If you’re planning to get married at San Francisco City Hall, congratulations! You may be well underway with City Hall wedding planning already. Or perhaps you’re gathering ideas for your future wedding or elopement. Whatever the case, I hope this guide is helpful!

San Francisco City Hall is a beautiful choice and 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.

Great planning is the key to a successful wedding experience whatever the type of wedding ceremony you have in mind. That’s why I want to equip marriers with the knowledge of what to expect. This live planning resource is always up to date. So, let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

Welcome to my guide to getting married at San Francisco City Hall

I’m an experienced San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer who has helped dozens of couples get married at our City Hall. Watch a video of me awkwardly talking to the camera on this page.

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.

A huge thank you to my couples who have helped me understand every aspect about wedding ceremonies 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 July 2021.


Planning a wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall - guide by Zoe Larkin
The rotunda is the spot at the top of the Grand Staircase where the majority of civil ceremonies take place | Zoe Larkin Photography

Is SF City Hall open for weddings?

As of June 9 2021, San Francisco City Hall is open again for wedding ceremonies! City Hall’s office hours are 8:00 am to 1:00 pm for appointments. Ceremonies are available Monday-Friday starting at 9:00 am through 1:00 pm every half hour, instead of the later finish time they used to have in place. Two reservation slots are available each half-hour, instead of 3 as was previously the case. 

For information concerning County Clerk services during COVID-19 response, please check updates here directly from the County Clerk office. Another official page is located here.

Please check the San Francisco City Hall official Twitter account for further updates Be aware that only the official Twitter account has all the correct information and is blue check-mark verified.

All of the information that follows in this and other related articles on my website date from pre-COVID. It remains to be seen exactly how the situation will evolve, even now the announcement has been made for reopening. 

Want to see how some of my couples are handling weddings during the current situation? Check out the link below for wedding inspo:

READ MORE  Bay Area COVID wedding ideas - 5 real weddings

SF City Hall Post-Pandemic News & Updates

Since reopening in June 2021, I have noticed a few things have changed, which I’ll fill you in on here. I am not at City Hall every day, but piecing things together from the times I am there. Of course, everything is subject to change. Please read this as more anecdotal than gospel. 

  1. Photographers are no longer permitted in room 168. There is a different setup now, in which a booth has been set up at the entrance to that long corridor. Now, a staff member stops everyone as they come in, and requests that only the couple (and one witness), is permitted to enter the hallway and line up to wait to check in with the Justice of the Peace (your officiant). However, this area isn’t particularly attractive and all you will miss are photos of you signing your marriage license, your witness signing, and you sitting in front of the judge. 
  2. Many couples are having major troubles getting a marriage license. I’ve put all my information about this in the section below. 
  3. Backdoors to City Hall remain locked. This means that access to the Memorial Court (my favorite area for photography for morning ceremonies) is quite time-consuming now. I would suggest allowing 10 minutes to exit through the front and then walk all the way around and past Van Ness.
  4. Masks are not technically required at San Francisco City Hall for fully vaccinated people (there are signs to this effect). However, to avoid disappointment, I would advise bringing your mask anyway as some of the security personnel may ask for this, you never know. It’s always better to have it and not use it, than not have it and not be permitted to enter due to someone that works for local government wanting to wield their power.
  5. The backdoors being locked means that if you have a morning ceremony you will likely have very bright sunlight and harshly-lit photos for your ‘leaving City Hall’ photos. This is because we’ll have to use the front entrance. It isn’t terrible, here’s what it looks like:

Exiting San francisco city hall after a morning ceremony

Getting your marriage license in the Bay Area since California reopened 2021

It’s come to my attention that many couples are having a lot of difficulty obtaining the marriage license. Something that was very easy pre-pandemic and required very little planning beyond making an appointment online and then turning up, has become a nail-biting ordeal. Ceremonies have been easy to book, but that isn’t the case for the marriage license, which you must have in hand a maximum of 90 days prior to your wedding ceremony.

Bay Area marriage license news

Here’s what one couple had to share as of June 24 2021, from her personal experiences:⁠

1. San Francisco — no appointments available at all, booked until at least September.⁠

2. Alameda — online only with big delays in processing (4-6 weeks, SF City Hall said it’s been taking even longer and they advised against)⁠

3. San Mateo — earliest appointment end of July in person (SF City Hall also said they’ve been seeing delays in processing).⁠

4. Santa Clara, Marin and Napa — rules have changed now, applicants must be county resident⁠

5. Sonoma — online application form then walk-in appointment, same day processing, no county residency requirement.⁠

Sonoma wins! 

