Valerie & Jesse

Secret Elopement at San Francisco City Hall

* Valerie (Neuroscientist) & Jesse (Software Engineer) * Photographer: Little Bat Photography, San Francisco * Soundtrack for reading: Bright Eyes, First day of my life *


yellow wedding dress

city hall wedding

yellow wedding dress

city hall elopement

indie wedding city hall

green wedding shoes

wedding bike elopment

white wedding bouquet

wedding cupcake

candy shop wedding

indie wedding candy store

The Info— Photography: Little Bat Photography / Dress: ABS by Allen Schwartz (2008 graduation gift from older sister, Jessie) / Veil: Little Bat & Bride DIT / Shoes: Something Bleu via Bhldn / Suit: Express Men / Ceremony: San Francisco City Hall / Wine: Arlequin Cafe / Cupcakes: Miette / Ring Bear: Kennedy Space Center

Other cool stuff: We decided to elope the week before, to be married on the anniversary of our engagement. We live in Wisconsin and our county requires birth certificates and has a waiting period for marriage licenses, so we ran away instead to somewhere with simpler policies. I tried to make a dress in that week and gave up on it just 5 hours before getting on the plane to SF. Eloping brides—just use a dress you have, or buy something you like. But seriously, instead of sewing, get a massage. Little Bat Photographer Jillian made my bouquet, helped whip up my veil, and was so incredibly amazing on every front. We had gotten rings in December… just in case. My something borrowed was a hairpin from my friend Kim who I got to see the day before our wedding for the first time in well over a year for sushi and beers. Jesse’s timepiece was his engagement pocketwatch (our initials are engraved on either side of the hunter’s case). The lace at the top of my veil was from the wedding dress I’d planned to wear to the big wedding that wasn’t. Jesse was super cool in every regard.

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: An entirely personal and vivid day.

Hardest thing about the wedding: Val: Getting ready alone. I didn’t expect to feel so lonely on my wedding day. I’d been planning it since girlhood (I have two sisters; Vanessa the younger was going to be my Maid of Honor, and I’d helped my older sister Jessie into her wedding gown two years before). Or even eloping with my favoritest person by my side (like, how can you feel alone when you’re with your best friend?). But suddenly I remembered that all brides are essentially alone in that particular liminal state. It was my transition to make. And then I felt brave enough to go on. Also, there was definitely fallout afterwards, but it is dissipating with time. Jesse: Nothing. It was awesome.

Favorite thing about the wedding: Jesse: Val’s smiles. Val: We had each other.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • This is the first Wordless Wedding that has made me tear up. Maybe because I walked down the aisle to this song (you MUST listen to the songs for these!), but I think moreso because a little part of me still wishes we had gone off and done this exact thing.

  • Oh just beautiful!!! I totally get the “I’m getting teary prepping this post” feeling. Intimate, vivid (love this description!) and wonderfully real. Thank you for sharing and congratulations!

    P.S. And I’m totally not a shoe-kinda-girl, but WHOA I love the green shoes with the gorgeous dress!

    • Manya

      My shoes were exactly this color… I LOVED them.

  • carrie

    Chills. I have them.

  • Harriet

    Your favorite things are the very, very best. That’s exactly how I felt about my wedding–thanks for putting it so beautifully. I feel all warm and fuzzy in the best way.

    Also: great shoes.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’m really going to have to walk slower past City Hall on my way to the courthouse. I’m missing spotting beautiful, happy couples.

    And: “But suddenly I remembered that all brides are essentially alone in that particular liminal state. It was my transition to make.” YES

    • That was the quote that hit me in the gut too. That’s how I felt from t minus two weeks out–alone in my transition from single to married. From mine alone to partially his. And, being the strong, independent woman I claim to be, I think in the end, it was best that I flew solo for most of the final planning and dressing and whatnot. One of my favorite moments, in fact, was meditating that morning, considering what I was about to do, giving myself a mental zen pinch, hoping I could be as present and in awe of every piece of the day.

      And you know what? For me, it worked. I think if I had been surrounded by the hubub and madness that is a bridal party, I might not have had the time/energy to do what I needed to do mentally.

  • I love that you describe your wedding day as vivid. You both look so happy and serene, not to mention gorgeous.

  • Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The dress is great, the shoes are great, the wine is great, the cupcakes are great. I love everything about this wedding. Sometimes I daydream about Eloping; I wish I could be brave enough to do it.

  • So AMAZING!! This is exactly what I wanted to do. But being a modern couple my husband got a say in the wedding planning so no eloping was to be had. I can’t express my fondness for this wedding enough!

