Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! I also commend you on your excellent taste – you won’t regret choosing San Francisco City Hall as your wedding venue. This iconic building, with its exquisite Beaux-Arts architecture and remarkable history, serves as a breathtaking and photogenic backdrop for your special day.
This article will introduce you give you all the information you need about how to get married at San Francisco City Hall. I’m excited to share all my knowledge with you in this guide. If there’s a question you’d like addressed, please leave a comment!
I’m Zoe and I lead a team of photographers that will help make your City Hall wedding fun and simple! I’ve specialized in photographing weddings at the most iconic City Hall in the United States since 2017, shortly after I moved here from the UK.
This overview is intended for those at the beginning of their wedding journey. There are more detailed articles I’ve written sprinkled throughout for those who want a deeper dive. I really hope these resources are helpful and look forward to hearing from you when you’re ready to book a photographer for your SF City Hall ceremony!
Date of last update: AUGUST 30, 2023
Let’s dive into the different ceremony types available, and then I’ll answer ALL the frequently asked questions about how to get married at SF City Hall. And don’t forget your marriage license!
Table of Contents
Current cost (subject to change without notice): $103 (fee schedule here)
How to book: The official SF.Gov website
Location: Rotunda (at the top of the Grand Staircase)
Days of the week: Monday – Friday, excluding holidays
Time slots: Every half-hour between 9 am – 3:30 pm
Maximum guest count: Up to 6 guests
When to book: Maximum of 90 days out; calendar opens at midnight PST
You can’t get simpler or more quintessentially City Hall than a Civil Ceremony! This involves a quick 3 – 4 minute ceremony with a very limited number of guests.
You’ll have your marriage license in hand already. Then check in to Room 168 (County Clerk’s office) 15 minutes before your appointed ceremony time. The check-in process takes anything up to 30 minutes.
Officially, a maximum of 6 guests are permitted to attend your San Francisco City Hall Civil Ceremony. This limit includes any children in your group, your witness and your photo/video team. Though the rule isn’t strictly enforced, the official rules may be invoked at any time.
Civil Ceremonies usually take place in the Rotunda which is located at the top of the Grand Staircase, but the officiant you’re allocated will make the determination. You can try to request a different area which is more open and bright! (Examples: Mayor’s Balcony, 3rd Floor or 4th Floor).
These are the actual vows you’ll recite. Personalizing your vows is not possible with a Civil Ceremony. An officiant is provided for Civil Ceremonies only.
1-Hour Private Rental
Current cost (subject to change without notice): $1,000
How to book: The Official San Francisco City Hall Events page
Location: Choose from 4th Floor (North Gallery) or Mayor’s Balcony
Days of the week: Monday – Friday, excluding holidays
Time slots for 4th Floor: 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm
Time slots for Mayor’s Balcony: 10am, 12pm, 2pm
Maximum guest count: 4th Floor: 60 seated plus 40 standing. Mayor’s Balcony: 40 seated plus 60 standing.
When to book: Maximum of 2 years out. Minimum of 2 weeks out.
A one-hour private area rental gives you more privacy, the ability to customize your ceremony, and you can have a lot more guests.
There are two different areas to choose from:
You can even further personalize proceedings by reciting your own vows, having acoustic musicians, a display table and floral decor. You’ll have to provide your own officiant, too. Food and drink service is not permitted.
During the one-hour slot, there is enough time for your ceremony followed by formal group photos. You can even have a wedding party and be joined at the ‘altar’ by your dearest friends.
For sought-after dates, we recommend booking as far as possible in advance to avoid disappointment. To book, you’ll need to sign a contract and put down a deposit of $750 by money order or cashier’s check. You’ll then submit the contract to Room 495, the Events Office. The process can be done remotely for those who are not local. The final payment must be made within 5 days of the reservation date.
Our preferred location out of the two is the 4th Floor North Gallery. It’s spacious, more private with better acoustics and natural, even light.
2-Hour Weekend Buyout
Current cost (subject to change without notice): $5,000
How to book: The Official San Francisco City Hall Events page
Days of the week: Saturdays
Time slots: 9 am or 12 pm
Location: Entire building. Ceremony takes place on platform level near bottom of Staircase
Maximum guest count: 200
When to book: Maximum of 2 years out.
For bigger or more private events, you can have the whole of City Hall to yourselves! The two hours easily cover your romantic portraits, ceremony and formal groupings. You’ll tie the knot on the Grand Staircase and be surrounded by rows of family and friends watching you from the ground floor.