The next day on June 25 2021 I received this information from a client regarding Alameda County and their approach to obtaining marriage licenses: 

Marriage license news from Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s office:⁠

The below information came straight from the County Clerk:

Office is now open to the public with first-come-first-serve services for Marriage LICENSES/Permits ONLY.⁠

Marriage application hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-4:00PM except holidays.⁠

Marriage services offered: ⁠
1. Video Marriage License ONLY, where I set up an appointment to see you two over video and mail or Fedex you the license. (for your own officiant to perform a ceremony at a later time at a different location)⁠

2. Walk-in Marriage License ONLY (for your own officiant to perform a ceremony at a later time at a different location)⁠

3. Video Ceremonies: We are currently booking through July 9th, Monday-Friday, from 10:00AM-4:00PM, (Except July 5th) + we provide witness as well as officiant. You can be together anywhere in California, with internet access + ID’s with you. We schedule from a phone call which we set up together first to create your marriage license + take payment.⁠

4. In-person ceremonies, scheduled ahead of time:⁠
After you register a marriage license by video, or in person with our Vitals staff in Oakland, we offer to schedule an In-person ceremony by appointment only. Must bring ID’s, marriage license (if obtained in-person), $75 cash check or debit (if you got the license in person), + witness.⁠

There are TWO main ways you can get marriage license for in-person ceremony:⁠

A. In-person license issuance, where you both come in to our office to apply for the license, then schedule ceremony, and then walk out with the license. Then you return at the time + date of your in-person ceremony (20 minutes prior to the actual ceremony time) with ID’s, marriage license, $75 cash check or debit, + witness⁠

B. Video license ID check, where you two, both in California at the same time, + I set up an appointment for me to see you two at same time to verify ID’s, process license + payment, including for ceremony, + schedule your in-person ceremony. You sign license electronically + come in to our office 20 minutes prior to your in-person ceremony with your ID’s + witness.⁠

What I’ve been hearing from clients who’ve reached out to me personally

From one bride:⁠
“We had huge difficulties too! Applied in Santa Clara only to say they were booked until October—We got ours through San Mateo only 7 days before our planned date. It’s wild out there”⁠

From another:⁠
“We were going to wait to make our appointment in SF, but I raced to the website after reading your post! I luckily got the very last spot in September! Unbelievable! Anyways, your post saved us a huge headache. You are a lifesaver!”⁠

Types of weekday wedding ceremony available 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

Book your appointment for your ceremony.

95% of couples that marry at City Hall will book 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 have been shortened since the 2021 reopening (check out the website for up to date information). 

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. Although this isn’t common, it may be required for couples who have security concerns.

Where this ceremony is held (both regular civil ceremonies and confidential)

There are two options for regular civil ceremonies: the rotunda and the private ceremony room.

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.

During Pride Month (June), couples are permitted to choose exactly where in City Hall they’d like to get married. 

Christmas tree 2019 in San Francisco City Hall's rotunda
The famous San Francisco City Hall Christmas tree in the rotunda from December 2019 | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

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. It says ‘Marriage Ceremony Room’ on the door. 

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 some guests, rather than having to stand. The acoustics are more conducive to your guests being able to hear everything, too, which is not really possible in the echoey rotunda. 

Tip: Want to get married in the rotunda but have more than 6 guests? Simply decide in advance which guests will sit out of the ceremony, and have them rejoin afterward. Or you can risk them just standing nearby – most judges will not make a fuss.

how to get married at san francisco city hall - wedding ceremony in the private ceremony room
This couple had more than 6 guests, so opted to marry in the private ceremony room | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Maximum number of guests permitted to attend a civil ceremony

The maximum number of guests permitted for a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall is 6. In May 2019, City Hall began officially enforcing the maximum 6-guest rule until further notice. The number includes your photographer, videographer and any children in your party.

However, if you still want to have 6 or more guests, the private ceremony room will be the best option. It isn’t really advisable to have 6 or more, because the best course of action is to follow City Hall’s strict rules to avoid disappointment on your wedding day

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 – even with more guests present. After all, the worst they can do is say no. 

As for the maximum number of guests in the private room? Though City Hall they will officially tell you it’s still 6, up to 15 is usually fine. However, it is always 100% at the judge’s discretion. When you go in and meet your judge (or ‘justice of the peace’ they will ask you how many guests you have). Photos above show a pre-COVID ceremony and the guests crowded into the private room. 