    And you both look so beautiful and happy. This is my favorite wordless wedding thus far!

  • Alison

    This made me so happy. You both are beautiful and happy people, and I have a few things that need to be said:

    1. Your shoes are FABULOUS.

    2. I love the 4th picture where you’re sitting together and you are smiling so hard it makes me smile just looking at you.

    3. I love that you describe your wedding as vivid. It looks totally you and Jesse, and reminds me that the most important thing is the last you said, “We had each other”.


    • YES. The shoes!

  • You look so wonderfully happy. Congratulations you two!

    P.S. I love that you wore an awesome veil with a patterned dress. It makes me happy. (And further convinces me that I DO want to wear a veil. Whatever I said pre-engagement be damned.)

  • Seriously?! Val, could you look any more BEAUTIFUL and BLISSED-OUT in these photos with your hubs?! Because I’m envious of the *happy* that is embedded into your smiles.

    PS-I’m in love with your dress. :)

  • bec

    The big smiles on your faces … that’s what makes it perfect! I got a little teary over this one.

    And PS I LOVE the shot of you guys coming down the stairs. That’s the one that got me!


    • For me it was the series with the cupcakes. In the store (with the employee looking on). So intimate yet in a public space. It’s all about them which reminded me of that feeling during our ceremony where it was just me and him—together in our own bubble, yet surrounded by the rest of the world.

      • bec

        I liked that one too. :)

  • I’m all wet-eyed at work now, shoot. This is perfect–especially the soundtrack, which I didn’t even have to pull up because it started playing in my head right away… what a great wedding song. Congratulations to you both for your bravery and honesty and commitment and friendship.

    On a personal note, my boyfriend and I from time to time will discuss what kind of wedding we’ll have when we get married, and he is a very introverted person who isn’t good at being the center of attention, so I told him we should elope/hit the courthouse/whatever so it’s not such a spectacle, and he thinks that it would be cheating me out of the big wedding he thinks I want, whereas really all I want is to marry him. I want to go home and pull up this beautiful collection of images and wise words and say “This. This is why an elopement works for me. It’s you and me, taking a leap together, hand in hand… and that’s the most important part of getting married.” So, thanks. :)

    • bec

      That made me tear up too. Yes, Leah! Elope!! Take the leap together, hand in hand. That is beautiful and well put and now I love you too. Good luck and post pictures!!

      • heee, thank you. <3 I promise you that whenever I get married–no matter what form said wedding happens to take–I will write a wedding grad post and share pictures. It might be a while, but by gum, it'll be here. :)

    • Vmed

      aw yay!

      When we were deciding, it really did help me to see other elopers, and know they are happy. So. We eloped, and we were happy, and we are happy.

  • Ah love. Congratulations!

  • Jessica

    GOD I love City Hall weddings. And green shoes. And Miette cupcakes. What a gorgeous elopement.

  • amc

    These photos are absolutely gorgeous. I love that Jillian was able to capture the architecture and the couple, who are equally stunning! A wedding, wine and cupcakes, what else do you need?

    I know this is a wordless wedding, but this line was great:

    “But seriously, instead of sewing, get a massage.”

    Amen to that!

  • marbella

    Ring Bear is adorable! You both look stunningly happy. Fantastic dress and shoes, beautiful venue.

  • This wordless wedding hit me like a punch in the gut (in a very, very good way). This was exactly what we wanted. Quiet, us, City Hall, and a photographer. I still do, but it’s not going to happen that way.

    What a lovely, lovely day. I think it can be so hard, and also so meaningful, to celebrate life’s biggest moments in a quiet way.

  • This dress is baller. And I’ve never thought I liked veils (like, ever) but I love how you hinted at being a bride with a subtle, beautiful piece of fabric. And this was our exit song from our ceremony (instrumental), love it!

  • Love this. The dress and shoes are the happiest, most vibrant wedding ensemble I’ve seen and it surely matches the words behind this post as well.

  • How lovely! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful day with us. Congratulations!

  • I’m so glad to see an elopement! That’s what we’re planning and it sort of feels like we’re on the fringes sometimes. This one is so beautiful as well, and I’m so happy it was shared with us.

    However, sewing is my form of massages (fear of touching + need to be creative), and I plan on sewing my dress. To each her own! I love Valerie’s dress – gorgeous, fun, youthful, elegant. I can’t think of anything but beautiful words for this couple and their wedding! Congratulations!

