My best Northern California Wedding Venues and Elopement locations
I would say that over the past years living here (after moving from my native Paris), I’ve become somewhat of a specialist in finding awesome spots for engagement photos and California wedding venues in Northern California.
And now I want to share the love! If you are a couple, an individual or a photographer looking for some killer spots, look no further! I’ve got you covered.
These spots are perfect for epic engagement photos, intimate wedding ceremonies or just awesome to check out for a day trip. Oh, and make sure to check out my Bay Area locations list, if you’re searching for something cool nearer to San Francisco.
I guess they are less ‘wedding venues’ in the traditional sense (like a banquet hall or church) and more beautiful areas that I highly recommend you check out for your wedding or engagement photos.
So here we go; in no particular order my list of some of my the best wedding venues in Northern California.
My California Wedding Venues
I’ll be adding spots to this list as I discover new and cool locations. And don’t be shy – hit me up with YOUR favorite place that I should check out next! As always, just a reminder that I am not associated with any of the ‘official’ wedding venues in this list. I just think they are awesome (and you should too!). Enjoy
This is kind of a cheat because I’m pretty sure that Big Sur is considered the central coast. However, I’m claiming it for NorCal because it feels relatively close to home; and it’s freaking gorgeous.
I will literally jump at any opportunity to shoot here as any other Big Sur wedding photographer; whether it’s for a full weekend wedding, a small intimate ceremony, or even a sunset engagement session. Bonus points for the DELISH and unmissable Big Sur Bakery. Make sure you get one of their mocha cookies when you’re in town!
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
If I had to pick just one national park to shoot in; it might just be Yosemite (but please don’t make me choose!). There is SO much to see here; I’ll never get tired of it.
SANTA CRUZ COAST
Santa Cruz is to my wife as Le Lavandou on the French Riviera is to me. In other words; childhood summer vacations. It was one of the places she spoke of with nostalgia and happy memories. I had to discover it for myself though. And you know what? It’s even better than I thought.
Not only is the town of Santa Cruz one of the only other places in California where I can truly see myself living long term (not to get too specific, but I like to think of it as the Portland of the Central Coast: weird, retro and cool at the same time) but the coastline from Moss Landing to Davenport: gorgeous and underrated.
I mean, come on. This isn’t a secret: Tahoe is incredible. The Lake. The National Forest. The skiing. The sun. The altitude. This is my happy place. Whether it’s an intimate engagement shoot in the woods or an elegant wedding ceremony at the Ritz, or a mountaintop day overlooking South Lake, or a fun and festive affair near Donner…I just can’t get enough of this place.
PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
This spot can kind of be looped in with the whole Big Sur area, but it gets a special mention because the actual park is so cool. Humongous redwoods, a ridiculously picturesque river, and some pretty killer campsites too. This would be a great place for an engagement session, intimate ceremony or even just a great hike.
Kind of out of the way, but in a really excellent way: Mendocino is one of those places with the amazing blend of enormous redwood forests and stunning coastline. The town itself is a charming, artsy enclave and the beaches are pretty stellar. While you’re there, don’t hesitate to venture a bit inland in the woods.
You’ll find some gorgeous trees and even some spectacular hot springs. Shout out to the totally zen (and kind of ridiculously affordable) Orr Hot Springs, where I had the pleasure of shooting a magical weekend wedding in the redwoods or this other incredible wedding at Campovida surrounded by nature. Seriously; don’t miss this.
Want to add another gorgeous coastal town to your NorCal list? Don’t forget the misty, magical, and undeniably magnificent Elk. The coastline here is so fantastic with the jagged cliffs and the huge rocks in the bay. This is an ideal spot for an elopement or intimate ceremony.
As for whether you chose to do a bigger Mendocino County wedding, I would strongly suggest doing it at Cuffey’s Cove Ranch right on the coast for wedding of your dreams.
BIG BASIN REDWOODS STATE PARK
This one was another accidental-but-awesome discovery when I was van camping with my wife. I was shooting in Santa Cruz and planning to sleep in our van, but all the nearby campsites were booked out. The closest state park that still had openings was Big Basin. And it turned out to be one of our favorite state parks yet!
The drive there is gorgeous and winding. And once you get there, you’ll see some of the largest redwoods in the state! Fun fact: this was California’s first established state park!If you happen to be driving from Los Gatos, I highly recommend taking a detour through the mountains past Saratoga Springs and Nestldown. These two Redwood-filled wedding locations are something really special.
Okay, so this “location” is more like a huge part of the state. Let’s just call it an area. While someday I hope to make the full road trip up 395 from the Mojave Desert to Canada, for this article I’m talking specifically about the Eastern Sierras from around Mono Lake to Alabama Hills – in and around Mammoth Lakes. You’ll be treated to some of the most EPIC views of the mountains rising straight up from the high desert.
It’s the ‘quiet side of California’ and the perfect spot for a gorgeous engagement session or wedding.
Happy place here! I discovered this little North Coast gem kind of by accident (which is actually how I discovered a lot on this list). I was camping with my wife in our van near Bodega Bay and decided to venture up the coast a bit. We were rewarded with some stunning coastal topography and wild rock formations like Goat Rock. So cool!