There is way more personalization you can weave into your event, as well as a higher guest count. The biggest benefit though is that there are no other people around, making it a truly private event.
It’s possible to fit a short champagne reception into the end of your rental time, especially if you do your formal group photo session off-site at your chosen reception location.
Current cost (subject to change without notice): $120 (fee schedule here). Available at any other CA county for lower cost.
How to book: The official SF.Gov website
Location: Room 168 (County Clerk’s Office)
Days of the week: Monday – Friday, excluding holidays
Time slots: 8:15 am – 3:30 pm
When to book: Maximum of 90 days out. Minimum: same day as wedding
After you’ve secured your ceremony booking, then you can set about booking your appointment for your marriage license. There are plenty of appointments for license pickup but ceremony slots are highly sought-after, so that’s why we recommend booking the ceremony first!
To get married at City Hall, just like with any wedding you’ll need to obtain a marriage license in advance. This can be obtained from any county in California and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue. After that, the license expires if not used.
It’s highly recommended to make your marriage license appointment for a different date within 90 days of your wedding day. There’s enough going on without dealing with another appointment, plus you might want to schedule photography events pre-ceremony. It also gives you peace of mind to have your license in hand already. Delays are pretty commonplace for license pickups.
If you are from out of state and eloping here, you might want to ensure you’re able to reach CA at least one business day before your ceremony and ensure you have a license appointment secured.
License costs vary across counties, with San Francisco being the highest in California. So if you live in California, it’s easiest to pick this up from your local county rather than driving into SF. Both partners getting married must be present for the license appointment. Appointments are necessary for all Bay Area counties as far as I know.
Next, we’re going to dive into some frequently asked questions.
Breakdown of the main ceremony options
These are the main types of ceremony and a comparison of guest count, availability and current price. In addition there is also an evening ceremony option during weekdays.
|Type of Ceremony||Maximum number of guests||Availability||Price (excluding license cost)|
|Civil||6||Monday – Friday 9 am – 3.30 pm||$103|
|Private||100 (40 or 60 seated depending on area)||Monday to Friday 9 am – 3 pm||$1,000 + chair rental|
|Full buyout||200||Saturday mornings||$5,000 + chair rental + other charges|
Can we take wedding photos at San Francisco City Hall?
Of course! San Francisco City Hall is a public building, open to all. Entry is free. Anyone can enter and take photographs, even if you’re not getting married there. Permits are not required for wedding photography or videography. Opening hours are currently 8am – 6pm.
How long is an SF City Hall wedding?
A Civil Ceremony is very short. The ceremony lasts about 3-4 minutes. If you choose not to exchange rings, the ceremony is even shorter at closer to 2-3 minutes. Some officiants choose to embellish the moment with meaningful words for a more personal touch. Others are more perfunctory.
A Private Ceremony gives you the space for 1 hour. You’ll choose your own officiant and ceremony proceedings, including adding personal vows, readings, religious traditions, musical accompaniment, or anything you’d like.
What’s the best time of day to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
The best time of day is as early in the day as possible. The building is only relatively empty when the doors open at 8 a.m. Sometimes it remains pretty empty for the first half-hour.
City Hall fills up as the day goes on, and then starts to empty out again after 3:30 p.m when the final ceremonies are taking place. If you’re not a morning person or would prefer to go straight to dinner, the last ceremony slots of the day are worth considering.
What’s the best time of the week to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the quietest days of the week. Fridays are by far the busiest – year-round. On Thursdays, the weekend rush starts to pick up. Mondays can also be a little busy as couples want to tie their wedding in with the weekend.
Because popular dates sell out quickly, I highly recommend logging on to the County Clerk’s website at midnight PST exactly 90 days out so you can snag your desired date and timeslot. The earliest and latest slots of the day are the first to book out, being the most desirable.
What’s the best time of the year to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
The busiest months of the year at SF City Hall are:
- Last 2 weeks of March
- Last 2 weeks of November
If you want fewer crowds, avoid the above months!
Bear in mind, the less quiet months coincide with the cold and rainy weather (January and February) and the foggy, cold months (July and August). Bear that in mind if you’re planning photoshoots outdoors!.
Another consideration is that during the winter months, the quality of light appears darker by 3pm and on more overcast days.
How many witnesses do we need to elope at City Hall?
In California, it is mandatory to have one witness present during your wedding ceremony. It is possible to have up to two witnesses sign your marriage license (if the staff allows you to).