  • Sarahkay

    Valerie, we are dress twins! I bought a dress made from the exact same cloth in a thrift store about 12 years ago, and it is still my all time favorite dress. You look beautiful in it, and those shoes!

  • I absolutely love this wedding and the dress and the cupcakes and everything! Simple, sweet perfection. Oh, and the smiles!

  • Mo

    I have a question:

    What did it feel like to be having this intimate moment with a “3rd wheel” (photographer)? I wonder this each time I see elopement photos posted on here. At a non-elopement wedding when there are a few more people around, the photographer can blend in and the candid shots work great. But while the candid shots in this are beautiful, did it sort of feel like you were being stalked? I feel like it would make me feel very self-conscious and instead of focusing on my partner and our joy I’d be thinking about how I look to this other outside person.

    Seriously, this is an honest question. It’s very special to have these photos, but it MUST impact the intimacy of the moment, yes?

    • I always wonder that as well. It’s part of the reason I’m thinking of sacrificing having photos of our elopement, just because I don’t know how I’ll feel with another person being around.

      • Vmed

        Valerie here, and I must respond to say, We Lucked Out. I called Little Bat Photography and Jillian West picked up. We clicked. It was APW magic.

        I’ll say it again: Jillian was more than amazing. She was there, but not intrusive. In fact, she sort of protected us, and I don’t know… led the way in a strange city, made sure there was space around us, made sure no random weirdos stalked us or talked to us too much (they tried!).

        Sure, she was there with us, and definitely ended up being part of that time (our witness), but because she is exceptional not only as a photographer but as a human being, it was more like having a really good friend around than anything. A friend who was doing her own thing, so Jesse and I could just focus on each other.

        We love you Jillian!!!

        • Ahhh! I love you more Valerie. Thank you!

          • Mo

            I’ve been away from my computer since writing my question. I just want to say thank you to Valerie and Jillian for responding personally!
            It sounds like having a formal photographer there helped make the moment feel more significant. The way you describe her keeping people away and leading you around makes it sound like she helped keep you in a little “wedding bubble” for the day (in a good way).
            On the other hand, it makes me think about how if I were to have just one special person accompanying us, I think I wouldn’t want that person to be someone I’ve just met, and frankly I wouldn’t be able to choose just one person anyway. I guess if my partner and I elope we might have to just bring a tripod.

    • Hey MO! I think Jesse & Valerie are better suited to respond (and hopefully they’re reading these comments because they’re all awesome) but I didn’t feel like the third wheel here at all. On the contrary, I felt like I was a maid of honor or their best friend. We had so much fun and it was one of the most intimate, special days ever for me (aside from making the bouquet and helping with the veil, I was lucky enough to also be their witness!) I’d say find someone you’re comfortable with who you’ll want by your side and it will be amazing.

      • Vmed

        Lol just replied at the same time :) (rather, writing as you replied)

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      In my case, it was a bit distracting. My internal monologue was going “listen to the officiant. it doesn’t matter what you’re doing with your hands. yes, keep smiling.” But, then, it was also going “weird. this is us getting married?!?!” Seeing Valerie’s post, maybe it was the lack of APW magic — we hired whoever we could find on two days notice.

      Even so, I’m DEFINITELY glad we had a photographer there. To me, the ability to look back at that moment and to share it with our families was totally worth the disruption.

  • These are gorgeous, you both look like a perfect fit. Congratulations on a beautiful wedding, and best to your new marriage!

  • “It was my transition to make.”

    Those perfect words grabbed a hold of my heart and brought a bit of clarity to what I felt over a year ago in the few moments I had alone on my wedding day. I knew what I was feeling was right and profound, but I didn’t know how to explain it. Thank you for that.

    In addition, I want to say that I’m really proud of you. I don’t even know you, but I know that it’s hard to put your foot down, then put the other one in front of it and in doing so to begin the pursuit of what is right for you, no matter the fall out. You’re obviously an exceptional couple. Making that transition is intimidating enough when you have an entire brigade holding you up. Trusting in each other enough to do it without all the reassurance of family and friends is incredibly brave.

    Cheers to you both!

  • Manya

    “But suddenly I remembered that all brides are essentially alone in that particular liminal state…”

    This was a gem in a beautiful setting of a wedding! I found getting ready to be profoundly lonely, even though I was surrounded by the women and girls in my family. That transition of justbefore is essential, profound, and liminal. It is a crossing over, and in that hour or so as you prepare yourself to cross, you alone are in that space.

    Congratulations on your beautiful wedding! We are shoe soul sisters… (or should I say sole sisters–sorry couldn’t help myself!)

