How do we go about getting married at sf city hall? This is often the first question that comes to mind when couples dream about their future wedding ceremony in San Francisco’s most beautiful monument.
90 days before
95% of couples will be booking what’s called a civil ceremony. That means a short ceremony officiated by a volunteer judge. It normally takes place in the rotunda, which is the little round area at the top of the grand staircase.
Within the category of civil ceremony there is also a ‘confidential’ civil ceremony. ‘Confidential’ stipulates that both parties of marriage must be living together, no witness is required at all, and the marriage record is only available to the parties on the marriage license. A ‘confidential’ ceremony is not a common route.
For the regular civil ceremony, you need one witness and can have two if you like. For efficiency I would suggest just one. Photographers are happy to act as witness.
Number of guests
For both of these types of ceremonies, you can have 6 people and it’s standing room only. In May 2019 City Hall began strictly enforcing the 6-people-or-fewer rule until further notice. We are monitoring the situation!
Its varies from judge to judge but the official guidelines state that photographers / videographers must be included in the 6-person limit.
For ceremonies with more than 6 people present, your wedding will take place in the private room located close to room 168. However, bear in mind that there is no guarantee that anything more than 6 people will be permitted – it’s always at the judge’s discretion (and they’ll ask!)
There are three or four couples scheduled for each half-hour slot. The ceremony lasts about 4 minutes. However it may be less if you do not exchange rings.
Private rentals are when you’ve hired out an area for getting married at sf city hall for a set period of time just for your wedding. The current cost is around $1,000. Though much more than a regular ceremony, compared to a traditional wedding venue, it’s a snip.
The benefit of these is that you can have more guests, so it might resemble a more conventional wedding. You also have seats, an aisle, a wedding party, your own officiant, programs, decorations, musicians etc. You get to determine everything about the ceremony and can personalize your vows.
The areas available for private ceremonies are Mayor’s Balcony, 4th Floor North Gallery (which has the best light) and 4th Floor South Gallery. Mayor’s Balcony seats 40, and the 4th Floor Galleries seat 60, both with standing room available to take the guest count up to 100.
The crème de la crème of City Hall weddings is renting out the entire building. For this there is a 2-hour package on Saturday mornings, which is suitable for up to 200 guests and is the best value for a City Hall buyout at $5,000.
Weddings of this type typically take place on the staircase itself so you can set up the ground floor with drinks and nibbles. City Hall has its own list of preferred catering & bartending and there are rules about liquor licensing, so be sure to ask them directly.
1 – 2 months before
Once you’ve booked your ceremony, book a time to pick up your marriage license. You can do this Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Like your ceremony, this also requires an appointment.
If possible pick up your marriage license before the wedding day to save time and stress. It can be picked up anywhere in CA, though it expires 90 days after the date of issue. Since 2018 photography is NOT allowed during license pick-up.
If you are picking it up from City Hall the same day as your ceremony please allow at least half an an hour to get it before checking in for your ceremony. You cannot check in for your wedding ceremony without the license so be absolutely sure you have it on your wedding day along with your ID.
1-2 months out is a great time to book your photographer and other vendors. You might also start thinking about what you’ll wear.
2 – 4 weeks before
This is when you are getting the final details of getting married at sf city hall smoothed out. Hopefully you’ll have your license already and we’ll be chatting about where to go for portraits. Perhaps you’ll want to book somewhere for your reception or special meal.
Working with a photographer that can help you with planning is a really big plus. I usually advise couples on how to plan the family formals, how the day will run, and where to do portraits if you’ve booked a 3-hour package.
Get there early! Hair and make-up often overrun, so make sure you allow more time than you think. Traffic/ parking/ getting into the airport-style security take time. Read a few more on-the-day tips here.
You can check in for your civil ceremony officially 10 minutes before, but I recommend aiming to do so 15 minutes before so you’re the first in line and have a moment to catch your breath. I typically begin photography coverage 15 minutes before your appointment time. This is different for morning ceremonies, when it’s better to begin portraits at 8am in an empty City Hall.
Checking in at City Hall
When we talk about ‘checking in’, this is a simple process of presenting yourself to the main desk straight ahead in room 168 (County Clerk’s office) on the north side of City Hall. You’ll need your marriage license and ID and both parties will need to be present for this.
After this initial check-in, you’ll get a numbered ticket – like at the DMV! Then just wait for the second call into the same office. However, this time you’ll be meeting with the judge that’ll marry you at the desk on the left. It is a quick process that involves filling out and signing the form. Your witness will need to accompany you this second time only.
Please bear in mind your appointment time isn’t your actual ceremony start time. Judges must split their time between checking 3 or 4 couples in and then officiating weddings. Add to this the possibility of late running and you could be getting married at sf city hall anything between 20-45 minutes after your appointment time.
