When you start to think about how to get married at San Francisco City Hall, it can feel overwhelming. It’s not! I’ve been a wedding photographer at San Francisco City Hall since 2008 and have helped many couples through this process. I’ve created a step-by-step guide for you to follow to make this the easiest wedding experience you can have, from start to finish. San Francisco City Hall weddings are super fun, full of joy and emotion, and all in all a really fun and wonderful way to get married.
How do you get married at San Francisco City Hall? It’s actually super easy, requires just a couple of appointments and a bit of advanced planning (three months ahead is when you can start), and mostly involves having a really fun day with your favorite person and (perhaps, but also perhaps not) some of your favorite people ever.
Table of Contents!
This article is PACKED FULL of useful information for how to get married at San Francisco City Hall, whether you pick a public ceremony or a private one hour ceremony with a reservation. This table of contents below is CLICKABLE, so jump easily to the answer you’re looking for!
1. Make Wedding Plans!
I recommend starting with some basic wedding plans and then making your San Francisco City Hall plans and appointments from there. Start by dreaming up your perfect wedding day: The fact that you’re getting married at San Francisco City Hall doesn’t make your wedding day deserving of anything less than the best plans, most perfect day, and your favorite everything.
I also wrote an article all about when to get married at San Francisco City Hall and you can read it right here. Consider this as you draw up your perfect wedding day!
Does your perfect wedding day include a swim at the beach? A picnic in the park? Will you head to your favorite restaurant before or after your ceremony? Will you get up early to watch the sunrise, or maybe stay out late to see the sunset over the Pacific Ocean? Will you head out of town for a mini road trip or a big road trip? Start dreaming of your perfect day, and then get ready to fit your San Francisco wedding plans around that. You’ll need to know exactly what time you want to make your appointment when you log on, so think up the rest of your day first and build your ceremony around that. Read on for a step-by-step guide that makes the entire process easy and clear.
What if we want a personalized ceremony at San Francisco City Hall?
If you’re looking for a San Francisco City Hall wedding that takes advantage of all of the beauty of the building but isn’t quite so quick or busy as a Civil Ceremony, you’ll want to reserve space (you can get just one hour!) and bring your own officiant. I also created a guide for how to have a personalized one hour wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall and you can read it right here.
2. Get Your Marriage License
You can get your marriage license ahead of time or the same day as your civil ceremony. You can get your marriage license in a different city anywhere in California if you’re planning on doing each appointment and task at separate times. If you are getting your marriage license and having your civil ceremony on the same day, you must make your marriage license appointment at least thirty minutes prior to your ceremony appointment time.
Make the reservation for your marriage license appointment here. There are more marriage license appointments available than civil ceremony appointments, so if you plan to do them on the sane day, make your civil ceremony appointment first and then your marriage license appointment thirty minutes (at least) prior. In my experience, an hour or thirty minutes is a good amount of time to have between appointments if you’re doing them on the same day. Generally, I recommend doing them on separate days as it frees up time on your ceremony day and makes the day run more smoothly.
Bring a valid photo ID for both partners and a marriage application form.
3. Make your Civil Ceremony Appointment
Ceremonies can be made 90 days in advance through the San Francisco City Hall Reservation website. You’ll need to create an account with a username and password online (do this ahead of time if you have your heart set on a specific date and time so you’re ready to log in and make the appointment right away when it becomes available).
Ceremony appointments are available from 9am to 3:30pm, every half an hour. Appointments are $86 and cannot be refunded or rescheduled once made. (You’d just have to make and pay for a new appointment if you wanted to change your Civil Ceremony appointment.)
Make your reservation on the City Hall appointment website here.
I wrote an article all about when to get married and you can read it right here.
4. Check in for Your Appointment
You’ll be allowed to check in for your San Francisco City Hall civil ceremony appointment ten minutes before your scheduled time.
Don’t forget a valid, official photo ID card for both you and your partner and your vaild marriage license! You need all three of these documents in order to get married.
Your witnesses can wait in the hallway while you check in. You’ll be checked in and given a number and then you’ll return to the hallway to wait for them to call your number. When you’re up, you’ll head back inside to talk to the Marriage Commissioner who will be performing your ceremony. At this time, you can bring up to two witnesses (but you only need one) and a photographer (I have also acted as a witness for couples before and would be honored to do so for you).
You’ll spend a few minutes talking to the Commissioner who will be performing your marriage ceremony, your witnesses will sign the Marriage License (yay!), you’ll let them know if you’re exchanging rings (either yes or no is fine), and they’ll double check that they know how to pronounce your names.
You’ll then head up to the rotunda to wait for the Marriage Commissioner. Traditionally they check in three couples who are about to get married and then will head upstairs to perform the three marriages one at a time. They’ll let you know when to expect your ceremony and you’ll wait in the wings for your time.