If you have 6 guests or more and you do not want to get married in the private ceremony room, you could always tell the judge you have fewer guests and then try to sneak in another guest(s) by having them wait by the rotunda and then join the ceremony once you’re set up.

This is very much a personal choice thing – remember, some judges will have problem at all scolding you because you lied about the guest count and are now breaking the rules. They may ask any extra guests there to leave. Others may simply turn a blind eye.

There’s no way of knowing. But if you’re someone for whom being rebuked may spoil your day and set a sour tone (and you wouldn’t want to lie to the judge about how many guests you have when asked during check-in), this probably isn’t something for you to try.

I definitely recommend sticking 100% to the rules – after all, they are there for everybody’s enjoyment, not just yours. 

Yet another option is: you can always have more guests around, but not actually be attending the ceremony. It’s only 3 – 4 minutes and you can get photos and celebrate with them afterwards. 

How much does the civil wedding ceremony cost?

$93 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. There are more fees you’ll have to pay. More information about the license cost is in the relevant section below.

How long does the civil wedding ceremony last at City Hall?

The civil wedding ceremony at San Francisco City hall lasts about 4 minutes. It may be less if you choose not to exchange rings. 

These are the exact vows you’ll be saying:

READ MORE  San Francisco City Hall wedding vows

Some judges (justices of the peace) allow some customization such as whether you want to be called ‘husband’, ‘wife’ or ‘spouses’ etc.  But there is generally no customization permitted for civil ceremonies. 

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 currently just two couples scheduled for each half-hour slot, so the actual ceremony time will be somewhat later than your booked appointment time. Usually about 20 – 30 minutes later.

Marriage: Civil Ceremony information from the Office of the County Clerk

Please note: Vow renewals are not performed at San Francisco City Hall. However, you could always do your own thing there, as it is a public building with free access to everyone.

READ MORE  How to have a private ceremony at SF City Hall without renting a space
couple getting married at San Francisco City Hall Mayor's Balcony
A wedding ceremony taking place on the Mayor’s Balcony of San Francisco City Hall | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Private Area Rental during regular opening hours

Private rentals are when you rent out a designated area for your wedding to take place. Your area is cordoned off with velvet rope, but the building is open as usual. Food and drink service is not permitted.

You have three options as regards areas to choose:

  1. The Mayor’s Balcony
  2. 4th Floor North Gallery
  3. 4th Floor South Gallery

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.

City Hall requires a minimum of three weeks advance notice for scheduling One-hour and Two-hour weddings, and a minimum of four weeks advance notice for scheduling evening and weekend events.

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.”

4th Floor San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony
A private wedding ceremony taking place on the 4th Floor of San Francisco City Hall | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Cost of private area rental cost

The price tag for a private, 1-hour area rental at San Francisco City Hall is currently $1,000.

Duration of booking for private ceremony

You have your space for 1 hour. Remember, 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. For the private area rental, you don’t need to check in at the County Clerk’s office first.

Maximum number of guests permitted for private wedding ceremony

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.

READ MORE  Mayor’s Balcony Wedding – San Francisco City Hall 

San Francisco City Hall Events Page – One Hour Weddings

couple during their San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony
Though this couple didn’t book a one-hour rental for the wedding ceremony, they had their friend officiate a guerilla-style ceremony on the 4th Floor North Gallery | | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Guerilla wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall

There is one more option that presents itself. It’s a guerilla-style ceremony, anywhere you like. I’ve written in more detail about it the post below.

READ MORE  How to have a private ceremony at SF City Hall without renting a space

The total cost would be your marriage license plus the cost of getting a friend deputized as Deputy Marriage Commissioner For A Day. That cost is currently $149 as of the last revision.  As the City does not control the content of marriage ceremonies performed by DMCFODs, your ceremony can be whatever you want!

As for guest count, my advice is to keep it small and seek guidance from City Hall or from your photographer. Read more from City Hall’s info on exactly this: Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a Day – From the Office of the County Clerk

Information about how to plan your wedding at san francisco city hall
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. | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Weekend weddings at San Francisco City Hall

A weekend wedding is known as a full buyout. If you like the idea of having the whole building to yourself in the beautiful morning light, you can choose the 2-hour package that’s available on Saturday mornings/ early afternoons. 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). You can find out more about how to book your full buyout wedding, and what to expect, on this in-depth article linked below.

