Step by Step Guide to Getting Married at San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is an amazingly beautiful place to have your wedding ceremony. It’s convenient, inexpensive and available year-round. You won’t need to spend nearly as much time planning a City Hall wedding as you would a traditional wedding, but there are still some things that need to be done in advance. I have been photographing weddings at City Hall for years and decided it would be helpful to provide engaged couples an easy to follow guide to getting married at this fantastic venue. Follow these steps and you can’t go wrong!

1. Make reservations. You are going to have to make 2 reservations. The first one is to book a time to get your marriage license at City Hall. While you are there, you might as well book your wedding date. It is highly recommended that you obtain your license before the day of the actual ceremony. We have photographed a few weddings where the happy couple tried to do it all in one day. We almost missed the ceremony in at least 1 of these cases and it always adds an element of stress that isn’t needed. You can book your ceremony date 90 days in advance. The County Clerk’s office is open from 10am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday and is located on the 1st floor.

2. Choose your location. There are a number of excellent locations to get married within City Hall. The Rotunda is located at the top of the large staircase and is the most common location for couples to have their ceremony. At the time of this writing, the fees were $73 for this location or a private room. The 4th floor balcony and the Mayor’s balcony are some of our favorite locations, but you have to pay extra and reserve them if you want to be sure to secure them. Judges will often take you to these locations if you request them, but only if they have the time. If it’s a crowded day, it probably wont happen so you will need to pay the extra fee. Currently the Mayor’s Balcony costs $1,000 and you can invite extra guests and they will even provide seating. However, I have photographed weddings in these locations dozens of times and the couple didn’t pay an extra dime. It’s certainly a risk so if you have a large number of guests, pay the money!

3. Hire a professional wedding photographer. Yes, this is step 3! Why? Well because if you are going to get married at this beautiful venue you NEED to have great photos taken. If you think you are going to accomplish this with Uncle Jim who is “really great with a camera”, think again! Any type of wedding photography is difficult, but City Hall can be a challenge with its changing light and tough angles. It is strongly recommended that you hire someone who has experience shooting weddings at City Hall. There are quite a few good ones out there, just search on Google or Yelp. Try to find a photographer that specializes in weddings and has done at least 3 weddings at City Hall.

4. Put together your guest list. This is the hard part. San Francisco City Hall only allows 6 guests for a standard wedding. In order to have more, you have to pay. Is this enforced? No. But should you show up with 20 people? No! The room is limited and if you bring this many people you will disrupt others who are having their ceremony around the same time as yours. Keep it under 10 people and you should be safe. Ask your guests to try to stay away from other couples having their pictures taken. It’s the courteous thing to do! If you want to bring a large crowd, arrange it with the Clerk’s office and pay the additional fee. You will be happy you did.

5. What to do on your big day. Most important… Bring your ID’s and the marriage license! You will also need a witness. If you don’t have anyone, your photographer can be your witness. The state only requires one. Check in for your ceremony is 10 minutes before the actual time. You should really plan on arriving at City Hall at least 30 minutes prior the this time to give you a moment to settle in and find possible locations for the ceremony. When you check in, be sure and ask your judge if you can choose your location. Depending on the crowds that day you may be allowed to choose your spot. Often times it will be dictated by what is available, but don’t worry every location is fantastic. If you didn’t choose a Friday or other special date, chances are you will be able to go wherever you want. Just be sure to ask.

6. Your married! What’s next? If you hired a professional photographer, they will most likely take you on a tour of the building to photograph you in some of the best spots. Have fun with this and enjoy the beauty of San Francisco City Hall.

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