San Francisco is a great city to get married in, whether you’re doing a simple City Hall ceremony, eloping on the beach or something more elaborate at one of San Francisco’s gorgeous wedding venues.
One thing you’ll notice is that San Francisco isn’t a city that has a lot of indoor or covered options when it comes to a rain plan.
However, as we head into the rainy season in the Bay Area, I’ve felt it necessary to throw my 2 cents in. So without further ado, here are some ideas for what you could do if rain is expected on your big day.
Conventional wisdom states that you should lean on your venue or planner to provide a solution or rain plan.
That may work if you are having a big wedding at a traditional wedding venue. But what about those who are eloping outdoors or get married at City Hall with a portrait session somewhere around San Francisco? i.e no traditional wedding venue and no wedding planner?
If you’re having a more casual, low key wedding in San Francisco and it rains, what do you do?
I am happy to offer my guidance as a San Francisco wedding photographer that specializes in elopements, City Hall ceremonies and non-traditional, intimate weddings.
The biggest thing to remember is – there is no silver bullet plan here. The name of the game is resourcefulness. Every option comes with some sort of trade-off that you should be aware of.
TL;DR: There is no ‘designated location that works great for rainy day weddings’. It’s going to depend on each couple’s unique preferences, tolerances and what they can bring, too.
Allow me to guide you through some options that come to mind as well as what may have worked for other couples faced with a similar predicament.
Table of Contents
Bring an umbrella
If the rain is light and you don’t mind getting in the mud or wet ground, I highly recommend sticking to your original location plan and bringing an umbrella!
You can get your own cute umbrellas that are to your taste – might as well embrace the rainy wedding day.
If you’re getting married at City Hall, I suggest you provide your own umbrella(s) and have a guest or guests carry it/them!
Clear is always my preference so it allows light to reach your faces and doesn’t cause a color cast. The two of you can huddle together underneath one big brolly.
When walking around in the rain, bear in mind that dresses will get dirty and shoes may even get ruined. (Check out my next tip for how to avoid this)
While that sounds awful to some, I want you to remember that these are the photos and the moments that you’ll cherish forever – and are more important than the ‘stuff’ which you’ll never wear again.
The dress and shoes should look nice and neat for the ceremony and formal photos, but after that, honestly, what do you need a pristine dress and shoes for?
If rain is part of your wedding day story, might as well have fun with it! Here is a couple doing just that – they got married at SF City Hall and did photos on Baker Beach.
Purchase pashminas or ponchos for guests
With rain often comes cooler weather and that chilled-from-the-inside feeling that’s hard to shake. For women in your wedding group (particularly parents and older folks), a warm pashmina can be a stylish touch, while keeping a sense of occasion.
Outerwear can look awkward in formal group photos, so something like this ensures pretty colors and a consistent feel for the photos.
Pashminas roll up small so it’s easy to bring several of these along with you if you’re doing the San Francisco City Hall thing. They can be used as head coverings, scarves, shawls or even something to sit on, so they’re pretty versatile too.
Ponchos are nowhere near as stylish, but for a fully-outdoor ceremony may be a wise and inexpensive choice to keep your guests – and possibly yourselves! – dry.
If we’ll be doing a fair amount of walking around in heavy rain to get to a particular location (for example, the dome at the Palace of Fine Arts), then a poncho will make that walk more bearable and can be removed for the photos.
Bring a change of shoes & clothes
Want to avoid your white dress getting trashed and shoes getting mud splatters? A change out outfit might be a wise choice!
You could opt for a shorter white dress, or something completely different, whatever you like!
Perhaps a cheaper pair of flat, throwaway shoes would be a good idea to guard against your dainty wedding shoes getting ruined.
Keep in mind that some photos will be full-length (and show your shoes!). Only wear shoes you don’t mind being in some of the photos. I’m not going to crop your feet out at the ankle – that would be silly.
Also, feel free to add a splash of color to your splashing-in-the-rain shoes, be that pink, rainbow, gold or whatever you like.
