Frank Sinatra left his heart in San Francisco and it's easy to see why. Perhaps the two most-used adjectives to describe San Francisco are "unique" and "romantic," making it the perfect city for those seeking a unique and romantic wedding location.
But if you're planning your special day there, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the hundreds of different hotels, museums, natural settings, and museums available for rentals. But there a handful that really stand out as especially magical.
Once you've seen these most romantic places in this most romantic city, you won't want to get married anywhere else.
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San Francisco City Hall
In many places, City Hall is a bland municipal building with peeling paint and a dour atmosphere—not exactly ideal spots for weddings. But San Francisco City Hall is a Beaux-Arts monument with a breathtaking rotunda that makes a magnificent wedding location. Along with marble floors and soaring columns, the centerpiece is the grand staircase, which is a favorite backdrop for wedding ceremonies.
Though you can have an inexpensive wedding at San Francisco's City Hall, in order to guarantee that your ceremony can take place in the Rotunda without interruptions, you'll need to rent the space. Ceremony-only rentals take place on Saturdays before 3 p.m.
But this municipal building is so gorgeous, it's also great for your wedding reception. Evening rentals run from 4 p.m. to midnight and include the use of the equally grand light courts and second-floor balconies for receptions. The rental fees can be steep, but you won't find such dramatic and spectacular settings anywhere else in the city.
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- Capacity: Ceremony in the rotunda: 200 guests; receptions: up to 3000 guests
- Address: 1 Polk Street San Francisco, CA 94102
- Website: San Francisco City Hall Weddings
02 of 10
Prohibition-era glamour has a home in San Francisco at the Bently Reserve. Built in 1924 for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, it features a soaring hall, travertine walls and Italian marble floors, and a beaux-arts front colonnade. The 34-foot tall ceilings of the central banking hall are emphasized by rows of Doric columns. It's a perfect setting for a lavish San Francisco wedding to impress your guests.
For a ceremony, the happy couple can make a dramatic entrance down the grand marble and steel staircase in front of up to 350 seated guests. If you prefer to get married in a house of worship, nearby options include the Catholic Old St. Mary's and Notre Dame des Victoires, the Episcopal Grace Cathedral, the Keneseth Israel orthodox synagogue, and the largest Buddhist church in the United States, Buddha's Universal Church.
For receptions at the Bently Reserve, use the full space and host up to 650 guests. (You can also rent the adjacent Farallon room for even more capacity.) Or limit seating to inside the columns for 250 guests. Provided curtains allow you to create separate spaces beyond the columns for photo booths, catering stations or even the dance floor. A second-floor covered terrace is ideal for cocktail hours set against the energy of downtown San Francisco.
Though the Bently Reserve is on the National Register of Historic Places, a recent renovation married that historic detail to modern technology. In fact, closed-circuit television allows the couple to keep an eye on their guests from the privacy of the bride's lounge. One of the Bay Area's greenest venues, the Bently Reserve is LEED certified.
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- Capacity: Ceremony: 350 seated; reception: 650 standing, 400 seated, 250 seated inside columns
- Address: 301 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111
- Website: Bently Reserve
03 of 10
The crackle of a roaring fire and the warmth of candles add magic to a charming wedding ceremony setting at the Swedenborgian Church. Built in 1895 by a group of architects, artists, and spiritual seekers, this alluring and rustic Pacific Heights chapel is a National Historic Landmark. (The Swedenborgian Church is the only house of worship in San Francisco to be awarded this honor.) It's one of the earliest examples of the Arts and Crafts Movement on the West Coast.
Inside, the coffered ceiling is accented with natural tree trunk beams and wooden walls, a reflection of the nature-centered philosophy of its founding pastor and architect, Joseph Worcester. Couples getting married walk past the wood-burning fireplace on their way to a simple wooden altar. The beautiful and historic garden is also available for smaller wedding ceremonies (with the peace of mind of the chapel as a rain location).
Never heard of the Swedenborgian religion? They are a Christian denomination centered on Jesus Christ, and are generally liberal on social ethics—this is a great place for LGBT ceremonies. They are welcoming to other denominations, and flexible about letting you customize the wedding ceremony.
After the ceremony, the adjacent Craftsman-style Parish House and flower-filled garden are available for receptions.
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- Capacity: Church ceremony 100 to 115 guests; garden ceremony 45 seated and 75 standing guests; reception: 120 guests for a buffet-style reception or 75 for formal sit-down dinner
- Address: 2107 Lyon Street at Washington
- Website: Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco Weddings
04 of 10
The Legion of Honor
There are lots of wedding venues in San Francisco that offer impressive views. Many more feature grand and historic architecture and there are numerous museums with lobbies that are available for rent. But the Legion of Honor has all of this in spades and more.
