Thinking about getting married at San Francisco City Hall? Whether you’re planning your wedding already or just considering ideas for where to get married or elope, I hope ultimate guide to getting married at San Francisco City Hall is helpful!
San Francisco City Hall is a beautiful choice, but it’s also a practical and economical one. As someone that went down the City Hall wedding route myself, I know exactly the questions you have.
It can be tricky to know where to start with planning your SF City Hall wedding. In this guide I walk you through some options and take you through the process step by step.
Dealing with local government often has its little quirks. It can be tough getting helpful information directly from the source. Great planning is the key to a successful wedding experience whatever the type of ceremony you have in mind. That’s why I want to equip marriers with the knowledge of what to expect.
What makes me an expert?
I’m an experienced San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer who has helped dozens of couples get married at our City Hall.
I cover everything from the types of ceremonies that are available, a timeline of what you’ll be dealing with from 3 months out through day-of, plus info on vendors and logistics. Coming at it from the photography perspective, I also provide tons of info about best practices for great photos, too.
My goal is to create a live wedding planning resource that’s always up to date.
A huge thank you to my couples who have helped me understand every aspect about getting married in this iconic monument. Together we’ve figured out so much about the entire process and learned a ton along the way. Couldn’t have done it without every one of them!
If there’s anything I missed or questions you have, please let me know in the comments. The last revision date of this City Hall wedding guide is February 2020.
The rotunda is located at the top of the Grand Staircase. This is where the majority of civil ceremonies take place | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography
What are the different types of wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall?
When you are planning a wedding at San Francisco City Hall, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is what kind of ceremony you’ll have. There are a few different options, with varying levels of customization and cost. Basically, the civil ceremonies are the simplest way to go, and any private ceremonies afford you the luxuries of more time, control, privacy and personalization.
Regular Civil Ceremony
95% of couples that marry at City Hall will book what’s called a ‘Civil/ Commitment Ceremony‘. That means a short ceremony officiated by a volunteer judge, also known as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner.
Appointments may be made within 90 days in advance. Ceremony reservations are available every half hour between 9:00 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Civil Ceremony (Confidential)
Within the category of ‘civil ceremony’ there is also a ‘confidential’ civil ceremony. It’s very similar, with just this tiny difference.
‘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.
It isn’t particularly common and won’t be required for most.
Where this ceremony is held (both regular civil ceremonies and confidential)
There are two options for regular civil ceremonies: the rotunda (see photos above) and the private ceremony room (see below).
The rotunda is the little round area at the top of the grand staircase. When the Christmas tree is in the middle of the rotunda during December, ceremonies take place on the steps leading to the rotunda.
The private room is located close to room 168, the County Clerk’s Office. In fact, you’ll walk past it on your way to check in.
Of the two options, the rotunda is preferable in architectural terms. Guests will stand as there are no seats available.
Though the private room doesn’t share the same grand architecture as the rotunda, it does have a few benefits. For one thing, it’s completely private.
The light is pretty good, plus there are cushioned benches which might work better for less mobile guests. The acoustics are more conducive to your guests being able to hear everything.
Tip: Want to get married in the rotunda but have more than 6 guests (or 5 if you do have a photographer)? Just decide in advance which guests will sit out of the ceremony, and have them rejoin afterward.
Maximum number of guests allowed for civil ceremony
The maximum number of guests permitted for a civil ceremony at City Hall is 6. In May 2019, City Hall began officially enforcing the maximum 6-guest rule until further notice due to an incident. The number includes your photographer, videographer and any children in your party.
However, if you do happen to have more guests than the 6 that are officially permitted, the private ceremony room will be the best option.
That said, even with all the rules that City Hall has in place, you can always ask your judge if they would permit you to marry in the rotunda, if you have your heart set on it. After all, the worst they can say is ‘no’.
So what’s the official maximum number of guests allowed in the private room? Well, if you ask City Hall they will always tell you 6. Unofficially, I think up to about 15 is fine, but it is always at the judge’s discretion – and they’ll ask.
How much does the civil wedding ceremony cost?
$90 as of the time this article was last revised. Payment is by Visa or Mastercard online. International credit cards are accepted. Remember, this is the ceremony cost only! More information about the license cost is in the relevant section below.
How long does the civil wedding ceremony last at City Hall?
The ceremony lasts about 4 minutes. However, it may be less if you choose not to exchange rings. You’ll see information out there about the ceremony lasting 10 minutes but this is a misunderstanding. There are 3 couples every half hour, yes, but that doesn’t mean your ceremony takes 10 minutes! It’s super short!
