Four of San Francisco's Finest Wedding Planners


It seems it's always wedding season around the Bay. I blame it on the countless amounts of beautiful venues. Oh, and romance. While I have a fondness for destination weddings (vacay!), I have celebrated at some of the City's and surrounding area's loveliest locations. When there are so many possibilities for one's monumental matromonial day, planning can be daunting. So let someone else do it, while you sit back and bask in love. Here are four local planners who love love and love to help. 

Shannon Leahy

How and when did you get started in the wedding arena?

I started out in non-profit events, then transitioned into event design, and eventually wedding planning. The event design company I worked for did a lot of wedding work and I found myself drawn to these events most. The creativity, detail, and personalization that goes into a wedding is unlike any other event. I love the personal relationships I build with my clients in helping them through one of the most important milestones in their life.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

My style is all about clean lines. I don't like messy, overly complicated design. I lived in the South for a few years and am inspired by French New Orleans style. I take traditional Southern elements and update them in a fresh, modern way. I'm not afraid of color but I think that neutrals with a lot of texture can be just as dramatic. I also love the idea of pairing the Northern California rustic style with a more refined sensibility; fine china and glassware on a gorgeous table setting in a barn, for example.

Your specialties?

My favorite thing is to take a location that's never seen a wedding before and bring in all the elements to design something truly unique in the client's style. I often work outdoors and love building a wedding at a private residence or in a field or barn. I also have a lot of experience finding ways to make these lavish events eco-friendly and enjoy working with clients who share this passion.

What was your favorite wedding location(s)?

My favorite dedicated wedding location would be Durham Ranch. It's an intimate setting and pairs wine country rustic with a very modern style. The aesthetic at Durham Ranch resonates with a lot of my clients.

Words of advice for a couple who just got engaged and are about to start planning?

Hire the best vendors and let them take care of the details. I've found the happiest couples are those that made a decision to delegate a lot of the minutia to their planner and very talented vendors and be happily surprised on their wedding day. Those that obsess over every little detail end up driving themselves crazy with the number of choices that are out there and are always second guessing their decisions.

It's helpful to look at wedding blogs but don't let them take over your aesthetic. So many brides chase after this year's wedding trends and end up with something that doesn't feel authentic. The best weddings highlight the couple's family traditions and stories, their favorite colors and food. Have fun, be creative, but most of all, make it about YOU.

Twitter: @sleahyevents

(Photo by GB Photographers)

Melissa Panico & Jennie Janzen at Map Events

How and when did you get started in the wedding arena?

Melissa: I started in catering. I worked for Edible Art/Taste Catering and at the time we ran The Fine Arts Museums cafes.I worked closely with the Legion of Honor and we did about 40 weddings a year there. After six years of that it was an easy transition into starting Map Events. Jennie joined the event planning team in 2005.

Your specialties?

Melissa: We like the design and décor aspect the best and offer a sub-division for specialized gift bags and other custom elements.

Jennie: Our specialities are in private properties, peoples homes, and rough spaces where we can bring in everything and the kitchen sink. I think we also excel on events where there are a lot of details.

What was your favorite wedding location(s)?

Melissa: Private estates in the wine country for free design reasons. SF has great museum and private venues like The Asian Art Museum, The Legion of Honor, The Flood Mansion, and The Bently Reserve.

Jennie: Some of our favorite wedding locations are Annadel Estate Winery, Solage Calistoga, City Hall, and The Ferry Building.

Words of advice for a couple who just got engaged and are about to start planning?

Melissa: Give yourself a year to plan so that you have enough time to enjoy it and take breaks from it, but not enough time to second guess your decision. Enjoy being engaged first. The important thing is that you are inviting all your friends and family to share your "getting married" — it goes by in a flash!

Jennie: Finding a venue is the toughest part. Be prepared to compromise. There is no perfect location that is going to have everything you want and if you go in with your priorities in order then the decision process will be less painful.