Where else can you get married amongst priceless Rodin sculptures? What other venue offers a large grassy lawn with views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge? Where else in San Francisco is imposing neoclassical architecture paired with expansive space and fine art? It is one of the most romantic wedding locations in the world.
The rental fees aren't cheap, but the ceremony locations are surprisingly affordable. And renting out the entire museum is comparable to the cost for much less impressive large spaces around the city.
Wedding ceremonies often take place on the Balustrade Lawn, where you'll exchange vows against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. But if you feel more at home in man's art rather than nature's, you can wed in the palatial Court of Honor in front of Rodin's Thinker and a majestic wraparound colonnade.
The most unique reception location is definitely the Rodin galleries, where more than 70 Rodin sculptures are highlighted in adjacent halls with vaulted marble ceilings. Have your cocktail reception in one gallery, a seated dinner in the second, and dancing in the third, allowing your guests to have intimate experiences with some of the legendary sculptor's most famous pieces.
But if your artistic tastes run a bit older, you can also have your wedding reception downstairs on the terrace level. Your guests will drink cocktails in the Hall of the Antiquities while admiring centuries-old treasures before going to the window-filled Legion Café for dining and dancing. The adjoining brick sculpture garden can be used as additional reception space or just as a space for guests to get a breath of fresh air under the olive trees.
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- Capacity: Outdoor ceremony: 275, indoor ceremony: 300; reception: seated indoors: 225, seated outdoors: 400, standing indoors: 300, standing outdoors: 700
- Address: 100 34th Avenue, Lincoln Park San Francisco, CA 94121
- Website: Legion of Honor Weddings
05 of 10
Bluxome Street Winery
The youngest and freshest venue on this list is without a doubt the Bluxome Street Winery. The first winery to open in downtown San Francisco in 100 years, the venue manages to feel at once rustic and comfortable, yet also hip and modern. Sleek concrete floors and a wall of warm wooden wine barrels compliment the vast space. Owners Matt Reidy and Chris Nelson converted vintage Italian wine vessels into stunning lighting fixtures that fit the urban vibe.
But the beauty of the space is just one reason to have your wedding here. San Francisco is both a wine-loving city and one that celebrates the origins of foods. That's why Napa and Sonoma winery weddings are so popular. A Bluxome wedding means you can have the convenience of the city while retaining the cool factor of sipping wines in the very place they were created. Fortunately, the wines here are stunning—the kind that you linger over and think about again hours later.
Located on a SOMA (South of Marketa neighborhood) industrial side street, the charcoal grey façade with oversized lettering will be the first sign to your guests that they're at a special place. It's no surprise this newish spot has instantly become a hotspot for affordable tasting, monthly farmers markets, and Giants game "tailgating."
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- Capacity: 150 seated, 300 standing
- Address: 53 Bluxome St., San Francisco CA 94107
- Website: Bluxome Street Winery Event Space
06 of 10
California Academy of Sciences
Getting married means embarking on a new adventure, so it's pretty cool to take your wedding guests on an adventure too. Fun-loving couples often choose to have their wedding at a planetarium, aquarium, or museum, but the California Academy of Sciences is all three rolled into one.
What other natural history museum includes the typical dioramas and giant T-Rex skeletons, but also a living rainforest, a planetarium, and an aquarium? Have your ceremony in front of a coral reef with thousands of tropical fish as your witnesses. Or, choose the expansive piazza where a living wall will serve as the backdrop for your vows. For the reception, have your first dance in front of the appropriately tuxedoed penguins in the African exhibit, or dine with T-Rex in the main lobby.
Since you'll have the use of the whole museum, you can pose for pictures on the living roof, whose rolling architecture mimics the seven hills of San Francisco. But your most memorable photos of this truly unique San Francisco wedding venue might just be the ones you take with Frank, the albino alligator.
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- Capacity: Up to 280 guests
- Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118
- Website: California Academy of Sciences Weddings and Receptions
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Like getting married at City Hall, getting married at an Elks Lodge doesn't immediately seem to be a terribly romantic idea. But the Elks Lodge No. 3 in San Francisco is a gorgeous 1925 Spanish Gothic-style building; one that was given a 10-page spread in the very first issue of Architectural Digest. The gem of this lodge was the soaring double-height swimming pool with arched ceilings and a hand-painted mural of bathing beauties.