Different judges approach ceremonies differently. Some will take a few moments to get to know you and may even dish out some words of wisdom and congratulation. Others are more to-the-point and keep the interaction brief.
There are three or four couples scheduled for each half-hour slot, so the actual ceremony time will be somewhat later than your booked appointment time. Usually about 20 – 45 minutes later.
Are vow renewals permitted at San Francisco City Hall?
No, vow renewals are not permitted.
Private Area Rental during regular opening hours
Private rentals are when you rent out a designated area for your wedding to take place. The area is cordoned off with velvet rope, though the building will be open as usual. Food and drink service is not permitted.
The benefit of these ceremonies is that you can have more guests. You can design your ceremony to resemble a more conventional wedding – without the private venue price tag.
You can have a choice of chairs (for an extra fee), an aisle to walk down, your wedding party standing by your side, your own officiant, programs, limited decorations and acoustic musicians.
One client gave me the following information about booking their 1-hour rental,
“In order to secure our reservation, we were required to sign a contract and put a deposit of 75% (money order or cashier’s check). We submitted the 13-page contract to room 495 and they would send the copy of the contract via email. Then we would pay the remaining 25% within 5 days of the reservation date.”
What are the areas for private area rentals at San Francisco City Hall?
You have three options:
- The Mayor’s Balcony
- 4th Floor North Gallery
- 4th Floor South Gallery
How much does a private wedding rental cost?
How long the booking is for private ceremony?
You have your space for 1 hour, and you’ll need to fit all the pre-and post-ceremony events into this time. 20 -30 mins is about standard for a regular wedding ceremony.
You need to allow time for all the guests to arrive and get situated. You’ll probably want to use the area you’ve rented to do family formal pictures immediately afterward.
After the private rental, you’ll need to fill out the paperwork and submit at the Assessor / Recorder’s office in room 190 (instead of room 168, County Clerk’s Office) if your license was from San Francisco. You don’t need to check in at the County Clerk’s office first.
Maximum number of guests allowed for private wedding at SF City Hall?
Mayor’s Balcony seats 40, and the 4th Floor Galleries seat 60. They both have standing room to take the maximum guest count up to 100.
Guerilla wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall
Where this ceremony is held
Anywhere you like in City Hall, except areas that are already being used by other marriers.
How much this ceremony costs
Just the cost of the license and getting a friend deputized as Deputy Marriage Commissioner For A Day (currently $149 as of the last revision)
How long this ceremony lasts
As the City does not control the content of marriage ceremonies performed by DMCFODs, your ceremony can be whatever you want!
Maximum number of guests allowed
My advice is to keep it small and seek guidance from City Hall or from your photographer.
A City Hall buyout on Saturday morning. The couple had use of the space for 2 hours and said ‘I do’ on the Grand Staircase. | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography
Can you get married on Saturday at City Hall?
Yes! This is known as a full buyout. If you feel like having the whole building to yourself in the beautiful morning light, you can choose the 2-hour package that’s available on Saturday mornings. It represents good value and you can then head on to another venue for your wedding reception.
City Hall has its own list of approved catering & bartending vendors together with rules about liquor licensing. Their list of ‘qualified vendors’ is here on their Events site. You’ll exchange your vows on the platform of the Grand Staircase. Guests will be seated on the 1st Floor (ground level).
A full buyout at San Francisco City Hall on a Saturday morning starts at $5,000. The package is for 2 hours, inclusive of load-in and load-out. The rental can begin at 10am or 12pm.
A guest count of up to 200 is included in the price. However, you can exceed 200 guests for a fee-per-guest.
Can you get married at other weekend and evening slots?
There are many different options and configurations of space to choose from. Some of the rental rates are listed here. While ceremonies normally take place on the Grand Staircase, the areas that you might include in your rental are the
It’s best to speak directly to the City Hall events team for full details. There are many rental options going up to up to $30,000 for packages that include the rotunda & both light courts.
If you’re interested in an evening ceremony with time for dinner and dancing, you are looking at a cost of $5,000 – $7,000.
Be sure to contact City Hall’s dedicated events team to get a fuller understanding of what’s required for your wedding. The maximum number of guests goes right up to 3,000.
Do you have to have an appointment to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
Yes, you do have to have an appointment. In fact, you are required to make two separate appointments. One for the license which must be obtained a maximum of 90 days before the wedding.
