Planning a large wedding felt daunting to Laura and Ben, but a straight up elopement wasn’t in the cards for the couple either – without their immediate family by their sides, they knew their wedding day wouldn’t be nearly as special or memorable as they wanted it to be.  Instead, they planned their wedding as if, in the words of the bride, they were eloping in their favourite city, San Francisco, eating their favorite food, and seeing amazing sites – all with their closest peeps along for the ride.

After a sweet civil ceremony at the stunning San Francisco City Hall, the newlyweds hit up their favorite bahn mi shop in the city, enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Palace of Fine Arts, surprised their parents with a mother/son and father/daughter dance in the park, and finished their day with dinner at Millennium – all with their wonderful photographer Kim Smith-Miller in tow to capture all the beautiful moments and memories of their special day!

san fran wedding

Laura, 27 & Ben, 27

Location: San Francisco, CA 

Wedding Date: June 6, 2014

Number of Guests: 6

Wedding Cost: Less than $10,000

Wedding Ceremony Location: San Francisco City Hall

Wedding Reception Location: Palace of the Fine Arts, Millennium Restaurant

protea wedding bouquet

brode portrait with hair blowing in the wind

headless brigand groom portrait

bird's eye view of bride and groom going down stairs

bride and groom portrait in San Francisco city hall

bride and groom portrait by golden gate bridge

bride and groom kissing

Why did you have an intimate wedding? 

We were planning on having a larger wedding in the beginning, but quickly realized that it just wasn’t for us. The idea of it all was just too daunting. We wanted to plan a day for us, not 150 other people, which is what it started to feel like. We talked a lot about eloping, but knew that it just wouldn’t have been as memorable if we couldn’t share it with our immediate family. 

hand pouring whiskey

groom and father clinking glasses

groom with glass of whiskey

What are some of the challenges that you faced planning an intimate wedding?

Even though we have been there many times, planning a destination wedding in an unpredictable and large city like San Francisco when you’re not a native is difficult, even for just a small group of people. There are so many variables to consider: are there any events in the city that day? Is the hotel location central to all the hot spots, but still affordable? What will the traffic be like? Big or small, there’s a significant amount of planning that goes into a wedding. 

bride tapping groom on shoulder

groom seeing bride for first time

bride and groom high-fiving

Was it difficult to pare down the guest list?

Absolutely! There are so many people we would have loved to be there, but our wedding day plans were not conducive to having any more attendees than what we had. 

groom portrait

bride portrait

bride and groom portrait

bride and groom portrait

bride and groom portrait

bride and groom portrait with golden gate bridge in background

bride and groom portrait

bride and groom portrait kissing

bride and groom portrait walking away

Did you have any ‘issues’ with the small guest list from friends and family? If so, how did you address them?

Not to our knowledge. We did have a send-off party prior to our wedding though, so we were able to celebrate with our close family and friends.  

top of San Francisco city hall

bride and groom walking up steps of San Francisco City Hall

What were the highlights of the ceremony?

A couple that we had met a couple days prior, surprised us by showing up at the courthouse. We met them on their wedding day as we were scoping out the Court House, and within three hours we did an entire wedding photo shoot for them and were their witnesses. It was so special that they showed up.

San Francisco City Hall Wedding ceremony

bride holding up ring during ceremony

bride and groom first kiss

bride and groom hugging at end of ceremony

What were the highlights of the reception?

For our reception, we did a mini tour of some of our favorite spots, starting with banh mi sandwiches from Saigon Sandwich (which is conveniently located right across the street from the Court House), a picnic at the Palace of the Fine Arts, and dinner at Millennium. 

The whole day was pretty incredible, but our favorite moment was when we surprised our parents with a father-daughter, mother-son dance while we were having our picnic at the Palace of the Fine Arts. 

bride and groom crossing the street

bride and groom outside sandwich shop

bride and groom asking through park

wedding guests toasting with sandwiches in the park

groom and mother dancing in the park

bride and father dancing in the park

bride and groom dancing in the park

bride laughing while dancing with groom in the park

What was the best thing about having an intimate wedding?

We were able to plan our day as if we were eloping in our favorite city, eating our favorite food, seeing our favorite sites, but with our favorite people.

just married written on car window

bride and groom in back of car

bride and groom t restaurant reception

bride sipping a cocktail

chocolate wedding cake with candles being brought out to bride and groom

bride and groom blowing out candles

What advice do you have for couples who are considering an intimate wedding?

There is no “normalcy” when it comes to weddings. Create a day that is the truest representation of you and your partner, regardless of what that looks like.  

bride and groom feeding each other cake


Photography: Kim Smith-Miller

Reception Venue: Millennium