Getting married at San Francisco City Hall? This expert-written 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 just the two of you, or having a larger private ceremony, our guide is the best, most comprehensive San Francisco City Hall planning resource – and it’s free!

I’ll equip you with the grounding you’ll need to understand more what lies ahead. Sure, a City Hall wedding is super easy and convenient, but sometimes a little insider knowledge can go a long way.

There’s also a handy graphic that will guide you through what needs to be done and when, as you approach your wedding day at SF City Hall. 

As there is so much to share with you! I also link throughout this piece to other dedicated articles I’ve written with more information about many subtopics. Feel free to click around as you read through. Let’s dive in! 

Date of last update: February 14, 2022

Civil Ceremony 

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

A civil ceremony (or ‘Civil/ Commitment Ceremony’) is the simplest, most cost-effective way to go. The vast majority of couples go this route. 

The ceremony is short – about 3 – 4 minutes, with a check-in process immediately prior that takes up to 30 minutes. 

You can make an appointment for your Civil Ceremony within 90 days of the wedding date. 

Officially, only 6 guests are permitted to attend your San Francisco City Hall Civil Ceremony. This limit includes any children in your group, plus photographers and videographers. It’s recommended not to exceed this number.

An officiant (known as ‘Deputy Marriage Commissioner’ is provided by the City. Civil ceremonies usually take place in the area at the top of the Grand Staircase known as the Rotunda. However, your officiant will have the final say. 

During Pride Month (June) and on Valentine’s Day, couples are permitted to choose where in City Hall they’d like to get married. 

No personalization of vows is possible with the Civil Ceremony. You might decide to carve out your own area within City Hall for a personal vow-sharing moment. These are the official vows you’ll recite.

If you would like tips on how to make your Civil Ceremony more special, check out my tips listed below.

READ MORE  How to make your SF City Hall ceremony extra special

The cost of the Civil Ceremony is very low – about $200, including both the ceremony and marriage license. 

 👉🏾 Book your appointment with City Hall for your ceremony.

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

Private area rental

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

A one-hour private area rental gives you more privacy, customization options, higher guest count (with optional seating) and less waiting around. 

You can choose from one of three different areas:

  1. The Mayor’s Balcony
  2. 4th Floor North Gallery
  3. 4th Floor South Gallery
READ MORE  Mayor’s Balcony Weddings – San Francisco City Hall 
READ MORE  Your 2022 guide to 4th Floor Wedding Ceremonies at San Francisco City Hall

You can design your ceremony to resemble a more conventional wedding if you wish, such as with wedding vows, readings, acoustic musicians and more. 

You will provide your own officiant for private ceremonies (recommended). Food and drink service is not permitted.

The Mayor’s Balcony seats 40. The 4th Floor Galleries (which are identical mirror images) seat 60. They both have standing room options. 

To book your private area rental, you’ll need to give a minimum of three weeks’ notice. If you’d like to book it far in advance, you can up to a maximum of 24 months. 

Usually, 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 final payment must be made within 5 days of the reservation date.

For up-to-date pricing, please click the link below. At the time of editing, the cost is $1,000.

👉🏾 San Francisco City Hall Events Page – One Hour Weddings

Full buyout

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

You can have the whole of San Francisco City Hall to yourself. There are 2 two-hour rental options on Saturdays, usually starting at either 9am or 12pm.

You’ll exchange your vows on the platform of the majestic Grand Staircase. Guests will be seated on the 1st Floor (ground level). 

READ MORE  San Francisco City Hall full buyout Saturday wedding

As a nice additional touch, you could also host a champagne reception as part of your rental, for an additional fee. 

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

The cost as of the time of editing is $5,000 as the base package, though there will be more costs associated with this. 

👉🏾 San Francisco City Hall Events Page – Two Hour Weddings 

Obtaining your marriage license 

To get married at City Hall, first you’ll need your marriage license. This can be obtained from any county in California and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue. 

For all Bay Area counties, an appointment is necessary for the marriage license appointment. 

Slots are more limited for ceremonies than licenses, so it’s recommended to book the ceremony first, then the license appointment.

It’s recommended to make your marriage license appointment for a different date before your wedding day. It can run late and generally isn’t something you want to be dealing with on your wedding day. 

If you have to pick it up on the wedding day, be sure to make your appointment for a minimum of 2 hours before your booked ceremony time if possible. 

License costs vary across counties, with San Francisco being the highest in California. 

Planning guidance 

I’ve created a handy infographic below showing when you should do each of the typical wedding planning activities associated with a City Hall wedding. 

Be sure to save this timeline planning guide!
READ MORE  16 San Francisco City Hall day-of wedding tips for awesome pics!

