January 1, 2022

Big Sur Elopement Guide // Eloping at Pfeiffer Beach

Eloping at Pfeiffer Beach

Hey all! If you’ve been following along through Parts 1 and 2, welcome to Part 3 and gold medal for hanging in there. Tons of info isn’t it? It’s now 2AM and I’m on my second dram of whiskey. Let’s get after one of the most popular places to take photos around Big Sur: Pfeiffer Beach.

Remember in Part 1 when I mentioned permits being required to elope and photograph at state parks? No such permits are needed here. Actually… one step beyond not needing permits… the rangers here are actually stoked whenever they see a wedding dress! I’ve even had a ranger go so far as to block traffic and waive the couple through the parking queue so they could get married there.

I heart those Pfeiffer Beach rangers.

So why get married at Pfeiffer Beach? There are big upsides to getting married here but definitely some seasonal considerations to weigh. No permits is the most convenient reason, alongside it being super beautiful in any weather, as well as pretty expansive, which lets us roam around and find secluded spots to have the ceremony.

The seasonal considerations…

Parking. Pfeiffer Beach is located two miles from Highway 1 at the end of Sycamore Canyon Road. It’s a winding, one lane road, and for tourists not accustomed to driving in America, or just not comfortable driving on roads that narrow, it can create quite a slowdown when it’s busy. After enough complaints from residents on Sycamore Canyon, the park decided to limit the number of cars that can park and travel up and down the road at any given time. What this means is there’s a possibility you could arrive at the time you planned on eloping, only to find that the lot’s full and cars aren’t being allowed down to the beach until some cars at the beach leave.

“Big deal, just wait in line until we can go, yeah?”

Mmmm, not quite that simple. Cars aren’t allowed to queue up until someone leaves. You have to just keep checking back periodically. If sunset is at 7 and this starts happening at 6, light is slowly leaving us every moment that ticks by while we wait.

OK, so that’s the problem, but now for a bit of solution: First off, I’ve photographed over half of my Big Sur elopements at Pfeiffer Beach and have only had to deal with this parking struggle three or four times. All of them were on weekends. If you’re able to plan your elopement for a weekday, the risk of this happening goes down substantially. And if you plan your elopement here on a weekday in not-summer months, you’re in the clear.

…oh but wait…

Near the end of Sycamore Canyon Road lies a small obstacle – a paved river bed. This river bed is dry and a total non-issue in the non-rainy months, but can be closed and impassable after a heavy rain. I’ve never had a shoot affected by it flooding until this year, in which case, the couple hopped out of their little rental car, and together in my old Land Rover, drove through the river to the other side without a problem.

Point is: it’s rare if this floods, even more rare if it floods to a degree that the trusty Rover can’t get across, and even IF it’s flooded, that usually means it’s been insanely stormy and we might want to find an alternate location anyway. A good solution is usually to have the ceremony in a cabin at Glen Oaks and then use my stash of clear umbrellas to roam around the forest for photos.

…oh… and one more thing…

Just like all of Big Sur, there isn’t reliable cell service. This means that if you want to elope at Pfeiffer Beach, and we aren’t meeting somewhere else beforehand, it’s best to rendezvous somewhere before making an attempt at the parking thing. That way I don’t arrive early and get down to the parking lot, while perhaps you guys get stuck at the top without a way to get ahold of me.

All this to say, Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet and should definitely be on your shortlist of places to elope. It just requires a little more forethought and planning if you’re getting married on a weekend or in rainy months.

Alrighty, see you guys in the fourth and final part of this Big Sur Elopement Guide.