For when a traditional wedding just isn’t your thing!
Eloping has become so much more than just running away to get married in secret. It’s an intentional way to spend your wedding day doing exactly what you want, where you want!
If you and your partner the type of people who love the salty sea air in your hair and sand in your toes, an elopement on Florida’s Gulf Coast may be the perfect thing. With crisp white sand meeting crystal clear water we really do have some of the most gorgeous beaches in the US. And in my honest opinion you really can’t go wrong with saying your vows with your feet in the gulf!
But what do you need to do to elope on the Gulf Coast? What’s the best time of year? Are there locations where you can have a semi-private moment together?
If these are some questions you’ve been thinking then I have some good news for you! I’m here to help with the answers to all these and more!
So are you ready for me to convince you to elope on the coast?
Here we go!
BEST TIME OF YEAR
The first thing you’ll want to do is decide on the time of year. June-October is prime hurricane season and is always super hot (not to mention packed with tourists). If you don’t mind sharing your space on your elopement day this is definitely an option, but if you want something a bit more private I’d recommend visiting in the off season which is November- mid March. April and May tend to be busy with spring breakers, but the weather is generally pretty tolerable.
My personal recommendation for an elopement? February! The pastel skies and water of winter are still hanging around and the weather is cool and calm.
Spring Vs. Fall
There are so many benefits to eloping on the Gulf Coast in either Spring or Fall. Both are beautiful and both have some not so good parts as well. I’m here to help you make an informed decision on the season that’s right for you!
Spring – Pros: gorgeous weather, not too hot, beautiful cotton candy pink skies, hurricane’s are unlikely. Cons: SPRING BREAK! Mid-March to the end of April tend to be pretty busy with the spring break rush. But if you’re the type of person who thrives on busy vibes this could be the perfect setting for you!
Fall – Pros: Again, gorgeous weather. Fiery sunsets, calm water, not quite as busy as spring break. Cons: Hurrican season. Enough said. If you’re the type of person who’s ok with coming up with a solid plan B, fall on the emerald coast could be for you.
Summer Vs. Winter
Summer – Pros: the sunsets are absolutely beautiful. Everything’s open and operational so you’ll have plenty of options for activities. Also, it’s sea turtle nesting season! If you’re stoked on the idea of seeing these beauties in the wild, this is your best time to come. Cons: hot as heck and very busy.
Winter – Pros: it’s the off season so crowds are minimal. The sunsets are clear pastel shades. Prices are also a bit lower during the winter. Cons: it does actually get cold here. Sometimes even down to the 30’s! So if you’re set on enjoying any water activities this may not be the best time to come.
Tips for navigating hurricane season
I definitely understand that sometimes you’re limited to traveling during certain times of the year. If the dates you’re available happen to fall in the June-October timespan here’s a few tips for making the best of it.
- Be prepared. Bring umbrellas, raincoats, all that jazz in case you have a wonderfully rainy elopement day.
- Stay in contact with your vendors including your rental hosts. They’ll be able to keep you updated on the latest information regarding hurricanes from FL officials.
- If there are double red flags at any time during your stay, do NOT get in the water. If you’re dying for photos in the water ask your photographer about safe places to make this happen.
- And lastly, evacuations are very rare but they do happen. If this happens during your stay, don’t panic and follow directions. It’s better to go with plan B then try and stick it out.
What to do if a hurricane is threatening your plans
The most important thing to do is to keep in contact with your rental host and vendors. Ask them what their rescheduling policy is, what their next available date is, if they have any indoor, backup locations ready, etc. Many beach houses have enough space inside for a small gathering, so if your vows do end up being moved inside it’s definitely workable.
If you’re someone who enjoys planning, coming up with a plan B can ease any stress you may be having. Wedding insurance is also a good idea in the off chance your plans are unable to move forward on your date at all.
What do double red flags mean?
At any point during your stay the flags on the beach may go to double red. This means that the water is off limits due to dangerous conditions such as large waves or riptides. Usually the cause of this is storms in the gulf, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the storm will make its’ way to shore. There are still plenty of things to do if double red flags are flying so don’t stress if this happens at any time during your trip.
(Wanna see the gulf at any time? Check out these beach cams!)
Next I’m sure you’re wondering the best place to say your I Do’s! There are so many gorgeous places along the Gulf Coast ranging from Port St Joe to Fort Morgan. The thing to ask yourself is how private you want your experience to be.
