So, as a lot of people already know, we recently decided to get married (because clearly that is a smart thing to do when you’re about to blow $15K on a kitchen remodel…) We thought picking a nice place nearby would be a relatively simple endeavor, especially since D. was set on avoiding the Wedding Industrial Complex at all costs. Turns out not so much—so this has consequently been consuming way too many free evenings and weekends over the last six weeks (one of several reasons I haven’t been posting much lately!)
We’ve finally settled on a place, but now I have a ridiculous amount of research on wedding venues in the East Bay. So, with apologies to people who read this blog because they like houses, gardens, Oakland, or our dog, I’m going to take a quick side trip to Wedding Land so that the next person to go venue hunting in Oakland and Berkeley won’t have to dedicate quite so many hours to it. (I promise this will be just about the only wedding-related post!)
This list of venues focuses on Oakland and Berkeley, mostly because we figured if we were going to have to drive over the hill to Lamorinda, we might as well head further afield and go to Marin or Sonoma. I thought it was important to keep our festivities local in spaces that were meaningful to us—there are some gorgeous destination spots across the Bay Area, but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of visiting someplace for the first time to have a wedding there.
Prices listed here are current as of October 2009. Except where noted, all venues were priced for eight hours on a summer Saturday evening for a group of 100 with kitchen use; many venues offer discounts for other days of the week or for winter events. Some park spaces also allow you to mix and match rooms and charge accordingly. Prices do not include liability insurance or sound and alcohol permits, which many of these venues require. Asterisks indicate that the venue has catering restrictions, usually a list of approved caterers from which you can choose.
OUTDOOR PARKS & GARDENS
Dimond Park (Dimond): Tucked between the Glenview and Dimond Districts, Dimond Park offers two large picnic areas, Redwood Grove and Sequoia. Both can be reserved for events. No alcohol is allowed.
Cost: $75 per day per picnic area
Estuary Park (Oakland Estuary): A waterfront park near Jack London Aquatic Center, this spot offers gorgeous views and more grassy lawns for picnics. No alcohol is allowed.
Cost: Varies by number of guests ($50 to $250)
Joaquin Miller Park (Oakland hills): Beautiful WPA-era park with several popular wedding sites and some picnic grounds available as well. Owned by the City of Oakland, but very close to the EBRPD parks; I have trouble keeping track of which parks OPR runs and which parks EBRPD runs! Alcohol and amplified sound require permits. (This is also the only city park in Oakland that allows alcohol.) Picnics must be done by 10 pm.
Cost: Varies by specific site ($100 to $200)
Kaiser Rooftop Garden (Uptown): This amazing garden up on the roof of the Kaiser Center garage is one of Oakland’s best-kept secrets. If you haven’t been, you must go—it’s an absolutely incredible, huge space with mature trees, paths, landscaping, and more. Contrary to what we’d initially heard, they do rent the garden for events despite the fact that the restaurant has closed. There are no rules beyond providing proof of insurance and paying the security guard, but the flip side is that there are also few amenities offered. (They provide access to the building’s bathrooms for your guests, but you need to arrange everything else and coordinate with them to bring things like tables and chairs up the freight elevator.) Still, this made our short list and I really, really wanted to make the numbers work, because how often can you get married in a secret garden?!? (Sadly, the gap between this option and the next contender was over $1,000 so I just couldn’t justify the added expense.) Update: This space is now being managed by a new company that requires all-inclusive catering, flowers, and more. Ah, well. So much for the great creative option!
Cost: $1,600 $155/head
Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt): Ringing the north end of the lake, Lakeside Park offers both grassy lawns (once the construction is finished!) and a bandstand that’s popular for ceremonies. Both can be reserved. No alcohol is allowed.
Cost: Varies by number of guests ($50 to $250); additional fee to reserve bandstand
Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline (Oakland Estuary): Beautiful views at another EBRPD park. My main hang-up there was that I’ve run community meetings there, and right off the bat I ruled out any place work-related (as did D., which was somewhat sad because he actually works at one of the more popular wedding spots in Berkeley!) Picnics must be done by sundown.
