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Annapolis Elopement Weddings: A How-To Guide for Eloping in Annapolis

(Guide Last Updated: June 21st 2024. Have there been changes? Please let me know.)

Traditional weddings are great, but they’re also, well, a lot. They can take more than a year to plan, and the price tag can pretty easily drift into the high 5 figures. A lot of people rightly feel like that’s not a great way to start the journey of married life together, and as a result lots of people are turning to the comparatively simpler approach of eloping.

Now, when you hear that word, “eloping”, you can be forgiven for reflexively imagining a tacky Las Vegas chapel and the dubious romantic fling that started at the craps table several hours, and half a dozen drinks, earlier. Until fairly recently, that’s really the only context you were really likely to hear that word used, and in fact, that’s almost definitionally what it meant: Run away and secretly get married. But that’s not what eloping is anymore. Well, that’s not all eloping is. In the last decade or so, an “elopement” has become more accurately described as a small wedding, probably at a destination, and probably forgoing most of the traditional hoops of a typical wedding so that you can get married faster and cheaper and with a lot less hassle.

Lots of people want to elope in Annapolis, Maryland. Who can blame them? It can offer a romantic, and comparatively hassle-free, down to earth start for your marriage. The historic city is a picture-perfect place to do it. Endless backdrops for the intimate wedding offer a chance to do the big thing in a small way that still looks like the big thing when you look back on it in your photos. So today, I thought I would take some time to lay out everything you need to know to plan your elopement—from legal requirements, to finding the best spots for your ceremony and portraits, including how someone you already know and love can officiate your wedding day.

Now, before we get started, one thing I want to point out is that when you get married the traditional way, a lot of this stuff is spread out over months and as a result doesn’t seem so complicated. But when you’re trying to squeeze it all into a week or two, it might feel like a lot. Don’t worry, it’s not as complex as it seems. In fact, the legal stuff is really just some paperwork and a couple of trips to the courthouse where folks are mostly friendly and happy to help you understand what you need to know.

I’ve tried to include lots of helpful links to official sources, so feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it later as you work your way through the process. Let’s dive in!

Navigating the Legalities

Before you can make it official, you’ll need to work your way through the legal requirements for obtaining a marriage license in Anne Arundel County. The process is straightforward but does require a bit of preparation. There’s lots of words here, but don’t be intimidated. It’s easier than it seems.

Obtaining a Marriage License

The first step is to visit the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, located at 8 Church Circle in Annapolis. Only one applicant needs to apply in person to provide information for both parties, so you don’t both have to take the day off from work. The application process is quick, taking around 15 minutes.

Be prepared with the following details for each person:

  • names, ages, birth dates
  • places of birth
  • current addresses
  • Social Security numbers
  • If either party has been married before, you’ll also need to know the exact dates and locations of any previous divorces or deaths of spouses.


There is a $55.00 fee for the marriage license, payable by cash, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or money order. They don’t accept personal checks, so plan accordingly. After applying, there is a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before the license becomes valid, presumably to make sure you’re not drunk, but you’re not so don’t worry about it.  The license is then valid for six months, but only within Anne Arundel County–That means you can’t take the license and get married in Prince George’s or Howard County, or anywhere else.

All that stuff above needs to be done in person. But, if you’re unable to do that for some reason (for example, you’re coming in from out of town) you can complete a Non-Resident Affidavit instead. This form needs to be signed by your local Clerk of the Circuit Court, or an equivalent official in your state and then mailed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Annapolis. Just make sure all information is accurate to avoid additional fees for corrections later.

Have a Civil Ceremony at the Courthouse

Once you have your marriage license, if you want to keep things simple, you can have a civil ceremony at the Circuit Court Chapel. They have done a nice job with the room, and honestly there’s something kind of charming about a classic courthouse wedding. These ceremonies are performed on a reservation basis from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Some sources online are saying they accept walk-ins, but only kind of. They have a reservation system and they are often booked up, so don’t count on a walk-in wedding ceremony. Get online and reserve a slot ahead of time. The fee for the ceremony is $25.00, payable by cash or card.

The courthouse chapel offers a convenient, cost-effective and mostly no-frills venue. The space can only accommodate up to 18 guests though—and absolutely, positively, no more— including photographers. So if you’re going to use the courthouse chapel, make absolutely sure your guest list isn’t any longer than that.

On the day of your wedding ceremony, arrive 15 minutes or more before your scheduled time to check in at the License Department. I’m really not kidding here—once the ball is rolling, they won’t delay your reservation for any reason, and unless there’s a cancellation or vacant slot immediately after you (and there rarely is) you won’t be able to swap. So if you’re late, or someone important to you is late, you’re either going to have to reschedule or they’re going to miss the ceremony altogether.

