Places to Eat Near SF City Hall

We often are asked by our clients to suggest restaurants near to San Francisco City Hall.  Many of our brides and grooms want to  celebrate their wedding vows at a nearby eatery without having to get in the car and fight traffic.  As luck would have it, there are quite a few local restaurants in the vicinity of City Hall.  Some are only a couple of blocks away.  Listed below our some of our favorites in no particular order:

  • Jardiniere – Exceptional upscale cuisine with French influence.  They feature small bites elegantly prepared with a fantastic environment.  If you are looking for romantic dining this is the place to go.  They also have an amazing wine list and dedicated wine expert who will serve you the wine and discuss it with you.  A great dining experience and only 1 block from San Francisco City Hall.  Check out the Jardiniere website for more information.
  • Absinthe – Another personal favorite in the Hayes Valley area.  Absinthe is probably the place that most city hall couples choose when they want a nearby dinner celebration.  The wonderful thing about Absinthe is that it has a dedicated wedding reception facility right next to the eatery.  This spacious dining area provides the couple with excellent privacy.  The service here is amazing and the food if wonderful.  Try the French Onion Soup, it’s fantastic. The Absinthe website has a lot of excellent information.
  • Patxi’s Pizza – It is a pretty good walk from San Francisco City Hall but well worth it.  If you are looking for something much less expensive but still good food, this the place.  A much more casual dining experience, but with nice decor.  Patxi’s is known for their Chicago style pizza, but I actually prefer the smaller signature pizzas they serve.  Some Italian influence makes for some great individual style Pizzas.  Get 2 and share!  This is probably not the ideal place to bring a large wedding party, but it might be fun for a quick late lunch bite.   Patxi’s Pizza San Francisco
  • Soluna Cafe – Definitely a favorite of the city hall wedding crowd.  They host  wedding receptions there or small parties.  This is probably the closest eatery to city hall.  It’s basically right across the square and less than a 5 minute walk.  Known for the innovative cuisine and great bar set up.  This place receives very high marks from Yelp and is a personal favorite.  To obtain more information please check out the Soluna website.

Why Book a Professional Wedding Photographer at City Hall

Yes, I know you are probably thinking that you have seen this type of article over and over again.  It is usually written by frustrated  professional wedding photographers who are begging  you to understand why it is so important to hire a pro.  The author will usually go on and on about the quality of work, the superior equipment and sharper and clearer pictures.  They will also spend considerable time discussing the pitfalls of having a friend do your wedding photography because they are likely to mess things up and/or take blurry images.  When I sat down to write this article for my blog, I decided I wanted to approach it differently.  Rather than stating the obvious, I wanted to provide my audience with some unique issues that they probably didn’t realize.   This blog post is also specifically about City Hall wedding photography since that is what this blog is all about!

Safety and Security

What are some of the nightmare issues I have heard about from clients about their friends shooting weddings for others?  Corruption of data, bad Flash Cards, hard drive crashes and insufficient backup systems are among the problems we hear the most about.  Professional City Hall wedding photographers including myself have a pretty complicated back up system.  Most of our pro cameras write each image photographed to 2 cards simultaneously.  This helps to lower the odds greatly that a Card Failure or corruption will wipe out your wedding memories.  Many of the so called “Prosumer” cameras do not have this feature.  Every photo I take is written to 2 cards with one being a backup for the other.  I hold on to one of the cards without deleting it until my clients have their images in their own possession.  This eliminates the possibility of loss or other failures.

If you have Uncle Bob do your San Francisco city hall wedding photography, chances are he will take your photos and then put them on a hard drive at his home.  Or he may just give you the cards.  Does this sound like a safe way to handle your precious memories?  Certainly not!  What if you lose the cards that he gives you?  What if his Hard Drive crashes or he has a house fire?  Does he have off-premises back up?  I am sure he does not.   When I shoot a city hall wedding, my cards go directly on my Computer hard drive.   Within seconds, they are also copied to my external hard drive.   They are simultaneously backed up to an off-premises location and then eventually uploaded to your secure site for viewing.   As I previously mentioned, I also keep one of the cards until the client receives their images.  So when you hire me as your wedding photographer, your images are basically backed up in 5 differently places temporarily and 3 places permanently.   Your wedding is a precious memory, it is not worth the risk of losing everything.

