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9 ideas for San Francisco celebration of life gatherings

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Better Place Forests creates and maintains conservation memorial forests for people who choose cremation and don’t want their ashes to end up in a traditional cemetery.

After someone close to you passes away, you might be considering different ideas to honor their life. Planning a memorial service or celebration of life is a wonderful way to remember them. There are many options for celebration of life services — from a quiet gathering in nature with just a few guests, to a joyous affair with music and merriment. The beauty of this kind of celebration is that you can arrange and plan it however you think would best honor the deceased. 

If you’re interested in planning a memorial service or celebration of life in San Francisco, we’ve outlined nine ideas for inspiration below along with answers to frequently asked questions about planning one of these events. 

Celebration of life gatherings: 9 unique ideas in the Bay Area

A celebration of life can be as unique as the person you are honoring, since there are no rules you have to follow when planning this type of event. Here are unique ideas for celebrating life in the Bay Area for inspiration. 

1. An outdoor affair at Yerba Buena Gardens

The Yerba Buena Gardens is an iconic location in San Francisco, offering various spaces to reserve for a memorial service, from intimate gardens to spacious terraces. It’s an expansive setting filled with public art, flowers in bloom, and cascading fountains, where you’re sure to feel a sense of calm and peace. 

The Gardens require an event permit if more than 25 guests attend your gathering, so be sure to contact them in advance to secure one. 

2. A seaside service at Ocean Beach

When it comes to the best places to host a San Francisco memorial service, Ocean Beach is an ideal pick. This 3.5-mile stretch of shoreline is a peaceful place where you can reflect on your loved one’s life as seabirds fly overhead and waves lap against the shore. This beach tends to stay quiet all year round, so you and your friends and family can enjoy a private outdoor service to yourselves.  

3. A gathering at The Wave Organ

Looking for a venue that’s a little outside of the box? If there are only a few of you gathering for the celebration, head down to the famous Wave Organ in the Bay, where you can listen to this magnificent wave-activated acoustic sculpture. The beautiful sound of the ocean’s music will be the soundtrack to the service as you remember the life of your loved one. 

4. An outing on the San Francisco Bay

If your loved one enjoyed deep-sea fishing, sailing, or swimming, then a boat ride on the San Francisco Bay could be the perfect way to honor their passion and celebrate their spirit. Whether you take your own sailboat for a spin or hire a bay cruise charter for the day, a celebration on the water could help you feel closer to them as you enjoy the area they once loved. 

5. A celebration among the trees at Dr. Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park

For an Oakland memorial service, consider Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park — a serene nature park just a few minutes from downtown Oakland. This tree grove is home to coastal redwoods, evergreens, and an abundance of wildlife. Stand below the towering giants and relish the tranquility as you reflect on your loved one’s life. 

When planning your event, contact the park so you can reserve one of the four picnic sites. 

6. A tree-side service at Point Arena memorial forest

If your loved one had a strong connection with nature and enjoyed the outdoors, then Better Place Forests Point Arena could be the perfect place to host a memorial. Located just outside of San Francisco, this iconic redwood forest boasts views of the Mendocino coastline and is located a little over three hours outside of the city. When you purchase a memorial tree in Point Arena, not only do you have a special place to remember your loved one, but you are also contributing to the lasting protection of forestland and wildlife habitats that you and your loved ones can enjoy for years to come.

Once you’ve chosen the perfect tree for your loved one, friends and family are invited to gather at the tree’s base, remembering the life of your loved one and enjoying the peacefulness of this natural sanctuary. 

Don’t have a tree picked out? Book a tour today to see all the beauty this forest has to offer.

7. A picnic at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

If you don’t mind a short trek outside the city, plan a gathering at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. About two and a half hours from the city, this picturesque oasis features hiking trails and scenic overlooks where you can soak in the coastal views while honoring your loved one. After all, being in nature can be extremely cathartic, which makes the great outdoors an ideal space for a celebration of life or memorial service. 

8. An indoor commemoration at The Hibernia SF 

Prefer a more intimate indoor service? The Hibernia SF is a historic building with stunning neoclassical, revival-style architecture in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood. It features four elegant spaces you can reserve for a memorial service or celebration of life. Whether you’re hosting a large or small gathering, the venue can accommodate anywhere from just a handful of attendees up to 1,500 standing guests. 

9. Foreign Cinema

For an off-beat venue that exudes charm, consider the Foreign Cinema in the Mission District. From the Courtyard to the Modernism West Gallery, this trendy venue features several indoor and outdoor spaces to celebrate your loved one’s memory. And the best part of this venue? You can project a memorial video on the venue’s wall as part of your celebration. 

Celebration of life planning FAQ

When planning a celebration of life, you might have some questions about what to include in your event. We’ve answered some of your frequently asked questions below.

What can I do for a celebration of life?

A celebration of life or memorial service can be as unique as the person you are honoring. Your options for this event are endless — the main thing is to make sure the event is authentic to who they were as a person. Consider their preferences and personality so it feels like a fitting tribute to their life. 

How do you plan a celebration of life ceremony?

There are no set rules around how you plan or what you include in a celebration of life or memorial service. The best way to plan a celebration of life ceremony is to think about what the deceased loved and find a way to bring those things to life in the ceremony. Think about their favorite spaces or things they liked to do. For example…

  • Were they a quiet person who liked to spend time with a small group of family and friends, or were they always the life of the party? 
  • Did they love nature, museums, or some other space?
  • What were their favorite food and drinks?
  • What hobbies or pastimes did they enjoy? 

Once you’ve determined what you want the event to look like and how many people you want to include, start by researching places that might work for your event. Consider the type of service you want, if you want something formal or something very casual. Ask family and friends to help with the elements that you want to include.

Who should speak at a celebration of life?

Anyone can speak at a celebration of life service that’s comfortable sharing. You can ask close friends or relatives to give a tribute speech, recite a poem, or say a prayer. Or you can just gather family and friends for a casual time of remembering, inviting guests to share their favorite stories. You might even hire a band to play and invite guests to dance to the deceased’s favorite songs.

Do you decorate for a celebration of life?

Whether you decorate or not is up to you. If you are hosting an event in a memorial forest, garden, or other place in nature, you might let the location offer the decorations. Or you could add flowers or photographs of the deceased. 

No matter where you end up hosting your gathering, whether it’s an Oakland memorial service or one closer to San Francisco, you’re sure to find a special place to honor your loved one. Above all, the most important part is that you provide a space that fits the personality of the deceased where everyone can celebrate their memory.

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