San Francisco City Hall is hands-down my favorite wedding venue ever. The building is so gorgeous, the light never ceases to be fantastic, and there’s something so sweet about sitting in the hallway outside the County Clerk’s office, watching couple after couple get ready to be married! I just can’t get enough of it. Every time I shoot a City Hall wedding, a few of the same questions keep popping up, so I wanted to put all the information in one place and create a handy guide for those getting married there.
How much does it cost to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
The marriage license itself is $99, and the civil ceremony is $75. There are also options to rent spaces for more private weddings on either the fourth floor or the Mayor’s Balcony, starting at $1,002; visit or call the Events Office at City Hall for more info (room 495, 415-554-6086).
What kind of reservations or appointments do I need to make?
You’ll need to make two appointments: one to get your marriage license and one for the ceremony. You can get your license before the ceremony date, which is recommended for private ceremonies, but not necessarily for civil ceremonies. If you get your marriage license the same day as your ceremony, I recommend setting that appointment an hour before the ceremony time. Reservations can be made up to ninety days in advance, so if you want to get married on a popular date or time (Friday afternoons are the busiest for weddings), make sure you book your appointments as soon as you can.
How do we get a marriage license?
To get a marriage license in California, you must be eighteen years old, but you do not have to be a California or United States resident or citizen (yay for international elopements!). Both parties must be present and have legal photo identification. Once you’ve made your appointment for your marriage license, you’ll pick it up from the County Clerk’s office (room 168) on the first floor.
Do we need to bring witnesses?
You only need one witness, and you can have two sign your marriage license. Your photographer can absolutely sign as your witness (it’s always an honor to be asked!). Bring your witness(es) with you to your ceremony appointment.
Where will the ceremony be?
Most civil ceremonies will be in the Rotunda, on the second floor at the top of the grand staircase. During slower times, couples have asked to have their ceremonies held up on the fourth floor or in other spots around the building. It’s up to the judge who will be marrying you (you’ll meet them when you get your marriage license), but if it’s a slow day and there aren’t any ceremonies immediately before or after yours, it’s worth a shot to ask them.
Who will marry us?
There are a number of judges and justices of the peace who rotate performing civil ceremonies. All the ones I’ve met have been lovely and wonderful; I’ve been told by a couple of judges that after days of hearing depressing court cases, performing marriage ceremonies is one of the best parts of their jobs. If you’re having a private ceremony, City Hall recommends that you use your own officiant, in case they overbook with civil ceremonies.
Is there a time limit for our ceremony?
Civil ceremonies are limited to ten-minute time slots, as there may be more couples getting married either immediately before or after you. I generally suggest taking any formal or family photos away from the ceremony spot so that everything moves quickly and efficiently. Rented spaces are available by the hour.
How many guests can we bring?
For civil ceremonies, you’re allowed six guests. However, it is a public space, so anyone can be there (which means ceremonies may be less private than you like). I’ve shot a few weddings there with way more than six guests in attendance, and so far, I’ve never seen a judge turn people away (if anything, they always invite everyone in a bit closer). Private ceremonies on the fourth floor and Mayor’s Balcony can hold up to one hundred guests.
Is there parking nearby or public transit to San Francisco City Hall?
Yes! There is a parking garage underneath the Civic Center Plaza; the entrance is on McAllister Street, between Polk (also called Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place on that block) and Larkin. City Hall is also close to the Civic Center station, where both BART and Muni stop.
What is the best day and time to get married there?
Civil ceremony reservations are available Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The best time depends on what kind of vibe you want. I’ve found Mondays through Wednesdays, especially in the mornings, are really quiet and a slower time for ceremonies, which means you may have your pick of ceremony location, and you probably won’t have as many people in the building to work around. Fridays, especially in the afternoon, are generally a very busy time for weddings, but there’s something really fun and unique about this experience; everyone is excited, the building is filled with love, and if you like watching awards shows for the dresses, Fridays at City Hall will definitely be your thing!
Do you have any other advice for couples getting married at City Hall?
I asked a few of my former City Hall couples for their advice, and here’s what they had to say:
Gwen: At City Hall you need time for the security line, time to get a lay of the land, time to gawk at the building, time to figure out where the balcony in question is, etc. Had we breezed through the office formalities and gone right up to our ceremony spot, my mother would have missed the ceremony. Basically, just make sure to let guests know that they should build in some buffer time.
Samantha: My advice for the weekday private ceremony: Don’t bring too much stuff. You only have the space for an hour and there isn’t a garbage can.
Gina: I was so stressed out about not being able to get our license for some reason: What if we forgot something important? What if they deny us for some reason? If for some reason we were denied our license, it would have ruined our already-planned-out day. I think if I could do it again, I’d have us get our marriage license beforehand so I wouldn’t have to worry about it the morning of. Also, if a couple is planning on having a lunch or dinner right after their City Hall ceremony, I would absolutely recommend choosing a place within walking distance of City Hall (I would totally recommend Absinthe for a reception). It just made things so much easier for us and our guests, especially in a city where parking can be difficult!
Editor’s Note: You guys already know that all you really need to get married are an officiant, a marriage license, and at least one witness (unless your marriage is confidential, which is a whole other story). Which may seem pretty cut and dry, but in reality the details vary state by state, and unfortunately a lot of government websites are hard to navigate when trying to plan your city hall wedding. So in the coming months, we’ll explore city hall weddings in the biggest metro areas of the United States, covering everything from logistics including costs, marriage license requirements and waiting periods, to how/where to book your marriage ceremony, and witness requirements. We’ll also discuss things like the number of guests allowed (and whether or not that’s really enforced), parking and public transit options (for those traveling to elope), and other helpful tips we find out in our research. So, if any of you have been married or are planning to get married at your city hall and want to share your wisdom (or pictures), email emily at apracticalwedding dot com and share the wealth! Or if you have any questions about the city hall wedding process, let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them for you in future posts.
Emily Gutman lives in Oakland where she runs her business as a wedding photographer and works as Advertising Manager for APW. One of Emily’s goals in life is to make everything she comes across easier and more efficient. When she’s not working, you can find her cooking, quilting and just generally being a smart-ass.