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How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall


Not as easy as it looks, sometimes

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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:

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical Wedding

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.

Photos by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos. Hint: She specializes in San Francisco City Hall Weddings and has photography packages for it.

How To Get Married At San Francisco City Hall | A Practical WeddingEmily 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.

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  • Tristan Salazar

    I will add that the amount of freedom you have at SF City Hall to choose the location or have extraneous guests increases the earlier in the day and the earlier in the week. We were married first thing on a Tuesday (Monday was a holiday) and nobody blinked at the 30+ people we had in the rotunda. Later in the week and day it gets busier, things are more crowded, and moving things along becomes more of an issue.

    As a side note, there’s a bust of Harvey Milk in the rotunda, and his smiling face makes ceremonies there for LGTBQ and allied folk a little extra poignant.

    • http://emilytakesphotos.com Emily

      In some Catholic ceremonies I’ve seen brides leave their bouquets at a statue of the Virgin Mary (as an offering, not totally familiar with the ritual). Anyway, the bride in that first photo left her bouquet at the bust of Harvey Milk before they left the building.

      SO MANY FEELINGS

      • Tristan Salazar

        Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

  • Jacky

    This is great- I’m not getting married at City Hall, but the process of finding out how to get a marriage license is really intimidating. I would love to hear more about all the legal requirements of getting a marriage license in Pennsylvania, particularly a self-uniting or Quaker license.

    • scw

      And maybe something about Philadelphia city hall weddings, too!

      If you’re a resident of another state and you get married in SF is there anything you need to do in your home state (provided that your home state recognizes your marriage)? Or are you just married everywhere forever?

      p.s. I love hearing from Emily!

      • C

        You’re married everywhere! Just be sure to request a certified copy of your marriage license so you can have one on-hand in case anyone ever needs proof that you’re married.

        • SarahG

          I might be wrong about this (haven’t finished my morning caffeine) but I think if you are in a same-sex marriage and live in a state that doesn’t recognize your marriage (boo hiss), then you are still not considered married in that state — although you are considered married by the federal government. So, if you lived in Georgia and your partner was from Canada, for example, they could still emigrate to live with you in GA (federal law), but you would still pay state taxes like single people (state law) and then you would pay federal taxes like the married people you, in fact, are.

          I guess the main point is the same though — any state that recognizes your marriage doesn’t require anything additional from you.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Note that a certified copy of the marriage license might not be available immediately after the ceremony. We got married in another California county, and our license, signed by the witnesses, had to be returned to that county, processed and filed, before a certified copy was available to us.

          We could request that a certified copy be sent back to us immediately after the wedding when we applied for the license, however. (“immediately” was 2-3 weeks after the county received it) We had our officiant keep a photocopy of the completely signed license before he returned it to the county, and that photocopy was enough to get my husband on my employer-sponsored health insurance, the only thing we’ve needed our marriage license for in our first 10 months of marriage.

  • Jessica

    I love this! My fiancé and I are doing one last round of looking at wedding venues next weekend, with NYC city hall looking like our best option at the moment. Looking forward to hearing tips about NYC city hall.

    • http://www.smittenchickens.com SarahHoppes

      Hi Jessica! I shoot a lot of elopements at NYC city hall, and the process is pretty similar to what’s listed here. The license costs $35, and you need to get it a minimum of 24 hours before your ceremony. The ceremony fee is $25, and you need at least once witness (which can be your photographer.)

      Here’s more info:
      http://www.cityclerk.nyc.gov/html/marriage/license.shtml
      http://www.cityclerk.nyc.gov/html/marriage/ceremony.shtml

      • http://emilytakesphotos.com Emily

        Sarah- I’m totally going to pick your brain for the NYC post!

      • TeaforTwo

        Ontario marriage licences are $145. This is the first time I have ever, ever heard of anything being cheaper in NYC.

        • http://www.smittenchickens.com SarahHoppes

          Also, a permit for use of public areas for small weddings is $25 in NYC. Those are basically the only 3 inexpensive things I’ve ever encountered here.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    I had never heard of a confidential marriage license. Having now looked it up, how interesting!

  • ak

    I love this series! Please do Chicago!

  • Stacey

    We considered getting married by a justice of the peace – not at City Hall, and not in SF…
    But our concerns were about the civil ceremony. We are atheists and wanted to cut out any God references that might be there. So we got ahold of the standard ceremony in advance and asked if we could customize it. The clerk told us just to mark it up and hand it to the judge when he showed up – as long as it was still “short and sweet” he would follow whatever modifications we had made to his script. This was in Yellowstone County, Montana (in Billings), so it’s probably not applicable to a lot of readers. And we ended up hiring a private officiant anyway, but we found the YellCo county courthouse very helpful as we went through our process.

    All to say… ceremony customization might be a useful piece of info for the series.

  • bhoka

    Minneapolis and New York City please!

  • Claire

    Talk about practical advice! This is great.

  • Wayne Prevett

    I wish City Halls would also have the judges take photos, and provide flowers and video…Maybe the staff could jump in and help do these things! Who needs a professional? just use anyone from city hall. There is no need for professional photographers, anyone can take pictures these days. Just like the judges are “lovely” I’m sure the clerks are asl well.