If you’re looking for a private experience…
If you want to be completely alone, Fort Morgan, AL and Port St. Joe, FL are probably your best bets. These places are generally pretty quiet even in the height of tourist season. If you want to be able to walk out of your rental right down to the beach, get married, and have the place to yourself these are your best options.
If you don’t mind a few people…
Pensacola Beach/Fort Pickens is another good option if you’re wanting a more private experience but with the convenience of local restaurants and grocery stores near by. The national seashore is in this area and tends to be a bit less crowded than some other spots.
If you love the hustle and bustle…
Of course there’s always Destin/30A. Nestled right in the heart of all the hustle and bustle, this area is best for the couples who don’t mind having a crowd on their wedding day. While the sand and sea are admittedly the prettiest in Destin, the crowds can be a turnoff for some people. But if you thrive on city vibes and want to head to a bar and party after your wedding this is absolutely the spot for you.
HOW TO GET HERE
The Gulf Coast can present a few challenges as far as getting here, simply because there are no larger airports nearby. While we are an easily accessible location by car I know you may not want to allot so much time out of your elopement adventure to traveling.
Best airports to fly into
If you’re flying the best best will be to fly to either VPS (Valparaiso/Destin) airport or PNS (Pensacola) airport. I’m happy to say that Southwest flys to both of these airports which may help cut down the costs of flying with a larger airline.
Once you arrive I’d highly recommend renting a car as the area can be relatively spread out. Uber and Lyft may not be an option in some of the more remote locations, so having your own vehicle is definitely a good idea. If you’re in one of the larger areas (Destin/30A) golf carts and e-bikes are a popular option for getting around. Check out these rental companies!
If you’re roadtripping…
65 South is one of the main ways to get to Destin from the more northern states. Of course this all depends on where you’re coming from. You ma
MAKING IT LEGAL
The marriage license process in FL is pretty simple. If you’re a FL resident there will be a 3 day waiting period, but if you’re not a FL resident there’s no waiting period. You’ll be able to walk right in to the county clerk’s office and obtain your license the same day.
You will need an officiant to make it all official (did you know I have an in-house officiant ready for you?) and the beauty about this is that they can make the process as official or casual as you want. Are you thinking about having a unity ceremony? We can do that! Do you want to step off to the side and say your vows where only the two of you can hear? We can do that too! Basically the officiant is just there to make things legal.
After the paperwork is signed your license will be sealed in an envelope and dropped in a mailbox to be sent back to the courthouse. You can obtain a copy of your marriage license and find more information about the FL marriage license process HERE.
Depending on how many people you plan on inviting to your elopement you may need to secure a beach wedding permit. Typically the guidelines for this are that a permit is needed for a gathering of more than 20 people or if you plan on bringing decor such as an arch or arbor.
The permit process is fairly straight forward and inexpensive. More information can be found on the Okaloosa County Events site.
FLORIDA MARRIAGE LICENSE LAWS
FL marriage licenses are issued by either a judge or a county clerk. You will need a picture ID (drivers’ license or passport) and your social security number. You do not need your actual SS card! The fee for a FL marriage license is $93.50 but if you complete a licensed FL premarital course the cost is reduced to $32.50. Your marriage license is valid for 60 days after you obtain it from the courthouse. Blood tests are not required. If you’re wondering where to obtain your FL marriage license, click this link!
Here’s a few officiant recs:
BEST TIME OF DAY TO ELOPE
The next thing you may be wondering is what time of day to schedule your elopement. While I know we all love the idea of a ceremony right as the sun is setting on the gulf, I personally recommend scheduling your ceremony about 2 hours before the sun is to set. That way we can use the absolute best light for romantic, golden, glowy portraits of the two of you. This also allows for enough time post ceremony (if you don’t do a first look) for family photos if you choose to have guests attend your elopement.
What about a sunrise elopement?
I admit I’m a sucker for sunrise elopements. These do require a bit of extra planning but the benefits far outweigh the extra effort.
If you’re looking for:
- Almost complete privacy
- More location options
- A more intimate experience
A sunrise elopement may be for you!