(Photo by Mary McHenry Photography)

Corina Beczner at Vibrant Events

How and when did you get started in the wedding arena?

I got started working in the wedding arena because of my best friend's wedding. I was helping her plan her big day and learned a lot about myself as a result — my knack for design and seeing the fine details, my ability to direct and negotiate, my pure excitement at planning each moment with thoughtful details and meaningful touches. I came away from that experience a new person...someone who felt confident in event production and sensitive emotional ceremonies.

Your specialties?

My specialty is producing Green Weddings. About 80% of my clients get married outdoors, and have events that are surrounded by nature. My clients love farms, and good, natural fresh ingredients. They also love doing yoga the morning of the wedding, and having friends and family participate in the event some how, whether through music, art, or dance.

My specialty is connecting my clients with wedding vendors that share their values for health and sustainability. Green Weddings integrate recycling, composting, food from local farms, flowers that are seasonal and toxic free, reusable design elements, offset carbon emissions, and give back to a cause the couple cares deeply about. Green Weddings have such a good feeling because they do not go over-the-top with waste. They make everyone feel good!

My specialty is also being creative on any budget — utilizing DIY opportunities and knowing how to effectively allocate your budget where there will be the most impact. To make sure you have an event that truly reflects who you are, I keep my vendor relationships loose, meaning I don't get kick-backs, nor do I have a locked down lists you need to use when working with me. I want each of the events I produce to be different from the last, and will gladly take the time to research new opportunities and approaches.

What was your favorite wedding location(s)?

My favorite wedding locations are: Dawn Ranch in Geurneville, Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, and I recently did a wedding in a farm barn at Chileno Valley Ranch which was gorgeous. I ADORE all farms.

Words of advice for a couple who just got engaged and are about to start planning?

Follow your heart when planning. If you meet with a vendor and get a "good feeling", trust that! You are building a team and you should love everyone on it, it will make your wedding planning experience that much more enjoyable. Also definitely hire a wedding coordinator to help. The great thing about working with any wedding planner is that you will feel more in control of what you are creating because they are the facilitator of your vision.

Twitter: @VibrantEvents

(Photo by Thayer Allyson Gowdy)

Laurie Arons 

How and when did you get started in the wedding arena?

I started my company in 1994, after planning several milestone social events for friends and family. I was working in marketing previously but I think in some ways, I was destined to work in the wedding industry. Even as a young child, I had a love for anything romantic and beautiful.

Your specialties?

I love when I have the opportunity to plan a highly detailed, completely custom wedding weekend, in addition to the wedding day itself. With so many wedding guests traveling in from around the world nowadays, couples want a chance to visit and bond with their guests over a period of a few days. I love to plan multiple days of events, including welcome parties, rehearsal dinners, and brunches...but also exciting and unique activities guests can experience together. For example, at a recent wedding in Carmel Valley, we took guests on fun excursions around the Monterrey Bay area, including kayaking trips, lavender picking, hiking, golfing, wine tasting and croquet. The memories created over that weekend last a lifetime.

What was your favorite wedding location(s)?

I love planning weddings at a private home owned by the bride or groom's family. Those weddings feel so personal and unique, and keep my job interesting by allowing me to envision something new for the space.

Words of advice for a couple who just got engaged and are about to start planning?

Talk to your fiance and decide what is important to you both as a couple. List out your priorities, put together a guest list, and set a budget. If you know where you want to focus, it'll make decisions much easier as you're presented with a multitude of possibilities during the planning process. And of course, hire a seasoned wedding planner who will make the planning process fun and stress-free. A wedding is such a happy occasion; enjoying it should always be the most important thing.

Twitter: @lauriearons

(Photo by Jason + Anna Photography)

Samantha Durbin ( is a lifestyle writer who honed her blogging skills as Editor of Samantha graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology, and also writes for 7x7 Magazine and Gilt City.

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