Samantha & Mark’s City Hall Wedding And Restaurant Reception

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Samantha, Project Manager & Mark, Technical Art Director *

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

After we got engaged, I really didn’t know what to do about the wedding. I was all atwitter with happiness and joy and excitement that Mark and I were really going to do this whole “get married” thing. But as for specifics? The actual event? I didn’t know where to start. This feeling was further complicated by not fitting the traditional mold of the “blushing bride.” I’m not exactly a dress size that lets me go to bridal shops and enjoy myself. I’m also realistic and practical enough to know that trying to fit myself into that mold would just end in heartache, so I turned to the internet. Oh, internet, how wonderful you can be! I found APW and I found out that I was not alone. It made me feel better to know that the things I wanted to throw out of my wedding were absolutely okay to throw out. It made me feel better to know that I wasn’t alone in not wanting to do things the “usual” way. There were all these people out there who were having these amazing indie weddings, and I could be one of them. I could be cool about planning our wedding. We would only do things that felt right to us. We would not be held hostage by convention. We would be calm and Zen and we would have a wonderful, easy wedding. It would be perfect!

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Of course, this is easier said than done. Me being me, I started to worry about things, so many things. I worried about the location. I worried about the food. I worried about flowers and cake and favors. I worried, actually worried, about Jordan almonds. I worried that no one would come. I worried that too many people would come. I worried no one would talk, that we would all just sit in awkward silence staring at each other and silently begging time to go faster so the horrible pain of my boring wedding would stop. I worried and I worried and I worried.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

The trouble with trying to plan an easy wedding? They aren’t easy. Perfection is hard to plan out. All those beautiful pictures you see take work. Or money. Or both. A lot more work and money than the word “easy” would lead you to believe.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

So I talked to Mark. Remember him? First I tried to convince him to elope and he said no. Then we started really talking. We talked about what was important to us. We talked about why he didn’t want to elope and I did. I listened to him. He listened to me. We started putting things together. Things we wanted. We decided together to go back to the thought we had in the very beginning, that we would be calm and Zen and we would have a wonderful, easy wedding.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

We gave up on planning a perfect wedding and started planning our actual wedding. We picked out what was important to us and we threw the rest away.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Music was important. We were so fortunate that a friend of a friend happened to be a wedding officiant in Los Angeles (L.A. Wedding Woman) and also happened to be married to a musician. A musician who was willing to learn songs for us and perform them at the ceremony. He played “Here Comes the Sun” for our processional (which can make me tear up on a normal day, so of course, it made both Mark and I tear up as soon as we heard the first few chords) and “Strangers” (complete with vocals!) for our recessional. Standing there, newly married, listening to one of the best songs ever written on one of the most emotional days of your life can be a little… surreal. In a really wonderful way.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Food and Drink were important. We wanted the feel of a dinner party with friends. So we picked a restaurant we loved that also happened to have these amazing private rooms. Farallon took care of everything. We didn’t have to worry about tablecloths or silverware. We didn’t have to worry about the bar running out of booze. We didn’t even have to worry about cake. While we certainly could have freaked out over overlays and menus and the location of bar in relation to the tables, we didn’t. We let go and let them do their job. We put our trust in them and they didn’t disappoint.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Pictures were important. We spent a lot of time going through photographers’ websites. We pretty much discounted anyone who didn’t have prices listed and whose website wouldn’t work on my iPad (there are a lot of photographers out there, we had to cull them somehow). Mark and I looked at them all from our different points of view until we found one that made us both happy (viscerally happy) when we looked at her website. Once again, we were not disappointed. The feelings of the day come back every time I flip though our pictures (which is pretty much every day).