Today, the top portion of that room (including the arches and mural) has become the celebrated restaurant Farallon. Under the direction of Chef Mark Franz, it serves "coastal cuisine," which means a menu focusing on seafood and fresh produce. It's some of the best cuisine in San Francisco; and in a food lover's town, that means a lot.
The restaurant will do a total buy-out so that you can use the full space for 125 to 300 guests. However, they also rent out some awesome spaces on the fourth floor of the Elks Lodge for more affordable prices. The largest, the Beluga room, seats 96 guests. This former ballroom of the Elks Lodge boasts gilt details and underwater murals where sea creatures dance amongst seaweed and skeletons.
Let's not pretend that this is a budget wedding option. However, it is more affordable than many gorgeous wedding venues in San Francisco that have multi-thousand-dollar space rental fees, and require you to use an exclusive caterer with high prices.
As a bonus, the other tenant of the Elks' Lodge is the Kensington Park Hotel, a boutique-style hotel whose charm and Union Square location make it a tourist favorite. Neither you nor your out-of-town guests will have to drive at the end of the night, giving you the convenience of a hotel wedding without the cookie-cutter look of one. Many wedding couples book the Royal Suite, which includes a giant living/dining space, whirlpool bath, and two fireplaces. Zebra-print carpet adds a wild touch to the traditional furnishings.
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- Capacity: 300 with buyout; 96 in private dining room
- Address: 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
- Website: Fallaron Private Dining
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Presidio Log Cabin
Barn wedding venues and rustic themes are very chic, but for city dwellers, they mean asking your friends to rent cars and trek to a far-away location. Yet San Franciscans can have the best of both worlds with the Presidio Log Cabin, part of the Presidio National Park. This rustic room boasts log walls, beamed ceilings, wagon wheel chandeliers, and a large dance floor. Outside, the large flat lawn is frequently used for wedding ceremonies. (The Presidio Interfaith Chapel is another nearby charming spot for ceremonies.)
It's easy to play up the country-western vibe by adding cowboy décor, but it can also just as easily be decorated as an elegant and magical space. A stone fireplace is wonderful for those chilly San Francisco evenings, while the covered patio and picnic area are ideal for the cocktail hour on warmer days.
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- Capacity: 150 seated dinner with dance floor
- Address: 1299 Storey Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94109
- Website: Presidio Log Cabin
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Cliff House has featured fine food and stunning ocean views since 1863. The Terrace Room was restored in 2003 to be an event space perfect for a wedding. You will have views of Seal Rocks, the Marin coastline, and the Pacific Ocean. You might even spot seals, whales, or dolphins. Plan a sunset wedding on the outdoor terrace or view it through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
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- Capacity: Seated 120, standing 150
- Address: 1090 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
- Website: Cliff House Private Events
10 of 10
Foreign Cinema: Whimsical Industrial Chic
Foreign Cinema combines incredible food with industrial chic, and touches of whimsy. The restaurant is known for its outdoor courtyard where you can enjoy both dinner and a movie. It sounds like a gimmick, but Foreign Cinema has thrived for over a decade because it has an incredible ambiance and fantastic food. And though many restaurants will rent you their entire space as a buy-out, this space really flows well as a wedding venue.
Start by having your ceremony in the canopied courtyard. The two-story space has an urban simplicity and is long enough for a dramatic bridal entrance. Above, the clear canopy is draped with twinkling strands of lights adding a fairytale vibe. Heat lamps help with San Francisco's unpredictable weather. (This is the spot where the restaurant regularly shows the foreign films that give it its name.)
Have your reception in the main dining room, whose double height ceiling and grand fireplace have dramatic style. Guests who linger over their dinners can look out through banks of windows to the courtyard dance floor as more eager guests get down, buoyed by the refreshing air. You'll have your first dance as a married couple under the stars—not just the astronomical stars, but also the Hollywood stars from your favorite romantic old movies projected onto the walls above you.
When a restaurant is your wedding venue, the food better be great. And fortunately, at Foreign Cinema it is. The restaurant has won numerous accolades, including being listed in the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants every year since they've opened. Their Mediterranean-inspired cuisine focuses on fresh seasonal and sustainable ingredients, including a massive selection of oysters.
But the icing on the cake is this wedding venue's location in the hip neighborhood of the Mission. You'll love showing your guests a more real side of San Francisco than Fisherman's Wharf. Make sure you slip off to take some photos in front of the murals of Clarion Alley, just four blocks away.
- Capacity: 400 standing, 175 seated
- Address: 2534 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
- Website: Foreign Cinema