Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ceremony Site Saga: Is it Possible to Have a Beach Wedding in San Francisco?

When we looked at ceremony venues, we stuck almost exclusively to parks and beaches. San Francisco has so many gorgeous parks in Golden Gate Park alone that we knew we could find somewhere beautiful to hold our ceremony. Fiance originally wanted us to get married on a beach in Santa Barbara, so when that didn't work out, I decided we would definitely make sure to have our ceremony outdoors because it was important to him. And, truth be told, I loved the idea of an outdoor wedding. Despite being Catholic and always assuming I would get married in a Catholic church, it no longer seemed that crucial. Besides, Fiance is not Catholic and we have lived together for two years now -- not usually the best starting point when you approach a Catholic priest. Besides, we're on a tight budget and parks are much cheaper than most other ceremony sites.

We visited what I felt like was a lot of sites, but I tire easily when forced to drive around the city. I seriously hate city driving, but Fiance has a stick shift which is no bueno when you're in a city plagued by so many hills! In reality we visited maybe 7 diferent sites, but 5 of them were all located in two places (there were three sites located at Crissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco, and two were at Golden Gate Park). So in actuality, we only had to go to four different locations but that was more than enough for me. Ready for a tour of San Francisco Parks? Good, here we go (I've only included pictures of the sites we didn't nix immediately):

We first thought of Golden Gate Park and the beautiful parks within it. Fiance's first time at GGP wasn't that long ago. October, I think? He had been complaining that he had not done enough tourist things since moving out to California. Granted, we had done touristy things over the past couple of years whenever he visited over summer and winter breaks, but we hadn't done anything since making the big move post-law school. We studied like crazy for the bar exam (we both passed!) when we first moved out, but even though we had tons of time on our hands after the exam was over, we just didn't spend a lot of time in San Francisco. Anyway, he loved GGP, so it made sense to start there. Fun trivia fact: Did you know that GGP is larger than Central Park in New York? Also, if you visit GGP you absolutely MUST see the bison pen. I think it's rather amusing that there's a buffalo habitat in the middle of the park. Anyway...

We first googled "Golden Gate Park wedding ceremony" and quickly found a link to park permits. We then started googling each park name to see if the pictures looked like something we might consider.

1. First stop: The Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park.

As you can see from the second picture, Shakespeare Garden is really secluded with its own gate. There's a built in brick walkway which is gorgeous and trees line the "aisle" -- very romantic! You can have the Shakespeare Bust open for a wedding, too. And, as a former English major, I loved the idea of getting married at a place named after such a famed author. When we decided to do a vintage themed wedding, this site seemed even more perfect. But, no site is "perfect." We knew that this site would require us to rent chairs and arrange for the delivery, set-up and breakdown. Plus, Golden Gate Park is not particularly accessible for guests who have never been to San Francisco. It's not BART accessible and is not particularly close to our reception site. And remember how I said it's secluded? The flip side to that is it is also hard to find.
2. We also checked out the Fuschia Garden at GGP, but (assuming we even found the right place) it just didn't seem appropriately set up for a wedding. We couldn't imagine an aisle, altar or seating for the guests. There was a small trail, but nothing really struck us as a wedding location. Moving on...

3. We were SO disappointed that we couldn't check out the Palace of the Fine Arts. Unfortunately, it's closed to the public until October 2009 for maintenance. Why couldn't they open it just a month or two earlier?! WHY?

See how pretty? How could anyone NOT want to get married here? And it's even better in person, even with construction fences covering it. And at $550 for two hours, it's a pretty good deal! But it was obviously not meant to be. Stupid maintenance/construction. Now, we did visit this site, but only after we picked our actual site because we wanted to see whether it would be possible to take wedding pictures here. So it doesn't really count, right?

4. Our next visits were actually indoor sites. We visited City Hall first. If you're not familiar with San Francisco's City Hall, you MUST visit the site or find some google images. That place is gorgeous. I thought about the site simply because I worked across the street from City Hall all summer in 2007 when I interned for the Attorney General's Office. It took some convincing to get Fiance to look at City Hall, but once I found him some pictures, he was sold.