    • I also loved that Valerie addressed the solitude that can be experienced when making this liminal transition. The Wikipedia article on liminality is thought-provoking and talks about the experience of “darkness” or “death” of the old self that came happen in that liminal space before one emerges on the other side…

      • meg

        Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. SO TRUE.

      • Weddings are liminality upon liminality – the engagement period is a liminal state, and the wedding itself is another liminal state. We are constantly reinventing ourselves and our relationships to others during these periods, which is part of why they can be so hard and can make us feel so isolated. Luckily liminal states (usually) end!

  • Sharon

    I love everything about this wedding. They had the strength to do what I wish I had done for our wedding. And that dress is FABULOUS!!

  • I can’t even pretend I don’t cry at kind of a lot of apw posts, apparently I’m a big weepy baby, but this post, with this soundtrack, really hit me in the chest. I love everything about this, and I’m so happy for you! I don’t even *get* the astronaut bear but I love it anyway. that dress, with the veil..! ahhh!

    it’s so true that even if you surround yourself with family and friends while you get ready for the wedding, you’re still alone in being the bride. it can definitely feel lonely.

  • Julia

    LOVE the combination of nontraditional dress and traditional veil. We were all there with you in spirit :-)

  • oh my word. so adorable.

  • You both look so happy (and I love the ring bear!) Congratulations! And I bet you totally made the cupcake-seller’s day.

  • This is so beautiful! I love so much in this post, but I think my favorite is your description of your wedding day as “vivid”. I’m really hoping for that. Congratulations to you both!

  • Looooove these. Wow.

  • It looks like you had (and deserved) a beautiful, beautiful day. Congratulations on taking the leap into married life together, and having the courage to run off and do it in a way that felt right to you! Ahhh, this post filled me with warm fuzzies :)

  • Congratulations. You looked so beautiful, I am gonna go on and say that your dress is so pretty it is the first thing that stood out for me , and then those cool and fun pictures. With all those colors in the background.
    May you always be so happy :)

  • Those happy, beautiful faces of love! Congratulations~

  • So awesome. That dress is freaking perfect, and I love how intimate courthouse ceremonies are. Congrats all around!

  • You guys are so cute! You make me want to put you in my pocket and walk around with you all day. The looks of joy on your faces make whatever fallout may come worth it.

  • OHEMGEE. Such gorgeousness.

  • This brought a tear to my eye for a couple of reasons:
    1. This was EXACTLY what I had as my original plan, but with my fiance wanting a big wedding, we settled somewhere in the middle.
    2. Before we moved from San Francisco, that was totally my hood. I worked in the area and spent much time in each of those places. City Hall was where I went to relax. It is so beautiful.

    Congratulations, you and your wedding are beautiful.

  • I get teary eyed over every SF elopement, but this one traced our steps exactly. Such a gorgeous day!

  • How absolutely stunning.

    And that’s not even counting City Hall (so beautiful), or the clothing (the shoes!), or the art of the photos.

    It’s the absolute joy on your faces in every photo that gets me. The love radiating out from you two in these photos. It takes my breath away.

    So, so many congratulations. May your life together always be so joyful and vivid. =)

  • Fabulous dress!

  • I love this Wordless Wedding. It made me all teary. The photos are gorgeous (and your amazing dress/flowers/veil/shoes!) but the photo I love the most is the one of you guys going down the stairs with the straight steps behind you and the radiating circle steps ahead. Each light post on each side of the photo makes me think of your communities of support for each of you and your separate pasts, and I love that you are standing together in this moment of transition from straight to circle, and that the circles all keep on getting bigger and bigger to the edge of the photo, which suggests all the possibilities and adventures and growth that lies ahead. This photo seems like a perfect illustration to the life change of starting a new marriage. Wow.

  • I LOVED this. So much about it: how happy you guys look in your pictures, your dress, the shoes, your dress with your shoes!, the gorgeous wall of colorful jars at the cupcake shop, that picture of you guys with the bear (kinda made me tear up a little) – it looks like an amazing day. And your photos of it are fabulous. Just amazing. Congratulations!

  • Oh, such a gorgeous wedding! Congratulations, you two. I wish you all the happiness you can stuff into a life together. :)

  • We considered an elopement, but weren’t brave enough for the fallout! We’re getting married in just a little more than two weeks, and I hope we are even half as totally blissed as your faces say you are. :) Gorgeous, meaningful, you! What more could one want?

  • Charity

    Congratulations! What a beautiful day it must have been.

  • I was going to leave just one simple comment: “THAT DRESS.”