Another little coastal town that feels so chilled out and relaxed, you immediately feel like you’re on vacation. Now add some gorgeous wild coastline to that awesome vibe, and you may have found one of the best spots for wedding photos. You can’t help but enjoy yourself here. Great camping spots too! This is one of our go-to locations to escape the stifling Sacramento summer heat.
Take a look at The Secret Gardens for your wedding ;)
I know – everyone is like “Napa, Napa, Napa” when it comes to great wine regions. But I have to say that my favorite is actually the more low-key but picturesque Sonoma. The wineries are a little more affordable and chilled out. The hills are closer to the valley which gives it some really beautiful backdrops for a wedding or engagement session.
I may have a slight preference for Sonoma, but Napa is still a classic. Top tip: the green hills turn golden in late summer, just before the grape harvest, but the weather is still nice. This is an ideal time for an outdoor wedding or engagement shoot, like this one.
And if you want to know one of my absolute favorite wedding venues (like actual wedding location), check out Triple S Ranch. Too beautiful to miss!
HENRY COWELL STATE PARK
True story: I’ve visited and shot photos in so many of California’s State Parks that I started to think that I MUST be close to visiting them all. But while researching this article, I decided to check. Basically, the list looks way more daunting than I thought. But in a good way!
State parks are perfect locations for elopements, wedding ceremonies, or engagement shoots. And I promise someday I’ll hit them all. In the meantime, one of my favs has to be Henry Cowell State Park: as beautiful and impressive as Redwoods NP but close enough to Santa Cruz to get a slice of Pizza My Heart for dinner. Not too shabby.
ARMSTRONG REDWOODS STATE NATURAL RESERVE
It’s wine country. But also rugged NorCal coastline. But then also, one of the best old-growth redwood parks in the state. That’s right – you’re in Sonoma County. Lucky you. Or lucky me, when I get the chance to shoot here. You should definitely check it out before the word gets out…
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK
Another National Park? Yep. Because they are awesome. Truly – awe-inspiring. I think that this was one of the first National Parks I visited upon moving permanently to the US. So those big old beauties and sunny meadows have a special place in my heart. It really is just as impressive as everyone makes it out to be.
South of Santa Cruz off the historic Pacific Coast Highway, this little town is almost too cute for its own good. It’s a perfect hub for some great beach locations. But my favorite is probably the 17-mile Drive along the coast. Stop for some epic spots of rocky shores, crashing waves, all framed by the iconic Pacific Cypress trees.
Carmel-by-the-sea is another gorgeous beach town that makes you want to wander around the streets with a coffee and croissant until you get to the beach. It’s adorable and beautiful at the same time. But also, don’t miss Carmel Valley – this valley just outside of town is a sweet, green valley sprinkled with farm homes and vineyards.
It’s a beautiful drive and a beautiful spot to get married or prepare for your beautiful wedding!
OLD SUGAR MILL / SACRAMENTO AREA
You may notice a distinct lack of locations in Sacramento. It’s not that Sac is without its charms – I’m unabashedly in love with Midtown (where I currently call home), the Victorian homes, the massive trees, the burgeoning art and restaurant scenes, etc. But when it comes to epic backdrops, the decidedly flat topography of the Central Valley makes it a bit of challenge.
That being said, one stand-out spot a mere 15-minute drive along the delta from home, is the Old Sugar Mill. This place rocks! For the wine tasting, obviously, but also for the industrial brick and iron backdrops of this literal old sugar mill. You may need to get a permit to shoot in some of the older areas of the mill (also, definitely wear close-toed shoes), but even in the renovated parts, you’ll have the perfect setting for a gorgeous wedding, portrait session or engagement shoot.
If you like having getting married in Sacramento, I will strongly suggest the historic landmark Vizcaya.
LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Did you know that California has the largest amount of National Parks AND State Parks out of any states in the US. I’m sure that it’s due partially to the fact that we are the 3rd largest state in terms of square miles, but I choose to believe it’s mostly because of the unique diversity of nature that we have here.
Side note: I have long since invested in an America The Beautiful and Golden Poppy Pass – highly recommended. It’s a freaking STEAL if you visit parks as much as I do. So, one park that I am dying to shoot a session in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It’s one of the jewels of NorCal with its unique thermal activity and stunning landscape. Please give me a shout if you’re looking for a cool place to shoot for your session! Let’s Lassen together!
Another place up north that I’m dying to shoot; this stellar mountain first caught my eye while making the long drive up to Portland. Out in the distance, the snow-capped mount is hard to miss. Let’s go for a hike, adventure session or elopement wedding in this beautiful spot!
This is a place I’ve gotten to know really well. It happens to be the hometown of my in-laws, so I get up to Auburn for personal and family fun quite often. And I’ve kind of fallen in love with this unique little foothill town. There is a charming little Old Town area, an imposing courthouse, and some great breweries that are popping up (shout out to Crooked Lane). But I recommend taking a drive down into the American River Canyon for a hike and shoot. It’s totally gorgeous and the perfect spot for engagement photos.
And there you have it! Did I miss any stellar California wedding venues that you think I should add?