READ MORE  San Francisco City Hall full buyout Saturday wedding

A full buyout at San Francisco City Hall on a Saturday starts at $5,000. The package is for 2 hours, inclusive of load-in and load-out. The rental can begin at 9am or 12pm. There may be some leeway with the exact starting time.

A guest count of up to 200 is included in the price. However, you can exceed 200 guests for a fee-per-guest.

San Francisco City Hall Events Page – Two Hour Weddings 

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.

Due to the bespoke nature of these types of ceremonies, be aware that extra charges are levied. This in addition to the actual rental rates. 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.

City Hall Wedding Rental Rates

City Hall Wedding Fees and Expenses

Guide to how to get married at San Francisco City Hall
Entering the County Clerk’s office otherwise known as room 168 of San Francisco City Hall. Here the bride fills out the souvenir marriage license. Official licenses are sent by mail about 10 days later. Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

The two types of appointments you’ll need for your civil ceremony

Yes, you do have to have an appointment. In fact, you must make two separate appointments. One for the license which is valid for up to 90 days from the date of issue. 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.

The only exception is Valentine’s Day and during Pride Month, where City Hall does something a little special.

READ MORE  Valentine's Day wedding ceremonies at San Francisco City Hall
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How to book your ceremony appointment at San Francisco City Hall

To book your ceremony appointment, go to:

Marriage License and Civil/Commitment Ceremony – Online Reservations (Office of the County Clerk)

You’ll have to enter your full name, phone number, email address and your partner’s full name.

screenshot showing the booking process at San Francisco City Hall wedding - online reservation system | Zoe Larkin Photography

From there, you’ll see this screen showing City Hall’s booking calendar.

the process of booking your San Francisco City Hall civil ceremony appointment and using the online ceremony booking system | Zoe Larkin Photography

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.

screenshot showing ceremony booked confirmation on san francisco city hall online reservation booking system for civil wedding ceremony | Zoe Larkin Photography
Guide to planning a wedding at san francisco city hall
Waiting to be called into room 168 at San Francisco City Hall, having received their ‘B’ number | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

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, no photography is permitted during license pick-up. Your photographer will have to wait outside! Another reason to get your license before the photographer rocks up.

Cost of obtaining 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.

The guide to getting married at San Francisco City Hall
This groom realized he forgot the rings (middle picture!) As they were eloping, they simply had an impromptu ring exchange at their beautiful hotel afterward. | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Planning guidelines from 90 days out through day-of

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. For the 2-hour rentals, allow 18 months if you have a particular date in mind.
  • If you’re considering hiring a wedding planner, now is the time to start reaching out to avoid disappointment. Yes, even small weddings can benefit from a planner’s services.
READ MORE  11 reasons why even a small wedding needs a wedding planner

90 days out

READ MORE  10 tips for choosing your wedding photographer

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
READ MORE  10 San Francisco portrait locations close to City Hall

Day of

  • 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.

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What happens on your San Francisco City Hall wedding day

Arrival at City Hall & check-in

Enter the building through the Polk side, the front. Otherwise known as Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Place.

If you have backpacks or a camera bag with you, you’ll need to enter through the Grove loading bay entrance. There you’ll find an airport-style scanner, gate and a friendly security guard.

When you check in, you present yourselves to the main Information desk straight ahead in room 168 (County Clerk’s office) on the north side of City Hall. 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.

Keep an eye on the screen in the corridor for your number. You’ll meet with the judge that’ll marry you. This time go to the desk on the left. The judge will give you instructions for filling out and signing the paperwork. Your witness must accompany you this second time. Deputy Marriage Commissioners split their time between checking 3 couples in and then officiating weddings. You’ll wait for them at the ceremony location, then they’ll call you over.

Tip: Ask the judge whether you can say ‘I do’ in a different spot than the rotunda. Sure, the rotunda is iconic but the prettiest spot is the more private 4th Floor North Gallery. The South Gallery is also great but the light isn’t quite as great (still awesome!)

Appointing a witness for your wedding

For the regular civil ceremony, you need one witness and can have two if you like. The judges at City Hall get 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, so to minimize this, one witness is easiest.

Photographers are honored to act as a witness to your marriage and don’t charge an extra fee for this.