As for the chapel itself, the room is nice, and the ceremony only takes about 5 minutes, if that. So following the ceremony you might get a few minutes for a photo or two at the front of the chapel, but don’t bank on getting to spend much time there once the nuptials are done. When I shoot at the chapel I will usually try for one photo with all the guests, and one or two the couple alone before we move outside for more photos.

Parking for the Courthouse

Parking for the courthouse is a little bit of a wildcard. If you circle the blocks a few times, you might come across street parking, though the availability is limited and the rules can seem kind of labyrinthian. It’s better to first check the small lot on South Street, which is by far the closest lot to the courthouse, barely a block away. It’s not uncommon to find availability there, so if you’ve arrived early enough it’s worth driving by to check. Spaces are decidedly limited though, so failing that, park in Gott’s Garage, accessible from both Northwest Street and Calvert Street. It’s about a 4 minute walk to the courthouse, but parking is plentiful and, again, it is absolutely crucial that you are not late for your appointment so don’t burn valuable time trying to save $6 or whatever with street parking.

Security at the Courthouse

The courthouse is a secure facility. You and all of your guests will have to work their way through the procedure in order to get in. If you’ve ever been through an airport, the process will be familiar, but not quite as intense or time consuming. First you’ll have to empty all your pockets into the baskets, along with any bags or purses you might have, and let them run through the scanners. Then you’ll step through a metal detector. You might have to remove your belt, shoes, watch or other jewelry, but they’ll let you know. Remember, everyone will need to go through security. Although this process usually only takes a few minutes, if there happen to be a lot of people there that day for some other reason, it could take a little while. That’s why it’s so important that you arrive early—at least 15 minutes, if not more. Don’t let your chronically late friends and family drag their feet.

Photography at the Courthouse

The courthouse is a municipal building, a pretty nice one at that. When walking into the foyer after getting through security, you might think the large glass windows would make a nice place for some family portraits, and they would, but that is not allowed per courthouse policy. Photography inside the courthouse is limited strictly to the chapel. Although the security staff is generally friendly and polite, if you don’t want them to escort your photographer out, don’t push it. Although they do seem to be more lax about cell phone photography, this is likely depends on who is working that day. I would recommend keeping your cell phones in their pockets until you get in the chapel, or at least don’t make a lot of noise about the photos you’re taking. The last thing you want is for your mother-in-law to miss the ceremony because law enforcement had to remove her. Remember, these folks don’t make the rules and they’re just trying to do their job.

Places for Photos Near The Courthouse

After the ceremony, you’re probably going to want to take some photos to commemorate the moment and luckily there are some great spots within a few minutes walk.

St. Anne’s Parish in Church Circle – The church in Church Circle’s sits right in the middle of the roundabout, directly across the street from the courthouse. The grounds offer a great setting for a variety of nice, mostly formal-style portraits with groups and couples.

Acton’s Cove – Just a few blocks down South Street, Acton’s Cove is a quiet little park with some waterfront views, nice public art, benches, lawns and a tunnel of trees that blooms beautifully in the spring. This is a more informal setting for portraits, but offers great variety and a nice sampling of the various vibes Annapolis has to offer, without much in the way of tourists.

Use a Professional Officiant Somewhere You Like

If you are someone who wants to elope outside the courthouse, but don’t have someone in mind to officiate for you, or that someone just isn’t comfortable jumping through the ordination hoops, you can hire a professional officiant to meat you just about anywhere you want. I’ve worked with a company called CeremonyOfficiants.com who has a stable of ordained ministers that they can send out to work with you on this. The company is aimed more at traditional weddings, but an officiant is an officiant, and elopements are still weddings.

The officiants I have worked with through CeremonyOfficiants.com have always been thoughtful and detail-oriented professionals and if you’re looking for a ceremony experience with more polish, and perhaps more secular credibility, they can certainly help. They’ll also help walk you through the legal stuff, so if you’re head was spinning in that first section, this might be a good option.

Get Married at the Annapolis Wedding Chapel

The Annapolis Wedding Chapel combines the easy, straightforward approach of the Courthouse with the more customized personal approach of a professional officiant in a unique location. The chapel is an intimate venue situated on Old Generals Highway. The owner and officiant, Loveta, can help you navigate all the legal hullabaloo to make it official, as well as deliver a very touching ceremony that reflects your own preferences.

