Considering getting married in San Francisco? Whatever kind of wedding you have planned, the Palace of Fine Arts might just be the perfect elegant, historical Bay Area wedding venue for you.
The Palace of Fine Arts is the venue I want to highlight today. Having photographed a handful of small weddings there, including a destination wedding, I realize that the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most perfect locations for a San Francisco wedding.
I’m going to share a few stories from recent elopements and weddings on this blog post. But I will also give you some hopefully valuable actual information* as to how you can go about getting married at the Palace of Fine Arts – with or without an official booking.
More information can be found on the official SF Parks & Recs page here.
Is the Palace of Fine Arts open for weddings due to COVID?
Currently at the time of publication, the physical Permits Office is currently closed. According to this official SF Parks & Rec page (which could be updated at any time):
For those interested in obtaining permits in 2021, we are issuing wedding permits contingent on Health Order directives in place at the time of the permit. All permits are subject to the Health Order directive in place at the time of the permit.SF Parks & Rec, COVID update
This means that like with all weddings throughout 2020/2021, the need for flexibility is high for everyone concerned. Get ready to pivot if you want to try booking your wedding ceremony at the Palace.
The COVID-19 situation is so fluid, that it’s impossible to say at the current time whether 2021 gatherings will be able to go ahead as planned.
Options for getting married at the Palace of Fine Arts
So basically, you have a couple of options. You could officially book the venue by going through the SF Parks & Rec department.
This is advisable if you want to be 100% official about it, avoiding any disappointment. Likewise, if you want to be completely above board, then a booking is a good idea. Especially if you want that central spot under the dome, you don’t want to get there and then find out someone else has booked it! The dome is actually called the rotunda and it is pretty impressive!
The other option is just to turn up and see if you can find a nice spot to say ‘I do’. You see, the venue is outdoors and open to the public.
Every time I’ve been there with some clients, it’s been easy to find a nice area to take photos. All the times I’ve been there, the dome area has been available. Sure, you may have to wait a couple of minutes. There may be tourists or other photographers with their clients.
Incorporating the Palace of Fine Arts into your wedding photos
Before I dive into specifics of booking and planning a wedding at the Palace, it’s worth keeping an overview in mind.
When most people think about utilizing a location on their wedding day, they think about having their wedding ceremony there.
However you can easily have the Palace of Fine Arts be a portrait location – and have the ceremony at another venue or location. Ask your photographer or planner how it would work in terms of timing.
If you’re saying ‘I do’ at San Francisco City Hall, or another location in the city, make sure you allocate some extra time to visit the Palace of Fine Arts for some epic couples’ photos there.
And it doesn’t just stop with couples’ photos. This couple got married at City Hall, then transported their small group of guests to the Palace for photos with everyone! It all depends on your priorities as a couple, budget logistics and time allocation given your other wedding day events.
Elopements and engagements at the Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts also makes an incredible backdrop for your engagement photos! Let’s say your wedding is taking place too far from the Palace. No worries! An engagement session with most photographers typically lasts anything between 1 and 2 hours, so that’s plenty of time to get creative at the Palace of Fine Arts.
As it is a pretty expansive location with many, many different spots to choose from, it’s worth allocating a decent chunk of time to it. You could be photographed here for 45 minutes to an hour (or more!) and still not run out of areas to choose from. There are a range of different backgrounds everywhere you turn.
That’s why I recommend the Palace of Fine Arts as an engagement location!
Engagement shoots at the Palace of Fine Arts are a great idea because you typically have a LOT more time than on your wedding day. Time is limited on the big day itself because there are many activities and events to fit in. Plus, you have to think about your guests.
Are you just eloping and don’t need all the fanfare of a big wedding?
Our city is friendly to elopements from all over the world (you don’t have to be a resident of California or the US!) and it’s absolutely beautiful, too!
If you’re eloping or having photos taken here on the wedding day itself, be sure to allocate enough time (at the very least 45 minutes if you want a varied set of photos), showcasing the richness that the Palace of Fine Arts has to offer.
Sure there are different ways of approaching your wedding day photography needs. But I suggest avoiding the mentality of ‘let’s just get a few quick ones under the dome’. You’ll be dodging tourists and other photographers, and sprinting from the parking lot to make it fit into the time!
Other types of shoot also work really well here. Portraits, family sessions of even this fun shoot with a popular blogger that got us featured on Walmart! (I know it’s not 100% relevant, but I couldn’t resist!)
How much does it cost to get married at the Palace of Fine Arts?
Here’s the information about the exact costs of getting married at the Palace of Fine Arts. As mentioned, you may want to go down the route of the ‘guerilla wedding’ if you are OK with the possibility that on the day you are there, the rotunda is out of commission.