Tricky SF City Hall Lighting

Yes, this is a beautiful wedding venue and a great place for wedding photography, but is it easy to take pictures here?  Not really.  The huge windows and uneven lighting can give you fits.  There are some places that are impossible to shoot without a flash because of the strong backlighting.  We often wonder how some of the people we see shooting weddings without any professional lighting can get anything resembling a good result.  There are certain places in City Hall that are very dark.  Other places have unattractive overhead lighting.  This type of natural lighting will give all of your subjects “Raccoon Eyes”.    While it is true that there some some incredible locations at the city hall venue with amazing natural light, it’s not always easy to capture it.  It takes practice and experience to master the interior photos taken at city hall.

City Hall Major Events

One of the unknown things about San Francisco city hall is that they schedule large events throughout the week during the same time that weddings are occurring.  This is often surprising to many people and they don’t know how to handle it. When events are scheduled, City Hall frequently ropes off the Grand Staircase making it impossible to take photos in the area.  Since this is probably where about 75% of all photography takes place within city hall, this can be a problem.  The advantage of hiring a professional city hall photographer is that they will know other places to take you that are also beautiful and historic.  Some of these other areas may not be obvious to your amateur “friend” wedding photographer.  I know the first time I did a wedding at city hall, I had no idea about some of these other areas.  This one of the huge advantages to hiring a pro.  Not only do they know where to take you to avoid the crowds, but they also know about the “secret” locations around the building.

City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.
City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.

The above image shows what it looks like when the Grand Staircase is closed and you cannot go in.

We will post Part 2 of this article tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

Parking for your Wedding at City Hall

It can be a challenge to park in San Francisco, especially anything close to Downtown.  We often get asked asked by our brides and grooms about the best places to park around city hall for their wedding.  There are a number of options and I will start with the most simple one:

  1. The Civic Center Parking Garage.  This is probably the most convenient of all of the nearby options at City Hall.  There is ample room and the lot rarely fills up.  Recently they have raised their pricing so it’s no longer the bargain it once was.  However, it is still less expensive than parking downtown and it is walking distance from the the entrance to City Hall.  It’s also covered parking which provides an extra level of safety.  For more details including parking rates and closing times, click this link:  Civic Center Parking
  2. The War Memorial Opera House Garage.  Another nearby option is at the Opera House behind San Francisco city hall off of Van Ness.  It may appear to be a little farther away, but in reality it’s about the same distance assuming you use the back entrance to city hall.  Just cross Van Ness street and you are there.  It also offers covered parking and decent pricing.   It’s usually available unless there is a big event going on there (like the opera!).  But since most city hall weddings are during the day, you should be able to park here with no problem.  Click here for details on Opera House parking.
  3. Civic Center Street Parking.  If you don’t need covered parking, there are quite a few spots on the street around City Hall.  The pricing is better but some are limited in time.  If you are going to be in the building for less than 2 hours, this might be a good option.  Just remember that city hall weddings rarely occur on time so you need to allow some cushion.  Its actually quite possible to find spots right across the street from city hall.  There is also a nice service available to help you locate and reserve street parking.  For more information click here:  Reserved Street Parking
  4. The above options are the most common ways that brides and grooms find parking for their wedding.  But there are many other possibilities.  This article shows some other great places to park so check it out and happy parking!
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall

San Francisco Wedding Photography Locations

The month of January is always our slowest time period for city hall weddings.   It’s in the middle of the winter and there is no special event or holiday in January.  December of course is always busy due to the Beautiful Christmas tree and brides and grooms just like to get married at that time of the season.  February features Valentine’s Day and we always have weddings right around this date.  Many engaged couples actually choose to have their nuptials on this romantic holiday!  Given this slight lull, I thought it would be helpful to take the time to discuss some of our favorite destinations in San Francisco that we take our city hall wedding couples.

