So you want to get married at San Francisco City Hall? A few pointers from a wedding photographer in love with that venue.
Congratulations, you are one of the smart ones: City Hall is the most beautiful wedding venues in the Bay Area and it’s practically free. Granted, you have to stand in line DMV style at the beginning, but once you get past that, it’s gorgeous. San Francisco City Hall is a building like no other, and getting married there is a privilege.
If you have some spare time when you pick up your license, try to join one of the free docent tours of City Hall. The original San Francisco City Hall was built in the late 1800’s and destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The new City Hall was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, filled with arched windows and classic details, a staircase that would make Scarlett O’Hara green with envy, and one of the largest domes in the world.
During the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, San Francisco City Hall shook like crazy, but the voters approved bonds to rebuild the hall along with seismic retrofitting. This included something like 530 lead-rubber shock absorbers that created the word’s largest base-isolated building.
Schedule your license appointment using the online reservation system. I recommend getting your license way ahead of your wedding, it is valid for up to 90 days. Cost: $108. You show up at room 168 with your fiance & IDs, and you’ll be out of there in 15 minutes. OR, you can get your license from any other California county. Here is what that process looks like:
Schedule your wedding ceremony, using the same online reservation system. Cost: $81. Ceremony appointments are available every half hour between 10 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can make a reservation 90 days in advance, so be ready to hit “refresh” at 1 minute past midnight if you want a popular date (Summer / Fall Fridays and holiday weekends). You can officially bring up to 6 guests but I have never seen that rule enforced.
Here is how things typically flow, assuming your ceremony appointment is for example at 1:00 PM.
- 12:55 You check in at the counter, still in room 168, they verify your license and IDs, and give you a number, DMV style.
- 1:00 to 1:15 You and your witnesses get called in to sit down with the judge and sign some paperwork. It takes 5 minutes, but two other couples will go through the same process in those 15 minutes. Then everyone walks upstairs to get married.
- 1:15 to 1:30 One by one, each of the three couples and their guests assemble under the rotunda for the ceremony. The ceremony itself lasts 2-3 minutes. YOU ARE MARRIED!
Tip: if the other 2 couples have a lot of noisy guests, ask the judge to go last. You know, you are waiting for that late guest …
Warning: it’s like a box of chocolate: you never know what you’re gonna get. Two busloads of tourists swarming your wedding, mid-ceremony to take a selfie with you? That happens, although not often, and makes for great wedding pictures 🙂
The official rules & policies are here; they are way more helpful in reality than this makes them sound. On slow days, if the judge is in a good mood and you ask real nice, they’ll let you do the ceremony at one of the premium spot (below).
Here is what that process looks like:
Mayor’s Balcony Wedding
Another option for a weekday wedding is the Mayor’s Balcony. This is one of the private wedding options – which means it costs $1,000 to reserve it. You can book the Mayor’s balcony up to a year in advance, and it will book up quickly for popular dates. It’s a separate reservation process, you will be dealing with the special events office.
They rope off the space for one hour and put up chairs, and you can bring drinks. But, there is the additional cost and it can be a bit dark. You also have to make plans for everything to be finished prior to 4 pm.
Here is what it looks like:
Fourth Floor Gallery Wedding
This is another private wedding option that you can reserve for $1,000. Make sure to pick the North side to avoid the sun glaring in your eyes. Just like the Mayor’s Balcony, you can reserve it a year in advance through the special events office, the area is roped off, chairs are arranged, and you are good to go for an hour. Note: the North side is in high demand because of the beautiful light. Book it early!
Here is what it looks like:
You get to rent the whole shebang. Yup, the whole place can be yours along with some of San Francisco’s finests to keep the place all secure. Two options: a two hour slot on Saturday mornings & early afternoons for $5,000, or the entire Saturday evening starting at $10,000.
My weekday City Hall packages start at $1,500; my most popular package is $2,000.