Cost: Varies by site capacity ($100 to $200)
Morcom Rose Garden (Piedmont Avenue): This is a gorgeous spot for a wedding ceremony. Unfortunately for us, we’re doing a pretty low-key ceremony and there’s no place near the Rose Garden to host a reception outdoors, so it didn’t make a lot of sense as a location. But if you’re doing a larger ceremony, it would be among my top picks. (Notably, it is walking distance to Camino, and they do buy-outs for large receptions, which could be a pretty tasty affair!)
Cost: $115 per hour for residents/$135 per hour for non-residents
Mountain View Cemetery (Piedmont Avenue): A little weird, yes. But the Olmsted-designed space was originally intended to be “churchyard, graveyard, park, and garden”—and they rent their chapels for wedding ceremonies and allow receptions on the open lawns in their beautiful historic space. Plus, a lot of cool people are buried here—who wouldn’t want the likes of Julia Morgan, Samuel Merritt, Bernard Maybeck, Henry Kaiser, and more as witnesses?
Redwood & Roberts Regional Parks (Oakland hills): Two more pretty EBRPD Oakland hills spaces. A little warmer than the Berkeley hills, but still a bit unpredictable on the weather front. Most EBRPD group picnic grounds allow alcohol. Picnics must be done by sundown.
Cost: Varies by site capacity ($100 to $200)
Snow Park (Lake Merritt): Just across from Lake Merritt, Snow Park has huge grassy lawns that can be reserved for events. No alcohol.
Cost: Varies by number of guests ($50 to $250)
Tilden Park (Berkeley hills): Tilden Park, owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District, has a number of picnic sites throughout the park. Four of them can accommodate large groups: Willows (100), Padre (150), Laurel (150), and Mineral Springs (200). This is my top pick for picnic spaces because Tilden is such a phenomenal park, with the Botanical Garden, Merry-Go-Round, Little Farm, Steam Train (that allows dogs to ride!), Lake Anza, and more. Picnics must be done by sundown. Some sites require park catering permits.
Cost: Varies by site capacity ($100 to $200)
COMMUNITY CENTERS & INDOOR PARK SPACES
There are a ridiculous number of these in Oakland and Berkeley, and many of them are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the gorgeous ones tend to be a) expensive (well, at least relatively speaking!) and b) booked well in advance. Many of the sites also have catering restrictions, and at most you can’t serve hard alcohol, if that’s a factor.
*Brazilian Room, Tilden Park (Berkeley hills): Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous—its reputation is well-deserved. The Brazilian Room was originally built as the Brazilian Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island. When the exposition ended, the country of Brazil presented it to the East Bay Regional Park District as a gift of friendship. However, because it’s so amazing, it also falls into the booked-way-in-advance category. So, a no go for us. (Notably, EBRPD opens its spaces to residents of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties before opening them to the general public, so if you’re looking for a venue for 2011 and you’re a resident, you can reserve the Brazilian Room beginning this week. Reservations open to the general public after the new year.)
Cost: $2,150 resident/$2,580 non-resident for seven hours; $3,800 resident/$4,560 non-resident for twelve hours
Jack London Aquatic Center (Oakland Estuary): Lovely waterfront views, though the banquet room itself is rather utilitarian (because, after all, this is an aquatic center!)
Joaquin Miller Community Center (Oakland hills): This is a huge community center up in Joaquin Miller Park; it wasn’t really my style, but does provide plenty of space and a nice connected deck with a view. Additional rooms can be added to expand the capacity well beyond 100.
Cost: $1,530 resident/$1,874 non-resident
Lake Merritt Sailboat House (Lake Merritt): Not to be confused with the Lake Merritt Boat House, which now houses Lake Chalet, the Sailboat House is a 1960s-era facility used most of the time for boat rentals of various types. The upstairs features a large banquet-style room with a deck that overlooks the lake, though. It’s beautiful, but the space itself has a very 1960s-vibe, and on the day I visited it, was also very damp and sailboat-smelling. (In fairness, it was right after the massive rains, though.) I think you could spin that into a great nautical theme of some sort, though, and the view at night has got to be incredible.