You’ll also need to make an appointment for the ceremony itself. Slots are much more limited for the ceremonies than the licenses, so it’s recommended to book the ceremony first, then the license appointment.
One of the wonderful things about getting married at San Francisco City Hall is that you don’t need to be a US citizen or resident. That makes it an ideal spot for destination elopements. You just need to be at least eighteen years of age and unmarried.
How to book your appointment for civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall
To book your ceremony appointment, go to:
You’ll have to enter your full name, phone number, email address and your partner’s full name.
From there, you’ll see this screen showing City Hall’s booking calendar.
Though you’ll need to pick up the marriage license before you get married, you won’t need to enter license information into the ceremony booking form.
After you’re done, you’ll get this confirmation screen and will proceed to the payment screen.
Finding this article helpful? Please consider my City Hall wedding photography services
When, how and where to get your marriage license
It is whole-heartedly recommended to obtain your marriage license on a separate day before your wedding (anytime up to 90 days before). It’ll make for a much smoother wedding process.
San Francisco City Hall states that your marriage license appointment can be made as little as 30 minutes before your booked ceremony. However, in my experience that isn’t a good idea. With increased volumes of people marrying there, a 1-hour gap is definitely not enough.
The license process usually involves about an hour of waiting around, which has left some couples worried about missing their ceremony slot.
To obtain your marriage license, each applicant must present:
- Unexpired government-issued photo identification in English (Non-English language documents should be translated beforehand by an approved translator)
- Complete public or confidential marriage application form.
- If either/both parties were previously married or a State Registered Domestic Partner (SRDP), a certified copy of divorce, annulment, termination, or death record must be presented at the time of your marriage license reservation if it ended within the past 90 days of your marriage license reservation date.
(Source: County Clerk’s Online Reservations Page)
Reservations for obtaining the marriage license at SF City Hall are available Monday-Friday beginning 8:30 a.m. and every half hour until 3:30 p.m.
Since 2018, photography isn’t allowed during license pick-up. Another reason to get your license way beforehand!
Cost of marriage license from San Francisco City Hall
$110 if you obtain your marriage license from San Francisco City Hall
Top tip: In California, in contrast to all the other US states, the county sets the price of the marriage license.
I’ve heard of couples who paid $80 as that’s their county’s rate. Even though the price is set per county, the marriage license is valid anywhere in the state of California.
What should you bring with you on San Francisco City Hall wedding day?
The couple must bring:
- Valid, legal photo identification, issued by government. It must show all FULL names (not just initials).
- Valid marriage license.
- One witness (no more than two) if presenting a public marriage license.
- No witness is required if presenting a confidential marriage license.
- Not a requirement at all, but don’t forget to bring your wedding rings, if exchanging!
(Source: County Clerk’s Online Reservations Page)
Do you need witnesses for your San Francisco City Hall wedding?
For the regular civil ceremony, you need one witness and can have two if you like. It is quicker and easier (therefore recommended!) to have just one.
The judges at City Hall get very nervous about witnesses making a mistake on the license. If there is a mistake or crossing-out, the whole form must be generated again from scratch.
Having just one witness decreases the chance of a mistake on the form. It may cause issues if the license was issued in another locale other than San Francisco, as it can’t simply be reprinted.
Photographers are honored to act as a witness to your marriage and don’t charge an extra fee for this.
A sweet, fun-loving couple enjoying their time at San Francisco City Hall | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography
Step by step planning timeline for San Francisco City Hall wedding
6-12 months out
- If you are booking a private area you can actually book up to 24 months in advance. About 6 months or so is usually sufficient.
90 days out
- Book your ceremony first, then book your marriage license appointment
- Order your wedding dress (if going traditional) as it can take 6 weeks for wedding dresses to arrive
- Alterations of the wedding dress
- Book your photographer first as they should be able to help you map out a timeline and connect you with other vendors
2 months out
- Start planning how the rest of the day might look with regards to a reception venue or private room in a restaurant
- Consider logistics including transportation options, how you’ll get around and make the day flow smoothly
1 month out
- Confirm any other vendors such as floral designer, hair & makeup artist, wedding rings and accessories.
2 weeks out
- Finalize plans with your photographer including:
- Family groupings list for the formal shots
- Final review of the day’s timeline
- Where to go for portraits after the ceremony
- Get there early so you can savor the moment
- Allow more time than you might think for hair and makeup plus traffic
- Check in for your civil ceremony officially 15 before so you’re the first in line to marry.
