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
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.
The cost of the Civil Ceremony is very low – about $200, including both the ceremony and marriage license.
Private area rental
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:
- The Mayor’s Balcony
- 4th Floor North Gallery
- 4th Floor South Gallery
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!