Detailed Guide for your City Hall Wedding
There is a multitude of information on San Francisco City Hall wedding photography websites regarding what steps are needed to reserve and book a civil ceremony. Most of the information I have seen is very general in nature and offers few details. In fact, even the city hall website itself can be hard to negotiate and often vague. This guide will provide you with Step-by-Step detailed procedures regarding how to get married at San Francisco City Hall. We will also include helpful links and relevant costs where possible.
The City Hall Reservation Procedure
Reservations - You will need to make 2 reservations once you have decided to have your wedding at City Hall. The first reservation involves setting the time that you will obtain your marriage license. The second reservation is for your actual wedding ceremony date and time. Ceremony reservations can only be made up to 90 days in advance unless you are going to reserve one of the more expensive private locations (more about that later). You can make both of these reservations on the City Hall Website. You can find links to make both reservations by clicking City Hall Reservations. You don't need to obtain your Marriage license at the San Francisco County Clerk's office, but it does have to be in California and within 3 months of you getting married. One advantage of acquiring your marriage license at city hall is that if for some reason it gets damaged or signed incorrectly another copy can be reproduced on the spot! We have seen this benefit our couples in the past so it is worth mentioning. However, for those who prefer to obtain the marriage license in their own locality it works just fine. One other important thing to understand, is that not all County Clerk's offices are created equal. Just because your local office provided you with a marriage license, doesn't mean that it will work at San Francisco city hall. Please be sure that you have CURRENT ID before coming to city hall for your nuptials.
Fees and Reservation Pricing - The cost for the marriage license is $108. To have your ceremony in one of the standard areas costs $81. The standard ceremonies can be performed in the beautiful Rotunda area or the newly redecorated Private room. If you prefer a private ceremony you can book either the Mayor's Balcony or the 4th floor Gallery for $1,000 for a 1 hour time slot. It is hard to go wrong with any location in this historic building. The reserved areas will provide you with an added amount of privacy and prevent tourists from walking through your ceremony. Please note that standard civil ceremonies at SF City Hall limit your guests to 6 and this IS enforced. You can ignore all of the San Francisco city hall wedding photographers website that tell you otherwise. As of May, 2019 this rule is being enforced. If you have more than 6 guests, your ceremony will be moved into the private room. If you try to get away with bringing more than 6 guests, most officiants will politely ask them to move downstairs and out of the Rotunda area. Recently, I watched an officiant delay the ceremony because the guests would not comply with her request. Please let your guests know.
Alternative City Hall Marriage Locations
Mayor's Balcony and 4th Floor Locations - As mentioned above, you also have the option of having your ceremony in these 2 beautiful City Hall locations. You can book either of these locations 1 year in advance. The advantage of paying the additional money is that you get a roped off, private ceremony with chairs set up. You can also have a much larger guest list. Remember that the standard city hall ceremony only allows for 6 additional guests. Even without the rule, large groups cannot be accommodated in the Rotunda so you may want to consider this option! The cost is around $1,000 for 1 hour.
Saturday Weddings at SF City Hall - You can also get married on a Saturday at City Hall! They have different packages, but by far the most popular is the 2 hour package for $5,000. For your money, you basically get the whole building to yourself since San Francisco City Hall is closed on weekends. They restrict you to a few floors, but there are plenty of great areas to photograph your wedding even with the limitations. For more information and booking details you can click on The City Hall Event Website. You can also get married in the evening at City Hall. The building remains open, but they will privatize your ceremony location. For more info click the Event link provided.
General Marriage Procedures
Can I Get a Witness? - What's all this talk about witnesses and when and why do we need them? By law you must have your marriage license and ceremony witnessed in order for it be a valid and legal union. The exception to this is if you decide to obtain a Confidential Marriage License. Rather than going into long detail about how this works, please check out this information on the city hall website that will allow you to apply for this type of license. Assuming you are not obtaining nor qualify for a confidential license you will need to have at least 1 witness with you during the ceremony. This same witness must also accompany you to your ceremony check-in to sign the document. Lastly, this witness needs to actually watch the ceremony occur. If you don't have anyone with you we (your photographers) will be happy to act as your witness. We do it all of the time for our clients and are honored to do it. Do not come to San Francisco city hall without your own witness (unless you have a photographer or confidential license). The Wedding Officiant cannot act as your witness and it's not like it would be easy to find a stranger to do it. Do you really want a San Francisco tourist to sign your marriage license?
Rules and Regulations - City Hall is very strict about their reservation policy so cancellations are not allowed. They will allow you to reschedule with enough notice. If you lose your license or mess it up, you will need to pay the fee all over again to get a new one. The exception to this would be if you obtained your license at SF city hall because they can print another one from their computer system. Please also warn your witness to be careful signing the marriage license so they don't make a mistake. Scratch offs and/or white-out is not allowed and invalidates the license. Once you receive your license you have 90 days to get married.
San Francisco City Hall Events - We like to let our clients know about the possibility of an event being scheduled on their wedding date. Unfortunately, city hall does not reliably publish information about upcoming events. This may be because many city hall events are private in nature and not open to the public. We are asked all of the time if we know about upcoming events and we seldom do. The reason I mention this is that anyone having their wedding at city hall should understand that there is always that slight possibility of parts of the building being unavailable to them for photography or even wandering. The Grand Staircase is often one of the first places that are shut down when events are scheduled. This can upset brides and grooms and I don't blame them, but city hall makes no apologies and will basically let you know that all they owe you is a civil ceremony. On the positive side, if you hire a professional city hall wedding photographer, they will know other great places to take you for pictures! Events seem to occur more frequently on Fridays and Thursdays, but this is not always the case.
We offer plenty of advice to our couples to make their wedding day as seamless as possible. This website has tons of information and you are encouraged to take the time to check out as much as you can. We also have a page dedicated to helpful hints and important info. You can check it out by clicking here.