We always talk about how great San Francisco City Hall is for weddings and of course Wedding Photography. There are so many iconic locations to shoot here, most notably the Grand Staircase, Rotunda and Mayor’s Balcony. Wonderful backgrounds for wedding photography with amazing early 1900’s architecture. However, were you aware that there are times that you will arrive at city hall to get married and some or all of these places are not available and roped off? This is the big secret that The County Clerk’s office never tells you when you sign up to have your ceremony at city hall. Brides and grooms are frequently surprised when they learn that the most beautiful background in San Francisco is unavailable on their wedding day. Why? Because an event has been scheduled at the same time as your wedding! I thought it would be important to update this post now that we are coming out of the pandemic. The rules and issues listed below will be even more important going forward. The speculation is that because of past issues with crowd control, SF City Hall will be even more strict now that we are on back side of Covid-19 issues. There are ways to get around these issues, we will discuss them below.
San Francisco Events
San Francisco just happens to be one of the favorite places on the West Coast for companies to schedule their special events. In addition, local entities such as the Opera House, the Symphony and even Google love to have their events in San Francisco. Guess what is one of the most popular event locations for elegant events? Yes, San Francisco city hall! There have been times that we as wedding photographers have walked into the building ready to shoot a wedding only to see hundreds of people milling about wearing fancy clothes. Half of the building can be closed off and they provide you a narrow path through the mess to get to the Clerk’s office to have your ceremony. The fact is, SF City Hall does not guarantee you access to the whole building when you reserve your ceremony time. The only thing they promise you is that you will have a legal marriage. Nothing else is promised, but of course full access is implied. So what does a bride and groom do to avoid this happening to them? IS there a way to predict when an event will be scheduled? We can still manage to obtain great shots because of our knowledge of the building. It becomes more challenging, but we thrive on that!
Scheduling is Everything
Through the years I have attempted to find a good web page that is kept up to date and lists city hall events in San Francisco. I have never found one that is actually updated on a regular basis. Most are just blank pages and some show past events. Thus, the only thing an engaged couple can do is try avoid scheduling their wedding on the prime event days and times. This will at least lower your odds of hitting a major event. Small events can be slightly disruptive, but we can usually shoot around them and still provide you with exceptional wedding pictures.
Days and Times to Avoid Booking
- Fridays should be avoided, but if you have to, make sure it is early morning only. The Staircase can often be closed all day or the City Hall events department starts setting up late in the afternoon.
- Thursdays, especially after 3 pm. This day of the week is also quite popular for events. Sometimes if San Francisco city hall is going to have an all day event on Friday, they will start the set up late on Thursday. This means that by around 4pm, the will start shutting certain areas down.
- In general, any day of the week after 3 pm . Even though it is rare, there are events early in the week. If city hall schedules them, it will most likely be in the evening or late afternoon. However, your odds are still much better with the Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to avoid large events.
The tough part of all of this is that the late afternoon times are some of the best for wedding photography and no crowds. So we often recommend that people book the last ceremony of the day because city hall starts to become less crowded late in the afternoon. For me, the best times and days of the week overall are Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. There is a small risk of an event, but overall the experience is usually good on these days late. Attitude is also important. You should not automatically assume that your wedding photography experience will be negative just because there happens to be an event that day. We have managed to deliver amazing photos even under the most crowded circumstances. It’s all about knowing where to go and when.