Although the state doesn’t enforce an age requirement for witnesses, they must be capable of signing their names on the official marriage license.
If there are any errors on the form, it may not be accepted. Mistakes include crossings-out, smudging your name, going outside the lines, or accidentally tearing the paper. I recommend just one witness, to minimize the risk of a mistake which could void your license.
If you do not have any guests, or would prefer not to ask them to witness, your photographer will gladly act as witness. This does not incur an extra fee – it’s always an honor to be asked!
What do we need to bring with us?
You’ll need your marriage license, government-issued ID and a witness. If you obtain a ‘confidential’ marriage license (not to be confused with a private ceremony), no witness is needed.
On your ID, check your ensure your entire name is spelled out in full with no initials. If that’s the case, bring your passport too. If the language of your ID is not English, you will need to bring a certified translation.
You may also choose to exchange wedding rings but they are not necessary in order to get married.
What should we not bring with us?
Avoid bringing too much stuff in general! Be careful not to bring any prohibited items inadvertently as you’ll be entering through airport-style security.
As it’s a public place, you will have to keep anything with you at all times, or ideally pass it off to a guest. Also, your photographer may offer to put your personal effects in their bag to avoid them being visible in photos, but they are already wearing heavy camera gear and a bulky case.
How do we formulate a plan for our day?
The ceremony can be the centerpiece of your day or it can be just one very small part of it. You can more of an occasion out of your day and optimize the photography accordingly using these timeline tips. It’s totally up to you!
This article linked above goes into all the ins and outs of planning, as well as what events you might choose to add before or after the City Hall portion. Our photography services begin at just 2 hours, so there’s no pressure to book any more than the basics.
Can we take photos away from City Hall as well?
There are so many fantastic portrait locations within San Francisco. Here’s a list of 36 of my favorite locations.
Popular choices include:
- The Palace of Fine Arts (it’s formal and pairs well with the classical architecture of City Hall).
- Crissy Field (shows off the Golden Gate Bridge as well as combining nature vibes, a city view, palm trees and a beach, all in close walking proximity of each other)
- The San Francisco Botanical Garden (beautiful, diverse and mature planting with dramatic photo backdrops around every corner!)
Alternatively, you can choose a meaningful location such as a coffee shop or park in the neighborhood where you met or live in. Some favorite neighborhoods include the Mission District, Marina District, the Dogpatch, Nob Hill, Bernal Heights and Pacific Heights.
If you’re looking for something closer to City Hall to cut down on travel time, here is a list of wedding photo locations that are within 3 miles of City Hall.
What else can we add on to make our day complete?
I have a full outline of what else your day might include (and what that looks like) in my detailed timeline guide.
Just a few ideas include:
- Getting ready photos at your hotel (hotel guide here)
- A first look (first look at City Hall guide here)
- An external portrait location either before or after the ceremony as mentioned above (location guide here)
- A reception event at a local restaurant (post-City Hall restaurant guide here). You could just have the first half-hour or so photographed if you don’t have an extensive program of events.
- Chill at your home or hotel, go on a hike, to a sports game, anything you want!
You can even choose to split up your photography coverage when you book with us. This allows for there to be a big gap between your morning ceremony and your dinner reception.
What should we wear for our San Francisco City Hall wedding?
A statement look that represents you as a couple is the way to go. The only fashion style to avoid is anything too casual.
I love something elegant and modern, think jumpsuits, vests, fascinators, bustiers, bow ties, smoking jackets, and materials such as tweed, ruffles, fur, velvet or lace. These fabrics photograph beautifully.
A classic white wedding dress or black/ blue suit is timeless and remains the most popular choice. However, there is no need to be constrained by tradition if that’s not you.
Jewel tones photograph well against the neutral colors of City Hall, as do pastels and pops of primary color.
When choosing an outfit, be aware that the building is extremely warm inside year-round. The heating is usually on full blast! The sun streams in and raises the temperature even more!
Also, make sure your chosen ensemble fits you correctly. Alterations are well worth it to avoid tugging at your outfit. You should also ensure you have the correct undergarments (that are not visible) so you look and feel as good as can be!
Should we stay in San Francisco before the wedding?
100% recommend! Even if you’re not planning to have professional photographs taken there, it pays to wake up feeling fresh and relaxed. Plus you get to retreat back there when the hustle and bustle of getting married in a busy environment is done. You do not want to deal with bridge traffic and congested freeways on your wedding day!