During the wedding ceremony

The judge will call you up by name so make sure you’re within earshot of the ceremony location. The ceremony is very short and simple. You cannot exchange personal vows. I have a separate post linked below on the exact vows you’ll be reciting at your Civil Ceremony at San Francisco City Hall:

READ MORE  San Francisco City Hall wedding vows

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. So, their back should be to the Grand Staircase.

Tip: 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. Don’t forget to kiss at the end to seal the deal!

READ MORE  14 San Francisco City Hall day-of wedding tips for awesome pics!
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Posed family formal portraits

After the hugs of congratulations is a good time to do formal, posed family pictures. This normally takes around 20-30 minutes depending how many groupings you’d like. I’d recommend a maximum of 6 groupings.

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4th floor family formal portraits at San Francisco City Hall - how to get married in this monumental building
After the rotunda ceremony, we found a favorite spot on the 4th floor and took some family formal photos. | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Couples’ photos of the newlyweds!

After that, your photographer will guide you around the building. Photographers know the best spots to take photos, but you can always suggest particular spots you like. Then you’ll run around your preferred San Francisco portrait location for kickass photos.

READ MORE  Best engagement photo locations in San Francisco

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.

READ MORE  10 San Francisco portrait locations close to City Hall
Getting married at San Francisco City Hall - How to plan your wedding ceremony
The back of San Francisco City Hall (Van Ness side) has perfect light for morning wedding ceremonies. The earlier, the better! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

There is plenty more to say about your timeline for your San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony. So much so that I created an in-depth article runs through a suggested timeline. Whatever time of day your ceremony is, and whichever photographer you choose, this resource will help you plan! Hit the link below to read more.

READ MORE  How to create the perfect timeline for San Francisco City Hall wedding

Coverage of other events

Whether you would like getting-ready coverage in a nearby hotel or a meal you’re having afterward, it’s recommended to get photos of more than just the time spent in the City Hall building itself. This will make for a fuller and more varied finished gallery. Though City Hall is beautiful, it is limited in terms of what you can capture.

There’s no private area to get ready, no eating, drinking or ‘cheersing’, nothing to decorate or personalize, and you’re sharing with many other marriers. It can feel quite rushed for the City Hall portion. Another location with other events being covered can allow for a more relaxed pace.

If you’re wondering how to get around San Francisco from place to place, I got you! I have a separate post with my 10 top modes of transportation specifically for City Hall wedding couples.

READ MORE  10 transportation ideas for San Francisco City Hall weddings

What to bring with you

The couple must bring:

  • Valid, government-issued photo identification. 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 needed 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)

how to get married at San Francisco City Hall - a complete planning guide for a perfect wedding!
A sweet, fun-loving couple enjoying their time at San Francisco City Hall | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

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 so you can have the Grand Staircase to yourselves. By 8.30 am there are quite a few  folks around.

If you book the last appointment of the day, that can also be a wise choice. Although the lighting is not as beautiful and natural as the morning, City Hall will have emptied out.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the quietest days. Fridays are the busiest days, particularly Friday afternoons. On Thursdays, the weekend rush starts to pick up. Mondays can also be fairly busy as couples want to tie their wedding in with the weekend.

Too many people around can cause delays. You may wait longer for your ceremony to begin, or have to wait your turn for photos in the iconic locations. 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.

comprehensive guide - plan your San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony
A late afternoon wedding couple at San Francisco City Hall | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

What you should let your guests know in advance

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
  • Don’t bring any banned items! 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.
  • Bring a folding seat if they are older or cannot stand for long

How to find the vendors you need for your City Hall wedding

A Google search normally uncovers some great options for your wedding vendors. However, for more personalized recommendations, read on!

Once you’ve found an experienced photographer, they can connect you with other City Hall vendors. They can draw from their wide pool of vendors at every style, budget and level of experience.

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What to wear to your City Hall wedding? There are so many options for wedding attire these days, and with a City Hall wedding like these San Francisco City Hall ones, you can take your pick between traditional and contemporary, formal or relaxed, colorful or plain. If you're looking for inspiration for what to wear to your civil ceremony, take a peek at some of these gorgeous wedding ideas from previous City Hall clients! #cityhallwedding | Zoe Larkin Photography
Ideas and inspiration from past clients – what will you wear to your City Hall wedding? | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

What to wear to your San Francisco City Hall wedding

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 opt for a suit that shows their unique style, but you can choose how traditional or contemporary you want to go. There’s no dress code for weddings at San Francisco City Hall. Make sure your outfits are comfortable – and not too casual. Nothing will ruin your day more than wearing an outfit you’re constantly tugging at. Unlike a regular wedding, you won’t be sitting down at all. Comfortable footwear is a must 😉

planning your San Francisco City Hall wedding by Zoe Larkin Photography
A tasteful and modern bouquet is one of the few ways you can personalize your City Hall wedding experience and photos. Florals add a touch of magic. | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

The right accessories can also elevate your style and personalize the experience. Florals are, for me, an absolute must. Get the best floral designer you can afford! If your budget won’t stretch too far, I recommend mail-order bouquets you assemble yourself. You can also buy silk flowers that photograph beautifully and double up as home decor and a wedding souvenir.

