When I announced in October of 2021 that I would be traveling across California living out of my Subaru, Heidi and Tyler emailed me shortly after I arrived and asked about the possibility of an adventure elopement in Big Sur. They stumbled upon the magical Glen Oaks Big Sur hotel and a vision for their wedding was formed. They had never been to Big Sur before so it would be their first time. While Idaho was covered in feet of snow and freezing temperatures, I’d been sharing photos of beach sunsets, moody Redwood forests, and warm sunny 65 degree days. By December, it was official and they decided to meet me in Big Sur for their first trip here to get married, just the two of them. Plane tickets were bought, plans were finalized.
For weeks, I spent free afternoons in Big Sur exploring new beaches, cliff viewpoints, Redwood groves, and beyond. It’s been so exhilarating to find all new locations in a new region. It’s reminded me of the magic of photography again from my early days- studying new light, finding new “secret spots”, enjoying photography for the love of the adventure. I was ready and prepared for Heidi and Ty to arrive in California, with all new spots to share with them!
Fast forward to Heidi and Tyler’s wedding weekend. We had tacos and margaritas in Santa Cruz the night they arrived in California. It was so fun to show off all the beauty of California and sit outside in January in sweatshirts. We went over the loose itinerary for their elopement day, where the emphasis was on having an intimate, private experience and surround themselves in nature. It was so thrilling to be shooting my first Big Sur adventure elopement. It felt like a dream come true.
With the goal of having a private ceremony in the middle of the Redwoods, Heidi and Ty booked at a cabin at the Glen Oaks Big Sur. This amazing hotel has cozy cabins nestled in the Redwood forest in Big Sur, just a few minutes from the ocean. The cabins are rustic but modern. The hotel also allows you to have intimate weddings and elopements on their private grounds. I always recommend if you’re getting married in Big Sur to plan on having your ceremony at an Airbnb or one of the hotels/resorts in the area. It can be a hassle to pay the fees associated with getting married at one of the state parks on top of getting permits. There are several amazing hotels and cabins in Big Sur that offer pristine beaches, rocky cliffs, and private Redwood groves for a ceremony! Heidi and Ty opted to get married at Glen Oaks.
The morning of their wedding… however, the universe had other plans for them. A fire in Big Sur overnight located at the historic Bixby Bridge near Garrapata State Park closed the highway completely and forced evacuations from the entire area. As a brand new Big Sur adventure elopement photographer, I felt… anxious. This area was new to me and I still wanted to make their wedding day perfect.
I got a text from Heidi as soon as I woke up with a link to an article with a scary headline about a thousand acre fire closing Highway 1/Big Sur. I asked what she needed from me. We shared a quick Facetime call where I listed all our options. We could move their forward another day and change locations. We could wait out the fire to hope we might have access to Big Sur in the next 48 hours. I could follow them back to Idaho for an Idaho elopement. We decided we would make their elopement happen the next day no matter what. We now needed to find a new location about 2 hours north of Big Sur in Santa Cruz, California. Heidi and Ty packed up all their stuff and drove nearly 7 hours around the fire on the evacuation route to get back north to where I was.
Meanwhile, I spent that day scrambling to find all new locations/spots for them. I’ll be honest, as a photographer and as a friend to these two, my heart was broken for them. No one imagines that after any amount of time planning their wedding that their wedding day might start with a fire evacuation, yet here we were. They had traveled so far for the wedding of their dreams and made all their decisions so intentionally. It felt like such a tall order to still deliver the experience they’d set out to have. My heart went out to them and all I wanted was for them to still have the day they dreamed of. Luckily, these two didn’t let it squash their spirits or their dream. Without any other choice except to move forward, we did exactly that without looking back at what could have been. There was no “what could have been”, just, this is what it is. Their attitude kept my spirits up and I felt so motivated to find the perfect spot for them to still have the intimate ceremony they dreamed of and first dance in the sand.
Sure enough, everything unfolded perfectly. In a way, it almost felt like their plan B was their plan A the entire time. Heidi and Ty found a new Airbnb in the Santa Cruz Mountains, nestled among the Redwood forest. I found a new beach location north of Santa Cruz that felt so perfect. I knew the moment I stumbled upon it that this would be it, this was their spot. It’s my favorite feeling as a photographer, when I location scout and finally find “the” spot that feels so right for the moment and the couple. It maybe wouldn’t be the Big Sur adventure elopement they exactly dreamed, but it was perfect anyways.
