Getting Married in San Francisco and Belvedere
As we embrace the start of 2022, I wanted to share the happiest day of 2021 (and many years to come, I’m sure!) here with you all.
On September 3, 2021, against the pandemic odds, I got married! I wondered whether to share this personal day in any public way, but I remember how many seeing other weddings online helped me understand what I wanted (and helped me make it through some of the most stressful months of planning.)
Our original, pre-pandemic plan was to host a destination wedding in Sicily, a place that both of us love, part of my new husband’s heritage, and one full of memories from one of our very favorite trips together. We began researching and reaching out to vendors in February 2020, so you can imagine with that timing…that plan didn’t stick for very long. As soon as lockdown happened, followed by COVID spikes in Italy, we accepted that we would need to reroute. (Still, if you are in a position where visiting or getting married in Sicily is feasible, do check out the Tonnara di Scopello — as this would likely have been our venue.)
The next step was to think about why we had initially chosen Sicily. Part of the draw to getting married abroad, other than both of our love for travel, was the opportunity to share a place we love with our guests. We also wanted to focus on sharing an experience rather than putting on an elaborate event. It also didn’t hurt that all wedding-related costs were significantly lower in Sicily.
The nature of a destination wedding also means a smaller group size and accepting that not everyone you would like to be there can indeed attend. It turns out that this mindset helped us pivot into a pandemic-safe wedding size, first dictated by COVID restrictions and then by the size of the venues we chose.
We ended up only being able to accommodate 40 guests, but we made this easier by limiting our guest list to immediate family and bridal party, with the addition of a few local friends who are close to both of us. And of course, what place do we love more than San Francisco?
We decided to get married in the city we live in and love so much, our home. Being that neither of us identifies as religious, we loved the idea of getting married in a civic place. San Francisco City Hall is also the site of some of the first gay marriages in California and was a leader in officiating same-sex marriage in this country. We loved the idea of honoring marriage equality and the significance of the site.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that San Francisco City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. We didn’t get to tour the interior before we chose it as our venue, but one look at some wedding photos shot there sold me. I was so relieved that we had found a place for our big day that was both meaningful and beautiful to both of us.
Our pandemic pivot was stressful, but in the end we couldn’t have chosen a wedding location that was more “us.”
I got ready at The Metropolitan Club downtown surrounded by my bridal party. Initially, I wasn’t sure that I wanted bridesmaids, particularly as we were having such a small wedding, but after thinking about it I decided I wanted to honor my closest friends in this way. And when else would I have such an opportunity?
Each bridesmaid chose their own dress in a pale pink color, and I was amazed at how coordinated everyone looked despite not having the same exact dress. My bridesman coordinated his shirt and tie and it meant so much to me to be surrounded by their love and friendship (on average we were looking at 18+ years of being friends!) I got everyone matching pajamas (theirs in pale pink, mine in white) custom-made via Etsy, which added to the morning fun.
After months of decision-making — from the dress and veil to the shoes to the custom rings — it was amazing to see everything come together the morning of.
We drank champagne, noshed on breakfast burritos and fresh fruit together, and took turns getting our hair done. I actually did not know with certainty how my hair would be done the day of, despite having two hair trials, which added some stress. In the end, I was happy with how my curls came out and decided to wear my hair down. I did my own makeup, which was not only more predictable but also relaxing for me!
SF City Hall has three options for getting married: public, private for 1 hour, or a full buyout. The 1-hour private ceremony was a perfect happy medium for us and our 40 guests.
There are also a couple of location options for private ceremonies. We went with the Fourth Floor Gallery due to the natural light present there.
The ceremony went by so quickly to me! My bridesman Zach played the violin as I walked down the aisle with my dad. We read our own vows, and my aunt officiated. While at times I wished we could have accommodated more guests, I am so, so happy we kept our group size to 40. It felt incredible to feel the most significant people in our lives surrounding us with support. We were also both so in the moment, I don’t know if my brain could’ve taken in any more faces!
Many tears were shed, and then many pictures were taken. Some of my favorite shots are the candids we took as we exited City Hall, and because we had such a small group present we were able to capture some wonderful moments of all our wedding guests together with us.
Then it was time to head over the Golden Gate Bridge, where our reception location awaited!
Dinner and the Reception
When it came to where we would celebrate upon departing City Hall, we considered a range of options. We still had our intention of creating a bit of an experience, even an escape, for our wedding guests, with a sense of place — perhaps by the water. So we looked at having a reception down in Carmel/Big Sur or up in Mendocino. It seemed that perhaps renting out part of a restaurant nearby to City Hall was a better plan, until we found…
China Cabin is the former formal social salon of the 19th-century ship P.S. China, one of two ships that used to take mail to and from North America to Asia. When the ship was decommissioned, the local historical society fought to save this part of the ship, decorated in 22 karat gold and dripping with elegance.
