Getting married at San Francisco City Hall is exciting. Whether you have a whole wedding day at city hall or just a simple ceremony, the opportunity for awesomeness is unlimited, both for you and your guests. In this article, we put together a guideline of how to get married at San Francisco City Hall, what photo ops can you expect and answer some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve had.
Let’s talk about the process of a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall
First of all, there are two separate appointments you need to make: “marriage license appointment” and “civil ceremony appointment”. You can get your license anytime 90 days before your wedding day, but we recommend our couples to get it the same day as your ceremony or the day before. If you want to get your marriage license the same day, it is recommended that you make the license appointment at least 1 hour before the ceremony appointment to give you plenty of time. You can look at San Francisco City Hall official website for the most up-to-date requirement, as well as the fee for license and ceremony.
Because it is easier to get the marriage license appointment than wedding ceremony appointment, I recommend that you book your wedding ceremony first and then go back and book your license appointment.
Second, there are 3 types of ceremony at San Francisco City Hall for you to choose from:
1/ Public civil ceremony
This is the most affordable option. Your ceremony will be conducted by a San Francisco City Hall wedding commissioner, usually at Rotunda area. The whole thing will take about 5 ~ 10 minutes and you are only allowed to have 6 guests (although, I have seen people bring more without being turned away). Because of the time limit, you will not be able to exchange vow. However, you can exchange rings while repeating the vow that the commissioner says. One thing I have found that at the end, he/she usually will not tell you to kiss, so be ready to take it upon yourselves or to tell him/her in advance!
2/ Private ceremony
This costs more than the public civil ceremony. However, you are allowed to have up to 100 guests. The location is more (not completely) private than the first option. You can choose either the 4th Floor Gallery (North or South. North is preferred because the light is much more flattering) or the Mayor’s Balcony. Instead of a 10-minute block, you have the space for one hour. You can also bring your own officiant to personalize your ceremony process however you wanted.
*The wedding ceremony above was held privately on the Mayor’s Balcony, and the reception was taken on the same day at their family’s ranch. Check out their SF City Hall wedding preview.
3/ Reserving the entire SF City Hall on the weekend
This is an option if you want to make SF City Hall your wedding venue for the evening. This option costs most among the three, but you have the entire SF City Hall for your wedding day. If you go this route, you can make the reservation many months in advance, just as you would with any other wedding venues. Keep in mind that because SF City Hall is a government building, many legal requirements are imposed on your wedding vendors – especially proof of liability insurance.
If you go with the first two options, here are the photography structure that I find work best for most weddings.
Before the ceremony, you can take photos around the city hall just for two of you. The outside of city hall can significantly change during the year. Sometimes, they have different types of public art right in front. Personally, I think this is a perfect way to tell your wedding’s story: time & uniqueness. The inside of the city hall can look the same all year round. So it’s hard to remember when your wedding was with the inside photos.
After the ceremony is finished, you should do family/friend’s photos right away when they are still there. Also, you shouldn’t plan this before the ceremony because some of them might be late. The best place for family photos is on the 4th floor (North is better if it is not occupied by another ceremony). This area is pretty roomy and bright for big groups.
After the family/friend’s photos are done, it’s time for your own photos. Don’t be afraid that the light is not good, even at noon. Due to SF City Hall’s special structure, there is plenty of light for gorgeous portraits. I recommend you start from the 4th floor. Then take some photos at the staircase before going down to the 3rd floor. At the 3rd floor, you can do some photos at the window. After that, one or two shots inside the elevator can be really nice before going down to 2nd floor. Then you can finish everything at the iconic grand staircase. Here are some ideas for your photos:
SF City Hall Ceremony FAQs
We are interested in going to another location after the ceremony. What are your recommendations?
Some of our favorite locations in San Francisco include Legion of Honor, Land’s End, Crissy Field, Golden Gate Park, and The Presidio. We can help you decide on the location for you depending on what type of setting and feel you would like for your images.
What is the best day and time to get married at SF City Hall?
The least busy days are mid-week. Fridays are typically much more crowded than the rest of the week with other couples and tourists. The least crowded times in SF City Hall are in the early morning and the late afternoon. Also, either option has better outdoor lighting if you plan to do outdoor portrait before or after the ceremony.
Do we need to hire an officiant for our ceremony?
If you book the public ceremony at the Rotunda, the city hall will provide you with a judge. If you reserve a private ceremony, you can have your own officiant or get theirs.
Can we write our own vows?
As I said earlier, with the public ceremony, because of the time limit, it’s hard to do your own vows, rather than the officiant’s standard vow. However, officiants all have their own distinct style and some are more flexible than others in allowing personalization of vows. Just ask!
How much time should we book the photographer for the ceremony?
With the public and private ceremony, I find that 3-hour photography coverage is most suitable. It is not too long or short to get plenty of photos done.
When should we reserve you for our ceremony?
Most of our couples book us months before their ceremony. Although they don’t have their date officially reserved with City Hall yet, we have never had a client not get the date they were trying for.
How much would it cost to book you for our SF City Hall ceremony?
It depends on the coverage. You can look at our SF City Hall wedding package for more info.