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Being Ourselves was important. We decided early on that we didn’t want to have dancing at our wedding. Not because we hate dancing, but because it really isn’t us. We are quiet spend-the-night-in-playing-board-games-and-drinking-wine types. Getting up to dance was going to be awkward for us, and the idea of no one dancing while a DJ screamed “DANCE” at the top of his/her lungs seemed, well, cruel. So we eschewed dancing and had a game table instead. People could play if they wanted, or not, nothing forced. And people played games! At the tables! Oh, and people danced too. All on their own because they liked a song or because they were a little bit drunk or because they were four years old and that’s just what you do. It was pretty rad.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Having Fun was important. I have trouble asking for help and frankly, I would have been a total wreck on our wedding day if we hadn’t hired a Day-Of Coordinator. I didn’t want to ask my friends to do too much (even though they are amazing and volunteered anyway) and I didn’t want to have to worry about anything (I believe I established my propensity for worry in paragraph two), so we went extravagant and hired a professional to worry for us (please note: not at all that extravagant). She was amazing; she just made things happen. She kept us on schedule. She helped us find our way when we got lost (which was often). And she made things so much more beautiful, and fun, and wonderful than I could have if I was trying to do it all myself.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Friends and Family were important. The most important. We had a small wedding because we wanted to spend time with people. We wanted to have conversations and be silly and take the time to enjoy the people who helped us be the people we are. I remember looking out at the tables during cocktail hour and seeing our friends talking to each other, people who had never met before having hilarious conversations like they were old friends.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

If I had tried to make my wedding perfect, I would have been frustrated and anxious and I would have felt like a total failure. If I tried to do it all myself, I would have given myself a stress-induced stroke. Instead I let go. It was hard to do, but I forced myself, we forced ourselves, to let go and stick to what was actually important. We really did the bare minimum. We stuck to simple projects we thought added value, used the space around us, picked amazing vendors and let them do what they do so well. In the end it felt organic and natural. We felt calm and Zen and we had a wedding that was wonderful and easy.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

Perfect, after all, is really only perfect in hindsight.

SF City Hall, Courthouse Wedding, Restaurant Reception

The Info—Photographer: Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor) / Day-of Coordinator: Lowe House Events (APW Sponsor) / Location: San Francisco, California / Wedding Venue: San Francisco City Hall / Reception Venue: Farallon Restaurant / Sam’s Dress: Dolly Couture / Mark’s Suit: Spoon Tailors / Rings: Gallery of Jewels and Pave / Flowers: Church Street Flowers / Officiant: Elysia Skye, L.A. Wedding Woman / Guitarist: Kalen Chase Musmecci

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  • Margi

    Wow. You just went into my head and planned my perfect wedding – from getting married at City Hall to having the reception in a restaurant. Even using my favorite future vendors – Emily takes photos and Lowe House events! Love it! Your happiness radiates in every photo. Congrats to you both.

  • Laura

    I’m going to be coming back to this post a ton – thank you! Also, you look incredible in that dress! I love the buttons down the back! You both look so happy. Congratulations!

  • Leila

    The whole wedding looked fantastic. I LOVED your dress and your hairstyle with it. You looked gorgeous! And man are you lucky to have such a beautiful city hall. :) Every time it is featured on APW I swoon.

  • Ahhhhhh this is the best day! Your dress is SO fun. And you are both radiant. But those little YAY! signs, wow. Not much makes me want to do my wedding over to include a little detail but this does. Congrats!

  • That sounds like a seriously awesome wedding, and way to keep it true to you guys. Also, when I clicked on this post, my first thought was “Oh my gosh, that dress is magical!”

  • “We gave up on planning a perfect wedding and started planning our actual wedding.” Perfectly stated. Also, I love your dress and headpiece. Considering that my Pinterest style board is pretty much entirely blue dresses, I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to go ahead and get married in one.

  • So wonderful. I got goosebumps looking at your photos and reading your story . . . I can relate, and am so happy for you both!

  • Class of 1980

    Okay this IS perfect. Fun pretty dress and everyone looks like they’re happy and relaxed.

    Can’t beat the San Francisco City Hall and what an atmospheric romantic restaurant! You let the surroundings do their magic and stayed loose about how things happened. My kind of wedding.

    And you can’t beat “Here Comes The Sun” and little girls spinning.