5. Get Married! (The Wedding Ceremony)
When it’s your turn for your civil ceremony, you’ll head into the middle of the rotunda with the Marriage Commissioner performing your wedding ceremony. Your guests will gather around (I always recommend guests putting big bags and items down outside the rotunda, away from photos and away from the wedding ceremony) and you’ll stand in the middle of the rotunda, holding hands.
The Marriage Commissioner will perform the ceremony: They do a wonderful job talking about marriage, commitment, and love, and while the ceremonies are short (usually about ten minutes), they’re sweet and meaningful. You’ll say vows, exchange your rings, and seal the deal with a kiss! Congratulations, you’re married!
How many guests can we bring?
The San Francisco City Hall website says that there is a maximum of six guests allowed for a civil ceremony in the rotunda. I’ve photographed weddings with just the couple (like Jessica and Patrick) and with as many as fifty guests (like Sarah and Chris). I’ve never had a problem with any number of guests in attendance; you can bring who you like.
6. Take Wedding Photos!
I usually do wedding photos after the ceremony, when you’re feeling excited, but most of the pre wedding nerves have gone with the seal of the kiss. We don’t rush into things because this is your wedding day and it deserves to be cherished and lingered over, so first you (and your guests if you have them), take as long as you need to celebrate, hug, kiss, and enjoy. I capture candid images during this time (and throughout the entire San Francisco City Hall wedding process!), but I’m not in the way.
When you’re ready, I start with family and friend photos, if you brought guests. I have a few different locations around City Hall that I love for family portraits, so depending on the size of your group and what you want, we’ll do photos around the corner, on another floor, or somewhere else in City Hall with beautiful light (so many good spots). Depending on the size of your group, this can take anywhere from ten to twenty five minutes.
After wedding guest photos, we sneak away for about thirty minutes of couples portraits around the building. This is one of my favorite places to photograph couples and capture the joy and excitement of your wedding day and the fact that you’re MARRIED, so it’s a really fun time to just hang out with your partner and enjoy all of the feelings of the day. I specialize in candid, emotional, and “truly you” wedding photography that lets you look back at a gallery of photos that share how it FELT to be there on your wedding day. Beautiful, easy, candid images that capture your wedding day in a natural and gorgeous way. Most of my couples say afterwards that they had a lot of FUN doing their wedding photos and they’re blown away by how beautiful they are: This is a relaxed, wonderful time during your wedding where I’m guiding you to relax and enjoy (while also looking out for your best photo self and the prettiest angles and views!) and then later you get a gallery of images you’re obsessed with.
7. Have a (Super Fun!) Wedding “Reception”
There are SO many fun things to do in San Francisco after your San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony! This is your wedding day and you should have one of the best and most fun wedding days, no matter how many people are celebrating with you and no matter how “low key” you’re keeping the day. You just committed your life to your best friend and you two can celebrate in a way that makes you happy and lets you remember the day with joy for the rest of your lives.
You could have a San Francisco picnic wedding (like Marina and Nick), bringing snacks and drinks to Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Botanical Garden or Lands End or the Presidio or even Marin or Sausalito.
You could have a mini parade down the street with your friends and family and have a drink at a local pup (like Nina and John), or a drink at your favorite cocktail bar, or just a coffee at the cutest spot in town. You could have a romantic lunch or dinner just the two of you, or a private dinner with friends and family at any number of incredible restaurants nearby.
You could head to the museum (Ellie and Alex went to the Asian Art Museum, but you could go to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the Legion of Honor, or any of the other wonderful museums in San Francisco.
You could head to Baker Beach to take in the views or have a picnic or go for a walk on the beach. You could take a roadtrip and watch the sunset somewhere magical. You could have started with breakfast and sunrise and after your ceremony you could go home and take a nap. You could put your favorite song on a small bluetooth speaker and have your first dance in a San Francisco City Park or in front of your apartment, or in your living room.
There are endless possibilities for a beautiful, memorable, and wonderful San Francisco City Hall wedding day and your perfect wedding “reception.”
II. Have a (Private) One Hour Wedding at San Francisco City Hall
You want to get married at the beautiful San Francisco City Hall with all the ease and beauty of a civil wedding in one of the prettiest City Halls in the whole world, but maybe you’re looking for a little more personalization and a little bit more privacy, or maybe you’re looking to have a larger guest list than the allotted six for a traditional San Francisco City Hall wedding (although in my experience, you can get away with a much bigger group). It sounds like you want to have a one hour wedding at San Francisco City Hall!
Well, you’re in luck! San Francisco City Hall allows you to rent a beautiful ceremony spot at City Hall that you’ll have to yourself for one hour, plus which will allow you to bring your own officiant (it can even be a friend!), and lets you have music (you hire independent musicians), a chuppah (if that’s relevant to you, of course), and chairs (you rent from them and can choose one of two kinds). Read on to learn everything you need to have a one hour wedding at San Francisco City Hall in an easy step-by-step guide.
