SF City Hall Elopements (after COVID pandemic is over) - A Complete Guide

Congratulations on your engagement! Whether you are already looking for available dates and shopping for your wedding attire or only looking for ideas, this guide is an easy way to familiarize yourself with the venue and the whole planning process before the City Hall is officially re-opens.

San Francisco City Hall is beautiful, convenient, affordable and photography friendly. Weddings there are effortless if you know a few hacks that will make planning easier. Having photographed thousands of couples, I wanted to sum up my insider’s knowledge and help you plan your special day. This guide has been created to answer all the key questions, provide useful tips and walk you through the whole process step-by-step. Enjoy reading and happy planning!

GETTING MARRIED AT SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL - A DETAILED GUIDE (updated July 2020)

COVID-19 Update. San Francisco City Hall is currently closed to the public due to Coronavirus Pandemic and does not allow wedding ceremonies. Keep an eye on this page because we will post an update as soon as the restrictions are lifted. 

Planning a San Francisco City Hall wedding is a simple process. Whether you book a quick daytime ceremony or a Saturday evening wedding, insiders’ knowledge on the venue itself will help you organize the event. The first step is to make a functional planning timeline.

Your San Francisco City Hall Wedding Planning Timeline 

Step 1: Book your ceremony

The first thing you need to do is to find available timeslot for your wedding. Book your Ceremony in San Francisco City Hall online through this link. Make sure to pick the best possible date as City Hall can be crowded. For more information, please visit the Office of the County Clerk page.

Step 2: Book your Marriage license appointment

Since walk-ins are not allowed at City Hall, you must apply for the marriage license and present it before your ceremony. You can make a reservation visiting the County Clerk's Office online. 

Step 3: Rent a private space at the City Hall (optional) 

While you can get eloped at one of the common areas in the building, you can also rent a private space inside the San Francisco City Hall. Available locations include the Mayor’s Balcony and two galleries on the 4th-floor. This option is perfect for couples who want to invite a larger group of people. For additional information, please visit the SF City Hall events page. 

Step 4: Pick a hotel nearby

You need a place to get ready and avoid long journeys in your wedding attire. This is why I recommend booking a hotel room that is within walking distance from City Hall. You can find really cool, swanky hotels nearby including the Ritz-Carlton, Palace Hotel, Proper Hotel, Fairmont San Francisco, Kimpton Sir Francis Drake, Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel and Westin St Francis.

Step 5: Find a restaurant in the area

Whether you have 5, 10 or 50 guests, you need to reserve a reception venue. A great tip is to look for a restaurant close to City Hall that can cater for daytime events. Some of the favorite brunch venues include Zuni Café and Brenda’s French Soul Food. If you prefer lunch or dinner, you can book with Absinthe, E & O Kitchen and Bar or Lazy Bear.

Step 6: Contact your vendors

The must-have vendors for a typical City Hall wedding include hair and makeup artists, photographers and florists. It would be best if you reserve all the vendors in advance because many of them might be booked out for a whole month.

Step 7: Site visit (optional)

If you can, visit City Hall ahead of your wedding day to get familiar with the building and figure out how you’ll get around on the day. You can also check out the layout of your venue and learn about parking arrangements or public transport options. If you are not able to go and see it, make sure to find all the important info online.

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Office of the County Clerk Main Page

In the County Clerk's office, people and businesses file documents which relate to: fictitious names of businesses; marriages; domestic partnerships; notaries public; environmental impact reports; and others.

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Fees - Marriage & Domestic Partnership

A Complete list of fees for marriage related services provided by The San Francisco Office of the County Clerk.

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Marriage Licenses & Ceremonies FAQ

An official FAQ from the Office of the County Clerk. Everything you need to know about SF City Hall wedding ceremonies rules and regulations.

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Forms - Marriage License - Public & Confidential

San Francisco's County Clerks Office Public and Confidential Marriage License Registration Page.

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One-Hour Weekday Weddings Schedule

A complete calendar of booked and available dates to rent a space on a weekday at San Francisco City Hall.

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San Francisco City Hall Rental Fees

A schedule of San Francisco City Hall rental fees including, one or two hours, as well as full weekend weddings based a on guest count.

