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Ceremony Check In Procedure

Ceremony Check-in and Marriage License

We thought it would be fun to explain how the whole San Francisco City Hall marriage check-in process works using photos. We have been photographing city hall weddings for over 12 years with over 800 ceremonies under our belts. One of the things that we always find interesting is the amount of confusion among couples regarding the ceremony check-in process. Some people think that the wedding is happening in the County Clerk's office and bring in their whole family. Others want to know how they get their ceremony number. Do they have to wait in line? Why are other couples walking around with numbers? What happens if you check-in too soon? What happens if you check in too late? When do we bring our witness? The questions go on and on. Since photographers or no longer allowed in the back room of the County Clerk, it has become a bit more difficult for us to provide the help we used to, though we still try! For a complete detailed guide to getting married at San Francisco city hall, please click the link.

City Hall Wedding Photographers Can Be Helpful

The couples that do all the right things and know where to go are inevitably accompanied by an experienced San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photographer. We feel (as do other photographers) that it is our duty to help make the day go as smoothly as possible for our couples, so we enjoy guiding them through the process. Is this a good reason for an engaged couple to hire a professional wedding photographer? Not really. Everyone manages to get through the process with or without help. But the couples who have hired a wedding photographer receive the added bonus of great wedding photos after the wedding is over! So why not hire us?

UPDATE: With the reopening of city hall on June 7, 2021, many of the processes have changed to help insure the safety of the couple and others. This includes less people in the County Clerk hallway and wedding photographers as mentioned above.

Step 1: The County Clerk's office - Room 168. Make sure you have your Marriage License and current Identification documents. Passport, Drivers License or DMV ID all work fine. They all have to be unexpired! Allow plenty of time! You won't need your witness to do anything yet, but they should be there with you in case your number is called quickly. This can especially happen when they are running behind.

 San Francisco bride and groom point County clerk sign
County Clerk sign at City Hall

Getting Ready to Enter the County Clerk's Office to Check-in

Step 2: At about 5-10 minutes before your scheduled San Francisco City Hall ceremony, it's time to check-in. You walk into the County Clerk's office at room 168 and show your Identification and Marriage License. The Clerk will check your paperwork to make sure everything is in order and then issue you a ceremony number. You then walk back into the hallway and wait for your number to be called. No need to bring your witness in the County Clerk's office yet, but they should be waiting in the wings. On occasion a couple will receive their number and have it called immediately. In that case, your witness should be in the area so they can sign the license. In that situation, the receptionist will give you a second to fetch your witness. However, it is nice to have them nearby to reduce stress and waiting.

Ceremony check in at the County Clerks Office in SF
The couple checking in at the County Clerk's Office just before their wedding ceremony.

Step 3: Wait for your number to be called and make sure your witness stays within reach. Depending upon how the day is going at San Francisco city hall, your number may be called almost immediately or it may take up to 20 minutes. We always recommend that the couple stick around, just in case their number is called suddenly. Once you hear your number, grab your witness and head back into the Clerk's Office to meet your officiant to sign the marriage license. At this point (January, 2024), the County Clerk is still asking that you only bring 1 witness to sign. Only one is needed legally and this is a Covid-19 precaution. Sorry, witness you have to stick around, you will have to use the restroom later.

Bride and groom holding number at the County Clerks Office
Bride and Groom holding their wedding ceremony number

The happy couple displays their wedding ceremony number

Step 4: Once your number is called, it's time to meet with your wedding officiant and have your witness sign the marriage license. The officiant will go over a few brief things with you and then ask if you are exchanging rings. She will then instruct the witness on the proper way to sign the marriage license. Make sure your witness knows to not scratch anything off the Marriage license because it will invalidate it. If you have a confidential marriage license it does NOT need to be witnessed/signed. Then the Marriage Commissioner will also ask you where you want to get married. The choices given are normally the Rotunda or the Private Room. Choose the Rotunda because that is where all the beauty is!

Meeting wedding officiant be their City Hall ceremony
The bride and groom meeting with the officiant just before their SF City Hall wedding ceremony

Step 5: With all of the paperwork and meetings out of the way it is time to get married! It we are your city hall wedding photographer we will take you to the Rotunda to wait for the officiant to come up. Chances are a few more couples will still need to be checked in so there could be a slight delay. If that is the case, we may try to take some of your family photos while waiting for the ceremony. Might as well utilize our time wisely! If you are too nervous or just simply prefer to wait, that is fine too.

Lets get married at San Francisco City Hall

Once you have gone through the entire process of checking in and meeting your officiant, the ceremony normally takes place in the Rotunda. As you can see below, the happy couple is exchanging rings during their short San Francisco City Hall ceremony. The bride and grooms nuptials take only about 4 minutes and then we move on to family photos and your photo tour around the building. There are a few Marriage Commissioners who add in a few other phrases to the ceremony, but it never goes on for more than 5 minutes. HINT: If you want to say your own vows, ask your Marriage Commissioner prior to your civil ceremony. If you promise to keep them short and ask nicely, you will most likely be allowed to do it. I have written a informative Blog Post on how to say your own vows at a San Francisco city hall ceremony.

Exchanging rings City Hall ceremony with officiant in SF
Exchanging rings at a SF city hall ceremony

SF City Hall Photo Tour

We take the newly married couple throughout the building once their ceremony is complete and capture some great images. We call this our San Francisco City Hall photo tour. We will generally spend about 30 to 40 minutes exploring the building and making great memories in pictures for the newlyweds. Once this part is over, your wedding is complete! If you booked us for extended coverage we might take you to other locations in San Francisco like the Palace of Fine Arts or Crissy Field. There are many other great locations to photograph our couples throughout SF. We can provide transportation at this point or meet you at your destination to begin your San Francisco wedding photography tour. This option can be found by clicking the link.

Documentary Wedding Photography Walking grand staircase
Walking up the Grand Staircase at San Francisco City Hall