• Ajay Manaktala

Indian Weddings in San Francisco Bay Area | Full Guide

Updated: May 9

What’s up Bay Area! Are you thinking about planning your big fat South Asian wedding in San Francisco, Sacramento, Silicon Valley or elsewhere in Northern California? 


You’re in the right place! 


How To Plan an Indian Wedding in the Bay Area


San Francisco is the high tech artery that powers the entire modern world.  Given the high density of jobs in STEM (software, technology, engineering and medicine) fields in SF...you can be sure there will also be a high density of Indians! 

Time to sell some of that Amazon stock to pay for this!

Most people who look to do their wedding in the Bay are usually from families that live there, have married into a family that has or are working professionals who have settled in California's most expensive city. 


Since a ton of desis not only live in SF but also work there from India as part of the H1B visa lottery, there is a massive Indian community of both NRI’s and second generation Indian-Americans.  Many of the folks under 40 who are currently engaged were either born in America or moved here as part of school or work, and in many cases got engaged in India but are now doing their wedding in the states. 


The types of Indian communities we see aren’t exactly known, but for this post we’ll discuss “Indian weddings” as they pertain to:

  • South Indians (Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala)

  • North Indians (Delhites)

  • Punjabis

  • Gujaratis 

  • Bengalis

  • Pakistanis

  • Sri Lankans

  • Mixed

  • Bangladeshis

My goal is to take you through the Indian wedding industry in SF and give ideas for folks living in areas like Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sunnyvale etc…


I’ll also explain costs and hacks for you to save some cash. 

I’ll then wrap it up with some vendors you can look at if you decide to get hitched here!


Since this is a long post, scroll ahead to any of the following sections per the outline below:


  1. The Very First Step You Must Do for SF and Bay Area Weddings

  2. Why Plan your Wedding in the Bay Area?

  3. Main Cities in San Francisco to have a South Asian wedding

  4. Venue Primer and Basics

  5. Main Hotels in SF to host Indian Weddings

  6. Factors That Are Unique to SF for Weddings

  7. How Much Does an Indian Wedding Cost in SF?

  8. Priorities for your SF Guests

  9. Food and Catering Vendors

  10. Venue Considerations (Guest’s Point of View)

  11. Planners, Event Team & Decorators

  12. Photographers

  13. Videographers

  14. Baraat 

  15. Pandit and Priest's we Recommend

  16. Pros of a Wedding in SF

  17. Cons of a Wedding in SF

  18. Conclusions


System.out.println(“Are you ready techies?”);


Ok sorry, tech joke.  Let’s go!!

As Indian hospitality dictates, you need to know your guest list first!

The Very First Step You Must Do for SF and Bay Area Weddings


You may have already done this step in which case skip ahead.  But if you have not finalized your guest list or at least finalized everybody you’re inviting, please go back and finish that process now. 


With Indian weddings in America, as I say for years...you have to start with your guest list.  

As many people in the Bay Area know, US Visas are not so straightforward or forgiving these days.  


People get rejected all the time regardless of how much money they have or how many times they’ve come to America before.  If your best friend, your mother or you grandma back in Mumbai or Chandigarh or Pakistan aren’t able to come to your wedding for whatever reason...then you’re going to have a hard time getting your $25,000 deposit back from the Fairmont Hotel.  


Take a few days and make a spreadsheet of names and where everybody is coming from.  


ALSO SEE: Is it considered normal to send marriage invites only digitally now?


If San Francisco and California is still a sure shot bet (e.g. if a few people who are distant can’t make it and you’re cool with it) then carry on.  But if it’s still open, don’t risk it with super close relatives until that 10 year US Visa is secure! 


Remember...just like with software, you have to plan and analyze first, then implement and deploy! I repeat over and over...GUEST LIST FIRST!


The view, the weather, the VOW. (get it?)

Why Plan your Shaadi in the Bay Area?