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Deputy Marriage Commissioner for a Day

California Family Code Section 401(b) allows the Commissioner of Civil Marriages in the County to appoint deputy marriage commissioners to solemnize marriages in California. This is an optional service provided by some counties.

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Requirements for getting married at San Francisco City Hall 

Language

Firstly, you must be able to understand and speak the English language. Your wedding ceremony can also be performed in another language, or you can ask your celebrant to use American Sign Language. Should you require this option, make sure to notify the County Clerk’s Office. Or contact San Francisco City Hall before an online appointment.

Documents

Upon arrival, you will be asked to show valid marriage license. CLICK THIS LINK to make an online reservation. The document is valid for 90 days from the day it has been issued. Don’t forget to get your license at least 90 days before your wedding day. Additionally, both you and your partner need to present a valid photo identification in English. And on the day of your wedding, you need to have at least one witness (who can be your wedding photographer).

Marriage License 

As mentioned early, you do need to make two appointments. One of them is to obtain the marriage license, and the second one is before the ceremony itself. Walk-ins are not allowed even for the short 4-minute ceremonies. While you can get your marriage license on the day, it would be better to do this at least one day ahead. You don’t need the stress of waiting in lines on your wedding day when you should be enjoying yourselves.

What do you need to bring on the day?

To avoid any mishaps on the day, make a list of things you have to bring with you to City Hall. Here are the five must-haves:

  1. A valid photo identification issued by the government. This document should contain your full names and not just initials
  2. Your marriage license
  3. One or two witnesses (you don’t need a witness if you present a confidential marriage license)
  4. Wedding rings (if you want to exchange them at the ceremony)

The cost of a SF City Hall wedding

Weddings at San Francisco City Hall are affordable. This outstanding building is the perfect location for a couple who wants a wedding on a budget. While saving on the venue, you can easily splurge on other services such as wedding photography or your wedding dress.

The breakdown of costs

The marriage license currently costs $107, while the civil ceremony is priced at $83. A one-hour ceremony package costs $1,000 (as of February 2020), and a two-hour weekend celebration starts from $5,000. Remember that this is the cost of your wedding ceremony and that you’ll have to pay extra for the reception (at the City Hall or elsewhere).

Wedding on a very low budget.

The cheapest way to get hitched at City Hall is to book a civil ceremony. This will cost you only $190. But if you want a truly superb photo album, why not book a private event which costs between $1,107 and $5,107 (the cost of the marriage license included). You’ll get exclusive access to one of the locations to ensure breathtaking wedding photography. You can find more information on all of these options at the City Hall Events website. Or contact the venue directly at 415 554 6086.

How long does it take to get married at SF City Hall?Civil ceremonies at City Hall are super short. A public ceremony lasts only 4 minutes (or shorter if you choose not to exchange the rings). There are three time slots every 30 minutes, and you can choose one between 9 am and 3:30 pm.When do you need to be there?You should arrive at City Hall and check-in at least 10 minutes before your appointment, but make sure to be there at least 30 minutes earlier. Before the ceremony starts, you will be called for and invited into the office. You’ll have a couple of minutes to meet the judge and ask your witness to sign the marriage license.

How long will you have for the photos?

After the ceremony, you can go and make wedding photos in and around the ceremony venue. This can take as long as you like, but you’ll have limited access to the venue’s most exclusive photoshoot locations. If you book a private one-hour ceremony at the Mayor’s Balcony or the 4th-floor Galleries, you’ll ensure fantastic photo backdrops. And if you book a two-hour ceremony, you will be able to say your vows and make fantastic snaps at the majestic Grand Staircase. Additionally, there is a possibility to buy a weekend wedding or evening wedding package. You can then choose to host your ceremony and reception at City Hall. Choose any of the fabulous locations, including the Rotunda, North Light Court, South Light Court and the Grand Staircase.

How many guests can attend your ceremony?