It is free of charge for anyone to enter the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. You don’t need to be a resident of the city to get free entry, as with other attractions. That means you can enter any of the outdoor areas, including the pond, rotunda, pathways and green areas.
Wedding ceremonies take place outside, under the rotunda, and remain the most popular choice for couples who wish to make a booking.
|Hourly rate for bookings (with a 2 hour minimum)||$144|
|Staff salary||Custom quotes provided by venue on request|
|100% refundable deposit||$500|
A simple wedding ceremony is what most have in mind. When you want to have a wedding reception at the Palace of Fine Arts, the costs increase quite dramatically.
|100% refundable deposit||$1,000|
|Staff salary||$88 / hour|
To avoid rain or adverse weather interfering with your wedding day, consider having a tented event. Again, the costs are high (with the setup cost being considerable) but this does of course offer the most peace of mind.
Compared to many other indoor San Francisco wedding venues, the cost is really not that bad!
|Minimum fee||$10,000 per day|
|Set up||$5,000 per day|
|Staff salary||$88 / hour|
Other rental options are available, including the adjacent (but separate) Palace of Fine Arts Theater, which ordinarily has a MUCH bigger capacity than any of the outdoor spaces we’ve addressed here.
Inquire directly with the Palace of Fine Arts staff for up to date information about permits and reservation fees. All information is subject to change without notice.
What’s the maximum capacity of the Palace of Fine Arts for weddings & events?
The maximum number of guests permitted at an event at the Palace of Fine Arts is 250. Only a limited number of larger events are allowed to take place each year.
Things to bear in mind when eloping at the Palace of Fine Arts
It’s not private
Whether or not you make an official booking or go guerilla-style, there will likely be members of the public wandering around! There are people in the park and the rotunda at any given time.
Though you’ll have your own area, it will not be completely private or roped off. Passers-by can get as close as they want to!
This might be a good time to bring up with your wedding photographer what kind of photo retouching or editing is included. Are you OK with the possible appearance of random people in the background? If yes, then that’s all good!
However, if you want to create the illusion that you were the only ones at the Palace that day, that’s going to take a bit of strategy when shooting to avoid excessive amounts of time in post-production (that often is on the client to pay for as an extra). It also requires an honest chat around editing expectations with your photographer, ahead of time.
Much of the work needs to be done in-camera, on the day. Excessive fine-image retouching is a last resort.
I take care of all photo editing myself within reason (if it is just a few bystanders here and there) and can remove people from the background as part of the service I offer exclusively for my wedding, elopement, and engagement photography clients.
Chairs and tables are not provided as part of your rental
You’ll need to use another company to provide your chairs and tables. I can recommend some Bay Area rental companies if you want some impartial recommendations.
Amplified sound is not allowed
Live musicians will probably be your best bet here! Harpists, cellists, guitarists… the list goes on.
Maximum capacity is 250 people, with limited parking
Parking areas are available but limited. Also, parking is not private and will be open to the public at all times.
No restroom on site
Nearest restrooms are across the street located at Little Marina Green, at the corner of Yacht Road and Marina Boulevard. These restrooms are about a one-block walk from the Rotunda of the Palace.
Obviously none of these things are meant to put you off – I just wanted to explain it in a clear way. Everyone’s needs and expectations around their wedding are different.
Weddings through private venues tend to allow more flexibility and more amenities being included. However, it’s well worth considering the Palace of Fine Arts for its beauty, versatility, historical significance, location, and affordability!
Choosing a wedding vendor team for your Palace of Fine Arts wedding
With a city-run wedding venue like the Palace or City Hall or Stern Grove, it pays to have a team that has worked there before.
There are often more obstacles than when dealing with a private wedding venue, and information can be extremely hard to come by.
That’s when you can really lean on your vendor team!
A photographer who has shot weddings at the Palace before is worth their weight in gold. They can show you around all the must-have as well as not-so-obvious locations for photos there.
An experienced photographer at that venue knows:
- How the light works at different times of the day
- The best areas for photos (both classic and unique)
- Secret hidden spots if you want a wedding ceremony where you won’t be disturbed
- How to get the most out of the location given you want a wide range of different shots
- How to tactfully but assertively ask others using the space to move along so we are not waiting too long
- Tips and tricks for where to park and where to meet up to maximize efficiency
- How to recreate any photos you’ve seen online and from which angle they were taken
I hope this was helpful! If you’re considering the Palace of Fine Arts, get in touch to tell me your wedding vision. As a San Francisco local, I would love to be back at the Palace to photograph your wedding.
*Please bear in mind that all information is correct at the time of publishing. While I hope to make updates to all my posts so the info shared remains current, sometimes this is not possible. You should always contact the venue directly to find out up-to-date pricing and availability information. Rates are subject to change without notice.