The judge will send you upstairs to the rotunda and you’ll wait until they are ready to join you (in matrimony!). Unfortunately, we can’t go running off for pictures but it may be possible to squeeze in a few pictures.
Feel free to ask about which other spots are available! This is 100% at your judge’s discretion on the day. The rotunda is iconic but other pretty spots are the Mayor’s Balcony and the 4th Floor North gallery. We can go wherever we want for pictures after the ceremony.
During your ceremony
The judge will call you up, this is it! When prompted by the judge, you’ll switch positions from facing the judge to now facing each other.
The best position for the judge is for them to face the back of City Hall l(see above) We want to capture the grandness of the open area behind you without them blocking the view. Remember – their back should be to the staircase.
Remember to turn and face one another and don’t be too eager to look at the judge – the pictures will be better if you are looking at each other and keep your hair tucked back so your face is visible in the pics.
Don’t forget to kiss at the end to seal the deal – the officiant doesn’t always give the traditional prompt!
Immediately after your ceremony
After the hugs of congratulations, this is a good time to do formal, posed group pictures of any guests. After that, your photographer will guide you around the building for the best spots to take photos of the two of you. Let us know if you have particular spots in mind.
Usually then you’ll run around San Francisco with your photographer to get kickass photos of you newlyweds. The key to this part is planning. It’s true that time can feel quite limited.
Typically couples will have 2 or 3 hours of coverage when getting married at sf city hall. 1 hour of this is before/during your ceremony. Immediately after, we’ll spend 30 – 45 minutes on family and couples’ photos inside City Hall.
That doesn’t leave too long for couples’ portraits in other locations in San Francisco, so it’s important to know exactly where we’re going and how we’re getting there!
I do recommend making time to get at least some photos outdoors, even if it’s just in the immediate vicinity of City Hall. Nothing beats the flattering and magical quality of natural light, whatever the weather.
Are there best and worst times of the day, week or year to marry at SF City Hall?
You can choose your time for getting married at sf city hall on the half hour between 9am – 3:30 pm, Monday – Friday.
There is no really good or bad time. It helps to know a little about the general trends so you can make the best decision for you. Also, bear in mind that City Hall is a public building. There are often protests, press conferences, maintenance work, busloads of tourists, school visits, gala event set-up and motion picture filming.
Fridays are the busiest day by far. Friday afternoon is the busiest time of the week and it does take a little longer to navigate around and wait our turn to get key shots. If you’re keen on a Friday, make sure you book with City Hall as soon as your date is available online – 90 days prior. Fridays book out the quickest with your vendors.
In general, mornings are quieter for getting married at sf city hall and the light tends to be better. That means more natural light vs. yellow artificial light. The best days photography-wise are Tuesdays and Wednesdays as they’re emptier.
Then again, if you book the last appointment of the day, City Hall will have emptied out and there may be a little more time to linger afterwards.
Do I need to be a citizen to marry there?
One of the wonderful things about getting married at sf City Hall is that you don’t need to be a resident of California or a citizen of the United States, making it an ideal spot for destination elopements. You will need to apply for a marriage license before the wedding, and you’ll need government-issued photo ID for this from the country you hail from.
Non-English language documents should be translated beforehand by an American Translators Association-certified translator.
You must be at least eighteen years and unmarried.
How much does it cost to get married?
Current prices as of Sep 2019 and subject to change (always check using the link below for the most up to date prices)
Marriage license: $104 (top tip – the county sets the price. We have heard of couples who paid $80 as that’s their county’s rate, but is valid anywhere in the state)
Civil ceremony: $86. Payment is by cash, money order, or debit card in. Visa/Mastercard online only.
Mayor’s Balcony or 4th Floor: $1,000.
Whole Hall buyout: Starts at $5,000 for Saturday morning.
For very large weddings, there are many rental options going up to $30,000 for 3,000 guests and includes the rotunda & both light courts. Full info on rental buyouts is here.
Tables & chairs for private ceremonies: Rental fee applies; inquire directly for specifics.
What should I look for in a photographer?
Find someone you vibe with, whose work you adore and with whom you share a creative vision. An established photographer works in a fixed style with consistency to their work. Make sure you really, really like that style! Everyone’s is different 😉
Ask questions, and make sure you see a bunch of full client galleries. Gauge their personality from their social channels, look through their website carefully. Read reviews from past clients. Look at value as well as price. Meet them or chat on the phone. You’ll know when you’ve found the one!
Where can I find out more info?
Zoe Larkin is a wedding photographer specializing in San Francisco City Hall wedding photography. Zoe is an equality-minded vendor that celebrates diversity, avoids hetero-normativity and promotes true marriage equality. Read more about my services here.