    • Another Meg

      Those little girls made my day. ALL OF THE JOY.
      And here comes the sun has, in my mind, the prettiest intro….oh, now I’m listening to it in my head. Rad.

  • april

    “We gave up on planning a perfect wedding and started planning our actual wedding. We picked out what was important to us and we threw the rest away.”

    <3 this. It's something I definitely need to keep telling myself over the next few months …

  • You had a beautiful wedding. To be honest, you planned my perfect wedding. We actually just sat down last week and talked about having board games (after which my sister said they were tacky, but we’re doing them anyways. We met during board game nights at college, so it’s special to us and our friends will enjoy it!) and we’ve been trying to figure out the details. (Does anyone else have issues getting responses from potential venues? Or venue ideas in North Carolina? Please?) It’s so reassuring that it came together so well for you. There is so much joy in your pictures! It looks beyond perfect! Thanks for sharing!

    • DanEllie

      Where in NC are you looking? And what are you looking for? We made some brief forays into the Boone area, but due to family considerations ultimately got married in VT.

      I was at a wedding with board games and it was really fun – playing with old friends and former strangers was terrific.

      Good luck!

      • Hi Danellie! We’re in the Raleigh/Durham area. Also, we’ve just started wedding planning this past month, so we’re a little overwhelmed and have no idea where to start looking! APW needs more NC vendors :) Does anyone have opinions about other site’s vendor/venue lists? Like the Knot (I’m terrified of the Knot, but everyone keeps directing me to it. As soon as it told me I could get away with only 2 outdoor chandeliers for an informal wedding I closed the browser window and never went back…)

        • one more sara

          I think WeddingWire is much more useful/less influenced by advertising money, but there can be a LOT of vendors to sort through, which can be overwhelming. I had pretty good luck with good old fashioned googling paired with checking the WeddingWire reviews. If you start getting overwhelmed, close the browser and step away from the internet. It’ll all still be there tomorrow.

    • Lauren

      Ooh ooh! I live in Raleigh!

      We are getting married at my church, with the reception at Haywood Hall downtown. I amassed a huge list of potential spots. I’d be happy to send you an email and/or meet up (let’s be friends!)

      My best suggestion from just what I see in your post is to go with Durant Road Nature Park. They have a huge shelter with a porch overlooking the lake there. It’s very secluded but easily accessible from Capitol Boulevard/540/Durant Road/Falls of Neuse.

      My email is lauren dot ramsdell at gmail dot com. Hit me up!

      • Thanks! I just sent you an email!

        • Susan

          I’m six months into a year long engagement planning our wedding in Durham, NC. This post was perfect and exactly describes the sentiments of my fiance and I who don’t want to do things because we “have to” but because we “want” to! No cake, no bridal party, no church, no bouquet toss… lots of friends, family, food and a good time. We want our wedding to feel like a big party during which a small, brief, meaningful ceremony takes place.

          If SONARISA is interested in Durham venues or ideas please email me at susan dot cohen at gmail dot com. Good luck!

          • Hi Susan! Thanks for your reply! I just sent you an email!

  • Everything in this entry was wonderful. Best wishes to you both. <3

  • KE

    You are a very, very wise woman. I hope we get to see more of your writing!

    Ps. Lovely wedding and best wishes!

  • Amanda

    Absolutely beautiful wedding, especially loving the dress! I am looking into to getting married at SF City Hall as well, and am curious how you got so many people (+folding chairs) in? My understanding was that the “official” limit is 6?

    • The Mayor’s Balcony and the 4th Floor are both available to rent out and can hold up to 100 people (they got married on the Mayor’s Balcony).

      If you’re having the standard civil ceremony, the limit is technically six guests, but I’ve shot weddings up to 40 people, and I’ve never seen a judge turn anyone away (if anything, they encourage everyone to huddle in). Also, the building is a public space, so unless a space has been rented out for a private function, they won’t really turn people away from the public areas.

  • Emmers

    Love your photos!

  • This wedding looks like it was a lot of fun and totally authentic to the two of you. And that dress is stunning! Congratulations!

