A San Francisco Wedding

I got married about 2 and 1/2 months ago in San Francisco.  I just received our professional pictures from the wedding so I’ve been consumed with staring at, organizing, and sharing the photos for the past two days.  Before our civil ceremony we decided to take photos at three locations – Legion of Honor, Baker Beach, and the Palace of Fine Arts.  The outdoor photo shoot didn’t go as planned because it rained quite heavily at times.  This was the end of May.  Gotta love San Francisco weather!  The photographers had to take advantage of the little rain breaks to get as many shots as they could.  Hubby and I were very relaxed about our special day.  When we got to the Legion of Honor at 8AM, the gate was still up so we couldn’t go inside the court.  No matter – we still got some great shots around the columns and on the nearby grounds.  A bug landed on me while we were taking photos so I tried to flick it off but I just ended up squashing and smearing it across my dress.  Lovely.  I ended up having to wash the stain off with rain drops collected off my body.  Like City Hall, Legion of Honor is a great Beaux-Arts style San Francisco landmark.  Reminiscent of Paris, there is a bronze cast of Rodin’s Thinker in front of a pyramid skylight in the inner courtyard.  Inside, the museum features many Rodin casts along with European artworks and special exhibitions.  I saw the Cartier exhibit here last time.  Predictably, it was filled with women ogling the jewelry, many times holding up their own jewelry in comparison.  Sorry but your ring just doesn’t compare to Grace Kelly’s 10-carat engagement ring.

Next we tried to go to Baker Beach, a little beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, but that didn’t work out because the clouds completely blanketed the bridge.  That was too bad as it makes for such lovely photos as it’s usually pretty empty most of the times.  Then it was on to the Palace of Fine Arts.  Constructed in 1915 for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, it’s mostly for decoration now altough sometimes there are events there.  We couldn’t go into and under the dome because it has been closed off due to renovation.  In front of the structure is a lagoon with ducks and swans swimming about.  For obvious reasons it’s a favourite place for photos and there are busloads of tourists descending all the time.  I’ll  never forget the memories of running around these places with my soon to be Hubby and our photographers, laughing all the while trying to stay dry.  I didn’t care that my white pumps got dirty stepping onto the wet and soggy grass, I was getting married soon!

Hubby and I didn’t have a traditional wedding.  Hubby’s visa is due to expire soon so we made the decision to get married (very practical but maybe not so romantic) and threw together a wedding for our immediate family members.  We had a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall followed by a nice lunch at the private dining room of Absinthe – a French brassiere about three blocks from City Hall.  No bridesmaids, no first dance, and best of all no $20K price tag.  San Francisco is blessed with an absolutely gorgeous City Hall.  The original City Hall was actually destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.  In my opinion, this current City Hall is more beautiful than the original, which didn’t look quite as cohesive.  A small fee for the marriage license and civil ceremony and you can be married in one of the country’s most beautiful city halls.  Most people are married in the rotunda above the staircase at no additional cost.  As we had a larger number of guests than the stated maximum of 6 for the rotunda, we opted to rent out the 4th Floor North Gallery.  I also wanted to have our own private space, free to mingle and take photos without strangers around.  When we got there at 10:30AM, City Hall was relatively empty but it quickly filled up with tourists, residents running errands, and employees.  There are public tours Monday through Friday at 10:00 am, 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm so I was glad to have our own cordoned-off area.

Reserving the 4th Floor North Gallery came with a hefty price tag – $1,002 for the 1 hour rental plus $3.50 for each folding chair.  During the ceremony I saw that most of our family members weren’t even sitting down.  They pretty much all stood up and paced around to get a good view of us.  I wanted to shout “Sit in the chair! I paid $3.50 for that!”.  Fridays are the busiest day for civil ceremonies at City Hall so keep that in mind if you’re planning on doing it there.  After our ceremony there were many more couples getting married and taking photos everywhere, so I am extremely glad that we shelled out for the gallery.