Cost: $750 resident/$870 non-resident
*Lake Temescal Beach House, Temescal Regional Park (Upper Rockridge): For some reason, this lower-key EBRPD facility is off of people’s radar, even though it’s lovely in its own right. That’s nice, though, because it means it’s easy to book! The beach house overlooks Lake Temescal and has a terrace behind it, and there are pathways leading up to a small waterfall and down to the lake itself. Like the Brazilian Room, though, the Beach House has caterer restrictions and a few other idiosyncrasies.
Cost: $1,500 resident/$1,800 non-resident
Lakeside Garden Center (Lake Merritt): The Garden Center, another Lakeside Park gem, has a mix of rooms that have a pretty typical community center feel. Like most of Oakland’s community centers, this is another 1960s-esque building—but it has a beautiful Japanese garden behind it, and the Garden Room has a wall of windows and doors that open up into the garden itself, allowing events to flow between indoor and outdoor areas seamlessly. The major caveat: Oakland garden clubs get preference for this venue and don’t schedule super far in advance, so you theoretically can’t book this space until six months before your event. (In practice, they do sometimes bend the rules and book this space earlier than that depending on who picks up the phone, which we learned the hard way! So it’s wise to submit your paperwork well before the six-month mark, despite what OPR may tell you.) For larger events or banquets there are multiple rooms that can be combined.
Cost: $1,170 resident/$1,350 non-resident for Garden Room with Japanese Garden
Leona Lodge (Montclair): In the end I didn’t look at this one in person inside, but I did find out that it’s newly-renovated, and they’ve stripped the wood back to natural so it’s apparently much lighter inside than Sequoia is. Leona also has an outdoor BBQ pit, which could be a nice plus. (We wandered around the outside on a walk one day and didn’t love the disconnect between the indoor and outdoor spaces, though.) It also holds a slightly larger crowd than Sequoia.
Cost: $750 resident/$870 non-resident
Oakland Asian Cultural Center (Chinatown): Another spot we’ve used for work….ah well! Huge and good for large banquets, though.
Cost: $1,650 plus $550 for kitchen access
Piedmont Community Hall (Piedmont proper): Wonderful—and crazy expensive unless you’re a Piedmont resident. Has a sweet little tea house that can be rented for an additional fee. (Maybe I can take all our misaddressed mail—we share a zip code with Piedmont and frequently get junk mail listing Piedmont as the city—and pretend?!?) Actually it’s pretty expensive even if you do live there, and it books up light years in advance.
Cost: $2,400 resident/$3,500 non-resident
Piedmont Veterans Hall (Piedmont proper): As Piedmont venues go, this one is a bit more reasonably priced, but it just didn’t strike me in the same way the Community Hall did. (I imagine that’s the case for others, too, which explains the big discrepancy in price!)
Cost: $1,545 resident/$1,900 non-resident
Sequoia Lodge (Montclair): I love this little lodge, tucked up in Montclair. It’s a very rustic space under the redwoods, complete with a stone fireplace and conversation circle inside. It fell off the list only because it was so dark and we’re getting married in June, so it didn’t seem like a good fit. Outdoor space was also really important to D., and the extensive deck at Sequoia is all covered by a wood overhang, making it dark and not especially outdoorsy. I’d do a winter wedding (or a winter anything!) here in a heartbeat, though. All City-owned Oakland venues provide tables and chairs and rent linens, which was a big plus.
Cost: $750 resident/$870 non-resident
Studio One Art Center (Temescal): This is another newly-renovated facility (Oakland tax dollars at work!), but the only outdoor space is the courtyard out front, which is very, very public. Not quite what we wanted. Studio One also requires more extensive permits for special events (probably because it is located in a residential neighborhood), although they do at least seem to have a fairly streamlined process for getting these. This seems like a great spot for fundraisers, though—they even have a theater.
Cost: $1,260 resident/$1,700 non-resident
*UC Botanical Garden (Berkeley hills): Beautiful, but a little close to work for D.’s taste. A wide range of spaces for rent, though; on Saturday you must book the center in its entirety, but on other days of the week you can opt to book smaller rooms and gardens, so it would be perfect for a wedding of 30 or so.