Here are some simple white options to consider for fun rain-proof footwear:
Book transportation in advance
I highly recommend having transportation booked, for example a town car, limo or hired bus, depending on your guest count. This ensures you and your guests are not getting around in the rain.
The bus can usually just park up directly outside City Hall on the Polk side, so it’s only a few steps to walk. A limo usually provides the best opportunities for photos on board, especially if everyone’s having fun drinking champagne and eating nibbles.
Having booked transport means you are still getting photos on your way from A to B, and if a plan doesn’t work out then we can hit the next possibility.
More info on transportation at the link below:
San Francisco City Hall
I’m writing this article primarily for couples who have booked me for their San Francisco City Hall ceremony. While you may have had ideas about hitting some stunning outdoor locations, if it’s too rainy the most practical solution is to remain at City Hall for more photos there.
It is the only location I know that is publicly accessible, really beautiful and completely covered.
It’s also a large enough area to get a variety of shots without ever feeling repetitive!
Plus, there’s no danger of us running into issues shooting there.
What I mean is, some of the privately-owned or pay-to-enter buildings might kick up a stink if they see for-profit photography occurring without a permit or advance permission. I’ll dive into more about this, later.
Locations nearby with rain cover
This may require either some pre-scouting if you have time to do so, or we can explore together day-of. For example, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has an overhang that could be used for photos, if you don’t mind the 30-second sprint to get there from City Hall.
Obviously, this will be different for each location! This will involve getting a bit creative and allowing yourselves to be open to whatever there is around.
For experienced photographers, this is all part of the fun and won’t be seen as an inconvenience or bad planning or anything. It’s part of the fun, so hopefully you’ll see it that way too!
The Palace of Fine Arts
This is a good one to have in the back pocket! The Palace of Fine Arts has it all in terms of architecture and beauty – it also complements City Hall really beautifully in the style of architecture.
The dome of the Palace is mostly covered – but there are a couple of things to bear in mind.
Firstly, it’s so high up that you are not necessarily getting complete protection from rain if the rain is heavy or coming in sideways.
Secondly, it’s a tiny area that many other photographers and their clients (not to mention tourists) could be flocking to for the exact same reason. If that’s the case, then you won’t get the wide-view, clear and empty dome photos you may have seen online.
More tips on this location at the link below:
The California Academy of Sciences
Not to brush up on science, but because this area has a larger overhang and isn’t as crowded. The California Academy of Sciences building is visible in the background, which has a brutalist architectural style with all that concrete.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I love it because it’s this neutral, refined background palette which photographs beautifully. It lets you as the subject really shine, rather than be overpowered by some of the more epic architectural styles.
Here’s an example of shots taken under the overhang at the CA Academy of Sciences:
And more photos from this shoot below if you’re curious.
The Ferry Building
The Ferry Building, situated on the Embarcadero, has a bustling downstairs area and a separate upstairs area with a completely different feel. The space is actually used for weddings!
I can’t guarantee that the upstairs area will always be open or free from other people or events, but it’s well worth a try given its proximity to City Hall.
For bonus points, take the cute Muni trolley – definitely some photo opportunities there. It’s not permitted to take photos of other patrons on public transit, so we’ll see if we can carve out our own private area while on the streetcar.
San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is a gorgeous fully-covered glasshouse filled with exotic plants and the most gorgeous light. It is on many people’s lists as a rainy-day location, but it also comes with some caveats.
According to the Conservatory’s rules surrounding permits, paid permits are required and must be obtained at least 30 days in advance. This goes for any size group. Unfortunately, I do not have information about permit prices – it may be on a per-booking basis.
Of course, as a working professional and business owner, I always recommend my clients to do what is required by the rules of the establishment where they wish to shoot. For one thing, it’s respectful – it’s only right to support the work of sometimes struggling public institutions.
For another thing, it avoids disappointment. Staff would be well within their rights to ask us to leave if it looks like we’re avoiding paying what’s due.
That said, I totally get that some couples still want to try, and sometimes it isn’t possible to go through the official channels in time. If that’s the case, I’ll simply be a ‘friend with a camera’ and we’ll see if we can grab a few shots!