Usually with San Francisco, San Jose and Bay area weddings couples do it here because most of the people they know are going to come from around the same area.  Given the high cost of living and high-salary jobs, these same couples could also easily afford a destination wedding if they wanted to. But lucky for everyone, Nor Cal is also simply an awesome place to get married.


With regards to Indian weddings:


  • Convenience: Easy and direct airport access both from India and/or Pakistan, as well as domestically via so many other airports.  Many guests from Los Angeles or Seattle may also opt for scenic drives up and down the coast.    

  • Accessible: People can Uber, drive, walk or take public transport like the Bart to get around. It’s also very handicap friendly despite all the hills. 

  • Gorgeous Scenery: You really have to see the Golden Gate bridge to take it in.  Pictures do not do it justice. And the SF skyline for city weddings, or across the bay via Berkeley and Oakland are also simply breathtaking. Yacht cruises, city tours, winery tasting in Sonoma also offers a great experience for the working professional. 

  • Little India: Food? Fashion? Pandit? Dandia?  You’ll get it all in the bay and you will be spoiled for choice.  They’re so many Indian communities, temples, Gurdwaras, and desi societies for any group, any age, any person that you’ll feel like you’re in India.  Aside from maybe the latest fashion styles you see in Mumbai or Delhi, you’ll pretty much get anything you’d get in India in a place like SF. And also New Jersey I imagine. 


Main Cities in San Francisco to have a South Asian wedding


San Francisco itself is like Manhattan, a small densely populated insanely expensive city. 


But the term San Francisco is used interchangeably with the entire region Northern California when most of us talk about it for weddings. 


So for our Indian wedding planning purposes we’ll look at the following areas:


  • San Francisco: City lights, breathtaking views, expensive, and world class anything.  Great for big budget big fat Indian weddings. 

  • Fremont, Sunnyvale, San Mateo, Cupertino San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View: The Silicon Valley Suburbs. A ton of Indians live here and support the major tech companies.  Great for big fat Indian weddings that don’t want to break the bank or life savings.  The San Mateo Marriott is also Indian wedding central!

  • Sacramento/Oakland: Less expensive areas further out, But many fancy weddings do occur here as Sacramento has a large Indina community aso. 


Indian Wedding Venues in Northern California


Hotels, city hall and community centers are no stranger to Indian wedding receptions and they're a massive business for them.  As a result a lot of them will have straightforward pricing and not be too aggressive in pushing you too close the deal, because well, their business is doing just fine. 


For those new to the wedding and banquet business, you normally pay the hotel for food and alcohol, and then the venue comes for free as part of that with basic table, seating and staff. 


The good news is that many hotels will have relationships or in-house Indian catering, so you can avoid going out for Indian food and instead use whatever you promised in your contract to spend on Indian food and keep the guests happy.  They are also dedicated Hindu wedding venues, temples and community centers which can help with fire codes, unique customs, cultural nuances, fabrics, spices, animals and more.


Also anytime you book a hotel ballroom for a wedding, you will usually get 2-3 rooms and suites included as part of a $150,000 to $300,000 contract. 


These can be negotiated as much as you can stretch it, and you should!  


You should also ask your hotel for a discounted with breakfast rate for out of town guests, although that may not be much cheaper than wholesale rates you see on Kayak because of various factors. 


HOTELS IN SF ARE ABOUT $300 during low season and can go up to $600 during peak period.  The last thing you want are a few of your guests telling you they can’t find anything, but they really want to come, etc…

Many Hotels in SF are now charging resort or “urban” fees.  For example the Fairmont hotel lists a $239 rate on their website, but after taxes and fees, your bill will be closer to $310.  

Indian community centers such as the one in Sunnyvale and SF City Hall which is insanely popular also have fees to book the hall and then a host of other charges that can almost double the fee itself.  You then pay for catering and decor and everything else separately! 

 

Best Indian Wedding Venues in the Bay Area


San Francisco


Ritz Carlton SF 


A ballroom capacity of 500 people, gorgeous city views and the impeccable Ritz makes this a top choice for folks who can afford it.  The terrace tent or courtyard is also nice for your wedding although you won’t have much of a backdrop the way you would for a beach or destination wedding behind the mandap. 