    Frustrated Professional Wedding Officiant!

    • Tristan Salazar

      Amusingly enough, we got the judge at SF City Hall who *does* take photos.

      To the substance of your complaint, however… these judges are just as professional wedding officiants as you are; they do this job with both love and skill multiple times a day, several days a week, year in and year out. To resent them for that seems counterproductive.

      • Wayne Prevett

        Counter productive? They are judges, not wedding officiants, any more than they are wedding photographers or florists! I take photos several times a day on my smart phone,does that make me a professional? Or maybe apply I could apply bandages to childrens booboos all day, does that make me a doctor??

        If they would stay out the business of weddings and stick to law, I would not have a complaint! You obviously, have not had the government monopolize your employment!

        • Leslie

          Well, they *are* practicing law when they wed a couple, as entering a marriage is entering a legal contract.

        • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

          Ahhh, sarcasm. Well sir, counterpoint: they’re not monopolizing anything, just giving the people more options. People like choices!

        • meg

          Funny story: Having a judge or a clergy member officiate your wedding is, in fact, the most traditional and time honored way to have things done. Professional wedding officiants exist these days (and can be lovely), and are right for some people. But lets be for real, non-clergy non-judge officiants are the johnny come lately’s to this party.

          Also. You obviously don’t need a professional florist or a photographer at your city hall wedding, so you’re right on that part.

        • Tristan Salazar

          Wayne, I note that you are an ordained minister. I don’t really think you’re losing a tremendous amount of business to judges performing secular weddings. Those who would want a minister performing their ceremony are unlikely to be satisfied by a judge at city hall, and vice versa. I recognize that Canada has a state religion, but even the CoE accepts the validity of non-religious ceremonies.

      • http://emilytakesphotos.com Emily

        I love that guy! I’ve shot a couple weddings that he has officiated- not only is he hilarious, but his enthusiasm and love for that part of his job really comes through in his wedding ceremonies!

  • Rachel

    Hey y’all! Related: I’m starting to work on a round-up of the prettiest/coolest/most photogenic city halls and courthouses that aren’t San Francisco (something I found particularly hard to find in TX earlier this year)…if you have suggestions for hidden gems, please leave a comment here with the info! (Definitely doesn’t matter if you weren’t married there!)

    • Kate

      Santa Barbara Courthouse!!! My favorite courthouse in the world <3

    • scw

      I commented above that I’d like more information on getting married in Philadelphia city hall, but I do know that it is beautiful building with a lot of great history and a lot of hallways you can wander around.

      https://scontent-a-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc3/995899_10100807484037317_1970263153_n.jpg

      AND it has an observation deck. you can reserve a time and go up there with a small group (I think four at a time). there’s a 360 degree view of the city. it’s great!

      https://scontent-b-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/941188_10100807484671047_1233665758_n.jpg

      https://scontent-b-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/947183_10100807484396597_1844591133_n.jpg

      (these are all from my phone, but a quick search brings up a ton of beautiful weddings.)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      There’s a book with photos of all the California courthouses. Big libraries in California should have it. For a start.

      • Kate

        Going to add that to my Christmas list this very second.

    • Cleo

      The Old Courthouse in St. Louis. It’s underneath the Arch, a definitive part of the St. Louis skyline, is beautiful inside, and for you history nuts…

      Dredd Scott, a slave who was taken into free states (and so was free according to law), and then made to be a slave again, had to sue his owner for freedom. The Old Courthouse in St. Louis was the only place where Dredd Scott’s freedom was upheld. Through a series of appeals, the case went to the Supreme Court where they ruled Scott was still a slave.

      The Old Courthouse is still standing in part because of that decision. It makes me proud to be a St. Louisan.

    • Pinkrose

      Seattle

  • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

    I’m married almost 3 years, but I still had to click through to see all the pretty pictures!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’d recommend reviewing the marriage license application online before applying. Some California counties let you complete it online before picking it up.

    Here’s why: It asks for your PARENTS’ maiden names and places of birth, as well as the couples’. I don’t think they can deny the license if you put “unknown” in these spaces, but it’s probably best to just get the info if you can, rather than dealing with a county clerk who doesn’t know either, and putting a huge cog in your plans.

    My husband and in-laws are all from the USSR, so we had to give some thought as to how to describe the relevant places, as well as figuring out about patronymics/middle names and Cyric to Latin alphabets.

    • SteffanyF

      They do not deny you the license if you put “unknown” in those spaces. My husband had to put “unknown” in the father space and we still got our license, which was good, because our ceremony appointment was 30 minutes later! I was a little worried about that but it turned out to be no big thing.

  • Emily H

    A tip for Bay Area folks… the appointments for licenses fill up really fast in SF! I was in a panic at first, but you can just go to Alameda County (Oakland) or San Mateo County (Redwood City) to get yours. No appointment necessary. The fees are also lower in those counties. Marriage licenses are valid statewide, so the only thing you lose is the “cool!” of having a San Francisco marriage certificate.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Thinking way long-term: Another thing to keep in mind is that if you or a family member need to get a copy of your license, they’ll need to contact the county that issued it. This means you’ll have to remember (and your family will have to know) what county issued the license.

