Nice choice! You’ve chosen one of the most beautiful historic buildings in San Francisco to get married in. I’ve had the pleasure of photographing many couples at SF City Hall and love how the wedding experience there can be simple and intimate. Here are a few planning tips for your San Francisco City Hall ceremony that I hope you’ll find helpful in addition to the city’s official instructions.
How do I make an appointment for a ceremony at City Hall?
For an intimate weekday ceremony or elopement, you will be making 2 appointment reservations: one for your marriage license and one for your ceremony. The marriage license fee is $108 and the ceremony fee is $81 (as of 2/2017).
Both appointments will be at San Francisco City Hall (1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Place) at the County Clerk’s office (room 168, 1st floor). You may schedule your license appointment on a date prior to your ceremony (recommended) or schedule it for the same day. If you go the latter route, schedule your license at least an hour prior to your ceremony.
Reservations for both an be made 90 days in advance online or in-person. If you are hoping for a specific day, I recommend reserving as soon as possible to secure the date.
What you’ll need for your ceremony: photo IDs (non US citizens can use passports), marriage license and a witness (or two if you like). And yes, for those eloping, I’d be happy to sign as your witness! You can also bring rings to exchange during the ceremony.
For those inviting guests, you can opt for a private ceremony and reserve a wing on the Fourth floor or the Mayor’s Balcony for a fee of $1000. If you’re interested in customizing your ceremony at SF City Hall, you can have a friend or family member officiate. They’ll need to be appointed as a deputy marriage commissioner for a day.
When is the best time for a ceremony?
Ceremonies are held Monday-Friday, 9:30am – 3:30pm, every half hour. Midday appointments on Friday are the most popular and City Hall is brimming with activity and celebratory energy. Monday through Wednesday is generally chiller, especially in the mornings. Choosing a quieter day and time can make the experience more relaxed and is helpful for photos. During darker winter months, I recommend ceremony appointments before 2pm so we can take advantage of natural light for portraits.
What should I expect for the ceremony?
After checking in at your appointed time, logistics typically take 15-30 minutes. You’ll meet your deputy marriage commissioner, who will guide you through some paperwork (this is where the witness comes in). We’ll then head to the rotunda at the top of the staircase, where the short and sweet ceremony takes place.
How many guests can I invite?
The official policy is up to 6 guests but the building is a public space and guests will not be turned away. If you would like to invite a larger crowd and offer seating, you can reserve a balcony with chair rentals (see City Hall’s booking packages here).
The easiest way to get there is by car service (i.e. taxi, Lyft). You can also take public transit, with the nearest BART station being Civic Center. If you’re driving, parking is across the street at Civic Center Garage, and the next closest parking is University of CA Hastings Garage.
What are some good nearby reception spots?
These are some favorite restaurants within walking distance of SF City Hall.
Tips for photos
Here are some things to keep in mind when considering the amount of coverage that will work best for you. 90 minutes is the minimum I offer which covers ceremony check-in, ceremony, group photos and some couples portraits. Two hours is the most popular package and will allow for a more relaxed portrait session around and outside the building. If you prefer, we can also take portraits before the ceremony. If you’d like photos at another SF location (additional portraits or beginning of a reception), the 3 hour package is your best bet. I have plenty of suggestions for locations outside City Hall!
I highly recommend an unplugged ceremony so I can capture the mood without screens in front of faces. Let your guests know your request and that they can take as many photos as they’d like the rest of the day.
Try to bring as little as possible with you. While we walk around I can hold on to your valuables, so we can take pictures more freely. I’m happy to give you a little tour of City Hall and show you my favorite spots.
After group photos, your guests can proceed to the reception or hang out at the 1st floor cafe while we continue with portraits.
Dogs are not allowed in City Hall, but I’m happy to take photos with your pup outside on the steps or in the plaza.