Need to Know Info: Eloping in Lake Tahoe

By: Ryn Muat

Wedding couple elope on a spring day
Wedding couple elope near Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe.
Credit: Amanda Kluesner

I recently sat down with two wedding professionals, Lauren Christenson, proprietor of Juniper Social, a wedding and event planning business, and Amanda Kluesner, wedding photographer. We discussed need to know info on eloping in Lake Tahoe, plus modern elopements, and how as Lauren pointed out, this tradition has rapidly evolved from being perceived as “scandalous and secretive” to being more about couples who just want an extra intimate and no-fuss way to say “I do.” 

Ryn Muat: Let’s start with your backgrounds. How did you each get your start in weddings?

Amanda Kluesner: I started in Salt Lake about 14 years ago, and I didn’t do a lot of big traditional weddings in Utah. I found that I really loved doing smaller backyard style weddings. They’re so intimate, and usually people are way more calm and relaxed. Moving here to Tahoe, I wasn’t going to do photography at all. I figured that it was just a hobby that I was leaving behind in Utah and then it kind of slowly dawned on me that this is a destination for wedding elopements and that I wanted to keep doing this work. 

Lauren Christenson: My first real taste of experiencing a wedding and all that happens behind the scenes was on a much larger scale on the field at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. This was a very unique way for couples to showcase their love of sports! Similar to Amanda, I was working in the sports and entertainment industry which then turned into helping friends in their backyards or smaller venues. Hop, skip, and jump a few years ahead, and a door opened here in Lake Tahoe which is now my home. I started with Vail Resorts at Heavenly servicing groups and working with the weddings team.  Eventually I took a role at Edgewood Tahoe Resort orchestrating everything from elopements to large-scale luxury weddings. This past year, I decided to transition to my own company, following my desire to return to  the creative side of wedding planning, focusing more on getting to know clients and building strong relationships.

Couple's first kiss as husband & wife at sunrise.
Couple share first kiss as husband & wife at sunrise.
Credit: Amanda Kluesner

Ryn Muat: Why do you think couples choose to elope? What do you see as the biggest advantage of eloping? What do you think is driving this trend?

Amanda Kluesner: Couples who choose to elope are drawn to a more intimate experience and want to go against tradition. They thrive in it. There are so many different types of people that I have had the pleasure of photographing who say that they’ve seen friends go through big weddings and how much stress it can bring, and decided that they didn’t want that. Instead they choose to elope so that it is purely about them, intentional and grounded, where the focus is the actual ceremony itself. It allows couples to plan exactly what they want, and to not have to worry about involving everyone else and have those layers of expectations that go with it.

Lauren Christenson: Well Amanda, you really nailed a lot of it. I think the biggest thing driving this trend is the sense of adventure and valuing experiences over stuff and things.  Another advantage of elopements, in some instances, is budget of course!

Ryn Muat: Yeah, I was waiting for one of you to say it!

Lauren Christenson: There are some clearly wild experiences out there that cost just as much as a full on wedding, but for many couples,  one of the motives for eloping is to put that investment into something else. The timeline of planning is also often cut shorter. This could be an advantage for some people depending on what they have going on in their lives. There are also some couples who are wanting to avoid inviting certain family members, or having certain people together in the same room, so if that is you – just know you are not alone. And if you don’t enjoy being in the spotlight, why would you do that to yourself? Elopements offer an opportunity to turn that pressure switch off, and for some it may even double as the dream vacation that you always wanted.

Wedding couple enjoy private forest ceremony.
Couple elope in a sweet, private forest ceremony.
Credit: Amanda Kluesner

Ryn Muat: What would you say makes the South Shore of Tahoe an ideal place to elope?

Lauren Christenson: Obviously this place is picturesque year-round no matter the season or  time of year. You are going to end up with a dramatic, jaw dropping background.

Amanda Kluesner: Yeah, I mean you cannot speak to South Lake without mentioning the exquisite beauty that we have right at our fingertips. It is never lost on me. It’s literally stunning all year round. It’s also about the combination of natural wonder and places to party later. You can go dressed up to the casinos – I tell my couples all the time, wear your wedding attire and see how many free things you get! It is so fun to give them a list of options both for the ceremony and for what to do after – in Tahoe we can do your ceremony beachside, or at an epic overlook, or a quiet, peaceful place in the woods. Sometimes it’s the couple’s first time being here and seeing them awestruck is so cool.

Lauren Christenson: South Lake Tahoe has so many options. Sometimes even though you want that intimate moment of eloping you still want to celebrate after and if that means you want to go to your favorite pub, you’ll have plenty of options. Or if the couple is wanting somewhere romantic and charming to dine at, there’s Cafe Fiore, or for the more low-key couple MacDuff’s or Himmelhaus.

Amanda Kluesner: Absolutely! I’ve also been working with some of the private chefs here. If the couple are staying in a nice Airbnb and have access to a full kitchen, I have seen some of the most elegant dinners, where the couple gets back to their place and have a complete multi course meal just for them, ready to go. 

Ryn Muat: I love the idea of bringing in a private chef! Do you two have any advice for eloping in Lake Tahoe you’d like to share?

Truckee Marsh winter elopement.
Couple elope in the Truckee Marsh meadow area.
Credit: Amanda Kluesner

Lauren Christenson: One of my biggest recommendations is to make your plans known, rather than putting out a surprise social media blast to your family and friends. Letting everyone know what to expect early on, and finding ways to get people involved, even if they won’t physically be at the wedding, can add to your overall experience. You may still be going dress shopping, so take Mom or Grandma or your aunt. I’ve seen couples have a family member put together a video for them to watch post-ceremony or after dinner, with well wishes from their family members and friends who aren’t there with them. 

Ryn Muat: That’s so sweet. Amanda what have you got in terms of pro tips?

Amanda Kluesner: I’ve seen some very unique surprise cutesy things, like having a violinist or acoustic musician play while they’re getting ready. Also, making sure you’re taking the time to really care for yourself and hiring the right hair and makeup artist, I think is crucial because you’ll just be sitting there, and finding someone you click with, who is mindful of that moment will make a big impact on the first part of your day. With the right fit, it can be almost therapeutic. So enjoy that and treat yourself and do it at your hotel or your Airbnb so you don’t have to go anywhere. One other thing people don’t always think about is that you don’t have to get married on land. You can rent a private boat and go for a tour and get married at sunset and those are some of the coolest weddings I’ve been a part of. 

Ryn Muat: Yes totally, the lake is the reason we all come here, it’s what makes eloping in Lake Tahoe so magical, so centering that in the day in some way, is pretty hard to beat. Plus, we have so many different boat and sailing companies here that there’s something for every aesthetic. 

Ryn Muat: Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me today, and for sharing about this specific type of wedding celebration and the unique aspects of planning an elopement versus a full-scale wedding.

To all those looking to plan a wedding celebration in Tahoe, whether just-you-two or big-fat-greek wedding style (or anywhere in between!), we congratulate you on the love you’ve found. Check out the blogs below to learn more!

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