Fairmont Hotel San Francisco


The Fairmont Hotel is one of the most popular weddings in San Francisco for Indian weddings and by good measure.  It has a unique vintage architecture, fantastic views from the room and event spaces on top of Nob Hill that can overlook the bay area can.  It can accommodate a fairly large volume of guests at around 300 for Indian weddings, which it also experienced at doing. 


SF City Hall


If you can book it early, you have one of the best values for money places in the city.  As a government facility the rates aren’t exorbitant and can be viewed here. You’ll still spend a bunch on decoration and the usual wedding vendors, but to be honest it’s such a unique and gorgeous space for a wedding GRANTED you book it well in advance.  The only slight downside is the waiting period as well as the fact that you need to play your last song by midnight, which as we all know is difficult considering all Indian events start late and go late! 


Westin ST Francis, Union Square 


Grand Ballroom for 600 people or the best venue room in the city with the Golden Gate room at 200 people? This hotel has iconic venue rooms, an insane location in the heart of Union square and pretty transparenet pricing at $300 per person, per day for the most comparable Indian wedding package. 


St Regis San Francisco


Up to 600 people at the largest space and very chic modern interiors makes this hotel a noteworthy option.  A bit pricier with the brand.


Pullman San Francisco


A bit further down the San Francisco bay but a lovely mid-range hotel that’s very great value for money.  I love wedding shere because there is space and no stress from the city, and people go wild!


San Jose and Silicon Valley


Fairmont San Jose


The iconic Fairmont is also in San Jose, where most Indians also live.  San Jose as the nickname of Little India and I get hungry just thinking about the abundance of food choices you can get here.  Better priced and a little newer than the San Francisco location, this hotel is a top choice for those who want the SF class but not in the city.  Can accommodate up to 1200 guests in banquette seating! 


Mountain Winery


An iconic winery not too far from San Jose provides sweeping vistas, plenty of land and gorgeous option for film and video.  Plus you can easily use a horse and make noise for your baraat, and then move your guest’s to any of the above hotels in San Jose or San Mateo! Plus they’ve done quite a few Indian weddings over the years!


San Mateo Marriott


An expert at Indian weddings, adjacent to the international airport and a nice property that has large space for Indian wedding facilities make this a decent option.  However, as is the case with most of Silicon Valley, the hotel rooms in the suburbs are just as expensive as hotels in the city! Even checking prices for next week you can see an average room rate of 


Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay


A bit south of SF but a bit north of SF prices is the Ritz Half Moon.

My brother got engaged here and it is arguably one of the most gorgeous Ritz properties, but largely due to the location.  The rooms themselves are nice but nothing else you would expect from the Ritz. The show stopper for this property is the coastline. However be prepared to pay more than you’d pay even for a city wedding at this hotel, and many guests may opt to make this a staycation! 


San Jose Gurdwara


If your Sikh and you want to get married in a Gurdwara, this is the place. San Jose also has a massive Sikh community so you will find many resources and your family visiting from India will feel right at home. 


Milpitas Indian Community Center


You can rent the grand hall which can accommodate around 500 people for much less than any of the major hotels, and use outside catering or their preferred vendors to get the best Indian food with less restrictions.  It won’t be super luxurious but it will be bang for your buck. 


Sacramento


DoubleTree Hotel


The largest ballroom can handle up to 700 guests and if you anticipate a large quantity of folks this is a great hotel experience which is also value for money.  Room rates seem to average around $150. 


Factors That Are Unique to SF for Weddings


Weather: It can be freezing during the evenings, especially in the coastal and hill areas.  


Rain: December to February is the rainy season in SF so outdoor wedding venues which might seem like a deal, well...you never know what will happen on the day of. 