To avoid the crowds, you are allowed to invite only 6 people, including your photographer, who can also act as a witness and sign your marriage license. If you book a private ceremony space, you are allowed to invite up to 100 people.It is also important to consider the number of seats for each of the private venues if you choose to book one. The Mayor’s Balcony seats up to 40 people, while the 4th-floor galleries can accommodate up to 60 guests each. Each of these private areas has enough standing room to take a maximum of 100 people.A two-hour Saturday package allows you to invite up to 200 guests. If you decide to host a weekend wedding, the number of your guests will vary depending on the ceremony location you pick. This option allows you to bring your own officiant and choose a weekday evening wedding which is cheaper than a Saturday one.

The best time to get married at City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is open for the public Monday to Friday from 8 am to 8 pm. Early morning and late afternoon ceremonies are very popular because the building is not too crowded. But when looking for available dates and time slots, be aware that City Hall is a public building. There will always be visitors around. If there is a major public event, some parts of the building might be inaccessible while you are there.

An experienced photographer who knows the venue will be able to find enough great photo locations no matter how crowded the building is.

The busiest day is Friday. Some couples prefer to have their wedding ceremony on these days because they can relax on the weekend right after the wedding, while others are looking for alternative options. If you don’t like your venue to be busy, then book your appointment for Tuesday or Wednesday. The most hectic hours are between 11 am and 2 pm, so look for available time slots early in the morning.

Ideally, you’ll book the first time slot, which is 9 am.

Between 8 am and 8:30 am there is hardly anyone in the building, and you’ll grab the best photo opportunities! Alternatively, you can book a late afternoon appointment to avoid the crowds. A 3:30 pm ceremony is a good choice because most of the people will leave by then. You’ll be the last couple to tie the knot that day, and many of the stunning photoshoot locations will be available.

What to Wear to a City Hall Wedding?

There isn’t a strict dress code for a City Hall wedding. I have seen brides in all types of outfits from princess dresses to jumpsuits and cocktail-length gowns. If you want outfits that complement the opulent surroundings, then pick a formal or semi-formal attire. For the bride, a ball gown, an A-line dress or a sexy fit-and-flare style will do the trick. The dress can be a full-size or tea-length, but even a short skirt will look fabulous with a detachable ball gown overlay. For the groom, pick a classic tuxedo or a formal dinner jacket that matches the formality of the bride’s dress.

Beaux-Arts building is an inspiration itself. White is the best color to complement the crisp bright walls, but you can also add a vibrant detail such as a silk sash in pink, lilac or blue. The monochromatic combination of a white dress and a black suit will emphasize the interplay of light and shadows and provide endless opportunities for black & white photography.

But don’t forget that your outfit has to be appropriate for your reception venue as well. Are you celebrating at a restaurant or cocktail bar afterwards? You can pick a transformable dress or a casual white gown. Or you can show up at City Hall in a Cinderella outfit but later change into a more relaxed dress (this is why it is co convenient to rent a hotel room nearby).

San Francisco City Hall Rules and Regulations

Just like any venue, San Francisco City Hall has its own regulations you need to keep in mind. Certain limitations may affect your choice of vendors, which is why you need to familiarize yourselves with them before you start planning.

Here are the most important rules you should know straight away:

Respect other couples. Give other brides and grooms space to take their photos and don’t block any doors, hallways and staircases. Know the City Hall policies about the number of people allowed at your wedding. At public ceremonies, couples are allowed to have only 6 people, while private ceremonies are a bit more relaxed and you can send up to 100 invitations. Arrive earlier to the venue. About 10 minutes before the ceremony, you need to go through a ceremony check-in process which takes place at the County Clerk’s Office. Come earlier than that and wait until you are called. Remember that it isn’t polite to cut the line.Bring only your photographer and one witness to the County Clerk’s office. Don’t bring your family and friends into the crowded hallway in front of the office. Ask your guests to wait outside. Do a quick photoshoot inside the building. Remember that other couples need space too. Half an hour is about enough for fantastic professional photos. If you invest in a great photographer, he will know how exactly where and how to take jaw-dropping photos in thirty minutes. 

Don’t use messy props and decorations. You are not allowed to use things that should be glued, wired or fixed. Items which can damage surfaces are forbidden at City Hall.Don’t leave a mess behind you. Couples are not allowed to use confetti or rose petals. If you opt for an alternative, makes sure to clean up. Read the City Hall Building Rules and Regulations!