by Jan Brenner, Editor-in-Chief
San Francisco is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, which makes it a much sought-after setting for both local and destination weddings. And although it has a reputation for being pricey, there are quite a few affordable venues where you can host your event.
Looking for a historic mansion? An urban winery? A room with a view? Here are 9 unique places that won’t break the bank.
Neighborhood: The Sunset District
This 100-acre zoological park has developed a reputation as an intriguing and upscale location for special events—especially weddings! Serve appetizers and drinks in a lemur forest while watching these extraordinary animals at play…or host a dinner on the wild side in the Lion House, where you may be serenaded by the roars of six big cats. A variety of spaces plus a creative in-house caterer to help you design your celebration make this a versatile choice for a party.
A working winery in San Francisco? Yes! If you want a wine-focused wedding reception, this collective tasting room, wine bar and event venue may be just the ticket. It’s a sophisticated 15,000-square-foot loft setting with 20-foot ceilings that’s easily tailored to suit your event. You can use just part of this flexible space and bring in your own caterer (which can help lower the rental fee), but they provide lots of services, too, including assistance with wine pairings.
Neighborhood: Pacific Heights
This famous church offers traditional, contemporary, same-sex and interfaith ceremonies, and has charm to spare. Built in 1895 by a group of artists, architects and spiritual seekers, it’s an Arts and Crafts-style gem with with a warm wood interior and a huge brick fireplace that can be lit with candles. Intimate receptions take place in the Fireside and Dining Rooms of the adjacent house, while the quiet garden out front is a pretty spot for mingling and photos.
Neighborhood: Cathedral Hill
What we love most about this church is that it welcomes everyone, including same-sex and interfaith couples. Built in 1889 in the Gothic Revival-Romanesque style, the landmark building features a soaring sanctuary with exquisite stained-glass rose windows and a remarkable 3,100-pipe organ. There’s also a small chapel for intimate ceremonies, two large reception areas that can be combined, and a sunny outdoor courtyard for small gatherings (and photos!).
Surprised? This cool and creative museum’s galleries have high ceilings, great acoustics, and treated concrete floors (all very event-friendly), but the fabulous art on the walls is what makes this place so special. You might see early Mickey Mouse and Superman cels, underground comix from Robert Crumb, favorite Peanuts strips or other treasures from their huge collection. Stage an evening that progresses from one gallery to the next, and for fun have a cartoonist draw caricatures of your guests.
Neighborhood: Pier 3, The Embarcadero and Pier 40, South Beach Harbor
Yes, it IS possible to have your wedding ON THE BAY without going into debt for life. Hornblower offers a number of smaller vessels as well as reasonably priced, all-inclusive packages. They take care of everything (cruise, meal, bar program, champagne, wedding cake and more), plus the captain will perform your ceremony at no extra charge. And don’t forget the to-die-for views—both bridges, Alcatraz, the SF skyline and the Pacific.
Neighborhood: Marina District
Located on some of the most prime real estate in the city, the center’s historic buildings sit adjacent to the Marina Green, right on the water, with postcard-worthy vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Marin Headlands. Sites on the property include the budget-friendly, bayfront Firehouse (it’s got an outdoor patio that’s perfect for exchanging vows); the Conference Center, offering three adjoining rooms with spectacular seascape vistas; and the General’s Residence, featuring period décor, floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, and a bayview lawn for ceremonies.
Neighborhood: Pacific Heights
Built in 1886, this stately Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion is a San Francisco treasure as well as a unique museum. Largely unchanged since it was built, it’s filled with rich woodwork, period furnishings and architectural details, creating a setting that will transport you and your guests back in time. Boasting two large parlors, a formal dining room, a spacious ballroom and more, it’s a one-of-a-kind venue that will wow everyone at your celebration.
Neighborhood: Forest Hills
Designed by the award-winning architect, Bernard Maybeck, this 1919 Arts and Crafts-style gem boasts a Great Room with a soaring beamed ceiling, a delightful mezzanine, beautifully detailed original woodwork, and original light fixtures. Outdoors you’ll find a brick patio and garden (a pretty ceremony spot), a courtyard, and plenty of mature shade trees. Renovated in 2013, the clubhouse now offers modern-day amenities along with its turn-of-the-century charm.