with… and actually keep you accountable for sticking to it!!
There are quite a few factors that go into the cost of planning a West Coast wedding. You have to consider venue fees, permits, transportation, accommodations, vendors, food, and a few other expenses here and there. If you’re not hiring a planner, be sure to allocate funds based on the priorities you decided on at the onset of planning. Do you want to prioritize having the venue of your dreams, even if it’ll cost you $15K+? Or would you rather prioritize having as much documentation as possible and hire your preferred photographer and videographer? If you’re looking to cut costs, you can always go the DIY route or book during the off-wedding season when venues typically have lower rates. Things can start adding up real quick when planning a wedding, so talk with your partner and have a set budget range + list of priorities at the beginning!
When booking your West Coast wedding vendors, it’s important to choose ones that are experienced and reputable in the industry. Especially when it comes to photographers, florists, caterers, and planners, do your research before signing any contracts! Read the reviews on the website and Google Business profile, have an in-depth look at their portfolio, and book consultations to meet them either face-to-face or via online video chat. Have a list of questions ready so that they can ease any of your concerns and make you feel as comfortable as possible!
One last thing: I’m a huge advocate for booking local vendors who are familiar with the local industry, area, and regulations. They will be the most reliable and feel in control if something goes wrong. This is especially true for planners, caterers, and florists! You also most likely won’t have to pay travel fees for vendors that are local to the area you’re getting married in. If you’re from out-of-state, it’s even more important to vet your vendors properly!
What’s the point of getting married on the West Coast if you’re not going to incorporate the vibes to go along with it?? Each region has its own unique set of characteristics you can include in your theme, style, and decor. In California, the beachy, boho vibe is popular due to the relaxed and laid-back attitude of the demographics. In Oregon, we see lots of moody and dramatic themes based on the classic PNW weather! And in Washington, a lot of couples tend to incorporate nature by having an adventure wedding or elopement that included hiking or visiting one of the iconic peaks we have.
Consider using natural elements in your decor, having regional cuisine options for your reception, and choosing your wedding attire to match the vibe! There are so many simple, outdoor-inspired decor options you can easily utilize, such as driftwood, succulents, or wildflowers. This is especially fun to do when you’re going the DIY route! And lastly, don’t forget to personalize your wedding to reflect your own interests and style. This is your day, after all!
If your West Coast wedding is giving destination wedding vibes, then that’s an entire factor to consider when planning! If your guests are traveling from out-of-state to attend, you want to make the experience as simple and fun for them as possible. It would be a great idea to plan for accommodations in advance and have those plans somewhere accessible for your guests to find, like on your wedding website! The same goes for transportation – should they rent a car from the airport? Get an Uber? How are they getting from your ceremony to the reception if they’re at different locations? If you have a planner, they will most likely coordinate guest transportation for you. If you’re doing things on your own, set aside time to research all of the local options.
In addition, why not put together a little itinerary of local things to do before and after your wedding? Think restaurants, cafes, fun activities, landmarks, just to name a few. I’m sure your guests will definitely appreciate the extra thought and will have the best time exploring whatever West Coast location that you decide on!
This isn’t the most exciting topic ever, but definitely a necessary one! Especially if you’re getting married in a public, outdoor area, there will most likely be permits you’ll have to obtain, along with local regulations to follow. Visit the corresponding city websites to make sure you’re doing things by the books! For example, if you’re getting married on a beach in Malibu, you can visit this website to learn everything you need to know. If you want to tie the knot at San Francisco City Hall, this is the website you’ll want to browse through! And if you want to elope at a national park in the PNW, visit each individual NP website for exact directions on how to obtain the necessary permits. You’ll want to be WELL aware of all the local regulations to avoid any last-minute hiccups on your wedding day. Trust me on this one!
And, of course, research local marriage laws in advance! The West Coast is pretty laid back when it comes to obtaining a marriage license, and there isn’t an extended waiting period for any of the states. I recommend heading to the local County Clerk as SOON as possible when arriving at your wedding destination to get it out of the way. Again, your planner will help with this part, too!
Heck yeah, you are! You’ve made it to the end of this blog, which means you have everything you need to know in order to seamlessly plan your West Coast wedding. If you’re interested in having me as your photographer, you can fill out my contact form and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! While you’re here, check out this beautiful Orcas Island elopement I recently shot in the San Juans!
Join my email list and download my free guide for location ideas for your future session!