Iconic San Francisco Destinations

We take our couples throughout San Francisco after our city hall wedding photography sessions.  Here are some of the best san francisco wedding photographer locations:

Palace of Fine Arts

This is by far the most popular wedding photography destination.  Especially chosen frequently by our international brides and grooms.  It has a very large area for wedding photography with lots of options.  The beautiful building is obviously the centerpiece, but there are large columns  everywhere to use as a backdrop.  The only negative is the amount of tourists here.  Depending upon the time of day, it can be hard to find space without people looming in the background.

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

Legion of Honor

Another popular wedding photography spot, but fortunately MUCH less traveled by tourists.  The Legion of Honor offers beautiful Beaux-Arts style architecture which  many of San Francisco’s older buildings possess.  We love taking our city hall brides and grooms around the inner open area and pose them between the gray repeating columns.    The light is also fantastic here from a wedding photography standpoint.  This is because you have indirect light that comes in from the side, but is also reflected by the neutral tones of the building.  Perfect for a rainy day as well!

The Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor

The Golden Gate Bridge

This is an obvious one, but there are many options and decisions to make.  We try to help our newly married couples decide by providing them with the best possible information and ideas.  Late in the afternoon you can approach the bridge from Ocean by Baker Beach.  This provides nice warm light on the bridge and enhances the colors.  Earlier in the morning, we often like to take pictures of our brides and grooms from the San Francisco Bay side of the bridge.  This will often provide very nice dimensional lighting on the Golden Gate.  Listed below are some of the most common angles to approach wedding photography of the bridge

  • Baker Beach
  • Crissy Field
  • Fort Point
  • Legion of Honor
  • 17th Hole of Lincoln Park
  • Fort Baker
  • Lands End
  • Battery East Vista
  • Golden Gate Overlook
  • Marin County side
Baker Beach Angle
Baker Beach Angle
Crissy Field Angle
Crissy Field Angle
Fort Point Angle
Fort Point Angle

This completes part one of our San Francisco City Hall wedding photo destination options.  We will be adding more locations next week,  please stay tuned!

Christmas Wedding at City Hall

Christmas at San Francisco City Hall is always a wonderful time.  The place is always very busy and the giant Christmas tree becomes the center point of this great wedding venue.  For the past few years the tree has been decorated with Origami which makes for a very unique look.  In addition, when evening comes the light reflects off of the Origami and creates patterns on the walls at city hall.  It’s a pretty amazing scene.  We photographed 6 weddings this year during the Christmas season and each one had it’s own unique feel.  The primary reason for this Blog post is to just display a few photos from one of our larger weddings this Christmas season.

Bridal Portrait by the 3rd floor North Window
Bridal Portrait by the 3rd floor North Window

We started our formal shoot on the 3rd floor because city hall was pretty crowded and we were having trouble finding places without people in the background.   This particular wedding was on a Friday which is definitely one of the most crowded days of the week.  We have learned over the years where and when to take our brides and grooms once things get crowded.  The 3rd floor is one of those places!

Wedding Kiss at City Hall
Wedding Kiss at City Hall

Once we completed our time on the 3rd floor, we headed back down to the Christmas Tree to get a few nice shots.  Again, there were people everywhere and virtually no room to photograph the couple in the traditional place facing the Rotunda.  Fortunately, we have alternative angles into the tree that is off to the side.  Even though it’s a pretty obvious angle, many photographers without experience at city hall don’t know about it.  We  were able to get some fairly private images in front of the tree before moving on to our next location.

Christmas tree with bride and groom
Christmas tree with bride and groom

We spent over 1.5 hours at San Francisco city hall touring around taking photos and having fun.  We managed to get all of the shots that most people always ask us about including the Grand Staircase and the 4th floor North Gallery.  This despite the fact that City Hall had scheduled 7 reserved weddings that day, which usually brings a large number of people into the building.  We were lucky to walk up to the beautiful North Gallery just when one wedding was ending and another was about to be set up.

Golden Gate Bridge with Wedding Couple
Golden Gate Bridge with Wedding Couple

Once we completed our City Hall photo tour, we drove the couple to Fort Point to get some professional wedding pictures  with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  The couple’s family also showed up at Fort Point allowing us to include them in many of the photos.  It was a fantastic way to end our day.