What happened today at San Francisco city hall? Toni and I are never surprised at what we face doing weddings in this great building. Every day it’s a new adventure. Today we thought it was going to be a typical day with a shorter coverage wedding booked. We arrived at the building typically early and went to the Mint Cafe to have some coffee and breakfast. It didn’t take very long for us to hear the rumor floating around the building… A water main had been broken and cut off all the water to City Hall. This of course means that none of the bathrooms were functioning nor were the water fountains. Right away I am thinking that they can’t have weddings today if there are no bathrooms and yet city hall was still letting people in the building including brides and grooms.
Closing San Francisco City Hall
I walked out to the front entrance to see if I could figure out what to tell my bride and groom who had not yet arrived and found that now they wern’t letting people in the building. But what about me? I was still here. Not for long it turned out. Eventually, Toni and I were both kicked out with no real understanding of what was to become of our scheduled wedding coming up in about 1 hour. We took our couple along with their family down away from the crowds and did their family photos. The idea being to head to another location to at least get some bride and groom pictures. Just as we were beginning to leave one of the County Clerks came out and found us and said they would let just the couple in with 2 guests for a ceremony only. No pictures after. This was fine except that city hall also decided to restrict the couple to only have 1 set of parents with them to watch their ceremony. This was not going to work! With a little bit of time and some convincing, Toni talked the security guard into letting both parents it to watch the wedding.
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Pictures
The ceremony went off without a hitch and we were able to take pictures of the proceedings. We did manage to take the couple to get a few nice wedding pictures, but certainly not our usual repertoire. Eventually, we were strongly encouraged to leave the building since it was still technically closed off to the public. Our bride and groom were relieved, however to at least have a wedding that day! We offered to come back another day to photograph the couple around San Francisco city hall in our normal way. They agreed, but were not sure if they wanted to dress up again.
About 2 weeks later, we returned to SF City Hall and actually finished what we started! The couple dressed back up and we did our full building shoot. It was a happy ending to a difficult wedding day! This picture below was the couple making the best out of a hard situation as they waited for the ceremony.
So you are getting married at San Francisco city hall and want to make the most of it. You and your future spouse have agreed that to save money you should have a civil ceremony without all the fuss and expense of a large San Francisco wedding. But this is your wedding and you want it to be memorable and fun. What do you do?
Choose the Reserved Ceremony Option
Yes, I know that SF city hall reserved weddings costs $1,000 instead of around $100, but this is your wedding. What is another $900? This will allow you to invite lots of guests (up to 80 people) and have some privacy. But most of all, it will provide you with your own area in San Francisco city hall to call your own. For 1 hour you can spend time with your guests and not have to worry about tourists walking through and being disruptive. You don’t have to worry about the County Clerk telling you when your nuptials will be performed. As long as the ceremony occurs within your 1 hour time window, you have complete freedom. For those who don’t want the 3 minute standard ceremony, this is the way to go. You can create your own vows and add religious references to your ceremony if that is important to you and your spouse. San Francisco city hall civil ceremonies cannot include privately recited vows. There just isn’t enough time since they are trying to do 3 weddings at every half hour.
Take a Mini Tour of San Francisco City Hall
A tour on your wedding day? Allow me to explain. San Francisco city hall DOES in fact have its own self guided tour or you can actually do one of their Docent tours. You want to make sure everyone is on time to your wedding? Let your wedding guests know that there is going to be a tour before the ceremony and give them the time. This accomplished 2 things: 1. It gets your guests parked and through security early and ready to attend your wedding; 2. It is a very interesting tour and you and your guests will learn some interesting facts.
It’s not so odd to do something like this on your wedding day. Many weddings that now take place in wineries and special restaurants or other famous places will include tastings or tours. It’s all in fun!
Hire an Experienced Professional City Hall Wedding Photographer
This is a no-brainer. You need to have your special memories recorded for all time, but you also owe it to yourself to take a wedding photography tour of San Francisco city hall with somebody who knows all the best spots to take photos in this historic building. In addition, if its a busy day or an event going on, a professional wedding photographer will know how to handle adversity.
