How to Get Married at the University Club of San Francisco

How to Plan and Capture a Stunning University Club of San Francisco Wedding: An Extended Guide

Planning a wedding at the University Club of San Francisco is an opportunity to create an event that’s as rich in history and culture as it is in beauty. This enhanced guide aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the University Club of San Francisco as a wedding venue, highlighting not just its beauty but also the practical steps to ensure your wedding day is as picturesque and memorable as possible.

Step 1: Dive into the Venue’s Rich History

The University Club’s Heritage: Originally a meeting place for alumni from prestigious universities, the University Club has become a celebrated spot for social and intellectual gatherings. The building’s Italianate architecture, designed by Walter Bliss & William Faville and completed in 1909, echoes the grandeur of the Gilded Age. Its location on Nob Hill offers sweeping views, making it a prized landmark in San Francisco.

Step 2: Plan Your Wedding Day

Starting the Day: Choose between getting ready at the Club itself or at nearby luxury hotels like the Fairmont, Stanford, or Mark Hopkins. Consider the ambiance and photo opportunities each location offers to start your day perfectly.

Step 3: Capture the First Look and Pre-Ceremony Moments

Iconic Photo Opportunities: Utilize the University Club’s staircase and balcony for breathtaking first look photos. Nearby hotels like the Mark Hopkins provide unique backdrops, such as the Top of the Mark’s panoramic views or the Fairmont’s pristine gardens.

Cityscape Portraits: Embrace the urban charm of San Francisco for your portraits. Capture moments on the street trolley, with the Bay Bridge or the Trans America building in the background, or near the majestic Grace Cathedral. Some of my favorite moments are simply the in-between moments when we are moving from spot A to B. Something about hearing a chorus of “Congratulations!” from strangers as you move throughout the city is really an exciting and energizing way to kick off the wedding day.

Step 4: The Library Session

A Literary Backdrop: The University Club’s library, with its rare books collection, offers a unique and intellectual setting for photography. The shelves of historic volumes and the quiet ambiance of the library add a touch of elegance and sophistication to your wedding photos.

Step 5: The Ceremony

A Fourth Floor Affair: The fourth-floor space, with its elegant chandeliers and floral decorations, provides a romantic setting for your vows.

Step 6: Enjoying the Cocktail Hour and Reception

Exploring the Club: Transition to the cocktail hour on the fourth floor’s balcony, followed by dinner on the third floor. Cocktail hour can flow into the pool room as well, where I’ve seen the pool table transformed into a dining table, complete with a champagne tower. These locations offer an intimate speakeasy vibe and stunning city views, perfect for memorable photos.

The Vibe: Picture high ceilings, big windows, walls hung salon style with taxidermy, old prints of San Francisco, and Audubon imagery. The interior is fairly dark with dark leather and dark green stained glass windows representing different universities, but the big picture windows bring the city life and light in both during the day and night.

Step 7: Mastering the Venue for Photography

Photography Challenges: Be prepared to work with the mixed lighting of the Club. Understanding how to use different lighting techniques is key to capturing the mood and ambiance of the venue. The interior light fixtures are often on during weddings and provide a warm ambience to the space.

Step 8: Evening Celebrations

Dinner and Dancing: The spacious layout of the University Club facilitates smooth transitions between different parts of the event, from dinner to dancing, allowing for a seamless photographic narrative. Throughout the night we capture numerous spaces as they come alive with different wedding-goers moving through them.

Step 9: Coordinating Your Day

The Role of the Coordinator: Rely on the expertise of Yvonne, the in-house coordinator, to streamline your wedding day flow, ensuring a stress-free experience.

Final Recommendations

Why Choose the University Club: With its blend of historical charm, architectural beauty, and modern urban energy, the University Club of San Francisco stands out as an ideal wedding venue. The variety of backdrops, from the rare books in the library to the panoramic city views, ensures a wedding day filled with unique and stunning photographs.

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Inner Richmond and China Beach Engagement Photos

Christine and Craig met and fell in love while they were living on opposite ends of country. But after getting together, moves ensued and they nurtured a life together in San Francisco.

Their engagement session started in their Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. We stopped for a stiff drink at their favorite bar and then visited their favorite bookstore – Green Apple Books. We wandered the aisles and I captured candid images of them existing in their regular spots and making each other smile and laugh like they regularly do.

We eventually made it out to China Beach where we took advantage of golden hour. Christine’s glowing red dress contrasting beautifully with the sand and rock. Craig with a sly outfit change into something more casual for beach time.

The images captured pieces of their connection and the ease of their relationship. 

Check out their beautiful Carneros Resort wedding here.

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Carneros Resort and Spa Wedding

On our initial conversation, I immediately fell for Christine and Craig’s love story. They were friends from college that reconnected during COVID when a group of friends escaped to a big house in Rhode Island to ride out the lockdown. Here they fell in love. 

