The GGNRA is a sprawling, multi-part National Park that spreads across multiple counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, with over 128 square miles of land, 28 miles of ocean coastline and 59 miles of shoreline including the Bay. When we talk about planning a wedding in the GGNRA, we’re talking about lots of different choices, including some much older city and county parks that were absorbed into the federal park.
However diverse the locations may be, some rules apply to all of these areas. The GGNRA has a special events staff that will help you plan your wedding, secure the correct permits and collect any fees, and they’re (usually) nice people who are trying to help you get what you want within the rules. To explore your plans you can call the National Park Service Office of Special Park Uses at (415) 561-4374 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The restrictions may be just fine for what you want to do, or they may be a deal-killer for a GGNRA wedding. You always want to ask about exceptions and be creative with suggestions. Here’s a summary of the basic ground rules:
- You have to get a permit for any wedding, however small it may be. Frankly, if your ceremony is so simple that your small group goes on a hike together, doesn’t bother anyone else, and doesn’t break any park rules or do anything to draw attention to yourselves, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice or object. Most weddings, however, don’t meet those criteria.
- Larger GGNRA weddings and weddings at some locations will have to pay extra administrative fees to cover staff time.
- When I say “go on a hike together,” in the GGNRA, there are wedding spots where you really have to do that. The Point Bonita Lighthouse is a compelling, popular spot, but it’s a half-mile (.8 km) walk down a narrow trail from the parking lot. If you need to use the rest room, you have to take that same long walk back up the hill before coming back down again. The men as well as the women may bring two pairs of shoes for a wedding here!
- In most GGNRA wedding locations they will not allow any vehicles of any kind, including golf carts, horse-drawn carriages, parachute jumpers, hot air balloons, motorcyclists leaping over things etc. Do ask about your specific site, however, just in case it’s one of the rare exceptions.
- All of the spots that get crowded on major holidays or in the busy travel season (March 15 through October 15) will be ruled out, which includes the most popular times for weddings. But it never hurts to ask, because if your chosen spot hasn’t been too busy they may give permission.
- GGNRA weddings can’t last more than three hours, including set-up time and clean-up time. You have to haul everything in and out yourself. If you leave any mess behind you’ll get charged for the clean-up, and as overtime it’s not cheap at $85 per hour per worker.
- Many areas have very little parking, and you can’t reserve parking places, block them off, etc. Families often rent shuttle buses to work around this problem.
- You can’t put up signs to direct people to the location, or tie balloons to trees to show the way.
- Many GGNRA spots prohibit any kinds of decorations, and some prohibit bringing in anything at all, including canopies, chairs, runners, etc. In the wild and open spots the philosophy is that nature provides the backdrop.
- Some sites for GGNRA weddings ban all music at wedding ceremonies, though acoustic music is likely to be approved at most locations. All or virtually all do not allow the use of microphones, amplifiers, speakers etc. for the ceremony or for music. They explain that this is to allow park visitors nearby to hear the sounds of nature undisturbed. In some spots they’ll allow you to bring a boom box for the wedding march and you may have another idea they’ll approve.
- Some areas support traditional wedding receptions, but in many GGNRA spots any reception that doesn’t feel like a family picnic in a designated picnic area will not be allowed.
- You can’t do anything that gets in the way of other park visitors or excludes them from an area. You can have a beach wedding as long as everyone else who wants to go to the same beach that day also gets to go.
- Alcohol is allowed in many sites, but the general rule is that you have to use plastic, not glass, for beverages and everything needs to be hauled out when you’re done. They need to approve any alcohol use in advance, however.
- Anything involving fire is not allowed, as you can imagine in a wildlands area. No candles, fireworks, tiki torches, etc.
- You can’t release anything (balloons, doves, butterflies, Han Solo) or throw anything (rice, bird seed, flower petals) inside the parks to avoid harming the environment.
Popular GGNRA Wedding Spots
If you don’t see a GGNRA location you’d like to use below, it’s likely you can still arrange something by calling the National Park Service Office of Special Park Uses at (415) 561-4374 or by emailing email@example.com.
Battery Rathbone-McIndoe (Note: Unsuitable if there will be children running around — click link for more information)
Black Point Battery
Crissy Field (Four locations)
Fort Barry Parade Grounds
Fort Mason Great Meadow
Fort Mason Parade Grounds
Hawk Hill (above the Hawk Hill parking and Golden Gate view area)
Sutro Heights Park
West Fort Miley