For some, a wedding means exchanging vows in their hometown with a grand guest list of all their nearest and dearest in attendance. And for others, something simpler, more scaled-down, and in an entirely foreign destination is in order. While what it means to elope has evolved over the years, these days, people most often use the term to describe the latter. The marriage ceremony is small—sometimes with just the couple in attendance—and it happens away from where the couple lives.
That said, "small" certainly doesn’t mean it won’t feel special! From donning a gorgeous elopement dress to incorporating a number of unique elopement ideas, there are so many ways to make the day memorable—and it all starts with where you choose to get hitched. Your setting will set the tone for the rest of your celebration, and without a big reception to worry about, the whole world is open for the taking.
Ready to start exploring destinations? You’ve come to the right place. From secluded waterfalls to vibrant desert towns, these are our favorite places to elope right now.
The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In an effort to combat the spread of the virus within the country, New Zealand is currently limiting foreign visitors to those with prior authorization from the New Zealand government. For the most up-to-date and latest information on travel restrictions and requirements, check the CDC, U.S. Department of State, and New Zealand consulate websites.
If you think of Sin City solely as a seedy place to get a quickie marriage, think again. Yes, it’s incredibly easy to obtain and use a Nevada marriage license—and Elvis officiants and drive-through wedding chapels aren’t for everyone—but the city is also full of top-notch dining options, excellent outdoorsy activities beyond the Strip, and amazing portrait backdrops around every turn. (Our favorites? The Neon Museum and Seven Magic Mountains.) The point is: You don’t have to be a night owl to elope in Las Vegas, though it of course certainly doesn’t hurt!
There are plenty of reasons why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle holed up on this secluded island in British Columbia when they first moved to North America, and its rugged natural beauty is high on the list. You and your beloved can exchange vows amongst ancient Douglas firs and cedars in Avatar Grove, then spend the night in a private cabin. The rest of your visit should be devoted to adventures in the great outdoors (think: hiking, river packrafting, hot springs, even surfing) and a few nights overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a luxury lodge in Tofino.
With world-class museums, alleyways covered in colorful street art, and a whole cadre of monuments, our nation’s capital offers plenty of picturesque nooks and crannies filled with historical significance that are perfect for a private elopement. (Added bonus: If you truly want a wedding that’s "just us two," D.C. is one of the few places that legally recognizes self-uniting marriages, so you don’t even need an officiant present to wed.) Afterward, hightail it to one of Virginia’s nearby romantic honeymoon resorts for a little post-wedding R&R.
Deep in the South Pacific, halfway between Australia and South America, lies French Polynesia. Honeymooners have long flocked to this remote island chain for white sand beaches and bungalows situated directly above the clear blue waters, and it’s a just-as-excellent elopement locale for couples in search of the ultimate tropical island vibe. Make like this couple and boat to a private beach for a ceremony steeped in Polynesian tradition.
If you love mid-century design, good hotels, and hot weather, there’s really not a better elopement spot than Palm Springs. This SoCal desert town is perfect for fun-loving couples who aren’t afraid to add a little color to their elopement décor—and maybe even jump into a pool fully clothed post-ceremony.
When COVID upended their plans for a celestial-themed Manhattan wedding, Victoria Abraham and Chris Malone sought out an environment as opposite as possible from the concrete jungle for their elopement ceremony. Located two hours inland from Los Angeles in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park includes almost 800,000 acres of Mojave Desert that absolutely provides the not-quite-of-this-world spirit the duo had initially hoped to capture in their celebration. "The park looks like it belongs on a different planet—the rock formations, Joshua trees, and the way the light changes the colors of the park is just incredibly stunning and otherworldly," Abraham says. "The whole area also has this very peaceful, relaxed, special energy."
For city-dwellers in Philadelphia and New York City, Promise Ridge is a secret elopement spot near Stroudsburg in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania that gets you out into the middle of the woods without traveling too far from home. Celebrant Alisa Tongg conducts heartfelt elopements and micro weddings in front of a foliage-filled wall and has recently added a covered pavilion in case of rain.
"Alaska is one of our favorite places for elopements because of how wild and untamed it feels," says adventure photographer Abbi Hearn of The Hearnes Adventure Photography. "We love when our couples decide to take a helicopter or ski plane out to the Chugach Mountains to land on a glacier because the scenery is absolutely stunning. Glaciers change every season, sometimes even weekly, so what we see or experience will always feel new and unique to the exact time and place, which I think is a beautiful detail for a meaningful wedding day."
The central coast of California is known for misty seaside cliffs and soaring redwood trees—both of which make stunning backdrops for a West Coast elopement. No matter which setting you choose, after you say your vows en plein air, travel along Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where the walkable streets, Spanish-inspired architecture, and luxurious cottage-like lodging offer the perfect setting for a quiet honeymoon.