The chapel can host a maximum of 20 guests—a couple more than the courthouse—and you can have the ceremony inside, or outside in the beautifully manicured garden area. The Chapel offers a nice area for portraits before or after your ceremony, but it’s also just a few minutes down the road from the many other options that Annapolis has to offer.

Alternatively, Get Married Basically Anywhere You Want By Someone You Love

If you want a more personal and private ceremony experience, you can choose to have a friend or family member officiate your wedding almost anywhere you are legally allowed to be. This has become more popular in recent years, particularly among people who don’t feel validated by a religious body. For a lot of folks the perfect officiant isn’t a role, but a relationship. You mom, your brother, your best friend, the mutual friend who first introduced the two of you. Of course, this option isn’t for everyone, but personally I think it’s awesome. In exchange for some of the polish and convenience a professional officiant and venue brings to the table, it adds some emotional depth and personal gravity to the whole thing.

The good news is that Maryland law allows these people (and anyone else) to officiate weddings as long as they are “ordained”. Ordination in the eyes of the law is a, uh, pretty squishy thing. Frankly, at the risk of digressing, it’s comically easy. Lots of people use online ordination services, such as American Marriage Ministries (AMM), to become officiants. There are other services as well, and some of them are even totally free. So do some Googling about it—I personally got ordained years ago in order to officiate some friend’s weddings and have since saved-the-day at a few of my client’s weddings over the years when the a hired officiant went missing.

Steps to Having a Loved One Officiate:

First, the person you choose to officiate will need to get ordained, if they aren’t already—you might be surprised. Services like AMM offer a straightforward and speedy process for this (it’s free). Once ordained, the officiant must familiarize themselves with Maryland’s marriage laws and the steps involved in conducting a ceremony and handling the marriage license. The guide at AMM I linked above spells it out really, really clearly: Ask for the license, confirm the license is valid, fill out the license, return the license (you can do the last step yourself once their signature is on it).

Maryland doesn’t require officiants register with any governing bodies, but it is important to understand officiant’s legal responsibilities, of which there are only a few—so make sure they look over that page and fill out the marriage license carefully. There’s no way to replace it without starting the whole thing over.

Choosing Your Wedding Elopement Ceremony Location

Whether for convenience or scenery, probably the best part about having someone you know, or a hired professional, officiate is that you get to choose from all sorts of unique locations for your ceremony besides the courthouse.

Imagine exchanging vows with the gentle lapping of the Chesapeake Bay as your soundtrack. Annapolis’ waterfront, historic and park settings offer stunning views and great romantic atmosphere. Locations like City Dock, Quiet Waters Park or Acton Cove can provide beautiful settings for an informal ceremony. Heck—call up Storm Bros and see if you can get married while ordering an ice cream cone near the water. You can really make this thing your own. Just keep in mind that some locations will require permits if you don’t want to share the space with other visitors. So don’t just fly by the seat of your pants, unless you don’t mind the seat of your pants potentially flying.

My locations directory is full of great ideas for all sorts of different photo sessions and events, and when it comes to an elopement, just about any one of them could be a great choice.

Professional Photography for Your Elopement Wedding Ceremony

Whether you want to bring in a professional to photograph your elopement is up to you. Of course, while an elopement eschews a lot of the pomp and formalities of traditional weddings, it’s still going to be an important moment that you want to remember, so having a professional there to do it for you is probably not something you’ll regret. When thinking about photography, consider the moments and emotions you want to capture—candid shots of spontaneous joy, perhaps more posed, formal almost anthropological portraits. Key photo opportunities include things like the ceremony itself, group photos with close family and friends, and intimate couple portraits in scenic spots around Annapolis.

The best photography plan usually starts with the coverage of the ceremony, followed by group photos with your guests, and finishing with photos of you and your new spouse. This approach helps to make sure the most important parts of your day are documented efficiently and practically, without getting in the way of the real reason you’re there and without taking up too much of your headspace in the process.

Deciding whether to include coverage of your after party, at the restaurant for example, depends on your preferences and the nature of your celebration. A few minutes of after party coverage can go along way recording the general atmosphere and a sampling of the kind of candid moments you experienced without feeling overly intrusive. However, if your gathering is small, extended photography might feel like it takes up too much oxygen in the room, distracting you and your guests from a more relaxed casual vibe. A balanced approach is to have the photographer capture key moments like toasts or cutting a cake before slipping out and giving you some privacy with your friends and family.

I offer a few special elopement packages designed to fit these unique situations. Reach out to learn more if you think you might be interested in professional coverage.