  • Tania

    You pretty much have described every panic attack I’ve had! I’m so glad that you made it through the other side. It all looks quite gorgeous – and my heart melted at the site of your reception venue – dreamy!

    And my criteria for choosing a photographer was the same – if they aren’t publishing guide prices on their website, they’re out. Failure to publish prices on websites has been the most maddening part of researching wedding suppliers. And I have become quite militant. If I can’t find out a rough estimate of what they’ll charge me within a few minutes of arriving on their site, then there’s no chance they’ll get my business!

  • Moe

    “We gave up on planning a perfect wedding and started planning our actual wedding”

    “If I had tried to make my wedding perfect, I would have been frustrated and anxious and I would have felt like a total failure. ”

    “Perfect, after all, is really only perfect in hindsight.”

    This, this and this. Awesome! Your dress is absolutely adorable too. Congratulations!

  • El.

    “Instead I let go. It was hard to do, but I forced myself, we forced ourselves, to let go and stick to what was actually important”
    This is what i’m trying to do right now (four months away from our big day) and it’s hard but it feels good! thanks for those lovely words of wisdom and congratulations on what looked like a kick *ss wedding!! :)


    Oh gosh, I have to admit I giggled really hard at, “So I talked to Mark. Remember him?” That is one of my most difficult struggles in my relationship (not engaged). I’m off somewhere three or four years in the future having made dozens of decisions along the way – WITHOUT my partner. And then I get frustrated because we’re not on the same page. Well, no duh! Thanks for the advice, chickadee, and you look radiant. <3

  • Claire

    First of all, you look gorgeous in that dress.
    Now that I got that out, I’m in love with your whole wedding. It seems like with the gorgeous city hall ceremony and the fun restaurant reception, you got the best of both worlds. Congrats on doing it your way. It looks awesom.

  • Perfection to be sure. Those Yay! flags seem to have somehow surpassed perfection.

  • Lindsay

    This post made me get all misty eyed. GOOD FOR YOU GUYS! Good for staying true to yourselves. I’ve never posted before and felt compelled to after reading this. You should be so proud of yourselves. Now come and plan my wedding for me :)

  • Beautiful! And such wisdom too. :)

  • Gillian

    your last line gave me chills. YES! And big congrats – the whole thing looks pretty perfect ;)

  • Lin

    Your wedding is so gorgeous & lovely — and you came out on the other side with such wonderful advice to share!

    Congratulations on throwing a party that fulfilled BOTH of your wedding wants, needs, and dreams without compromising a thing. What a beautiful way to start your marriage.

    And that dress… PERFECTION!

  • Nikki

    Gah a beautiful wedding and a beautiful bride. Is it just me or did Sam look like a modern Cinderella in her blue dress?

  • apracticallaura

    Beautiful wedding! Your post resonated so much with me. Picking competant (and nice!) vendors and then learning to trust them and “let go” was my key to lowering anxiety too. Not that it was easy, but it sure was helpful!


  • Rachel

    SO much to love about this wedding. First, City Hall!! Second, no dancing! Third “So I talked to Mark. Remember him?” Fourth, your amazingly-written reflection on it.

    This post got me SO excited for my wedding. Aside from the no dancing part (which is what I really wanted but something I conceded) the details are extremely similar and this made me feel like yeah, it’s all going to come together.

    Best wishes to the two of you!

  • “Perfect, after all, is really only perfect in hindsight.”

    I love that so much.


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  • There are so many details to love about this wedding, but I think what I like best is that it’s just not what you think of when you hear a City Hall wedding. This wedding was just stunning and beautiful.

  • Ahh! My same dress from Dolly, cept in blue!!! I’ll be getting married in Oct :)

    This wedding looked full of love & fun!!

  • Kate

    You are a darling couple. Congratulations!

  • sarah j

    Bookmark, memorize, print, archive and everything else… Awesome post and succinct for me to GET IT. Will be coming back to this whenever I get detoured to “perfect” and needing roadmap back to “actual”. So, thank you !!!!!