Groom holding bride up happily in front of City Hall

Having a civil ceremony at the San Francisco City Hall is one of the most romantic elopement venues in California. It is a destination for so many couples to get married there without the costs of what a full size wedding entails. With the gorgeous dome structure to the grand staircase and rotunda, the stately building in San Francisco offers breathtaking architecture with a sense of style and grace to your wedding photos. It is conveniently located in the heart of San Francisco and every couple choosing to elope at the City Hall can easily put together a civil ceremony in just a matter of days with this step by step process. Still aren’t convinced? Here are some key reasons to elope!

From reservations at the City Hall to obtaining a marriage license, I wanted to create a step by step for couples that need some direction on what to do to prepare for an elopement at the historic and iconic building. Just a few simple steps the city Hall will offer such a magical experience without all the hassle of planning a big wedding.

CHOOSING A DATE AND TIME

Bride & Groom on their wedding day at City Hall SF
couple portrait city Hall

Unless you are renting out the City Hall for a bigger wedding, the SF City Hall only allows reservations to be made up to 90 days in advance. To ensure the date you want I would suggest booking 90 days prior.

To avoid the crowds the best time of day to get married is the first available 9am appointment or the last at 3:30pm. Monday-Wednesday seems to not be as busy as the end of the week.
The City Hall opens as early as 8am so having the first appointment. I always suggest showing up at least 20 mins prior to the ceremony time to check in at the Clerks office and beat the lines.
Check out this timeliness elopement at the City Hall

OBTAINING YOUR MARRIAGE LICENSE

Sandra & Mathew’s SF City Hall Wedding

In general, you’ll want to make an appointment at your local county clerk’s office.
Each county has a different fee amount and they accept cash, credit, or check. The marriage license is valid for 90 days from it’s issuance date. I recommend obtaining your marriage license after you reserve your date. Keep in mind you will need to get married within 90 days of getting your license.
When it’s time for your appointment, head to Room 168 on the first floor of City Hall – and don’t forget your IDs.
The cost of a marriage license is $113.

WHERE IN THE BUILDING TO GET MARRIED AND COSTS

civil ceremony elopement
City Hall architecture

You can choose from one of three different areas:

  1. The Mayor’s Balcony – This is the area opposite of the staircase. You can have the venue bring in chairs for an additional cost. Great for larger wedding parties and guests. Standing capacity is 100 people. Reserving the Mayor’s balcony for one hour is $1,000
  2. 4th Floor North & South Gallery – The 4th Floor North Gallery is the best for lighting. In the winter months be advised the light sets sooner and tones of the light tend to be a little more orange in the later afternoon. The South side tends to get very harsh light resulting in photos with high contrast. The cost for reserving the 4th floor for one hour is $1,000.
  3. Rotunda – This is the area right above the staircase under a smaller dome. You will be married by the ‘Deputy Marriage Commissioner’ who is provided by the City and you are only allowed 6 guests including your photographer. This option is great for small and quick wedding packages. The ceremony is usually about 5 mins shot and sweet. The lighting tends to be a bit dimmer there. Cost of civil ceremony is $200 including your marriage license.

WHAT TO BRING

Portrait in font of the City Hall

You want to be sure to bring your Identification with you and your marriage license. I always encourage brides to bring a touch us makeup kit and anything else they feel they will want photographed. AND DON’T FORGET THE RINGS!
Civil ceremonies only allow 6 guests and that includes photographers, videographers, and children. For the rotunda, couples arriving with larger groups will be held in a private ceremony room. Specific requests for the rotunda or any other area will not be accepted because they can’t guarantee availability and ceremonies are performed in a location determined by the commissioner. You should arrive check in twenty minutes before your ceremony reservation, at the Information Desk in Room 168.

WHAT DETAILS TO INCLUDE

Bella Belle Shoes on vows
Adorable poodle staring at camera with a couple kissing
Vow Books

I always say that the details are what make your wedding gallery exquisite. Seeing as how costs are greatly reduced when getting married at the SF City Hall you may feel more inclined to splurge on your wedding details. Try to include design of color and style into the inspiration of your special day.

  1. Ring Boxes – Adding a special ring box to your gallery adds such a beautiful touch to elevating your gallery of images. It also looks amazing when photographing your details. I love vintage finds in antique stores or you can find them on eBay. Another huge favorite is the Mrs. Box where you can engrave your initials and date right on the box.
  2. Vows – Writing your own vows is incredibly important and can be a treasured love letter you give to one another. Having the vows calligraphed to live on a special paper or vow book is an heirloom that should be treasured forever. For vow books I love Rebecca Green Designs and for Calligraphed vows I love Inquisited
  3. Florals – The more flowers the better! I do appreciate gorgeous lavish bouquets. Don’t be afraid to go big and bold. Always ask your florist to include some loose florals for flat lay styling the details.
    For City Hall florists check out Rare Sparrow

You can see more on how I style these details here

MAKING IT SPECIAL

Couple walking through the trees in front of City Hall

I always love a City Hall wedding where a lot of thought and detail were considered. Even though you are eloping, make it a special day and always make it luxurious!
Choosing a beautiful place to get ready at is a part of the excitement of the day. I have photographed lots of City Hall weddings where the bride and groom have me arrive at their hotel to do getting ready photos and styling of their details. (shoes, rings, dress etc) Here are a few of my favorite hotels for getting ready.

  1. Fairmont San Francisco With the panoramic views of the city and the gorgeous garden, the Fairmont offers such a beautiful place to relax and get ready for your big day. I love doing First Looks in the garden or if booking the penthouse suite, right there on the balcony.
  2. The Palace Hotel Talk about luxurious. Enjoy a beautiful breakfast under the chandeliers in the restaurant and have your first look in the French Parlor. Absolutely breathtaking.
  3. Ritz Carlton SF Such a beautiful hotel and quiet outside with just a quick Uber ride to the city hall.

ADDITIONAL LOCATIONS

iconic photo of the city hall with a guy dipping his woman

Of course we are going to photograph you both in all of the essential areas of the City Hall but aside from that you might want to consider going outside or to other locations. Here are some of my favorite spots to go to for portraits after your ceremony is over.

  1. Sutro Baths – I guess the photograph says it all, but this location offers the wow factor that couple’s usually end up framing. Sutro Baths has the gorgeous light and the ocean with the remains of what was before the 1906 earthquake.
  2. Legion of Honor – Who does love the leading lines of the pillars? A not far jaunt to the museum is such a beautiful place to have your post ceremony portraits that keeps with the style continuity of the City Hall.
  3. City Hall Gardens – Just behind the main entrance of the City Hall are the beautiful tree lined gardens and gorgeous gated entrance that offers a continuation of the old world feel.
  4. Marin Headlands – Some of the most gorgeous views from just walking distance of the parking lot. This location is definitely one you will never forget. Just 20 mins from the San Francisco City Hall
Marin Headlands Bride and Groom Elope
A San Francisco City Hall & Marin Headlands Elopement