      I can totally see myself forgetting this detail 40 years from now, as we got our license 3 counties north of where we got married and where we live, just because that county was relatively inexpensive and I had to go there anyway for work.

    • Ann

      Getting a marriage license at 11am on a Wednesday morning in June took all of 10 minutes at the Alameda County Recorder’s office. No appointment. It took longer to get there and find parking than it did to get the license, including filling out the paperwork.

      Fun fact: my marriage license is from Alameda County, I grew up on Contra Costa, the ceremony was in Marin (just over the bridge), and the reception in San Francisco. At some point, I felt like I should hit up the other Bay Area counties for wedding related stuff. And then I remembered that gas costs way more in the Bay Area than I’m used to….

      Also funny: our officiant–who was not from CA–read “Alameda County” and said “Where the hell is that?” I believe my answer was to point across the bay.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu CarolynC

    What a great idea to gather this info together!

  • Ariel

    This post makes me want to elope so much.

  • ella

    We were originally planning on doing this but my fiancé was worried that some friends and family wouldn’t be able to make it, and he didn’t want to exclude anyone. So now we’re getting married in the East Bay on a Saturday, and I’m sure it will be beautiful and fun, but it’s definitely turning into a bigger, more “wedding-y” wedding. Looking at this post is kind of pulling at my heartstrings and I kind of wish we were still going for a City Hall ceremony, because seriously, it is such a beautiful venue.

    • Emily H

      You could still get your license there and make a date of it, or take engagement pictures there perhaps!

      • ella

        True, and we still might! It was more that I had always hoped to have a very small, intimate wedding, and if that meant some people wouldn’t be able to come I was really ok with that, as I’ve never wanted a big wedding. It is important to him to include everyone though, so ultimately we decided to go for that plan. I’m just having a little mope session right now, thinking of my tiny City Hall/Family brunch wedding that isn’t to be.

        • Emily H

          Ah, I understand. That was really hard for me too– the beginning, coming to terms with the fact that what I always wanted was not going to be a reality, so I feel you. How big will your wedding be now?

  • Maggie

    Such good information! I have been wondering for ages if they’re strict about that six person limit.

  • SteffanyF

    I definitely second getting your license ahead of time! I got married at SF city hall in March 2012 and we had our appointment arranged so that we got the license 30 minutes before the scheduled ceremony. This process, and all the WAITING that naturally comes from a government office, totally stressed me out. Plus all my relatives were waiting in the little hall outside the registrar’s office and occasionally coming up to me and asking if I’d gotten the license yet, when the ceremony was going to be, etc etc. Lost.my.mind.
    We got married at 11am on a Friday and it was definitely busy. Our half hour time slot was full, so although we were first, there were two other couples waiting to get married behind us. I actually really liked that and thought it was cool. I should have had another wedding elf to keep my relatives calm, however, so I didn’t have to deal with it. That was kind of a buzzkill.
    Oh, so, another tip! If you have lots of relatives accompanying you and you know they may have to wait around, appoint someone to keep them updated so you don’t have to!
    Other than that, I loved getting married there and I would definitely do it again.

    • SteffanyF

      Man. I sure like to say “definitely”.

  • Another Ann

    Thank you for this well-written, perfectly timed post. After having a mild anxiety attack at my brother’s wedding this weekend, it was good to sit at my desk this morning and read, “hey, you can get married without having a three-ring-circus-type wedding.”

    Thank you!

  • Nicole

    I already love this series. I’m looking at getting married next year in Southern California and finding information about city hall weddings has been more difficult than expected.

  • Meaghan

    Love this!!

    I just got married at San Francisco City Hall on 9/25/13 and my husband and I could not have been happier with our decision!!

    The building is absolutely stunning and everyone we encountered was so happy and helpful!

    I definitely recommend it to anyone considering it!

  • http://www.agirlcallederika.com Erika

    Great post! Totally makes me want to hop a flight to SF! Seriously, though, having been in five weddings in as many years and attending many more, the idea of a small, courthouse wedding is incredibly appealing. I’d love it if Pittsburgh were on your list of future, similar posts!

  • Laura

    Can anyone try to answer my question, before I try calling City Hall, and most likely not get helped with this lol. I am from Texas and I will be moving to San Francisco in May, and I will be getting married at the City Hall. Does anyone know if the ceremony EVER takes place at an office? I’m scared and would hate to get married in the judge’s office if its too busy to get married at the Rotunda. Can someone help me or answer my question? Thanks! I’m on a budget, and getting married at City Hall is the best option at this point since its so beautiful, but I would hate expecting to get married at the Rotunda and end up in a boring office….

  • Audra

    If anyone has advice or recommendations to share for NY, outside of NYC, that would be great. Town websites don’t offer much info beyond the license requirements.

  • Stefan Salvatore

    Really great and informative article for those who are looking to get married in San Fransisco..
    Maui Photographer