I always tell people that the light is so different – softer somehow – at sunrise as opposed to sunset. Wanna see an example? Click here to see a sunrise session in Destin, FL! The weather also tends to be better at sunrise with less of a chance of rain. The locations are also more varied because we can get an almost empty beach pretty much anywhere at sunrise.
Not an early riser?
Our sunsets are pretty spectacular too! While the beaches are usually more busy closer to sunset, there are still places we can get a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle. Florida State Parks are a great option and there’s several of them along the Gulf Coast. For more information on having your elopement at a Florida State Park click here!
Best Attire for Beach Elopements
While the weather here on the coast is hot and humid for the majority of the year, temperatures can drop a bit at night and can be downright cold in the winter. I definitely recommend lighter base attire with the option to throw on a jacket if need be.
I’m a huge fan of loose, flowing gowns on the gulf coast beaches. Some of my favorite designers include Rue De Seine, BHLDN, and Reclamation Design Company.
Something I always like to mention is that the coolest photos are done close to the water. If you don’t want to get your (very expensive) dress wet, there are some more economic options out there! Lulu’s, Unique Vintage, and ASOS all have beautiful, inexpensive options!
Suits and Trousers
Pants are always a good option on the beach. Most of the time you can find a wide variety of options at your local department store. Suit Supply and ASOS are excellent options.
Definitely take into consideration the time of year in which you’re eloping. There’s nothing worse than being in a wool suit on the beach on a hot summer day with 100% humidity. Look for light, breathable fabric such as cotton or linen.
THE DAY OF YOUR ELOPEMENT!
Wooohoooo! The day’s finally here, you’ve planned your heart out with the help of some awesome vendors, and you’re finally ready to say your vows to your partner. Here are just a few tips for making sure the day goes as smoothly as possible!
- Wear sunscreen (always but especially) about two weeks prior to your elopement day to avoid any uncomfortable burns.
- Avoid heavy drinking the day before if you tend to get massive hangover headaches.
- Be flexible! Sometimes plans may change at the last minute and it’s always best to allow yourself to roll with the punches.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy your day!
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOUR ELOPEMENT
I think one of the biggest myths about eloping is that all you’ll do is show up, get married, and then leave. There are sooo many fun things to do along the Gulf Coast and there really is something for everyone! How you choose to celebrate your I Do’s is completely up to you, but here are a few recommendations.
- Picnic on the beach
- Sunset dolphin cruise
- Hitting a bar
- Nighttime walk on the shore
- Ice cream at Scoops
- Hire a private chef to make an amazing meal back at your rental
- Kayaking or paddleboarding on the bay
- Charter a boat (recreate the Titanic moment of course)
- Go to the Track and ride go karts
- Go camping in one of Grayton Beach’s glamping tents
BEST RESTAURANTS TO CELEBRATE YOUR ELOPEMENT
- Louisiana Lagniappe
- Marina Cafe
- Ruth’s Chris
- Harbor Docks
- Bud and Alley’s
- Grayton Seafood
- Grayton Beer Brewpub
- Restaurant Paradis
- Edwards Fine Food and Wine
- Curvee 30A
Panama City Beach
- Saltwater Grill
- Capt. Anderson’s
- Mr G’s Smokehouse and Seafood
- Killer Seafood
- Shipwreck Raw Bar
- Shrimp Basket
- Flora Bama Yacht Club
- Sunset Cork Room
- The Cobalt
GULF COAST ELOPEMENT TIMELINE
If you’re a visual person like me you need to see a concrete example of what your day could look like. I totally gotchu! If I was planning my dream gulf coast elopement this is what my day would look like:
- Hair and makeup start at 1:30
- Into Dress by 3:30
- First look at 4
- Hop onto charter boat at 4:30
- Cocktails on boat until arriving at island at 5:30
- Ceremony at 5:45
- Photos with guests at 6
- Explore island with partner taking photos until 7:40
- Back onto boat
- Catch the last bits of blue hour on boat until 8
- Pizza picnic on the shore around a bonfire until 9:30
Putting it all out there like that helps to see the benefit in booking a photographer for an entire day as opposed to a short and sweet ceremony. Your elopement is your wedding day and should be just as special as any other person’s wedding!
Hey, it’s me! Your Gulf Coast elopement specialist!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 6 years of full time photography it’s that the best, most life-giving days are ones where the couple gets to do exactly what they want. I’m passionate about helping you celebrate your day in your way,
(Wanna learn more?)