Wind!: Chicago may win the nickname of the Windy City but after 1PM San Francisco and the surrounding areas can get very windy, which is important when you consider outdoor ceremonies.  Strong winds, even with a gorgeous high altitude view can affect:

  • Your hair, 

  • dresses, 

  • Expensive decoration

  • ties 

  • sound in your video 

  • Chilly for guests who will then stay inside the lobby or ballroom. 

Expensive.  Fuel, labor and hotel rooms are some of the costliest in the country.  Yes eve in the suburbs due to heavy business travelers at all the tech companies, you can expect to pay $300+ a night for a hotel in Palo Alto sometimes. 


Less stress free since you have Indian stuff everywhere.  Need last minute materials for Garba? You got it.  Catering backup? Easy peasy. Want to hire a photographer who has done Indian weddings before? You’ll find plenty. 


Crowded and no Privacy. They’re conferences galore in the city. Things can be busy and your hotel will be crowded with tourists.  So there isn’t going to be much privacy and expect tourists to be snapping away while your making your baraat entrance. 


Parking in the city for guests who live nearby is also  challenging. (Many folks may park by a nearby train station and then ride in). 

City weddings in major hotels will likely cost this much at minimum (Big fat Indian weddings).

How Much Does an Indian Wedding Cost in SF?


San Francisco Weddings Cost About $300 per head just for the hotel and catering, which means:

  • hotel venue

  • Serving Staff 

  • food 

  • Alcohol and bartender (1-2)

Add another $100 or more per head on decoration, entertainment, photography, outside catering and so on. 


We have a full guide on how much Indian weddings cost in America which is linked in the image table above. But please now that San Francisco and New York are some of the most expensive places to get married. 


We easily see million dollar weddings in the city that can average about $800 per head or more. (e.g. live band, orchestra, singers, premium flower and decor, etc...)

It’s not that people are trying to be showy or flashy...but it’s usually once you’ve invested in the venue and your family has come from across the world...you don’t want to go light on decor near the finish line, or risk forgetting some food options for a few people, or just get caught up want to make it the best it can be. This is normal for most Indian wedding situations as well. 


Most people will spend 50% on hotel and venue/food costs and then likely 50-100% of that again on all the other expenses (including flights, hotel rooms for close family, tips, vendors, taxes, etc…) 


For a 300 person wedding with a Sangeet, Wedding and Reception at a hotel in the city, your looking at around $300,000 minimum.  


Major costs, depending on your priorities will likely be:

  • Hotel and Venue Charges (try to opt for in-house Indian catering)

  • Extra Food

  • Extra Hotel Rooms for close friends/family

  • Decorator (mandap, flowers, stage decor)

  • Lighting

  • DJ & Entertainment

  • Photo and Video

  • New Clothes for all Family Members

  • Flights and Shuttles and Transport 

  • Extra meals and dinners around the wedding week

  • since you’ll be splurging on flowers, decorators, outfits, a few of the guest’s hotel rooms, DJs, video screens, photographers, etc.. and flights, taxes, clothes, 

Priorities for your Not from San Francisco Guests


Most of the guests who are also tourists that attend a wedding in SF will likely think of things like:

  • Taking nice photos

  • Sightseeing around the bay area

  • Indian customs and events (nobody wants pasta and bland hotel potatoes) 

  • Free time to explore a bit (late checkouts from hotels if you’re arranging)

Priority Number one at Indian weddings!

Food and Catering Vendors


Since SF is a very Indian and Asian heavy town, you should ask your hotel for Indian options for catering rather than hire out.  Otherwise hotels will factor in outside catering costs separately in your contract and there might be a surcharge.  We will list a few options below however.


Venue Considerations (Local Guest’s Point of View)


In every Indian wedding guide I write, I try to tell the couple who might be reading it…”Hey...yes...of course, this wedding is for you.  But it’s also for your mom, your dad, their friends, etc…” As normal decent human beings we often have this tendency, especially in Indian culture to extend our hospitality in really crazy ways and Desi weddings are no different. 