Their wedding at Carneros was a true testament to their relationship and style. Not all couples that self-describe as “laid back but stylish” are truly both, but to their credit, Christine and Craig embody those traits fully and every detail made that evident throughout their wedding day. 

During their engagement session in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco, we visited their favorite bar and bookstore before wandering out to China beach. The images captured pieces of their connection and the ease of their relationship. Click here for more.

Fast forward to their wedding day, we find ourselves in the heart of Napa Valley. It was my second time at Carneros Resort. The first time I visited, the ceremony unfolded at the arbor, and the reception took place in a banquet hall. For Christine and Craig, everything was set at the top of the hill, offering breathtaking views of sprawling vineyards amongst rolling hills washed in tender golden light.  

The florals that made up Christine & Craig’s wedding altar exhibited a whimsical, almost creature-like quality. The vibrant arrangements added a touch of playfulness to the natural surroundings. Green Petal Designs knew exactly what they were doing!

Upon arrival, wedding guests were greeted with a refreshing drink, setting the tone for the festivities. 

Parasols were provided for sun protection during the ceremony, adding not only practicality but also a visual element to frame the wedding altar.

Dinner was hosted in a courtyard with an outdoor fireplace, seated between a pair of buildings with the glow of bistro lights illuminating the scene from above. This lent a cozy feeling to the affair, dare I say hygge.

Christine & Craig wrote short notes to each of their guests as place cards, and their tables were named after meaningful places from their lives, complete with illustrations and photographs from each locale.

When dinner had drawn to a close, Christine & Craig slipped away for an outfit change. Christine’s day-to-night flipped from modern white wedding gown, to red sequined cocktail dress, Craig’s from white tuxedo jacket, to navy blue velour tux adding an exciting dimension to the celebration.

They rejoined the party just in time for a Chinese Lion Dance, complete with a jungle gym apparatus for the dancers to climb and jump around. By the end of the performance Craig and Christine were out there with the lions who were glowing red and blue.

Nieces and nephews added verve and joie de vivre throughout the evening, thoroughly enjoying the festivities.

DJ Justin skillfully curated the soundtrack, ensuring the dance floor was pulsing from start to finish. 

As it grew late, the atmosphere remained enchanting. The mini ice cream cone late-night snack delighted guests, especially me. 

Planning & Design: @somethingblueproductions, website

Photography: @hazelphotoweddings

Videography: @strehlowphotoandfilm.co

Venue: Carneros Resort and Spa

Floral: @greenpetaldesigns, website

DJ: @justintertainment

Lion Dancers: @liondanceme, website

Rentals: @encoreeventsrentals, website

Beauty: @gracelinmakeup, website

Signage: @olympicplaceprints, website


2023 Weddings Year-in-Review

In 2023 I reined things in a bit and capped my weekend wedding bookings at 25 to focus on the arrival of my 2nd son (unpictured) … so by the end of March I was fully booked for the year.

It was a privilege to slow things down and focus on what I love most, human connection, laughter, the decisive moment. Some folks call the photographs I love best, candids, but sometimes I feel like calling an image a candid implies that it is discardable. I feel exactly the opposite. When everything is moving around me, and I tune in to the energy of the moment, and I anticipate what is going to happen next, and I make an image that conveys exactly what it felt like to be on a dance floor on a particularly special evening, I have made something worth saving forever.

In 2023 Wedding work brought me all over the San Francisco Bay Area and a bit beyond: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Marin, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Clara County, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A few highlights from documenting weddings in 2023 included:

(a) An exquisitely designed wedding at Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen, CA with a cake in the shape of a chicken, a fabulous Beatles cover band, and a host named Wally who was a sheep. It’s always a pleasure to work with visionaries, thank you, Madeline!

(b) A reunion in a redwood grove with one of the most honest, good, and charming families I have ever worked with. I had photographed one sister’s wedding back in 2019, and I had the absolute pleasure of photographing the younger sister’s wedding this past year.

(c) A trip to Philadelphia to photograph the wedding of an old friend I met playing scrabble in my early twenties. The wedding was at the Barnes Foundation, a museum full of Matisse and Picasso. Jackie and his husband, Brian were welcomed to the altar with an aria sung live by Jackie’s cousin, and that, that was heartstopping.

Just a few collaborators:  @beltaneranch@liveloveleal@uclubsf.events@eventsbygs@sassydivadesigns@blissfulevents@somethingblueproductions@small.blue.planet@brazilianroomevents@boheme_events_@carlysaberevents@carnerosresort@berkeleycityclub@straushomeranch@exploratorium@barnesfoundation@styledbride@taylorraeweddings@villageozfarm@macarthurplace


Sonoma Garden Wedding

Vignettes from an unforgettably whimsical garden wedding at Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley, California.

Madeline and Matt

Her delicate dress of embroidered French cotton lace, buttons all down the back.

His whimsical olive linen suit lined with citrons.

Her crown of dried flowers affixed with a splash of orange ribbon.