I have a list here of my recommended SF hotels that I hope you’ll consider if you live outside of San Francisco. With how tight our timeline is, it can have a detrimental effect if you’re late and flustered, sadly – and you would be missing out on valuable photography time you’ve paid for. That’s always such a bummer.
We’re worried about delays at City Hall, what can we do?
Delays are commonplace at San Francisco City Hall, but when you book an experienced photographer they can a) build enough buffer time into the plan and b) troubleshoot on the fly if there needs to be a change of plan.
You can also get valuable tips that save time day of, as we’ve seen it all! Preparation is key. We want you to walk into your wedding day knowing everything is in hand!
Also at the end of the day, you’ll be married. The staff runs a well-oiled machine and even if there are delays and unforeseen circumstances, you’ll still have a blast!
What’s the best way of getting to City Hall and traveling around?
I recommend using Uber / Lyft to travel to and from City Hall and onto your other locations. Why? It’s the most efficient and low-cost way of getting from A to B. There’s no time given over to walking to and from parking spots, plus you skip the hassle of parking altogether.
If you do opt to drive your own car, I recommend the Civic Center Garage, Lot #200 (Google Maps link). It’s across the road from City Hall. There is an entrance to the garage on Larkin and another on MacAllister – they can be hard to spot so drive slow!
I recommend going down to the much emptier Level 2 or 3 as Level 1 can be full by 9 am. Level 1 is always full, Level 2 is sometimes hard to find a spot (but not usually), and Level 3 is practically empty (unless there was a HUGE event taking place, but I’ve never seen that happen). Once on foot, be sure to use the elevator bank that will bring you up near Polk Street (UN Plaza).
The Civic Center Garage is closed every Pride Weekend. You will not be able to park there.
The garage closes every night at 12am.
If you have the budget to do something more memorable, or you have more guests, be sure to read my guide to the best transportation ideas for your SF City Hall wedding day. You could opt for a town car, limo, vintage car rental, bus or even hire a San Francisco-style trolley!
What will the pictures be like if City Hall is super busy?
It’s the photographer’s job to guide you to places that are less busy, or to time your session so that you have the maximum chance of getting into key photo spots. Bear in mind though that sometimes there is a wait while other couples get their photos on the Grand Staircase. It’s definitely an art to navigate this always busy, bustling space and not for the faint-hearted!
Many photographers will retouch background people like we do for the important shots you’ll want to frame. These include the romantics, ceremony and formal groupings. For the more candid shots like waiting before the ceremony, we prefer a more faithful approach to capture how it felt, so you might see bystanders in the distance.
Is a San Francisco City Hall wedding even right for me?
A City Hall wedding is all about simplicity and convenience rather than focusing on personal touches. (That said, I do have lots of tips on how to make your City Hall wedding day more special and personal here!) It’s quick, easy, and of course more affordable.
City Hall weddings often attract practical-minded individuals who don’t necessarily enjoy being in the spotlight. Planning such an event is usually lower on the stress-o-meter, and a civil ceremony can be organized within weeks.
Keep in mind that City Hall is bustling with various events, such as press conferences, city meetings, gala events, filming, and most often protests. You’ll also be sharing space with numerous other couples taking wedding photos.
Although pictures may suggest otherwise, you’d only have the place to yourself if you arrive at 8 a.m. (and even then, there may be others vying for the Grand Staircase)! A lot of patience and nifty photo editing techniques are necessary to make it look like you’re alone in this grand palace. In reality, its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, making it more crowded each time.
So, if you value your marriage more than an extravagant wedding day and don’t want to spend ages planning the ‘perfect event’, a City Hall ceremony and a nice meal afterward might be just right for you!
How do we find vendors for our wedding?
I recommend booking vendors who are familiar with City Hall specifically. Hair and makeup needs to look in an indoor, artificially lit environment. There also might be earlier start times and smaller party sizes, like just one person that requires service.
With floral design, your order will be much smaller than what a regular wedding florist may offer, typically just a bouquet/boutonniere combo.
For officiants, they need to project their voice because there’s no amplification permitted. And so on!
Photographers typically have their own recommendation list of just about every vendor you can think of. Once you’ve found the photographer for you, lean on them for impartial recommendations. You can also check out Google, Instagram, Pinterest and Yelp.
Expect an experienced San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer to guide you through everything!
How do we choose a San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer?
One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is which photographer to choose. There are no doovers and little that can be done if you end up disappointed with your experience or final photos.