New River Gorge National Park
The newest national park in the United States is West Virginia’s New River Gorge. Adventure sports enthusiasts have long loved the gorge for white water rafting and rock climbing, but now East Coast elopers are also flocking to the area to exchange vows against the backdrop of the New River Gorge Bridge, which is the third-highest bridge in the country. (Book a bridge walk for before or after the ceremony and cross all 3,030 feet via catwalk.) While Fayetteville is the closest nearby town, the General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg is an especially charming spot to spend your wedding night.
A five-and-a-half-hour flight from New York, this remote Nordic island offers a rich variety in other-worldly topography: black sand beaches, beautiful waterfalls, rolling green hills, glaciers and hot springs, even gurgling lava. The remoteness of most of these natural destinations only serves to amplify the spiritual aspect of your union, but don’t fret about planning—it’s not hard to find an elopement service to help you coordinate the trip. Afterward, relax with a room at the new Retreat at the Blue Lagoon, which grants you private access to Iceland’s most famous tourist destination.
Does it get any more fairy tale than rolling green hills, rocky cliffs, and ancient castle ruins? If that's what your romantic dreams are made of, consider eloping to Ireland. The northern countryside offers beautiful views every way you turn, and Dunluce Castle, located on the Causeway Coast, makes for a stunning medieval backdrop.
When COVID thwarted Vanessa Aguirre’s plans to elope under a waterfall in Bali, she and now-husband Jake instead turned to the clear Caribbean waters of this popular destination on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. With cool hotels, a thriving wellness culture, and super-buzzy restaurants—not to mention gorgeous beaches and diving cenotes nearby—the town is especially popular with the influencer set, but that doesn’t detract from the warm-weather romance it offers for smaller wedding ceremonies.
San Francisco City Hall
"When you think of a courthouse wedding, you might picture a drab civic building for efficient, non-romantic nuptials. San Francisco City Hall is far from that!" says photographer Sonya Yruel, who wed there herself. "For about a $100 fee to the city, you can get married in a beautiful Beaux Arts-style building with a grand staircase, rotunda, and gilded architectural features." With features like that, it’s no surprise the government building—often considered one of the most beautiful in the country—is now an elopement destination for couples from far outside the San Fran area.
The state of Colorado recognizes self solemnization, which means you don’t need an officiant present to legally wed within its borders. That legal loophole makes running off to the mountains to elope infinitely easier, and, as country singer Shelly Fairchild and bride Deborah DeLoach demonstrate, Collective Vail makes it infinitely more enjoyable. After an onsite ceremony, you can wander the ranch for portraits, then stay the night in some of the most luxe glamping accommodations in the country.
What makes a good honeymoon destination often also makes a good elopement destination, and Italy is right up there when it comes to classic honeymoon locales. While couples have long flocked to Lake Como and Tuscany, the mountainous northern region known as the Dolomites is gaining popularity—particularly because of the beauty of Lago di Braies, which affords visitors views of both snow-capped peaks and beautiful lake water in one spot.
Italy has Venice, and the capital of Mexico has Xochimilco, where colorful trajineras cruise up and down the canals. They offer a glimpse of the vibrancy and artistic leanings of Mexico City, which is also home to internationally lauded restaurants, utterly Instagrammable hotels, and cool neighborhoods like Condesa and Roma Norte. It’s also close to several national parks and breathtaking Mesoamerican ruins. Point being: Mexico City offers something for every kind of traveler, and, at just over a two-hour flight from Houston, is an easy destination for Southwestern couples in search of an international spot for their elopement.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Forget Carrie and Big: Miranda and Steve are true #couplegoals when it comes to Sex & the City, and there’s something especially real about the movie scene in which they meet up on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and decide to stay together. If you’re looking for an East Coast elopement spot with big-city energy the Brooklyn Bridge is the perfect spot.
In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, but Provincetown was an LGBTQ+ destination long before that. Here, on the northern tip of Cape Cod, couples can elope beachside or right on a schooner, wander secret gardens and quaint streets of shingle-clad homes for portraits, and cap the evening off with lobster rolls or a clambake for two.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Situated deep in the desert outside of Moab, Utah, Dead Horse Point State Park is known for its rock formations, deep canyons, and unique desert woodland. As D.C. couple Serena Hampton and Marvin Yates Jr. demonstrate with their fashion-forward elopement, it’s an unforgettable locale for exchanging vows. Post-wedding, adventurers can cap off the trip with mountain biking, river rafting, rock climbing, and more.
Highlands, North Carolina is a mountain vacation destination beloved by many Southerners for its luxe inns and beautiful natural scenery. Secret Waters is a privately owned (read: super private) property just 20 minutes outside of town, where moss-covered stone steps lead to a secluded waterfall. After you say your vows against that beautiful backdrop, head to Highlander Mountain House for the cozy Cotswold-inspired interiors and seasonal cuisine at The Ruffed Grouse, the onsite tavern.