Where to Eat After Your Elopement Ceremony in Annapolis

Once you’re married, you’re more than likely going to want to do something to celebrate, and one of the more popular options is to go out to eat some place nice. Annapolis is amazing at this. There are tons of options out there, but you’re not going to want to just wing it, lest you end up at Chic-Fil-A (again). Remember, other people are getting married at the same time, and they all have the same idea you do. So, picking a nice place and making a reservation ahead of time is a good idea. Here are some fantastic options, each offering a unique dining experience that’s great for a post-ceremony celebration with your loved ones—or just the two of you.

Carrol’s Creek Cafe – Located in Eastport, just on the other side of Spa Creek, Carrol’s Creek Cafe offers incredible waterfront views of Annapolis Harbor. The upscale restaurant is known for its great seafood and elegant atmosphere.

Fox’s Den – If you’re looking for a more casual, family-style meal, Fox’s Den is an excellent choice. Located right in the middle of Downtown Annapolis, the gastropub is known for its shareable plates, craft beers, and cozy ambiance.

Iron Rooster – For folks who love comfort food, Iron Rooster is perfect. It’s a popular eatery known for all-day breakfast menus and hearty American dishes. The relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to unwind and enjoy a celebratory meal after your ceremony.

Reynolds Tavern – Located a stones throw from the courthouse on Church Circle, it’s an historic colonial building with a beautifully intimate setting full of natural light, wooden plank floors, and glass lanterns. It’s known for the afternoon tea service, and also offers a selection of soups, sandwiches, and full meals. It’s a charming choice for a smaller parties.

Level – A Small Plates Lounge – Level has a modern, chic atmosphere with a menu focused on small plates and seasonal ingredients. Located on West Street, it’s just a short walk from the courthouse. It’s perfect for a semi-private dining experience, accommodating groups comfortably.

Vin 909 – Also across Spa Creek in a pseudo suburban style neighborhood setting in Eastport, Vin 909 is a unique farm-to-table restaurant that is really one of a kind and feels like you’re visiting a good friend’s house. The menu features delicious, wood-fired pizzas, fresh salads, and a variety of small plates, all made with locally sourced ingredients.

Harry Browne’s – For a more sophisticated meal experience, Harry Browne’s on State Circle offers an elegant setting with a menu of gourmet American cuisine. The upstairs dining room provides a private and refined space, perfect for an intimate post-wedding celebration. They have an extensive wine list and formal service experience that’s might be perfect for the occasion.

Blackwall Hitch – Located on the waterfront, Blackwall Hitch combines a vibrant atmosphere with stunning views of the Chesapeake Bay. The menu features a mix of seafood and traditional American dishes, and the restaurant offers several private dining areas for a more exclusive celebration.

Again, regardless of the restaurant you choose, you’ll want to make a reservation. And if you’re planning to take pictures after your ceremony, you’ll want to discuss with your photographer (ahem) about how much time you’ll need so that you can plan to finish up in time.

Seasonal Considerations and Busy Dates in Annapolis

Spring and autumn are particularly beautiful in Annapolis. With mild temperatures, bright foliage and blooming flowers, it’s really a remarkably scenic area. Summers can be warm, so plan for early morning or late afternoon ceremony to avoid the heat. Winters are mild, but probably colder than you’ll be comfortable with for more than a few minutes. Plus, the occasional dusting of snow can add a magical touch (and a mess) to your plans.

When planning your elopement, you’ll want to be mindful of major events that can affect hotel availability and rates, as well as huge influxes of tourists and road traffic. Events like the USNA Commissioning Week (always Memorial Day Weekend), the Fall Boat Show (The first two weekends in October), and Navy football home games (Schedule varies) with Navy class reunions are always held on game days, can draw a big influx of people so it’s good to avoid the surrounding dates.

Guest Accommodation and Transportation

Annapolis has a range of accommodations that fit most budgets, from luxury hotels to more cost conscious options. There are even quite a few Air BnB’s within walking distance of the courthouse, some of which can probably accommodate you and all your guests in the same place. If you’re coming in from out of town, look around at the options. For transportation, Annapolis is easily accessible from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and options like Uber, Lyft, and SafeRide offer easy ways to get around. Annapolis is a city, but it’s more “city” than City. It’s mostly car friendly, so don’t you probably won’t end up in hours of traffic, provided you avoid the dates discussed above.

Final Thoughts

Eloping in Annapolis is easy and beautiful and unique. By understanding the legal requirements, considering the option of having your own officiant, and exploring the various venue options, you can create a memorable and stress-free start to your married life. Enjoy the charm and beauty of Annapolis as you embark on this new chapter together.