Our Santa Cruz (Big Sur) Elopement Story
Matty (my now husband) and I met on July 18, 2014. By day 10, I was his girlfriend, by date 10 we were saying I love you. Six months in and we were living together. A year later, we were engaged and six months after that, we were married. If you followed all that math, that puts our wedding date at August 11, 2016.
We moved fast but at times it didn’t feel fast enough. I loved him almost instantly. He made me better and made me want to be better. He complimented me in ways I didn’t know possible. He was my bubba, I was his bae bae (the early dating nicknames stuck) and that was that. Below is our elopement story with way more details than anyone asked for.
As a little girl, I would spend hours describing my dream man in painstaking detail. He had to make me laugh, he had to have a job (I don’t want no scrubs), and he HAD to be an *NSYNC fan. These were no brainers. But in all that time spent making lists and planning, I never planned a wedding. I didn’t have dresses saved in an album, I didn’t have a venue picked out, I didn’t save flowers or table arrangements. All I cared about was the man, and let’s be real, the ring. I never thought about the actual wedding.
Before Matty, I hadn’t even been to a wedding. My dad married my step mom at a courthouse, my sister married her husband at a courthouse, and mom married her husband at a notary. Traditional weddings just weren’t something I ever thought about. So when my coworkers would giddily hound me for details, I’d just say, “oh we’re gonna get married at a courthouse” without thinking or planning, it’s just what I envisioned happening. Then I started looking into courthouses. The options were underwhelming to say the least. Beverly Hills had fluorescent lighting and looked more like a DMV setting than a wedding, San Fransisco was beautiful but had rigid guidelines, Pasadena had some restriction I don’t remember and don’t feel like googling, but you get the idea, none of them seemed right. So, I pushed the thoughts from my mind and just ignored wedding planning for a few months.
How We Decided Eloping Was Right for Us
After being engaged for four months, with no plans of actually getting married, a coworker suggested that Matty and I elope. At the time, I didn’t really understand what eloping was. Is it official if we elope? Where would we even elope? What about our parents, will they be be hurt, sad, mad? I went back to my desk and googled elopements. The first one I found was a Star Wars themed wedding. I was immediately turned off. Then I looked up Big Sur elopements, I don’t even know why but as soon as I saw the cliffside couples I decided that I was all in. So naturally, I texted Matty that we should elope in Big Sur and hounded him until he replied to me. He was into it! He, like me, didn’t dream of a big wedding and was happy to skip it and instead do something that felt more like us.
That night we poured over instagram, we were both sold on Big Sur envisioning cliff shots mixed with forest shots. We decided the next step was finding a photographer. We searched the hashtag #bigsurelopement on instagram and found Molly Gilholm, a natural light photographer that specialized in capturing moments, aka exactly what we were searching for. We followed the link from her bio to her site and hit contact.
The next day she replied and we instantly hit it off, we exchanged pictures of our pups and I knew that we had found our photographer. Molly had a weekday elopement special so we picked a Thursday two months out, signed a contract, paid a deposit and started planning our elopement.
The next step was deciding who would marry us. We agreed that family was out of the question. We wanted it to be intimate and picking any family member would spiral into inviting all of our family. We also wanted to pick someone that knew both Matty and I. My first thought was Silver.
I met Silver at work. She was my boss. I was a copy writer and she was my editor. She was the first person I told about Matty, she knew all the details of our conversations before he and I had even met, and the Monday after our first and second dates (we met on a Friday night and saw each other again on Sunday), she was the first to hear how it went. I gushed about him. I told her everything. After that we double dated, hosted dinner parties, and became couple friends. She knew both of us, is to this day one of the most responsible people I know, and the girl can write, so obviously she was the person I wanted to marry us.
We set up a happy hour with our guys and some friends and that night I asked her if she’d marry us. We cried, she agreed and we went about setting our plan in motion. We had the location, Big Sur, the wedding party (Matty, me, Silver and her boyfriend DeLane), we had our hotel (Glen Oaks) booked. All that was left was all the other details that come along when planning a wedding.
Telling Our Family
Matty and I are both planners, list makers, researchers. We looked up elopement etiquette and found there were two ways to go about this: 1. tell no one, elope, come back and announce that we are married or 2. tell people and then go elope. We chose option two and decided we would get married our way but have a get together with everyone afterward to celebrate. Something very low key, a lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in their private dining room.