There are many photographers out there, but fewer who specialize in City Hall weddings. Even fewer who make images that are authentic, modern yet timeless, fresh, and full of life. We don’t do silly, awkward, or outdated posing. We don’t do heavily processed edits that will look dated in 5 years. In fact, our approach relies on the magic of your own chemistry. It involves lots of movement, humor and being yourselves.
I provide unlimited planning help, and I’m responsive and communicative. Day-of, I’ll be a calm and reassuring presence. The same goes for my expert team of associate photographers, some of whom also have tons of experience at this iconic venue.
Book an experienced San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer that you can rely on! Because these kinds of ceremonies are so specialized and are unlike any other kind of wedding. Insider knowledge is key.
What’s the one tip you have for those planning a San Francisco City Hall ceremony?
DON’T RUSH YOUR DAY! SERIOUSLY!
We do see some couples trying to fit as much as possible into as small a timeframe as possible to save money or time. While this might sound like a good idea on paper, it’s likely to lead to disappointment with the photos as well as unnecessary stress.
Our 2-hour package is carefully crafted to encompass the very basics, but anything else will take more time as I’m sure you can appreciate.
There’s also plenty that happens that might be off-script, meaning we can’t predict it (unless you’ve rented the whole building). Especially when getting married inside a busy public building.
Ultimately, your wedding day is about more than just photos. Weddings of any size are chock full of emotion. There’ll be little moments you don’t want to rush. Inhale deeply, soak it all in. No other day will be quite like this. Embrace every moment and savor it all.
Hope this guide has been helpful as you navigate how to get married at San Francisco City Hall!
Tips from past clients
Hiring Zoe was the best investment of our wedding. She shot both the City Hall ceremony and our reception. She did not miss a single beat and captured all the candid moments with perfection.
Weeks before the wedding day, she took time to understand our love stories so we’d feel comfortable being the best selves around her. She studied our sequence of events of the day and discuss in detail to plan for the spots with best lighting conditions.
She’s super experienced and has a wiki of recommendations for every type of wedding vendor. We just reached our 1st year anniversary and her photos are the best way to memorize our wedding day. You would not regret hiring her!
We first met Zoe in person for our engagement shoot in the SF Botanical garden. Prior to our meeting, I was sure to read & watch the guides Zoe expertly produced on what to expect from an engagement shoot, what to wear, and how to pose, which she quickly recapped before we got started.
I was nervous about how things would go, as my husband and I aren’t great about taking or posing for pictures, but Zoe’s gentle yet expert approach put us at ease, and we got SO MANY great shots. Zoe even took some of us on a bus as a way to recreate where my husband and I met!
For our actual 9am Friday wedding on the Fourth Floor of SF City Hall, Zoe came with us early to take shots around the venue prior to our actual ceremony. As an expert and veteran of the venue, Zoe was able to direct us efficiently according to lighting and crowding, as other couples were in the venue for pictures as well.
Zoe also encouraged my husband and me to tell each other jokes as we had on our engagement shoot as a way for me to loosen up, as my nerves matched the enormity of the occasion.
The finished photos are STUNNING. Many people at the ceremony & friends on Instagram have complimented Zoe’s astute use of light in addition to how well she captured our dynamic as a couple. I cannot recommend her enough!
To say her smile took away our stress and her attitude and knowledge made our day perfect would be the understatement of the century. There are not words to describe what Zoe meant to our day, and now our memories. We are truly forever indebted to her.
The biggest observation my wife and I had was how nervous we thought we SHOULD have been (we have never done a photoshoot) but yet were put completely at ease. Zoe’s kindness and demeanor made us so comfortable allowing her to dictate our every pose, not to mention her AMAZING knowledge of the City Hall spaces, lighting, crowd movement, and architecture. And mind you, this is all BEFORE the ceremony began!
Once the ceremony began, Zoe turned into our ceremony director, which we didn’t know was going to happen. I’m no actor, but this is what working with a great movie director must be like – her ability to lead and engage our guests, her placement of herself in the perfect places, and her completely clear communication style (again, all while the ceremony is going on) was absolutely amazing.
Again, we’re not actors, but I suddenly realized that, despite our stresses in the morning getting ready and running into City Hall 30 minutes late, we felt safe.
For everything Zoe was doing, she made the ceremony and the space belong to my fiance and I; the world washed away, and I got to see my fiance shine. And I got to join her. And none of that would have been possible without Zoe, we KNOW this.
Questions, comments? Please leave them in the comments below 👇🏾 so other people who want to learn how to get married at San Francisco City Hall can benefit too. Thank you!