Cost: $2,200 plus $250 for Redwood Grove and Amphitheatre; $250 buyout to use outside caterer
Assorted other Oakland community centers: Most of the recreation centers in the city can be reserved for a fee. Since I’ve never been to most of them, it seemed silly to write anything much about them….but some popular picks include Dimond Recreation Center, Redwood Heights Recreation Center, and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, among others.
Cost: Varies by number of guests ($75 to $250)
HISTORIC HOUSES & MUSEUMS
Again, lots of local options here, many of them beautiful. A constraint with some of the more popular museum venues is the catering restriction, though.
Camron-Stanford House (Lake Merritt): I thought this would be a top contender, but it turns out that it’s much better suited to an all-indoor or all-outdoor event, because the spaces are not especially well connected to one another. This house museum has a formal dining room, a veranda, and a backyard that are all lovely—but we wanted the three to be connected so that people could flow. Another sticking point was that this used to be one of the least costly venues, but prices have gone way up. At $1,500, it was hard to justify—especially since this is also the only venue we looked at that doesn’t provide chairs and tables, so renting those would be an additional cost. You must also get your own alcohol permits.
*Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland hills): Another City-owned venue. This is a good time to pause and say I think it is really pretty astoundingly cool that my city owns so many phenomenal spaces, from Children’s Fairyland (which, by the way, you can also rent for weddings) to Feather River Camp up in the Sierras. Generally, I forget to appreciate this. Anyway, this one was a cool idea, but again, blew our budget out of the water. Although $1,600 gets you a planetarium show, which is pretty awesome! (This is another venue that can take a lot of people—up to 1,000.)
Cost: Varies by space; ranges from $2,200 for the café to $11,000 for the entire museum. Caterer buyout is $1,000.
Children’s Fairyland (Lake Merritt): Yes, you too can get married (or have another fun event) in Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe, with Cinderella looking on. This Oakland classic, which is coming up on its 60th birthday next year and purportedly inspired Disneyland, makes an exception to its “no unaccompanied adults!” policy for after-hours weddings. (They also do birthday parties with catering from Loard’s and other kid-related festivities like campouts, which I would have loved as a kid!)
Cost: Varies depending on spaces reserved
*Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate (Oakland hills): City-owned historic home and grounds that are operated by a nonprofit. Gorgeous. And priced accordingly—we would have blown half our budget on the site alone! Plus, they have catering restrictions, too. This is one of the few venues in the area that accommodates very large groups, though—they can take up to 600—so it’s a good option if that’s what you need. They also get points for a much more diverse catering list than most spots, with options for barbeque, Indian food, and Southern cuisine in addition to the usual suspects.
Cost: $4,275 resident/$4,500 resident for South Pond Lawn and Garden Pavilion (up to 200 guests); $2,375 resident /$2,500 non-resident for Historic Carriage House and Lawn (up to 80 guests); $800 buyout to use outside caterer “for religious or ethnic situations only”
Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley hills): Can’t beat the view of the Bay Area, but this was off the list before we even started because D. could not imagine getting married here (although he did contemplate trying to negotiate a trade with the Exploratorium!) It was way too expensive anyway, though, even with the discount.
Cost: $3,500 with a $500 discount for UC affiliates (campus departments, UCOP, and LBL) and a $250 discount for “Friends of LHS” (UCB staff, students, and alumni; LHS members at the sponsor level)
Oakland Museum of California (Downtown Oakland): I love this (also City-owned!) space—the grounds are expansive and the museum is coming off a multi-million-dollar renovation—but D. wasn’t such a fan. They have an open catering policy and allow hard alcohol, though, which makes them particularly unique among East Bay venues. Update: When the museum reopens in May 2010, they will have a single exclusive caterer for all spaces, a big departure from their old policy. You will be able to buy out the caterer for $1,000.
Cost: Check with OMCA for new rates beginning in 2010.
*Oakland Zoo (Oakland hills): The Snow Building is pretty, but it was a bit of a haul from our neck of the woods. I didn’t go look at it, but the photos are lovely and the views must be stellar.