Many of our clients, friends and even other City Hall wedding photographers have been asking us about how the new 6 guest limit rule is being enforced. I use the term “new” because despite this rule being in existence for many years, it was never enforced by anyone. Not the County Clerk, not SF city hall security and certainly not the officiants. It’s sudden enforcement has taken many by surprise not only because of its newness, but also because of the inconsistency of how the rule is applied. To summarize, as of May, 2019 San Francisco city hall is only allowing civil ceremonies with 6 guests maximum in attendance. This rule is stated on the San Francisco city hall website and has now become strictly enforced. But how is it enforced?
So of course, that has been the question. Let’s say you walk into the County Clerk’s office with your 12 guests. The first question that is now asked when you check in is: “How many guests do you have today?” You let them know that you have 12 and that’s when the discussions start. Depending upon the officiant you have or the time of the day there are a number of things that may happen. With all of the uncertainty, I decided to go to the top person I know in the County Clerks office and asked them. What IS the rule? The answer came back swiftly and strong. If you have more than 6, you will be forced to have your ceremony in the Private room. They will no longer allow you to have that large of a ceremony in the Rotunda. Period. I went further and asked what happens if they have so many guests that they will not fit in the private room (fits about 20, but very crowded). Basically the answer came back that we will stuff as many people in the private room as possible and the rest just have to wait outside. In practice, we have seen other ways of handling larger crowds, but its probably because they were still trying to figure out how to fairly treat brides and groom getting married at city hall. It seems now that the rules are going to be strictly enforced.
What are our Options?
You have showed up to your San Francisco city hall wedding with too many people, what can you do? One option that some people are doing is to just bring 6 people into the Rotunda and the other will have to watch from afar. You can also use the Private room, but then do your own celebration later in other parts of SF city hall. If you have the time and the money, you can book a reserved ceremony at the Mayors Balcony or 4th Floor North Gallery for the price of $1,000 for 1 hour. But this would have to be done well in advance of your wedding date.
Once we completed the formal bride and groom photo shoot in the Marina District, we headed back to North Beach to begin the reception. The party was at the Italian Athletic Club which is a well known place for Italian wedding parties. In fact, my own parents had their wedding party there over 50 years ago. They always makes sure that there is a Pasta served and lots of other good Italian food. The dancing was mostly contemporary music with a few old Italian standards mixed in.
They did all the normal traditional dances including the first dance and the father daughter dance. Then they went into normal dancing and the party got fun and wild. Lots of fun dancing and partying. This group seemed to be very close and really enjoyed each other. There was also a very strong family sense that I often see at Italian weddings.
After the wedding, we stayed in touch with Jayne and Bobby and have seen them a number of times since. One of our favorite couples!
I will admit to having a soft spot for big Italian weddings in San Francisco. As an Italian myself who grew up attending large Italian parties, I have experienced the amazing food and fun traditions. Through the years we have photographed quite a few Italian weddings in San Francisco and have enjoyed every one of them. They most often occur in North Beach with a Catholic Ceremony at Saints Peter and Paul Church followed by a reception at the Italian Athletic club. Other notable spots for Italian weddings include any of the fantastic restaurants in the North Beach Area that can accommodate large groups.
A more recent wedding that we really enjoyed being a part of was Jayne and Bobby Carini’s wedding. One of the most fun couples we have photographed and we are still in touch with them today. This entire wedding and ceremony took place in North Beach, but then we took them to the Marina for some photos. Here are a few sample shots from this great wedding in San Francisco.
San Francisco Marina District
Once they completed their ceremony at San Francisco’s famed Church, we headed off to the Marina district to capture some nice photos. We also brought the entire wedding party with us so we could include them in the photos. It was a hazy day, but we were still able to catch faint glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge in some of the backgrounds. After photographing the wedding party and best man and maid of honor, we focused on the bride and groom only. Here are a few shots from this section of the wedding.
Part 2 coming soon…… The Reception and Italian Party!
Introducing our new City Hall Wedding Photography blog. It occurred to us that with all of the great times we have had with our couples, it was time to share our experiences. We really try to make our service different by focusing not only on producing great photos, but also making the wedding a great experience. In the coming months we will share some of our wedding fun and focus more on unique things that happen at our City Hall Weddings.