Not your typical City Hall is it? The Rotunda is gorgeous. However, they no longer rent it out by the hour. We thought about having it on the Mayor's Balcony (it's on the second floor directly across from where the photographer was standing in the second photo) instead, but you run the risk of getting bumped from your location if the mayor decides to hold an event or a press conference or something. It is his balcony after all. Also, the balcony can only hold 20 or so seats which meant most of our guests would have to stand. Plus the additional set up fees for chairs was pretty highy. Aside from that, the venue rental was very expensive (okay, not that bad, but out of our price range). I still love City Hall though and would love to get some pictures descending the staircase there!

5. We did visit one church, but not a Catholic one. What church is accepting of sinners such as ourselves? The First Universalist Society of San Francisco came to mind. My little brother was actually baptized there (somehow in the ten years between me and my brother my mom decided she no longer wanted her children baptized Catholic). Unfortunately, it too ended up being out of our price range, at least for the site we wanted. The Sanctuary was beautiful, but probably too big for our 80 guests. It also happened to be about 3 times as much as we wanted to spend on a ceremony site. The Octagonal Chapel was within our budget, but we definitely preferred other sites (like the Shakespeare Garden). I highly recommend checking it out if it fits your budget, though. The event coordinator is fabulous!

6. Our last stop! The Crissy Field sites. We actually came across this option just by googling "outdoor wedding ceremony park san francisco". A number of articles and sites came up including a brochure from the National Parks Services about possible wedding sites North and South of the Golden Gate Bridge. We immediately eliminated everything North of the bridge (because then we would no longer be in San Francisco). We also nixed any place that prohibited special event use permits for summer months. In the end, Crissy Field seemed like the best bet. My first choice was the amphitheater because then we wouldn't have to deal with chair rentals and set up and all that.

This time, I was prepared with my camera! Can you believe it took me this long to remember? So you get to see me, Fiance, and Puppy! The site has gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of the Fine Arts (see #3 above) and Alcatraz. The downsides were the possibility of the grass being super muddy, the fact that guests would have to sit in their Sunday's best on concrete steps and the fact that it's a pretty crowded area (it's close to a cafe/hot dog stand). We both liked the site, though, and it shot up to the top of our list.

7. Also at Crissy Field was the East Beach. There isn't one particular location you can have your wedding ceremony at, but basically as long as you do not obstruct a common pathway (you leave enough space between your set up and the edge of the water or behind the chairs) you're good to go. Now, even though we'd originally talked very seriously about a beach wedding, I wasn't thrilled with the idea anymore. I'd already bought my dress (with a train) and I wanted to wear heels! We looked into a number of ideas such as putting down tiles or straw mats or a very heavy aisle runner, but I still wasn't thrilled about it unless we could get a wooden walkway and platform. Fiance really wanted to do it though, so I agreed to look at the beach. Turned out, right next to the sand, there was a perfect spot to set up a wedding ceremony:

A perfect compromise, don't you think? It's beach adjacent, and basically right on the ocean. We could have us and the bridal party on the steps and set up chairs on the area you saw in the second photo. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz are absolutely perfect. Plus, it's super close to the parking lot which meant it was convenient for the guests. After visiting the rest of the East Beach and agreeing that none of the other sites were what we were looking for in a wedding ceremony site, we decided we were done. We just needed to make a choice as to which location we wanted. But wait! Didn't I say there were eight sites? Well, since we had Puppy with us and it was a beautiful, sunny day (can you believe these pictures were taken in January?) we went for a walk through the Presidio. And wouldn't you know it? We found another possible ceremony site!

8. As we were walking down the Golden Gate Promenade at Crissy Field, I pointed to a grove of trees and said to Fiance, "That's kind of a nice area." So we stopped, checked it out and took some pictures.

Like the other Crissy Field sites, there were gorgeous views (of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, of course). The grove is also beach adjacent and there were multiple set up options. We could set up chairs in the grove itself, interspersing charis between the trees or on the beach, facing the grove.

So what was the final decision? Tune in next time to find out...


brainybabe said...

Hi, thanks for the detail review of ceremony sites in SF! We are planning a wedding for July 2010 and am having real hard time locking down a place. a few questions for you if you would be so kind - 1) where did you end up hosting your reception? i am assuming it's closer to crissy field. 2) which vendor did you use for supplying chairs and setup/breakdown for ceremony?

(fingers crossed that you're still checking this blog :)

Chester King said...

Hey, can you please help me with your opinions for San Francisco venues? I am going to reserve an venue for my big day but before that taking advice from the experienced people.