Cost: $1,720 for the Snow Room or $250 for a group picnic site (picnic area fee does not include zoo admission)
*Preservation Park (Downtown Oakland): This restored Victorian neighborhood in the heart of Downtown Oakland was a top contender since the buildings and grounds are gorgeous, but in the end it was just too expensive for us. It’s an amazing space, though!
Cost: $2,650 for Bandstand, Fountain Circle, and Nile Hall; $500 buyout to use outside caterer
Western Aerospace Museum (Oakland Airport): An alternative to the more traditional venues!
COUNTRY CLUBS & OTHER PRIVATE VENUES
*Bellevue Club (Lake Merritt): We didn’t look at this space because you have to use their in-house chef and we wanted a little more control over the food, but it’s an intriguing option given its stellar location right on the lake, particularly because guests can stay overnight at the club as well. It’s also been an institution on the lake for generations, which is pretty cool.
*Berkeley City Club (Downtown Berkeley): A beautiful Julia Morgan-designed space in Downtown Berkeley. Like the Bellevue Club, this one is all-inclusive so the catering is in-house. Guests can stay here, as well.
*Berkeley Faculty Club (Downtown Berkeley): The Faculty Club has one large room and a number of smaller spaces, including outdoor areas and terraces. You must use their in-house catering team for everything except the wedding cake.
Cost: $800 for the Heyns Room and Patio; $2,000 for the Great Hall and associated spaces
Gaia Arts Center (Downtown Berkeley): A relatively new space in Downtown Berkeley, the Gaia Center has a rooftop deck that is pretty amazing for parties. (I went to a fundraiser there a few years ago and was wowed by the views!) Notably, their fees are significantly less on Friday nights than on Saturdays, so this could be an inexpensive option for a weekday wedding or event.
Cost: $2,600 including access to the rooftop terrace, plus $320 for required Gaia staff representative
*Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club (Montclair): Beautiful space—but, again, priced accordingly. They had a helpful little section of their website telling us that basic amenities for a party of 100 would run us $10K. Oy—that’s our entire budget before the caterer is even in the mix! So goodbye, beautiful building…
Cost: $3,500, plus extra for tables, chairs, tents, etc.
*Reinhardt Alumnae House (Mills College): This is a beautiful space on the campus of Mills College. The building itself was designed by Maybeck near the end of his career, and opens up onto a beautiful patio and lawn. While they do have a caterer list, the buyout is extremely reasonable, making it one of the more flexible venues. Parking is free, too, which is a bonus. The one downside is that Mills sits just under the 580, and you can hear the freeway from the patio—but if you’re looking at Mills Chapel, a gorgeous ceremony site, it’s still a compelling option.
Cost: $1,200; $100 buyout to use outside caterer
*Rotunda Building (Downtown Oakland): I’ve been to some receptions here in the past, and it’s a gorgeous building. However, it’s way too big (and consequently too expensive) for many weddings, ours included. It holds 500, though, so perfect for something large.
Cost: $5,600 (based on $700/hour for eight hours)
*Sequoyah Country Club (Oakland hills): As with every spot in the hills, this one has a beautiful view. Downsides are that you must use their in-house catering, and there are a lot of additional charges for just about everything, from chairs to screens to cake cutting. On the upside, they are pretty much all-inclusive. We didn’t go look at this in person either.
Cost: $1,950 for a five-hour event
Other private venues offering wedding spaces:
Wineries in the city? Yep, surprisingly there are a number of wineries with tasting rooms nearby, and a couple can be rented for events. They don’t grow the grapes in the city (yet!) so you’ll get more of an urban vibe than a vineyard vibe, but you don’t have to make the trek up to Wine Country, either.
JC Cellars (Jack London Square): This artisan winery provides tables and chairs plus access to a prep kitchen. You must purchase all of your wine from the winery; there’s a 10 percent discount for 12 bottles or more.
Cost: $500 for the evening plus wine
Periscope Cellars (Emeryville): Periscope offers urban space with tables, chairs, A/V equipment, and more. They’re next-door to a caterer, too (though you can use anyone you like). Plus, as with JC Cellars, you can’t beat the price.