If you’re looking for a guide for public ceremonies and how to get married at San Francisco City Hall in a civil ceremony, I’ve written a step-by-step guide for that too & you can read it here.
First, Reserve Your Ceremony Space!
One hour ceremonies are available Monday through Friday starting between 9am and 3pm in either the Mayor’s Balcony or the Fourth Floor Gallery. You may bring up to one hundred guests, although they can only accommodate up 40 chairs in the Mayor’s Balcony and up to 60 chairs in the Fourth Floor Gallery; the rest is standing room. The one hour reservation fee is $1,000 and can be managed through their booking process, found here. City Hall is open during these ceremonies, but the area that you’ve reserved with be roped off.
I also wrote an article all about when to get married and you can read it right here. Consider this as you make your wedding day plans!
What does the Mayor’s Balcony look like?
The Mayor’s Balcony is located on the second floor, across from the grand staircase and the rotunda. With a sweeping view of San Francisco City Hall, the Grand Staircase, and the rotunda, it’s one of the most picturesque spots for a San Francisco City Hall wedding.
What does the Fourth Floor Gallery look like?
The fourth floor north gallery is located, you guessed it, on the fourth floor. With tall arched ceilings and an incredible view of City Hall, it’s a beautiful spot to get married. The north side of the building gets soft light in the afternoon (the south side gets the harsh light and strong shadows, which is very pretty in its own right, but less fun for guests to sit in) and has incredibly beautiful ceilings and decor. The light here is spectacular and the space unforgettable.
All about chair rentals:
There are two kinds of chairs available for rent from San Francisco City Hall: Chivari chairs and wooden folding chairs. Both are great: The Chivari chairs are fancier, the folding chairs have more in stock.
There are 100 Chivari chairs in stock at San Francisco City Hall and they are available for a $7.50 per chair rental fee.
There are 300 folding chairs in stock and they are available for a $3.50 per chair rental fee.
These are the folding chairs (you can just see one peeking in on the side):
You also don’t have to have chair rentals: You can opt instead to have your guests stand!
You may have acoustic music at your ceremony, with prior approval from the events office. You hire your own musicians (or bring a friend or two who play, of course!). Unfortunately, amplified music, speakers, etc., is not allowed. If you want music, you have to go the more magical way and bring in musicians!
You may have a chuppah at your ceremony with prior approval. Free-standing chuppahs are not allowed, only hand held ones.
Other “altar” type designs for where you get married are not allowed.
Food & Beverages
Unfortunately, they don’t allow this. Build it into your reception celebration!
Get Your Marriage License
You can get your marriage license in San Francisco or in a different city anywhere in California. You can make your marriage license appointment and your one hour San Francisco City Hall ceremony on the same day, but I do not recommend it. Make your wedding day less busy and eliminate the stress of doing your marriage license appointment on the same day.
Make the reservation for your marriage license appointment here ninety days in advance of when you want your appointment in order to get your first choice. They do not usually book up completely that far in advance, but it’s better to be prepared early. It’s an $86 fee, payable by credit card, to make your appointment. You’ll need an online account to make the appointment.
Bring a valid photo ID for both partners and a marriage application form to your appointment.
Bring Your Own Officiant
For the one hour ceremony, you’ll need to provide your own officiant. You can bring a religious or non-religious officiant that you would hire just the same as any other non City Hall wedding.
OR you can have a friend officiate your wedding!
Have a friend officiate your wedding!
There are a number of online websites that will allow your friend to become a “minister” if you’d like, but my preferred method is to actually have them get a license to become a Deputy Marriage Commissioner for the ceremony through San Francisco City Hall! They’ll need to do this BEFORE THE WEDDING CEREMONY, anytime between when the marriage license is issued and the actual day of the ceremony (it must happen before the ceremony). They can even go with you when you get your marriage license if you like (as long as you don’t do this process on a Friday). They’ll need to bring 1. a valid photo ID, 2. a photocopy of your marriage license, 3. $143 (check, cash, or credit card). This is done on a first come first served basis, without an appointment from Monday – Thursday, 8:00 am – 11:30 am and 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm only. Check the process on the City Hall website here.
Plan a fun reception or celebration for your friends and family! There are so many fun things to do to celebrate in San Francisco City Hall: Nina and John went around the corner for a celebratory beer at a local pub, Paige and Ke had a drinks and dinner reception at the Noir Lounge in Hayes Valley, Nicole and Karsten had an evening reception at Firehouse 8, Nick and Marina had a picnic wedding reception at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Hazel and Rumel had a Wayfare Tavern wedding reception.
There are a million fun ideas and it’s going to be fun and worth it to spend time with the people you love the most after your ceremony!
Find my San Francisco City Hall wedding photography portfolio here and browse some galleries of past San Francisco City Hall weddings on my blog here. Reach out for a photography quote by contacting me here.