I arrived to Heidi and Ty’s Airbnb the next day and it was like the previous day never happened. They were listening to music in their cozy abode and their spirits were high. I didn’t feel any resentment or sadness for the day they’d almost had the day before, instead, they were just excited to say their vows and finally get married.
The previous day, I had gone to Ulta and bought all the makeup I needed to do Heidi’s hair and makeup myself. Since having her original hair and makeup artist travel to their new elopement location wasn’t possible and finding a new one was impossible so short notice, Heidi and I decided we’d make the most of our combined skills and collaborate. I watched makeup tutorials on Youtube the night before and asked my dear friend in Boise, Sarah DeCamp, to send instructions about how to do a bride’s makeup. I’ll be honest, I was nervous, but I knew I could do it. Sure enough, after 2 hours, her hair and makeup was done. Heidi Facetimed her best friend from home once she was ready and it was so sweet to include her best friend in their day for a few minutes.
After Heidi and Ty were both ready to go, we sent Ty to their ceremony location first. They found a spot early that morning that Heidi said she knew was “the” spot because there was a little babbling creek they could hear from the spot. Their Airbnb had access to a private trail on a land trust (an AMAZING find!) so they had an entire forest all to themselves.
Ty was waiting for Heidi near the entrance of the forest where they shared their first look before we hiked for another ten minutes deeper into the forest. Their “spot” had tall Redwoods and a perfect mossy tree stump that I immediately loved. It was quiet, serene, and perfect. Their ceremony might be one of my top favorite wedding ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed. Without an officiant, they shared their vows and a few words that were symbolic as they promised their lifelong commitment to one another. They spoke so quietly together that I couldn’t hear a word while I was taking photos. The noise of the creek below them drowned out their voices. The honor of being the sole human to watch them pledge their lives together was so humbling. Knowing that they got to share such an intimate moment so privately, exactly how they wanted to… despite a fire almost ruining their wedding and moving their wedding to a different location and a different day in under 24 hours. It was perfect and exactly what they’d dreamed of, even if it all unfolded a little differently than we’d hoped.
After pronouncing themselves married, we walked back through the forest to their rental car. We then drove about thirty minutes down the windy mountain road to the beach I’d scouted the night before. Even on a Sunday night, it wasn’t too busy. We first walked out to this cliff overlooking the dramatic California coastline. We nailed the timing, hitting the golden hour light at the perfect time. Then, we walked down a steep path and scrambled down some rocks to reach a quiet, perfect beach.
My favorite moment of the day? I think it was the moment they shared their first dance on the beach. We couldn’t see another human in sight and as the sun set, they danced together with their bluetooth speaker playing their favorite song. Waves crashed against the rocks behind them and they swayed together as the sun turned the beach golden. It was such a beautiful moment and I’ll never forget that when the song ended, they both looked at me at the same time in surprise and burst into laughter. Heidi said she’d forgotten I was even there until the song was over. That was everything I could hope to hear as a professional third wheel/adventure elopement photographer 😉 The simple fact that I could give them the private experience they wanted, even while holding a camera and snapping photos obsessively.. that is EVERYTHING.
After their first dance, Heidi and Ty shared some champagne and sipped it on the beach. I put down my cameras for the rest of the night and we just took several long moments in peace to enjoy the sunset. I always like to mention that when couples book me for their elopements/weddings… there will be periods during the day when I don’t want to have the camera out. Because I want you to be able to be present and enjoy the moment, too, without a camera in your face. It’s about the day, the memory, the meaning behind your commitment, not JUST amazing photos 😉
I gave these two the biggest hug when I said goodbye and wished them the happiest and most badass marriage ever. Thank you Heidi and Ty for coming all the way to California for your Big Sur elopement that turned into a Santa Cruz elopement 😉 You are absolutely the best and I am so grateful for you! Thank you for making my dreams of being a Big Sur adventure elopement photographer a reality!
Love this Big Sur California adventure elopement? Check out Tess & Mathias’ Santa Cruz Intimate Wedding as well!