    But then the line about loneliness on your wedding day got caught in my throat, so I had to mention that too.

  • Not Sarah

    Valerie, your shoes are AWESOME. I love your dress as well. And the cupcake pictures! You two looked very happy.

  • First, Meg, I am so happy you started the wordless wedding series! Thank you thank you! I find I spend so much more time really looking at the photos and their emotional and physical beauty, instead of quickly scrolling through like I usually do. It is always breathtaking.

    Valerie and Jesse, your post here was amazing. It felt like we got to follow you through your wedding day and the fun and love you shared with each other. Anyone who is giving you a hard time about eloping should be sent this link, and they will never bother you again! Thank you for sharing with us.

  • LOVE the dress.

    And the teddy bear!

  • What a beautifully intimate day! You can see the memories formed from the photos- it’s so clear how excited you two are!

  • love, love, love. I’m not a crier, but this hit me in that space in the middle of my chest and made it ache a little, in a good way.

  • Liz

    Congratulations, you guys!

    And just to add to the chorus: Your dress is awesome. Makes me want to get married again–or at least get some decent pictures this time. :)

  • This post was beautiful.

    I saw your pictures on Jillian’s blog and fell totally in love with them, and it’s nice to hear a little bit of the surrounding story.

  • beutiful beautiful beautiful. Jillian I am speechless. Such wonderful photos. I love your dress! Clearly such a special day.

  • Love the shoes, love her dress, Love the happiness coming from them!

  • Ring bear! Shoes! Dress! And so much love.

    Thank you for sharing, and for being so brave and following your heart. You are inspiring.

  • Margaret

    Many, many congratulations and best wishes for the life ahead for you. I read this earlier today at my desk and didn’t have a chance to say so earlier, but I think it’s clear from these pictures that you started your marriage on the best foot possible. It was really touching and sweet to share in it today. Good luck on all that’s to come.

  • DanaDou

    BIKE FRIEND. I LOVE YOU! What a beautiful post! My love and congratulations again! :)

    • Vmed

      Bikefriend! <3

  • You guys look so happy! Congrats! Your elopement looks fabulous.

  • I could not love this wedding more. It’s clear you made the right decision to elope. I love the photo where you are sitting at the table and beaming from ear to ear. Love everything about your wedding. Normally I gloss through the wordless wedding posts but this one stopped me dead in my tracks. Congrats on your beautiful baby family!

  • marissa

    so, this is what i had imagined when i thought about eloping with my hubby. i wanted to stay in town, get married at the courthouse, hang out in portland the rest of the day, dressed fancy. then, stay at a downtown hotel for night or so…

    but, we went to vegas and ended up inviting immediate family. do i still long for that little in-town affair? yes. do i regret vegas? hell no. maybe we can renew our vows at some point and do it up portland style :)

    your elopement looks awesome. congratulations and much happiness to ya! <3

  • Congratulations to you both, this looks like such a beautiful day and, the more I think about it the more I realise, much the sort of day I want for us (and I know the boy wants for us). I just have to decide whether I can brave the fallout…

  • Beautiful. The photos at Miette made me smile.

    Also. “But seriously, instead of sewing, get a massage.” YES. So fucking right. That’s going to be my motto for 84% of everything for the next little while. “Instead of ________, get a massage.”

  • Mihaela

    My dream wedding. I would have loved to be able to do this, and you’ve done it ridiculously beautifully. Congratulations, and best wishes!

  • Cassandra

    This is the prettiest elopement I’ve ever seen! You are one stunning lady, the photos are gorgeous, and the music choice is so lovely.

  • Wow. Awesome. I always enjoy elopement pictures while thinking “but this probably isn’t what’s right for me” but these pictures have made me think. Marriage->wine->cupcakes?! Uh…yes. That looks beautiful.

  • I am getting married at SF City Hall in about six weeks! I think your pictures are amazing!!! Where did you get your bouquet?!

    • Hi Emme! I bought some white roses and some other white flowers (crysanthiums?) and then the little yellow pom poms from Andronicos (food store), took them home, cut them all around the same length, and just tied some wire around them. Valerie fixed them up and tied some tulle around them in the morning, and it was done! All up, I don’t think I spent more than $25! Super simple and gorgeous. x Jillian

      • Vmed

        The white flowers were lisianthus and they lasted all the way back to wisconsin and hung around for a week beyond. <3

  • after party, for two, at miette!? thats what im talkin bout.. beautiful elopement.

  • Mere

    What made you decide to elope??

    Beautiful pictures! Great idea!