So we told our parents, our family, and our friends and sent out the above invite for our lunch the weekend after our elopement.
As I soon realized, I wasn’t a traditional bride. I didn’t want a white dress. I avoided white clothing my entire life so why would I wear white on a day I’d be getting photographed? Instead I searched for pastel-colored bridesmaids dresses. I ordered from J. Crew and ASOS but I didn’t love any of them. Enter my best friend from high school. She works with a clothing designer and together we made a mood board with Grecian style dresses in an array of pinks and purples. She set up an appointment and over the course of a month, my dream dress was made.
The Other Details
Like I said, I didn’t have saved pins of flowers, all I knew is that I wanted a big bouquet. I messaged Molly, our photographer, and asked if she knew a florist in the area. Molly took on the role of wedding planner by hooking me up with not only a florist but a hair and makeup artist too. She even volunteered to bring the flowers with her on the day of our wedding!
I messaged with Julie of Willi Wildflower and decided on an extra large, lush bouquet with tons of greens, two leis (one for Matty and one for DeLane), a corsage for Silver (I wanted her to have something), and some loose flowers for my hair.
I messaged Kelly and booked two appointments for natural hair and makeup, one for Silver, one for me. I booked my first gel manicure and a lash extension appointment, both for a week before our wedding date, and it seemed like all the details were coming together.
How Our Big Sur Elopement Turned into a Santa Cruz Elopement
The Sunday before our Thursday wedding date, Matty called the hotel in Big Sur to ask if we could take photos on the property. Molly had shot here before and said their forested property would be the perfect setting for the wedding pictures we were after, all we had to do was get approval from the hotel.
I was in our bedroom folding clothes and heard Matty talking to the manager, “so will we be refunded?” I heard him asking. Turns out, they were in the midst of an emergency evacuation. Wild fires were tearing through Big Sur, roads were being closed, and our wedding was appearing to be cancelled.
I called Molly and explained the situation to her. She told me she often used the hashtag #bigsurelopements when shooting in her hometown of Santa Cruz because they look so similar. I hopped on Airbnb and found a converted barn. I booked that for us and a hotel for Silver and DeLane, we were back in business. Molly, Kelly and Julie were all located in Santa Cruz already, so the location change made it more convenient for everyone. And since it was just us, not a wedding party, the last minute change didn’t really affect us.
The Day of Our Elopement
Matty and I woke up early to explore Nisene National Park, the forested setting Molly picked for our elopement. Matty took some drone footage, I walked around staring up at the redwoods, we took some pics and then met up with Silver and DeLane for breakfast.
After that, it was like a real wedding day! Kelly came over and started doing Silver’s makeup. Molly arrived and started shooting. Julie dropped off the bouquet complete with fern she had picked that morning from the spot where we would soon be married, and before we knew it, it was magic hour and time to get married!
Molly led up to the spot in the forest she scouted. Matty set up cameras and attached his mic (he filmed our wedding - video below), Silver took her position and we followed. It went by in a tear-filled blur but it was everything we wanted. After we kissed as man and wife, Molly led us to a railroad track and field to take some more pictures before we said our goodbyes.
We spent that weekend in San Francisco as a mini honeymoon and the following weekend we hosted the lunch with our family and friends. My dad gave a speech, Matty’s mom gave a speech, we ate amazing food and everyone agreed it was the perfect way to celebrate.
Elopement Cost Breakdown
Hair & Makeup (for two): $600
Custom-Made Wedding Dress: $1000
Marriage License: $90
Private Lunch Cost Breakdown
Sweet Lady Jane Wedding Cake: $550
Was it Worth it?
In the end, our wedding was everything we wanted it to be. All I wanted was for us to exchange hand-written vows and cry freely. I didn’t want the added attention of people we kinda know hearing our intimate vows. I wanted to share the moment with just him. We eloped because it felt right to us. Having a larger wedding, the way I would have wanted to have it, would have been crazy expensive. And in the end, neither one of us really cared too much about it.
Can you spend less on an elopement? Absolutely! But we got married the way we wanted to. We splurged on the items that meant more to us and we wouldn’t change a thing.
Your wedding day is just that, it is yours. If you want to wear black, wear black, if you want a marching band, get a marching band. There is no one-size-fits-all wedding. Make it yours and celebrate the way you want to celebrate. If you do that, you won’t have any regrets.