Absinthe is a wonderful place to hold a small wedding reception or any other celebration.  They have a private room next door to their restaurant that fits up to 45 people.  Just a few blocks from City Hall, it was fun to walk there and have cars honking and people shouting congratulatory messages as we went by.  As it has its own entrance, restroom, coat closet, bar, and dedicated service staff for your event, it’s as if you have a small restaurant to yourself.  If you’ve always been curious about the green drink, this is one of the few places to try it.  We skipped on it as our wedding was not the time to try the 110 – 114 proof drink for the first time.  Everyone loved the food.  In particular, the fries for the Steak Frites were light and crunchy.

Instead of doing a traditional wedding cake, I ordered a 6 inch cake and cupcakes.  Kara’s cupcakes, founded by a former sales executive, is a hugely popular cupcake business with 4 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and 1 in Napa.  There’s currently a cupcake craze – witness Food Networks’ show Cupcake Wars. It’s hard to say whether businesses solely selling cupcakes will last but Kara’s cupcakes has been doing well for a few years.  Each cupcake was $3 and the 6 inch cake on top was $40.  The cupcakes are really good but the frosting is a bit too sweet sometimes and there is a lot of it.  I much prefer the cake form where I don’t have to scrap some of the frosting off.  As you can see, we had dessert off the menu AND the Kara’s cupcakes.  It was too much for some folks so I was able to bring home some remaining cupcakes to slowly eat away for the next few days.

I had booked a night at Hotel Vitale so we dropped off our bags there before meeting up with Hubby’s family to visit the California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park.  Being the frugal people that we are, Hubby and I never valet park the car.  We decided to make an exception for this one special day.  Boy was I in for a shock when we checked out and saw that valet cost $45!  I had assumed it would be around $25 – the typical price for parking in a garage for 24 hours in this area.  Oh well, lesson learned.  Hotel Vitale is a top rated hotel in San Francisco.  The best feature is its location on Embarcadero.  You can walk across the street to the Ferry building. There are numerous restaurants and bars in the area and it is well-connected to all other sites by public transportation.  Americano, Hotel Vitale’s lobby restaurant and bar, has a sizable outside patio which is packed with young professionals for Happy Hour when the weather is nice.  Rooms are decorated in soothing earth tones and are furnished with a comfortable bed and sofa lounge.  We had a nice view of the Ferry building from our window.  Rooms also come with their own Hotel Vitale music CDs and a complimentary guest pass to the nearby YMCA.  Featured in this month’s Where magazine, the hotel is known for its spa.     Service at the hotel was nice, with the exception of the long wait for the car when we left (Hello!  What did we pay $45 for???) but I’m not sure it’s worth the average $360 nightly rate price tag.  I snagged a heavily discounted price through JDV’s Facebook Fridays.

It was a wonderfully relaxed and intimate wedding.  It was great to celebrate with our family in the city that we love.  I’ve been to three weddings in Holland (once for the civil and religious ceremony, once just for the party, and once for the entire thing as a day guest) so the next post will be about Dutch weddings.

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6 thoughts on “A San Francisco Wedding

    • Hi Jessica,

      Absinthe had a $800 food and drinks minimum to rent the space out for 3 hours. The lunch option we chose was $45 per person and we got (at least) three bottles of wine at around $45 a pop. They had a 20% service charge + tax (9.5%). I didn’t look at the final bill the day of and my husband apparently didn’t pay too much attention since he doesn’t remember…but just going by this we spent around at least $1100 on food and drinks for 15 adults and 3 kids (don’t remember how many bottles of wine we actually had). They had us send in $500 deposit to secure the venue. This was back in May 2010 so you should contact Absinthe for current pricing and options. They had one server dedicated to us. Loved the little door sign and personalized menus that they made for us.

      The flowers were from a nearby vendor recommended by Absinthe, Joseph Andrade Floral (http://www.jafloral.com/). Got the table four arrangements for $60 each = $240.

      The cake and cupcakes were from Kara’s cupcakes. 1 mini cake + dozen cupcakes ordered = about $80.

      I highly recommend all three vendors. They were all a pleasure to work with and made things easy. Hope this helps!

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