Cost: $600 for eight hours plus wine
CHURCHES & OTHER RELIGIOUS SITES
There are several churches in Oakland and Berkeley that rent their event halls (and in some cases chapels or sanctuaries) to anyone, regardless of creed. We didn’t vet these options since we aren’t planning a formal ceremony, but some of them are lovely. Here Comes the Guide has a solid list of them. Note that in a several cases, they do not permit alcohol.
Not really our speed so I didn’t actually price any of these, but they offer ceremony and reception space that looks reasonable.
A good option if you’re going for the cocktail reception feel. We didn’t price any since in the end I didn’t find any with outdoor space or gardens, but I imagine they’re generally pretty reasonable. One challenge is that you have to get the single-day alcohol permit on your own, though. (For park spaces and City-owned facilities, they handle the process and you just pay a fee.) The Art Murmur list is probably a good place to start if you’re looking for a gallery to rent.
A number of local restaurants have spaces to host large groups, or will arrange buyouts at the right price. Here are a few that we considered. Our main criteria were 1) really good food and 2) nice outdoor patio, which limited us significantly. (Even so, I’m sure there are some spots missing from this list that we just didn’t think of!)
À Côté (Rockridge): À Côté is one of our favorite restaurants, so I figured I had to give them a call. The good news was that their prices were very reasonable. The bad news is that the biggest group they can accommodate is 55 since they don’t do full buyouts, and that was too small for us. However, they’re now on my list for the next time I need to organize a large dinner! (And I secretly like that they don’t do full buyouts, just as I like that they reserve many of their tables for walk-ins…that’s what a good neighborhood spot should do!)
Bocanova (Jack London Square): This spot is brand-new and overlooks the Oakland Estuary at Jack London Square. The outdoor space is lovely but not especially private. We’ve only eaten here once (though it was excellent!) so that was another concern.
Doña Tomás (Temescal): Doña Tomás has a great patio behind the restaurant with yummy food; we’ve been to some nice group dinners there in the past. They also have a back room beyond the patio that would work well for smaller dinners, too. They came off our list for some reason that I can’t remember now.
Lake Chalet (Lake Merritt): Another amazing location. They have two spaces that can accommodate large groups: the Gondola Room, which is inside but has three walls of windows that overlook the lake (and open!), and the outdoor patio, which has its own bar and grill. They’re also relatively reasonably priced, with a $3K minimum and no room fee. (Menus to choose from ranged from $24-$52 a head, which isn’t bad.) We weren’t wowed by their food the one time we ate there, though, and the alcohol is pricey and charged per drink, so it had the potential to add up quickly. However, this would be my top pick if we were having a traditional “ceremony-followed-by-reception” wedding. You could even get married on the lake at the bandstand in Lakeside Park and head to the Chalet afterwards.
La Note (Downtown Berkeley): Again, neither of us has had dinner there, though we love their brunch, so it seemed like a gamble to try something out for the first time. But they do take large groups, and they do have a patio.
Pizzaiolo (Temescal): This was actually my top pick because they have a sweet little garden (with chickens!) in the back that was perfect for the ceremony. They’ve hosted weddings before, and had a pretty clear vision for how to make it all work, which was great. We’d also been to a friend’s birthday party here, so we knew they could do a large event well. The main downside was the price, which is a set fee (it is, after all, a buyout) and was way more than we had budgeted (but, granted, still less than the average cost of a Bay Area wedding these days!) As you can see, this was a running theme in our search….
Other restaurants with large event spaces:
Our search was pretty focused on Oakland and Berkeley, but if you go a little further afield, there are some nice spots to discover. I’m not going to get into them because Here Comes the Guide gets paid to do that, but it’s definitely worth checking out city parks (San Francisco and Marin have a lot of great spots, and EBRPD has several venues in other nearby cities) and various museums. Also, boats! Several cruise lines run out of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito, and beyond, and you can host events there, too. Generally, there was a markup if you crossed the Bay Bridge (and an even bigger one if you kept going over the Golden Gate!) which is one of many reasons we decided to stay East Bay. (The flip side of that is that the rates keep dropping if you head through the Caldecott or up into Contra Costa County, though!)