Exactly what happens on your San Francisco City Hall wedding day
Arrival at City Hall
Enter the building through the Polk side. The small section at the front of the building is now known as Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Drive, but to your cab driver, it may just be Polk 😉
If you have backpacks, a camera bag or any other larger items with you, you’ll need to enter through the Grove side. There you’ll find an airport-style scanner, gate and security guard. They are all very friendly and efficient.
How to check in at San Francisco City Hall
‘Checking in’ is a simple process of presenting yourselves to the main Information desk straight ahead in room 168 (County Clerk’s office) on the north side of City Hall.
What you’ll need to have with you is detailed above.
After this initial check-in, you’ll get a numbered ticket. It’ll start with the letter ‘B’. The first ticket of the day is B101.
Watch the screen in the corridor and wait until you’re called in again. You’ll meet with the judge that’ll marry you. This time go to the desk on the left. You’ll shake the judge’s hand and they will give you instructions for filling out and signing the form. Your witness must accompany you this second time.
There is no harm asking your judge whether you can get married in a different spot than the rotunda. This is the time to do it!
Sure, the rotunda iconic but the prettiest spot that’s much better for pictures, more private and quieter is the 4th Floor North Gallery. The South Gallery is also great but the light is less harsh on the North side).
Deputy Marriage Commissioners split their time between checking 3 couples in and then officiating weddings. He/ she will send you upstairs to the ceremony spot and you’ll wait until they are ready to join you (in matrimony!).
About 20-45 minutes after you checked in, your ceremony will begin.
What happens during the wedding ceremony
The judge will call you up by name so make sure you’re within earshot of the rotunda (or other ceremony location). The ceremony is very short and simple. No personal vows or other words are permitted. I have a separate post linked below on the exact vows you’ll be reciting at your Civil Ceremony at San Francisco City Hall:
The best position for the judge is for them to face the back of City Hall (see above) We want to capture the grandness of the open area with the Mayor’s Balcony, not the back of their head. We don’t want them blocking you. So, their back should be to the Grand Staircase.
Remember to turn and face one another and not 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. Looking for more day-of tips? Check out the link below!
Don’t forget to kiss at the end to seal the deal. The officiant doesn’t always give the traditional prompt!
What happens after the wedding ceremony
Posed family formal portraits
After the hugs of congratulations is a good time to do formal, posed family pictures. This normally takes around 20 minutes.
Though you won’t see a ton of these kinds of photos online, I recommend making time for them at every City Hall wedding (except if you’re eloping, of course!) I’ve included some fun ones here, but naturally the formal ones are done, too.
Couples’ photos of the newlyweds!
After that, your photographer will guide you around the building. Photographers know the best spots to take photos, but always feel free to suggest any particular spots you have in mind.
Usually, you’ll run around your preferred San Francisco portrait location for kickass photos! The key to all of this is planning.
I do recommend making time to get at least some photos outdoors, even if it’s just near City Hall. Nothing beats the flattering and magical quality of natural light, whatever the weather.
For couples who are concerned with timing, I have compiled a list of my favorite photography locations that are less than 3 miles from San Francisco City Hall.
Finding this article helpful? Please consider my City Hall wedding photography services
City Hall wedding planning FAQs
I have a more comprehensive list of FAQs on my City Hall page at this link. Just scroll down to the ‘San Francisco City Hall – Frequently Asked Questions’ section!
How to create a timeline for your San Francisco City Hall wedding
It honestly can be tough to know how much time to allocate to each portion of the day.
For the time at City Hall, I’d say 15-mins is pre-check in time. Then you check in and will wait about half an hour for the ceremony to start.
After the quick ceremony, you might do 20 minutes of family photos followed by 30 minutes of couples’ photos.
Bear in mind, you’ll want a photographer that can help to plan proactively, making sure there is enough time for what you value. After all, a wedding planner is generally not required for a civil ceremony-only wedding, and you need the help of a pro to share their expertise with you.
After the wedding, you probably want to choose a cool San Francisco location for couples’ photos, and then have a meal with your guests. If you’re looking for recommendations, I’d be happy to help!
Every City Hall wedding is unique, so you’ll probably want to brainstorm some ideas for what you really want to do and that feels like you.
Then just start writing out some ideas for how long each piece will take, making sure you leave plenty of buffer time and take into account delays and travel time. The day will take shape before you know it!
How to get around on your San Francisco City Hall wedding day
I have a separate post on that with my 10 top modes of transportation.
