SF City Hall Wedding Planning Tips - 6 Easy Steps
Step 1: Marriage License Appointment - You can obtain your Marriage License reservations by clicking San Francisco County Clerk. If your ceremony is on the same day of the license appointment, be sure to book the time at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony (County Clerk recommendation). You can even process your license the day before your wedding to make your big day less stressful. We personally suggest you book the marriage license appointment 1 full hour or more before your San Francisco City Hall ceremony if doing it on the same day. This allows a little more time in case things are running late and just makes your special day more relaxed and fun. You do not need a professional wedding photographer to cover the marriage license meeting. In fact, the County Clerk has recently decided to not allow any kind of photography or video during this appointment. This includes cell phone photography by your witnesses or yourself. There is honestly not that much to photograph anyway because you are mostly just completing paperwork at this meeting. Contrary to popular belief, your witness does NOT have to be at this meeting. The marriage license is not signed by your witness until your ceremony. Only the 2 of you need to be present to obtain your marriage license and of course, that would be the bride and the groom.
Step 2: Book your SF Courthouse Ceremony - The same link from above will enable you to choose your wedding ceremony date and time. City Hall will not accept reservations unless your chosen preferred marriage date is 90 days or less from the time you want to reserve it. Early and late ceremony times tend to be less crowded and better for wedding photography. If there is a particular wedding date that you must have, I suggest getting on the city hall reservation site that evening at midnight before the 90th day. The exception to the 90 day rule is for those couples that are interested in booking either the Mayor's Balcony or 4th Floor for the 1 hour reserved ceremony. Reserved weddings can be booked a year in advance, see below for more details on booking a large wedding at city hall. This is also true for Saturday weddings which allow much more notice, but are much higher in cost. Prices start at $5,000 for Saturday City Hall weddings. This price, however, does not include quite a few essentials. Contact the SF City Hall Event Department for more information by calling 415-554-6079. They will answer any questions you may have regarding how to prepare for this all important event in your lives. I have found that the people working at the Event department are some of the most friendly and helpful staff I have encountered in the wedding planning business. That is saying a lot!
Step 3: Hire a Professional SF City Hall Wedding Photographer - If you are going to choose such an amazing venue, why not receive some great photos? There are a number of exceptional San Francisco City Hall photographers available. Some of the best wedding photographers in the Bay Area love to shoot at SF City Hall, this is your chance to book them for bargain prices. Many of these photographers normally charge much more for a full wedding ($3,000 or higher) and you can usually book them for your civil ceremony for under $1,000. In most cases, you will probably receive more photos from a city hall photography session than a large wedding due to the time constraints built into big events. If you hire an experienced professional, they will also help walk you through much of this process.
Step 4: Invite Guests - This is the tricky part. The rule at City Hall is no more than 6 guests and until recently, it was not enforced. Due to some disruptions that occurred on the Mayor's Balcony in May of 2019, The County Clerk's office is now forced to restrict each wedding to only 6 guests. If you want to invite more than 6 people, it might be best to reserve the Mayor's Balcony which is designed to handle more guests. The beautiful 4th floor balcony is another location you can reserve and invite extra guests. Both of these reserved areas cost $1,000 to rent for 1 hour. They rope off the area to give your wedding party privacy. Tourists and other people will not be able to walk through your ceremony while it is occurring! Saturday weddings at city hall can accommodate even more people, but at a much greater cost. Pricing for Saturday weddings start at $5,000 and that does not include Security and other extras. With the pandemic still looming, city hall has become more stringent about following the 6 guest limit.
Step 5: Choose your Ceremony Location - Both the Rotunda and the private room are available for the bargain price of $93 (as of the year 2021). Some Deputy Marriage Commissioners will perform your nuptials at the Mayor's Balcony or on the 4th floor if you ask, but we see this wish being granted less frequently these days. If it is the Holiday season, you can request an alternative location to the Christmas tree in the background. Otherwise, those locations cost money to reserve (see above), but allow for more guests. Remember to bring your unexpired ID's and your marriage license on your wedding day! Make sure your Identification documents are current and not expired. You can use a drivers license, passport or other legal picture identification. Please Note: If you come to San Francisco city hall with more than 6 guests, you will NOT have a choice on where to have your ceremony. Starting in May of 2019, all couples with over 6 guests will be married in the Private Room. This was not enforced in the past, but now is.
Step 6: You did it, you're married! - If you hired professional city hall wedding photographers they will take you around the building and maybe even destinations in other parts of San Francisco to capture some great photos and wonderful memories! If you didn't hire a photographer, you should have! To read more About us click the link to see how important it is to hire a professional and not use your uncle! The risks are too great to ignore for this very important event in your lives.
