Today I want to let you in on a little San Francisco City Hall inside knowledge on Valentine’s Day wedding ceremonies. City Hall doesn’t always publicize their special set-up for Valentine’s Day, so I’m letting you in on all the goss!
2020 was the 4th year that SF City Hall has instated the tradition, and by all accounts, looks set to continue.
As it can be hard for couples to find out about this service, I recommend if possible paying a visit directly to San Francisco City Hall to make absolutely sure it’s taking place. I have tried to call them to confirm on behalf of a client, but had no luck until I made it there in person.
A special day calls for a special City Hall set up!
Valentine’s Day is a very special day at San Francisco City Hall. In 2020, when Valentine’s Day fell on a Friday, they estimated that 130 couples would tie the knot. On a normal Friday that number would be around 60 couples at the most.
So how do they accommodate such a large number of marriers? Well, they open up an area of the building that’s normally not used for ceremonies. Regular civil ceremonies take place in one of two locations, as you may know. The rotunda or the private ceremony room next to room 168. If you’re unsure of the regular City Hall wedding options, check out the link below:
On Valentine’s Day, San Francisco City Hall opens up one of its large receptions rooms called the North Light Court and invites walk-ins. The entire room becomes a wedding conveyor belt. If that sounds a little odd and impersonalized, don’t worry, it’s not! I’ll take you through what to expect, and the various options you have, too.
What is the special set up exactly?
The room is laid out with a couple of different ceremony backdrops in two locations close to each other. One is a novelty tinsel heart, the other is a floral ceremony arch.
On the far side of the room, you’ll see the check in counter. This is pretty different from the regular check-in desk which is located in room 168. You’ll see many staff members checking in couples and taking them through the paperwork requirements. It’s all hands on deck!
Speaking of which, instead of the usual one or two Deputy Marriage Commissioners (wedding officiants), you’ll see half a dozen or more!
Folks will line up, check in and then be dispatched to the next available officiant. The wait times are not usually that long due to just how many officiants are on duty!
What are the other ceremony location options on Valentine’s Day?
A lovely thing about Valentine’s Day weddings at San Francisco City Hall is that you can choose where you’d like to have your ceremony! You know how I mentioned the North Light Court is specially decorated and set up to accommodate an increased volume of marriers?
Well, that’s not your only option! You also have a choice of – get this – potentially anywhere in the building!
As with everything at City Hall, it is 100% up to your Deputy Marriage Commissioner’s discretion, and their word is final. But it’s common to see couples grabbing different spots all around San Francisco City Hall.
You could ask for the Mayor’s Balcony, 4th Floor Gallery, the 2nd Floor… anywhere that takes your fancy. All you’d have to do is ask, and they’ll let you know if it’s a possibility or not.
And of course, you might just love the idea of the North Light Court with all those other couples and the cute, festive backdrops.
Are walk-ins accepted on Valentine’s Day?
Yes! Valentine’s Day is one of the only days of the year on which walk-ins are accepted. (The other time is during Pride month) That just means that you don’t already need to have a ceremony appointment or marriage license.
Other times of the year, you absolutely must have both a license appointment and a ceremony appointment. So if you want to do something spontaneous and romantic, this is the day!
Can you still book a ceremony appointment?
Though you don’t need an appointment, you’ll find that things may even quicker (less waiting around) if you do already have one.
However, at least for 2020 things were not so simple. Usually, civil ceremony slots open up automatically 90 days beforehand. I noticed that appointments were not available even when we were well inside the 90-day window.
I paid a visit to City Hall to ask them what the plan was for Valentine’s Day – this was in late December. A helpful representative there said the online calendar should open up in the early part of January for Valentine’s Day ceremonies.
However, days passed and the booking calendar didn’t open. A client informed me on Jan 23 that she was, in fact, able to make her official ceremony appointment for February 14.
So, if you don’t see the option, keep checking back and don’t be disheartened! It sounded like it was a manual process of opening up the Val Day booking calendar that took them a little while to get to.
Keep checking back on the SF City Hall booking calendar. It’ll definitely save time and will give you peace of mind. I still say planning is key, even with the unknowns surrounding Valentine’s Day ceremonies. Check out my article linked below.
Is there anything else to know about Valentine’s Day at San Francisco City Hall?
Pick a cool area in a beautiful City Hall spot
I can definitely give some tips and tricks, yes! Firstly I do suggest the option for a different location elsewhere in San Francisco City Hall. This is something I suggest for all couples, but is usually not possible for 99% of couples having a civil ceremony.
Unless you have your heart set on one of the Valentine’s backdrops in the North Light Gallery, have some fun and pick one of the areas with jaw-dropping architecture! This couple (above) went with a stunning second-floor location, suggested by their officiant. It was so pretty with gorgeous light and felt super private.
Aim to get there at 9am when things start
Another tip is to get there early. My Valentine’s Day couple booked their ceremony for 9am, and we arrived earlier than that to get photos in a largely empty City Hall. By the time we were done a couple of hours later, this was the scene next to the Grand Staircase. As you can see, it pays to be early!
Make time for photos outdoors, away from it all
Another thing I would suggest is to carve out some time for portraits away from the hustle and bustle. It can get very crowded and with all the energy it’s hard to savor the moment and take it all in. You need to take a breather to focus on each other and the momentous thing you’ve just done!
Those newlywed moments are so precious and fleeting. One of my regrets is that we never got any photos immediately after our own City Hall wedding.
You can use an area at the back or front of the building itself or head to a location close to City Hall or anywhere in San Francisco. I’ve some separate information about a couple of those options below.
There’s a fun photo booth!
A lot of people miss this! If you have a lot of guests (or just get really bored waiting for your appointment) you can pass the time in City Hall’s special photo booth. You get to take away as many copies as you like of the finished photos. It can make for a fun addition to the wedding day – plus an instant memento!
Thank you for reading! If you’ve any questions or comments, please add them in the comments below so other readers can benefit, too. Are you inspired to book a San Francisco City Hall Valentine’s wedding? Did I get anything wrong in this article?
I hope City Hall continues with the tradition! From everything I’ve read online and heard from the source, they are all set to keep up the new Valentine’s Day tradition – so long as the holiday falls on a weekday, of course.
Wondering what you should do after your special ceremony? Check out my dedicated restaurant guide below.
Looking for a photographer to shoot your San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony, whatever day of the year? Find out more about my City Hall photography services here.
Spot the Valentine’s Day unicorn when you hover over any image on this page =)