What you can expect at your Civil Ceremony 

Check in at room 168 with just your witness. The staff will guide you through where you need to be. You’ll take a numbered ticket and wait your turn to meet the Deputy Marriage Commissioner that will marry you. 

Soon after, your ceremony will begin. The rotunda is the usual place for Civil Ceremonies. 

After the hugs of congratulations, I suggest doing your formal group photos. Guidance on how to compile this list is here. This normally takes around 20 minutes if you keep to the recommended maximum of 6 groupings. The 4th Floor is the best place for this if available. 

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 are drawn to. 

I do recommend making time to get at least a handful of photos outdoors, even if it’s just right outside City Hall. Nothing beats the flattering and magical quality of natural light. 

You can also choose to travel to an external location, and/ or have subsequent reception events partially covered. 

Here’s a list of my favorite restaurants to have your reception at post-City Hall.

There is plenty more to say about the exact timeline for your San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony. So much so that I created this in-depth guide.

READ MORE  How to create the perfect timeline for San Francisco City Hall wedding
Exactly how to get the most of your wedding day at san francisco city hall
The 4th floor is the best for formal group photos. | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

What you can expect at your Private Ceremony 

For Private Ceremonies, you have more control over when you get started. Rented areas are usually ready a while before the rental time begins, so guests can arrive early and be seated and ready to begin at the rental time. 

Like for Civil Ceremonies, you can choose whether you front-load your time at City Hall and start with the couples’ session, or have this after you’ve said ‘I do’. 

A slight difference is that you’ll be completing your paperwork after your ceremony. This process is led by your officiant – they’ll let you know what you and your witness will need to sign. 

The best time to get married at San Francisco City Hall

The best time is as early in the day as possible. The building is only relatively empty between 8am – 8.15am every morning. City Hall fills up as the day goes on, and then starts to empty out again after 3.30 when the final ceremonies are taking place. During the winter months, the quality of light is darker by this time. 

As the first possible ceremony is at 9am, it makes a lot of sense to start your photos before the ceremony and front-load your timeline. 

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the quietest days of the week. Fridays are by far the busiest. 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.

Surprisingly, December is one of the busiest months at City Hall. Summer months are also understandably sought-after!

Where to next?

It doesn’t stop here – there is plenty more to dive into!

👉🏾 Comprehensive list of FAQs here

👉🏾 All of my City Hall informative blog posts

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 larger private ceremony, our guide is the best, most comprehensive San Francisco City Hall planning resource - for free. #sanfranciscocityhallwedding #sanfranciscocityhall | Zoe Larkin Photo
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 how to get married at City Hall can benefit too. Thank you!

Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! My style is candid, capturing authentic moments for my couples all over the Bay Area and Northern California. Creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog and Insta!

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

How to get married at San Francisco City Hall – 2022 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!

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Hi David, I’m so sorry my reply is coming in so shamefully late – it’s been the craziest wedding season in history, and I haven’t had a chance to breathe since before May! I know it’ll be too late for you, for which I apologize – but hoping this may help others who have the same question.

      You can schedule the marriage license anytime up to 90 days before the wedding date. It can be picked up from any county in California.

      Scheduling it for the same day as the wedding is not recommended. If it has to be the same day (for example if you’re from out of state and flying in very close to the wedding date) it’s recommended to schedule your appointment for at least 2 hours before your ceremony time.

      City Hall will allow you to schedule for 30 minutes out, but this is a recipe for HUGE stress, as appointments frequently run 30 – 60 minutes late, and you need to check in for your Civil Ceremony 15 minutes before the booked time, anyway.

      Hope this helps someone out there!

  4. Celia Y. says:

    This is the exact information I’ve been looking for!! Thank you for all the details. Would you say the rules of 6 guests will still be relaxed in 2022? I’m itching on 7 guest and crossing my fingers it’ll be possible.

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Hi Celia! I’ve an article coming out soon about City Hall news and updates post-pandemic. It’s here: https://zoelarkin.com/sf-city-hall-pandemic-wedding-updates/

      City Hall is now strictly enforcing the 6-guest rule with immediate effect.

  5. Herzog Date says:

    Thanks for sharing! its a very informative. I appreciate this website.

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thank you so much! Glad it’s been helpful. I look forward to hearing from you soon via my contact page!

  6. Kristen says:

    Hi Zoe,

    Your page is extremely helpful. I just wanted to clarify the guest count. You said 6 guests, but that is in addition to the bride and groom, is that correct? So a total of 8 people with bride, groom, photographer, and guests?

    Thanks!
    Kristen

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      It’s technically 6 people total. This article however goes into more of the nuance of how it actually works and what I’m allowed to say publicly: https://zoelarkin.com/sf-city-hall-pandemic-wedding-updates/

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