If you’re more of a DIY bride, you might want to DIY your bouquet from scratch! There are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube if you’re feeling crafty.

Be aware of the difference between just a bunch of flowers and a bouquet. I do sometimes see couples with a big bunch of flowers that are not tied with ribbon. Though it can seem very similar, it’s by no means the same.

how to plan your wedding at San Francisco City Hall - zoe larkin photography
Unexpected events happen all the time at City Hall! Occasionally, entire areas may be out of commission. | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Some common issues to be aware of

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:

  • Protests
  • Press conferences
  • Maintenance work
  • Busloads of tourists
  • School visits
  • Gala event set-up
  • Motion picture filming
  • & many others!
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The trick is to roll with it! Revel in the joy, the shared experience, and uniqueness of your wedding at San Francisco City Hall. An experienced photographer will be able to either shoot around stuff that’s going on, or incorporate the realness into the pictures. My couples tend to be attracted to the whimsy and the serendipity of this unique and sometimes unpredictable wedding experience.

I’ve never seen a wedding not take place due to issues in the building, but sometimes desired photo areas or ceremony locations are not available.

With a flexible and realistic attitude, you’ll have a great experience marrying at SF City Hall!

How to get married at San Francisco City Hall - Planning guide
Protests are a pretty common occurrence at San Francisco City Hall | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

More 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. Looking for a San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer? Click my face to find out more about my photography services! I hope my guide has helped you plan your San Francisco City Hall wedding.

Pin this graphic below to your San Francisco City Hall Pinterest board!

Getting married at San Francisco City Hall? Our expert guide explains how to plan your SF City Hall wedding, from understanding the booking process through what to expect day of. Packed with helpful tips, you'll plan the City Hall wedding of your dreams. Whether you're eloping or having a 100-guest ceremony, our guide is the best and most comprehensive San Francisco City Hall planning resource - and it's free. #sanfrancisco #cityhallwedding #sanfranciscocityhall | Zoe Larkin Photography
How to get married at San Francisco City Hall – Zoe Larkin Photography

Questions, comments? Please leave them in the comments below 👇🏾 so other people who want to learn about this topic can benefit too. Thank you!

How to get married at San Francisco City Hall - Official Guide by Zoe Larkin Photography

How to get married at San Francisco City Hall – 2021 guide

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  1. Jessa K. says:

    Hi! My fiancé and I just booked our wedding date here for next year for the 1 hour ceremony. Do we need to have an appointment to turn the contract in? Or can we just mail the contract with the deposit to have it officially booked?

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Hello Jessa, thanks for the question. This isn’t part of the process that I have any insight into as a photographer, I’m afraid. From what I have heard in passing from clients, I think it’s more likely you would mail it in, as couples book weddings there from far and wide. I would advise you call and check with them. Thanks again. Zoe

  2. Anna says:

    Hi Zoe, thanks for providing all this great info! My fiancé and I booked getting our marriage license at the end of august at 1:30pm but unfortunately could not get an appointment for the civil ceremonies which are all completely booked out. I saw the section for guerrilla weddings which would be our only option and wanted to ask if an
    ordained minister can perform this or if it had to be the deputy minister for the day that you mentioned in your article. Additionally could this take place in any open space at city hall and at any time (adhering to when city hall is open of course). Also wanted to get your pricing since you have experience photographing city hall ceremonies.

  3. David Goodin says:

    Hi Zoe! I found this blog extremely helpful. My fiancé and I are planning on scheduling our civil marriage ceremony for 12/4/21. What I’m not 100% clear on is how long in advance we need to schedule our Marriage License appointment. Do we receive the Marriage License the same day as the appointment? Can we schedule the Marriage License appointment the same week as our Civil Ceremony Appointment? Any info you have on this would be hugely appreciated. Thanks!

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