We looked at an insurmountable amount of possibilities for a wedding site in Northern California. We knew it had to be in Norcal. It had to be in a historic building with character. And preferably in between his bay area and my Sacramento valley rooted families. We settled on six possibilities before we knew the costs. Here is your guide to choosing a cheap-ass wedding venue for under $1,000 in Northern California.
And from the start I was on board with our first and cheapest option: San Francisco City Hall wedding. What’s not to like about SF City Hall? Other than the non-intimate feeling of bureaucratic state workers and tourists photobombing you and your newly appointed while you take staged photos. It’s both an externally and internally beautiful Beaux-Arts building built in 1915 and filled with marble and a grand staircase.
Alas, the City Hall wedding only allows six people in attendance, which includes your photographer. Next.
Second. In autumn of 2012, we hustled up highway 50 onto State Route 49 that snakes along through the foothills into Gold Rush era towns long forgotten after they were raped of their riches by those desperate to strike it millionaire. I’ve long considered this my backyard, and so I knew of a tiny church nearby a favorite summer swimming spot of mine in the town of Coloma. St. John’s Church, built in 1858, was incredibly affordable at $500 and couldn’t possibly give you anymore character. But, it’s just a ceremony site and finding an affordable site for an autumn reception was challenging as all hell. If it was summer, an outdoor reception could have been had at a nearby state park location. There is an Inn incredibly close to the church, which is available for receptions. But, when we looked at their cheapest package that provided a one-hour stance on their grass patch for up to eight guests, cake and a champagne toast for $1,000…we gave them the bird.
Plus, we knew it wasn’t meant to be before we even got off highway 50, where my eyes were met by an enormous stag’s chest, hypnotized by the instincts of rutting season, who was on the side of our VW on the highway. I won’t say anything more about that.
Third. The Crocker Art Gallery. That costs $5,000. Need say no more.
Fourth. The Old Homestead. A cute and affordable home in the town of Crockett, near the C&H Sugar factory. For $750 you have the entire house to yourself from 8am to 10pm and you can have everyone prepare here and have both the reception and the ceremony, outdoors or indoors. Here are some photos of a wedding that utilized this location and its surroundings.
Fifth. Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate. The most beautiful and elegant of all and in our town of residence, Oakland. The mansion was built in 1899 in a Neoclassical Revival style. Their pricing is kind of…quirky. They charge different prices for residents and non-residents, weekends and weekdays. Their wedding charges are triple that of a regular event for the same space, of course. It had became too much to decipher. However, their non-refundable “save the date” deposit is $1,200. Thee end.
Sixth. The Captain’s Mansion at Mare Island in the town of Vallejo. This was the first. One. Only site my lad ever looked at when I moaned about his non-participation in the site search. Rat bastard. And it was the one we settled on.
$1,050 got us eight-hours of access to the entire 1901 built mansion (and its backyard) for our ceremony AND reception. It solved the problem of shuffling people to and from site to site, bridal and groom dressing rooms, catering kitchen scenario. It solved our plan b. in case of treacherous weather impaling on our outdoor ceremony, we could just move it indoors with no big scene.
It was beautiful, it was classy, it had the character, it was…affordable. It was a no-brainer.
More information on what the Captain and Admiral’s Mansion provides.
Coloma – St. John Information and Pricing
Mendocino – Mendocino Coast Botanical Cliff House in Fort Bragg offers a ceremony and reception space for 25 guests for $500. The Orchard Gardens provides ceremony and reception for 100 guests for $1,450.
Sacramento – McKinley Park Rose Garden is available for outdoor ceremonies with 3-hour blocks of time for $150 per hour during the months of April-September. The Clunie Center is just steps away and offers its Grand Room for $480 for 4 hours + $50 for the catering kitchen + $350 damage deposit for events with alcohol.
October 26, 2016 Update: The McKinley Park Rose Garden requires a $300 refundable damage deposit. The Clunie Center’s Grand Room is now $600 for four hours (has a four hour minimum). $100 for the catering kitchen, with an additional $100 refundable damage fee for said catering kitchen. And the damage deposit for events with alcohol remains $350.
San Francisco – The Forest Hill Clubhouse is a venue located in the Forest Hill neighborhood of San Francisco and is available to rent Mon-Thur for an 8-hour block of time for only $1,000 for 85 guests.
October 26, 2016 Update: The Forest Hill Clubhouse’s weekday rates are now $750 with a refundable $500 damage deposit. The weekend rate is $1,250 with a refundable $500 damage deposit.
October 28, 2016 Update: Just got a message from a reader (I have readers!) that informed me that the above rate for Forest Hill Clubhouse is for “members. The rate for non-members is $2500.00 and also said they keep a limit on how many non-members they do a year.” Yeah, no.
The Trocadero Clubhouse at Stern Grove in Golden Gate Park starts at $110 for a six-hour block of time on Mon-Thur from 5pm-11pm with a refundable $750 security/damage deposit.
October 26, 2016 Update: The Trocadero Clubhouse now charges $139 an hour with a minimum six-hour block of time, $20 an hour staff salary (for a minimum of six hours ), a $50 reservation fee and the refundable security/damage deposit remains $750.