Helpful Hints For Your SF City Hall Wedding Day
- Don't Be Late For Your Own Wedding! San Francisco City Hall is notorious for making people late. Whether it's the traffic, a special event or an unexpected closed parking garage, the engaged couple faces some challenges making it to their own ceremony on schedule. The simple solution is to allow extra time. As your professional wedding photographers, we know we can't be late so we always plan our Breakfast, Lunch or Coffee at Philz nearby. This puts us at SF city hall much earlier than necessary to photograph the wedding, but also gives us cushion time. If things run late, we only miss our breakfast and not the wedding! We suggest you do the same! This advice is especially important if you happen to have a 3:30 pm ceremony time. Couples that miss this time will not be able to have their marriage at city hall that day. The County Clerk's office closes at 4:00 pm and the marriage commissioners go home after their 3:30 ceremonies. I have heard others give advice that they didn't need to worry if they miss their scheduled ceremony time because they could always catch the next time slot. Not so for 3:30 weddings! if you miss it, that's it! You are most likely not getting married on that particular day. So why not arrive early and take the extra time to enjoy and learn about some of the history of SF City Hall or get some coffee.
- Remember to Bring Snacks and Water. Wedding ceremonies at San Francisco city hall seldom occur on time and can be up to 30 minutes late on busy days like Thursday and Friday. It's important to stay hydrated on this stressful day and to also have a small protein bar handy if needed. Bring some sort of small container that can be used to carry these items and can double as a place to store your paperwork as well. We also try to provide our clients with some of these helpful things, but you may prefer to bring your own food especially if you have dietary restrictions. Protein bars are suggested or anything you like to snack on. A standard size folder will work to keep your souvenir marriage license unwrinkled. We will supply you with a nice folder if you do not have one, just ask!
- Take Care of the Marriage License Before your Big Day. The County Clerk's office will allow you to obtain your marriage License and have your ceremony on the same day. We think this is not the best idea. If for some reason you experience technical problems, or documentation issues with your marriage license you will not have enough time to fix them before your ceremony. If possible, come in the day before and take care of the paperwork, it will cause less stress on your wedding day and it's one less thing to worry about! You do not need your witness when you process your marriage license. Of course, we understand that many of you are not able to do that, especially travelers. Just make sure you have unexpired Identification!
- Guests Don't Need to Check-in. Before every standard San Francisco city hall wedding the couple is required to check-in at the County Clerk's office prior to the ceremony. Try to check-in about 10 minutes before your ceremony time. This is when you will meet your marriage commissioner and get the marriage license signed by your witnesses. So of course your witness DOES need to be there with you when you check-in. Guests do not need to be there and are not allowed in the office anyway. So when you bring your whole wedding party, it can be disruptive to others and often causes the bride and groom stress. Ask your guests to wait by the Grand Staircase or in the Rotunda area but retain your witnesses. It will make life easier for everyone and they won't miss a thing! Note: City Hall is now enforcing the 6 guest maximum rule!
- Brides Bring your Walking Shoes! Brides almost always wear new shoes on their wedding day and of course they hurt! Once your ceremony is over, we will take you throughout this beautiful building photographing you at various locations. We are happy to allow you the time to change back and forth between comfortable shoes and your "photo shoes". You will be very glad that you did because there is going to be quite a bit of walking to get from location to location in SF City Hall!
- Bring a "Wedding Survival Kit". You never know what you will need on a wedding day. Wedding coordinators have created clever kits that contain many of the things that might be needed when small things go wrong on your special day. Examples of potential contents include: Sewing kits, hair pins, scissors, safety pins, cough drops, pain relievers, bandages, duct tape, and other miscellaneous items.
- Keep your Guest Count close to 6. Unless you booked a reserved City Hall ceremony, the County Clerk will no longer allow large wedding parties to have their marriage ceremony in the Rotunda. All couples with large guest counts (over 6 guests) may be sent to alternative locations. It seems pointless to get married in the gorgeous building and be stuck in a small stuffy room. Keep the guest list low and then have a big party right after at a nearby San Francisco restaurant and invite everyone! If you want, we can cover that event for you too! We photograph many Wedding Receptions in San Francisco.
- Allow Extra Time for Post Wedding Celebrations. As mentioned previously, San Francisco city hall weddings rarely occur on time. In addition, there are other factors like traffic and parking to contend with. We counsel all of our brides and grooms to allow cushion time if they are planning an after wedding lunch or dinner reception. This is especially important to us, because if things run late and the couple needs to leave early, the wedding photography session is adversely affected. Thus, one of the first questions we ask our couples when we meet them is if they have a lunch or dinner planned and what time. The amount of times we have had to cut our photography session short because the couple had to leave for their celebration would surprise you. Avoid this problem and schedule your party at least 1 hour later then you think you need to.
- Have Fun!