Here are a few from a City Hall couple who braved it a few years ago without a permit – worked out great for this one!
The Westfield Mall in downtown San Francisco
Hear me out! The Westfield Mall San Francisco Centre is actually a beautiful place to get your photos done. One of the higher floors (that I can guide you to), has some stunning areas that are perfect for photos. This floor of the mall is tranquil, filled with light and has no shops on that level.
It is largely free of people which is one of the biggest plus points. Here are a few photos with one of my associate photographers and her partner modeling for me to demonstrate how good the mall can look for wedding photos!
Private institution (for example museums)
There are stunning museums dotted all over the City. To name a few:
- Asian Art Museum (across the road from SF City Hall)
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Legion of Honor
- De Young Museum
- Contemporary Jewish Museum
Though not a museum, the San Francisco Public Library, just a hop, skip and a jump away from City Hall?
I’d recommend sticking to one of the bigger museums such as the above places.
What you need to be aware of here is that again, each museum would likely have their own fee / permission requirements when it comes to for-profit photography.
I am usually OK with skirting the rules a bit in order to make your wedding photos as amazing as I can. That said, there is every chance that if we turn up to a museum, there’s no disguising that we’re clearly two people in wedding attire and one with a large backpack filled with photography equipment.
I would imagine that many establishments would have an issue with a photoshoot. It would be somewhat down to luck if we were permitted to enter, especially as many museums force you to check large bags like I would have when I’m shooting.
Probably the entrance area (pre- fee gates) would be a safer bet than needing to get past museum gate staff. Or, ideally, you would need to call them to ask what happens in terms of fees and permissions and pay it.
I’d be happy to supply any certificate of insurance, business licenses, ID, vaccination proof etc that may be reasonably required, but it’s always on the couple to take care of applying and paying for permits.
Friend’s house, hotel lobby or your place
Other than that, it’s a question of being resourceful. For example, are you staying at a hotel in the City? Perhaps it has a beautiful lobby or covered area or even your hotel room itself?
For example, if you’re staying in the suite at the Fairmont Hotel, room 520 (a suite) has this gorgeous covered adjoining terrace (shown below). It’s private and affords the most beautiful views as the backdrop for your wedding morning! It’s perfect for your first look followed by a few romantics:
Maybe you’re not staying at a hotel but your guests from out of town are? Taking photos at their hotel could definitely be an option if you ask them!
By the same token, do you have a friend with a nice home nearby that wouldn’t mind us shooting some pics there? I’m open to going anywhere my couples take me, so this is definitely time to get creative and resourceful!
If you live in the City then your place is definitely where we’ll head to!
Just like these two lovebirds on their San Francisco wedding day:
As a last resort, you could even reschedule your date
This option won’t apply to everyone as a possibility. In fact, I’m considering it more for engagement shoots than weddings! At your engagement shoot, you definitely shouldn’t have to deal with rain.
If you’re getting married at City Hall, then rescheduling would be costly (they don’t give refunds), inconvenient (your guests will already have prepared for your wedding) and unnecessary (the venue is indoors, so you can always have the main event inside and then figure out the rest using the ideas in this article!)
However, something super casual like a guerilla-style beach elopement would probably need to be rescheduled so you can actually enjoy being outdoors for 3 hours! It’s certainly not a concern for me to go ahead in the rain. I’m very used to rain, being from the UK – plus, professional photography equipment does fine in even heavy rain.
Since 2020, I’ve offered flexibility in my wedding services. Any funds you’ve already paid will become credits towards future event, if a reschedule is necessary. You can even change your event type.
When rain becomes a part of your wedding day, it’s important to keep in communication with your photographer. Everyone works differently, and each photographer’s schedule is a fluid thing that sometimes has some flexibility, and other times does not.
Some may have different, even better ideas up their sleeves! We’re also super open to hearing our clients’ ideas, and working around each couple’s unique preferences and priorities.
And there you have it! What would you rather do on your wedding day in San Francisco if it rains? Did I miss something? I’m hoping to add to this list with more locations and ideas as my couples take me to different spots around the City and I learn more rain-friendly wedding ideas!