Unlike Mexico Indian weddings where beachfront access is probably the most important (since everybody is flying down to also enjoy a light holiday), for San Francisco most of your guests will be local, so they’ll probably appreciate: 

  • Transport  (ideally nobody wants to spend a $90 uber from Oakland)

  • Parking Validation as part of your wedding contract (to avoid a $55 parking fee, times 2-3 days of events)

  • Impeccable Indian food (shouldn’t be hard to nail here)

  • Decent decoration:  Since you’re already spending so much on the hotel, you may as well make it look good.  Otherwise why not do it a bit out of town and use that savings to really doll up the place and make your photos pop? I see so many weddings which the families spend a ton on the ballroom an then let it look empty. NO!


Planners


Anaise Events

Mandy Scott 



Decorators


Avasar Mandap (I told you SF is like India almost!)

Raman and Raveen


Indian Catering


New Delhi Restaurant - Has tie ups with Ritz, Westin, Four Seasons, Fairmont, etc..



Photographers that do Desi Weddings


You want a photographer who has covered at least 3-4 Indian events and knows Gujarati and Punjabi and the other community cultures!


MP Singh

IQ Photo

JKS Photo



Videographers 


Wedding Documentary

Aperina Studios

Pacific Pictures


Baraat


Baraat Horses


Dhol


Malinder Tooray

Vinay Sharma


Indian Wedding DJ sand Lighting


  • Us, of course! (We drive up from LA however and have travel costs, but do Bay Area weddings quite often)

  • DJ Tanveer

  • Ultra Soundz


Pandit and Priest's we Recommend


You can find so many wedding offciants or Hindu or Muslim or Christian wedding priests all over the bay area.  


We have a full post on pandits we recommend all over the world here.


Pros of a Wedding in SF


  • Gorgeous city or coastal views can really be nice for guests

  • Great access to Indian food and vendors required for most weddings. 

  • Location can’t be beat and weather is generally favorable

  • International city with any entertainment or food from any part of the world you could want (i.e. sushi, taco bar, BBQ, etc..)

  • Tourist options for your guests to roam around and see the bridge, the bay, and many other activities. 

  • Wonderful transportation options

  • World class vendors across photography, Bollywood entertainment, hospitality and cuisine. 


Cons of a Wedding in SF


  • When you factor in all other wedding expenses on top of hotel like DJ, Decoration, Travel, Photography, etc.. you’re looking at roughly $400 per guest, if not more. 

  • Long travel distances for weddings spread out across the bay area (e.g. Sacramento to San Francisco, SF to Fremont, etc..)

  • Parking pains in the city for guests who are driving

  • Could probably do a destination wedding for cheaper. 

  • Can get very cold on some nights and at high altitudes (wasting your terrace sky-bar rental if people aren’t aware of it!)

  • Not exactly value for money. 


Conclusion


Alright! We did it! 


Also See: Punjabi Wedding Guide 101

Also See: How To Be Present At Your Wedding


By now you should have an idea on the costs of a bay area wedding ($300,000 to $500,000), some things to watch out for and why San Francisco Silicon Valley weddings are both good and bad.  


I have DJ'd 100s of big fat weddings in winerys, the city and the suburbs over the last 20 years and can tell you that regardless, it’s one of my favorite places. Gorgeous scenery in almost any area, sprawling sunshine and fun activities in the city all make it a great wedding choice.  Yes you could possibly do a destination wedding for less but since you being busy with your career is likely the reason you can afford an SF wedding in the first place, well...we totally get it. 


If you have questions, comments or suggestions please do comment below! Or vendors you think we should look at, we will and then accordingly add them to this list. 


And if you need a DJ for your big fat wedding in any part of Northern California, please do give my team and I shout! 


Ajay Manaktala is the founder of Special Occasion DJ & Lighting, the leaders in Indian wedding entertainment, lighting and LED walls. He and his team write extensively about South Asian swag and culture and he's also a most viewed writer on Quora for Indian weddings. He resides in Los Angeles with this wife and two boys. SODJ also undertakes weddings in Mexico.