They restored it as a Victorian drawing-room, which felt in line with the time and history of San Francisco. I’m not kidding when I say that I literally gasped when I first walked inside. It now sits on the waterfront in Belvedere/Tiburon. Surrounded by hills and with calm waters in the marina below, it has an incredible view of the San Francisco skyline as well, which felt really special.
The space is today lovingly run by the historical society and with the help of volunteers. We loved the idea of contributing to a local nonprofit and celebrating in a historic setting, and this spot checked both those boxes. It also had both outdoor and indoor space (with great ventilation,) which made us feel safer about our fully vaccinated gathering and took away much of the worry that our guests could get the virus. In fact, the weather turned out to be so nice on the day that we spent all of our time outside except for eating dinner (and some of the dancing.)
We kicked things off with a cocktail hour that was longer than an hour. 🙂 We served favorite wines from France, Spain, Italy, and California, as well as signature cocktails that were each our order on our first date. It was really fun for the two of us to share that with our guests and also, so full circle to cheers on our wedding day with the same drinks we shared the evening we met.
In the spirit of our intendd wedding location, we were lucky enough to find caterers who provided the most wonderful Sicilian food. And what amazing food it was! I highly recommend our caterer. The arancini (well, all the cocktail hour apps) and handmade pasta dishes were especially memorable.
There were several other travel and language touches that suited us both as a couple. From a guest book made of vintage postcards (worldwide destinations for me, national parks for him) placed into a old suitcase, to beverages chosen to represent some of our favorite countries, to favors that were a selection of loose leaf teas sourced from our favorite places (we made our own and chose Japanese, English, and Indian teas!)
I also compiled various favorite poems from both of us and our wedding party and presented those as a ‘pick a poem’ (in a ceramic bowl handmade by my brother) to set the tone as guests arrived.
Of course, my truly only request was to have a champagne tower. I love the celebratory nature of it, and the experience of pouring it together lived up to my hopes and dreams!
Our stunning cake, made by a woman-owned small business, was another highlight. We ordered enough for 60-70 for our 40 person wedding and hardly ended up with leftovers because our guests enjoyed it that much. One friend later confessed to eating four slices (ha.) We opted for vanilla buttercream cake with salted caramel, topped with buttercream peonies. It was also so incredibly beautiful, I couldn’t recommend her cakes more.
We curated our own playlists — one for cocktail hour, one for dinner, and one for dancing — and played them on a large speaker rather than hire a DJ for our small group. We also opted to hire a day-of planner. This is something I was sure we didn’t need, and initially seemed out of our budget, but ended up being a great decision. Turns out even if your wedding is small there are still just as many decisions and often nearly as much to manage. Having a professional (we found her on Thumbtack) run the show made it so that we could relax on the day and also not have to ask anything of our friends or family. We wanted everyone to simply be present and soak in the day, and this helped so much with that. She also helped coordinate our first dance and the father daughter dance, which was needed since we didn’t have a DJ.
Dinner was calm and gave us a chance to catch our breath. My new husband and I made the rounds and spoke with each of our guests. It still took us quite a bit of time to speak with everyone, but it was wonderful being able to do so.
We rounded out the evening with speeches (unexpectedly many of my favorite moments, I wish I had them on video!) and of course, more dancing. We ended the evening with a small after-party down the road at Sam’s in Tiburon surrounded by our closest friends.
Dealing with the pandemic on every level — from dress shopping to the guest list to the safety on the day of — was not easy. Still, in the end, despite the stressful parts of planning and having to shift our plans multiple times, it was all worth it. I said this to myself throughout the wedding process, but it’s also true in life — that every time my plans are thrown off, I eventually get to where I am meant to be. This was much more difficult to remember in 2020 and 2021, but it turned out to be true. And even if it hadn’t, I came to terms with trusting that being married to my partner was what really mattered anyway.
At times we felt like we were in our own little world, and in other moments, like we were surrounded by the people who have had the greatest impact on our individual lives and the life we share together. As someone who was skeptical about the whole wedding industry, bringing those people together to celebrate an occasion that is so, so happy made having a wedding worth it. The whole day held a feeling I never want to forget.
I can’t help but smile when I realize how it all came together in the end. We both love Europe (and hope to live there someday!) and my husband’s favorite country is Italy, and mine is France. In the end, friends and family noted how much City Hall’s architecture reminded them of France and how much the setting in Belvedere reminded them of Italy. So, without intending to, we ended up evoking two of the places we love and had hoped to celebrate our marriage in, all while staying close to home and staying safe in the pandemic.
Next up, I’ll be sharing about our honeymoon (and my one international trip the past two years…) in Greece!
Dress: Novella Bridal – 565 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Photography: Amanda Wei Photography
Rings: La Bijouterie – 388 Market Street #10, San Francisco
Cake: From Flour
Catering: S&S Gastro
Florist: Elizabeth Mauricio
Rentals: Bright Event Rentals
Music: our own playlists – cocktail hour / dinner / dancing
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