The magical lane of Persian rugs leading down the aisle to the towering majesty of the live oak draped in a shawl of flowers.

The dulcet tones of their friend/officiant’s southern twang.

The ethereal light reflecting off her vows and onto her alabaster cheek.

The fine line between tears and riotous laughter that was crossed again and again as Madeline and Matt exchanged vows.

The air suffuse with dried flower petals as they ecstatically flew back down the aisle. As if all the world were filled with flower petals cascading through the air.

Whatever they told their guests to wear worked out just about right, cocktail hour a sea of floral prints and colorful summer suits scattered across the lawn, sipping Mavericks and Roosters.

Come Together, I Want To Hold Your Hand, And I Love Her, She Loves You, Here Comes the Sun, Strawberry Fields Forever.

Wally the sheep with his glorious floral crown somewhat bashful, nibbling the lawn, but also delighted by all the attention, especially from Madeline, his greatest fan.

The caricaturist hard at work sketching guests.

Her brother’s cow and sheep cufflinks.

The chickens promenading through cocktail hour, and round the reception tables.

Designed by Madeline, each escort card a flower petal, waiting to be plucked by a guest from its field of blossoms.

Stargazer, bluebell, marigold, poppy, peony demarcating each baroque tablescape with long paisley tablecloths, intricately detailed amber goblets. Everything designed and drawn by Madeline. One had the sense this was not the first tea party Madeline had hosted.

Chicken cake! Surrounded by holstein pops, cartons of cake eggs and cake chicks, mini hay bale cakes, carrot cakes in the shape of carrots.

A day so thoroughly governed by whimsy and the unexpected.

Delights at every corner.

Love Me Do, Eight Days a Week, Free as a Bird, Don’t Let Me Down, Octopus’s Garden.

Also, the pair of original songs with which Madeline and Matt serenaded their guests. Her gleeful recorder solo against the setting sun.

A rainbow of ombre tapers burning against the dying light of the head table.

And if all this, somehow, wasn’t quite enough, an exquisite sunset sidled in as Madeline & Matt’s wedding day came to it’s conclusion.

Who amongst us succeeds in bringing so many chapters of the magic of childhood into her wedding? Very few I say, none quite like Madeline & Matt in this past decade that I have documented.

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Wedding Planning : Samar of Blissful Event Planning
Venue: Beltane Ranch
Flowers: Mae Flowers Sonoma
Sheep: Wally the Wooly Weeder
Rentals: Encore Events Rentals (SSS Ranch Napa)
Band: Ticket to Ride (Beatles cover band)
Catering: Sage Catering
Cake/Desserts: Supreme Sweets
Hair & Makeup: Santa Rosa Powder Room
Dress: Atelier Des Modistes


San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony Wedding

I remember that Ruth and Tom originally found me and reached out because they were attracted to a specific photograph I made of a couple walking across the street in front of San Francisco City Hall with the blur of a US Postal Service truck passing by behind them… so I knew we would become fast friends.

The couple has a classic Bay Area – Los Angeles love story, complete with a first meeting halfway in between at the lot behind Brooks Brothers in Bakersfield, CA. Their San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony Wedding was a beautiful event that celebrated their time together living in San Francisco.

The Mayor’s Balcony provides the opportunity for customization with up to 100 guests, room to read your own vows, have a friend officiate, have musicians serenade you down the aisle, and stomp on a wine glass wrapped in a napkin if you like.

The Mayor’s balcony looks out on the grand staircase, the lobby, and the rotunda. I typically make group portraits in the Fourth Floor North Gallery. There are a million spots in City Hall to make couples’ portraits, the building’s nooks and crannies provide an embarrassment of riches. We lucky enough to create a few photos while no one else was on the grand staircase. We also had the chance to make a few photographs that captured Ruth’s dress with movement.

After City Hall we headed to Ruth and Tom’s apartment in the Inner Sunset for an intimate cocktail hour with their closest friends, their dog, pizza, and homemade cookies by Ruth. They had decorated the apartment with Japanese cranes a friend made for them, a good omen for a prosperous marriage. After resting our feet, and filling our bellies, we set out for Golden Gate Park with the dog and friends in tow. One of my favorite moments of the day was when Ruth and Tom bumped into a neighbor on our walk, and I was able to capture an earnest neighborly greeting. I enjoy making photographs in a variety of settings because I’m able to capture a range of feelings as each distinct space is activated. When everything goes well, the images can take on some of the complexity of a partnership.

From here we hopped on MUNI where the party continued. It’s fun to be out on the town in wedding finery as passersby often shout out celebratory greetings – and you feel welcomed and celebrated by the city at large.

See Part 2 for details on the reception at Wayfare Tavern… 

For a four part post about a San Francisco City Hall Fourth Floor North Gallery wedding, click here.

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Wedding attire: BHLDN

Hair and Makeup: Kristina Curtis (@bykristinacurtis)

Wedding Ceremony Venue: San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony

Wedding Reception Venue : Wayfare Tavern


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