What is the best time to get married at San Francisco City Hall
The first ceremony slot of 9 am is a very good choice. You’ll likely be the only ones in the building! In this case, I’d suggest starting for pictures at 8 am or 8.15 am so you can have the Grand Staircase to yourselves. By 8.30 am there are quite a few more folks around already.
If you book the last appointment of the day, that can also be a wise choice. Although the lighting is much sharper than in the morning when it’s soft, City Hall will have emptied. There is more time to linger afterward.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the quietest days.
Fridays are the busiest, craziest days, particularly Friday afternoons. On Thursdays, the weekend rush is already starting to pick up. Mondays can also be fairly busy as couples try to bundle their wedding day in with the weekend.
Too many people around does cause delays. For example, you’ll have to wait longer for your ceremony to begin as the judge checks in other couples.
And you’ll have to wait your turn for pictures as typically everyone clamors for the same spots (4th floor, 3rd floor picture windows, Mayor’s Balcony, Grand Staircase). The staircase may be just too busy to photograph on if there are 50 people in the shot.
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, too.
What you should let your guests know in advance about your SF City Hall wedding
There are definitely several things that you need to inform your guests about before your City Hall wedding day. Here are a few of them!
- How they are going to get to City Hall
- Where they should meet you
- That it takes time to enter the building and they’ll need to allow for lines
- Make sure they aren’t unwittingly carrying an item that’s not permitted – it is airport-style security. A very thorough list that City Hall produced is here.
- If they have larger bags, they’ll need to enter through the Grove side-entrance not the main entrance on Polk
- Where they will be going exactly when it’s time for couple’s photos of the two of you.
- Bring a folding seat if they are older or cannot stand for long
How to find the vendors you need for your wedding
A Google search normally uncovers some great options for your wedding vendors. However, for more personalized recommendations, read on!
Once you’ve found a great photographer who is used to photographing a lot of San Francisco City Hall weddings, they can connect you.
The benefit of this is that they can draw from their wide pool of vendors at every style and budget.
For example, the best hair and makeup artists will show prominently when you search. However, if hair and makeup isn’t something you prioritize, you don’t want to pay top dollar for the best in town, but you still want a professional HMUA.
So, if you’re good with a trainee makeup artist that’s looking to build their portfolio, I have several skilled artists I can recommend. You won’t find them on Google.
What to wear to your San Francisco City Hall wedding
These days, marriers are doing wonderful things with their wedding attire!
I photograph brides in traditional floor-length fairytale wedding dresses, as well as jumpsuits and overalls. I see dresses in all different shades, from charcoal gray to bright red.
Most grooms to opt for a suit or button-down shirt that shows their unique style, but you can choose for yourself how traditional or contemporary you want to go.
There’s no dress code for weddings at San Francisco City Hall, so let your imagination run riot!
My one piece of advice is to make sure it’s something comfortable – and also not too casual. Nothing will ruin your day more than wearing an outfit you’re constantly tugging at or that doesn’t fit you right.
In contrast to a regular wedding, you won’t be sitting down at all during your San Francisco City Hall wedding. Comfortable footwear is a must 😉
The right accessories can also really help to elevate your style and personalize what can be an impersonal experience. Florals are, for me, an absolute must. Get the best designer you can afford!
If your budget won’t stretch too far, I can recommend mail-order bouquets or even silk ones that photograph beautifully and you can keep as a decoration in your home.
What to look for in a San Francisco City Hall wedding 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 in their work. Make sure you like that style!
- Ask questions
- Make sure you see a bunch of full client galleries.
- Gauge their personality from their social media
- Read through their website carefully.
- Read reviews from past clients on Yelp, Google, Facebook and The Knot.
- Look at value as well as price.
- Understand exactly what’s included
- Meet them or chat on the phone. You’ll know when you’ve found the one!
What are some common issues happening at San Francisco City Hall?
I’ve seen all kinds of stuff take place that has impacted on my couples’ wedding days in different ways. Events that commonly take place at San Francisco City Hall (and that can scupper the best-laid plans) are:
- Press conferences
- Maintenance work
- Busloads of tourists
- School visits
- Gala event set-up
- Motion picture filming
- & many others!
The trick is to roll with it! Revel in the joy, the shared experience, and uniqueness of getting married at San Francisco City Hall. I hope my guide has helped you figure out how to get married at San Francisco City Hall!
Questions, comments? Please leave them in the comments below 👇🏾 so other people who want to learn about this topic can benefit too. Thank you!