City Hall elopement SF

Jess and John eloped to San Francisco City Hall for a truly intimate City Hall elopement– it was just the two of them! As SF City Hall elopements go, this one was truly special. Such heart, such love and a real bond that was so palpable to be witness to. 

These two emphasized how much the day really felt like them – they were barely aware of my presence for most parts of the day.

Jess shared a little of her and John’s personal story by way of introduction:

From Jess

John proposed to me in the living room of our new home.  He had just moved in and had arranged for our realtor to deliver a “housewarming” gift for us.  

It was so funny because he told me he needed to get an email out and then we’d have to see what Heather dropped off, so I busied myself in the kitchen while he worked away in the living room.  

He laughs now and says he can’t believe how long I kept myself busy in there.  Finally he asked if we were going to open the box.

I sat down on the sofa and he handed me the card written and signed by Heather saying this was one more gift to bring us closer together in our new home.  

He reached to take the lid off of the rather large box on the coffee table.  Inside was a small black box. I was so confused.

In my mind I was trying to make it a Christmas ornament box or something like that since it was “from the realtor”.  

He had completely surprised me! It was perfect!!!

The surprise proposal at home

When he realized I was totally confused and was not going to reach for it he picked it up, dropped to one knee and opened it.  I gasped! He had completely surprised me! It was perfect!!!

We decided to elope last fall sitting on the breezeway drinking coffee. I have a very large family so an intimate family-only wedding wasn’t a possibility!

So, we decided it would just be the two of us. Pinterest led me straight to San Francisco City Hall and pins about City Hall Weddings led me to Zoe.  It all fell into place so seamlessly.

John was in CA the week of our elopement for a conference so I flew out the day before to meet him.  

I’ll never forget boarding that plane carrying my wedding dress and wearing the biggest smile!  I, of course, had a mimosa straight away!

We met up at the airport and headed to our hotel.  It was so charming.

The preparations for City Hall elopement

We had so much fun the next day getting ready for our 2pm appointment at City Hall.  John went for a run and picked up our cake while I had my hair and makeup done. We left the hotel and jumped into a Lyft feeling like a couple of celebrities!

City Hall has such a wonderful vibe

City Hall has such a wonderful vibe. Even though you are sharing the day with several other brides and grooms everyone has a way of making it feel like it’s all yours.  Like they built that stunning structure just for your wedding.

One of my favorite photos from City Hall is the one with John holding up the souvenir marriage certificate and us beaming with happiness as our officiant is turning around behind us walking away like “well, my work here is done.”  

It truly captures the essence of the City Hall wedding.  We have the photo sitting on the dresser in our bedroom.

A true testament to the way Zoe works is the fact that while we loved her and thought she was fantastic, she isn’t the first thing we think of when we think of that day.  

She did such an amazing job of being there, gently guiding yet letting us be us and have our day.  It’s hard to remember when she joined us and when she left us that day because the entire day felt like it was all about us.

couple kissing at the bottom of grand staircase city hall

From Zoe City Hall elopement photographer

The couple wrote to me a couple of months before their City Hall elopement in San Francisco. Jess emphasized the “simple and loving” nature of their planned January elopement.

These cuties work together in Knoxville, TN and really wanted to escape the craziness that is life & work and have a wedding that’s simple, stress-free and easy to plan despite the distance.

Jess emphasized the “simple and loving” nature of their planned elopement

So they decided to tie the knot in secret and told family & friends once they returned to Tennessee.

The chemistry

It’s clear the chemistry these two have, and they were SO wrapped up in each other from the moment I met them outside room 168 of San Francisco City Hall – the clerk’s office. Their day was all about them!

It was a far cry from their usual roles as parents & busy professionals. They carved out time to focus on them and the continuing evolution of their relationship.

We’d spoken on the phone beforehand to get to know each other and find out what they were looking for with their wedding photography. I shared my guide to my favorite San Francisco portrait locations.

The timeline was a work in progress right up until the day before the wedding. There were a couple of moving parts until they made decisions after arrival in San Francisco. That’s often how it is when couples elope as they don’t know exactly what to expect. Also plans change which I totally understand! 

I’ll help keep you on track so that we can hit all the places you’d like to go, so you get the best value on your wedding day.

The City Hall elopement itself

Our first portrait location outside of City Hall was downtown for the Powell Street trolley cars. I was hoping the train guards would let Jess and John onto one of the stationary trolleys, and they did! We hit a couple of other cute and random spots (including John’s Grill!)

I have never seen it so beautiful

The couple had decided on Baker Beach for its stunning coastal vibes, view of the Golden Gate Bridge and easy accessibility from the parking lot. I’d never seen the beach looking so beautiful.

The light was perfect. Overcast, a little foggy but not so much it would obscure the bridge, and crazily mild for a January day. Apart from a few dog walkers, we had the beach to ourselves which makes our flow much easier. The couple could be themselves without feeling the slightest shred of self-consciousness!

We had an absolutely miraculous sun-filled moment when the clouds broke and the sun streamed beautifully on their love in the minutes before sunset. These two were having so much fun on the sand, I didn’t want to end the shoot and we worked a little over their three hours as the light was just TOO beautiful.

For the last few pictures I used my prism for some pretty refracted light and reflections.

Congrats, Jess & John!

couple leaving city hall

From Jess’ review of my City Hall elopement photography:

When you are secretly eloping on the other side of the country the ONLY thing you will have to share with family and friends are your photographs.  It was so important to us to have beautiful photos of our January 2019 San Francisco City Hall elopement that made them feel like they were part of our special day.  Zoe took such care to capture the small moments that really made the day memorable. And looking back at the images takes me right back to the moment. She was there for everything yet somehow she “hides” in the background.

Her no nonsense and efficient demeanor were total bonuses!! She showed up to City Hall with a printed schedule to help keep us on track and make certain we got all the shots that were important to us. Zoe has a way of making you feel so comfortable.  I am not a fan of having my picture taken but she eased us in and helped us show our fun-loving and romantic sides.

Help above and beyond

Not only was she an awesome photographer but she helped me find all my other vendors.  I had no idea where to start with flowers and hair/makeup and I just mentioned it to her and the next thing I knew I had a list of options in my inbox.

I was so appreciative that Zoe took the time to have a call with us ahead of time to discuss what we wanted, the locations we’d like to shoot at and the vibe we wanted for our photos.  There is no way I could have made any of those decisions on the day of yet since we had already talked about it, Zoe had a plan and executed it perfectly.

It was a true pleasure to work with her!!

Looking for an experienced City Hall elopement photographer? I not only photograph your wedding but help you plan! I’ll be your guide! Get in touch to receive my free informative pricing guide. PS there are more link and resources if you scroll.

newlywed couples portraits on baker beach san francisco

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Want more information?

Comprehensive frequently updated info from SF City Hall

Specific wedding-focused City Hall info from their dedicated event website

How do we get married at City Hall? Your complete guide to the process

10 City Hall Tips You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else

Request Zoe’s info & pricing guide for San Francisco City Hall wedding photography


san francisco city hall wedding photographer

Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer that creates raw, personal images that evoke a range of emotions., She combines documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed and Catalyst Wed Co. 


Jess + John | City Hall elopement + downtown & beach

previous clients

June 10, 2019


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