How to Get Married at San Francisco City Hall

In San Francisco, we are incredibly blessed to have such a stunning and picturesque City Hall to get married in. More than just economic, a variety of lovely spots inside and out of our City Hall make it great for a wedding experience. Since there are a few ways of going about getting married or having a civil ceremony there, it’s important to consider differences in cost and time, but no matter which option you choose, you can make the day special, and about the two of you.

The Four Types of City Hall Weddings

Starting from the smallest ceremony to a full evening rental, City Hall weddings come in for varieties, which I will give a breakdown of below. All prices listed are current as of the writing of this post. Please double check the City Hall and City Hall events websites for current information as pricing and structure may change over time.

Civil Ceremony

The first, and simplest option, is to have a civil ceremony. In San Francisco, these take place either under the Rotunda or in the San Francisco County Clerk Ceremony Room. Unfortunately, special location requests, even within the Rotunda, are not accepted. The Deputy Marriage Commissioner will choose among available scheduled locations before performing your ceremony. Although the Rotunda is beautiful, the Ceremony Room is also a great choice, as they have taken the time to make it an attractive alternative, so no need to fret if find yourself with no other option. Regardless, most of your time will be spent around the rest of City Hall, taking gorgeous photos after the ceremony.

Timing + Cost

Civil ceremonies can take place Monday through Friday, from 9:00 3:00 p.m. (except for holidays) and are by reservation only. There are 3 appointment slots per 30 minutes.

As of the time of writing this, the cost for a civil ceremony is $93.00, but make sure to check out the San Francisco City Hall website for the most up to date information.

How Many People Can Attend?

You are allowed up 6 people in attendance, including your photographer and other vendors. San Francisco is quite strict about this, and will likely ask you to leave if you attempt to break this rule. I recommend meeting up with more friends and family afterwards for photos, and possibly roll that into brunch/lunch/dinner. Note that you will need at least 1 witness for a public marriage license, but luckily your photographer can sign as one if you wish to keep your event private.

Although the ceremony is listed as 10 minutes long, I find it usually ends up being around 5. Given the city’s need to keep ceremonies quick (there are almost 1 million people here!), couples aren’t allowed to recite custom vows. This is a big negative to many couples, but I find that writing custom vows, and reading them later at your own pace in a location of your own choosing, is often a better alternative. There’s plenty of time after the ceremony to fit in vows, portraits, family photos and anything else you need, so there’s no need to feel rushed.

What Do You Need To Bring?

To check in, arrive 10 minutes before your appointment at the Information Desk at City Hall in room 168. You can bring no more than 2 witnesses to your check in appointment, all other guests will need to wait in the outer hallway. You will be required to have:

  • A valid marriage license to sign
  • A currently valid government issued photo i.d.
  • At least 1 witness for a Public Marriage Ceremony (No witnesses are required for a Confidential Marriage Ceremony. Explained Below!)

Double check any other info on the SF City Hall Website as things can change over time.

One Hour Rental

The One hour rental and up are all reserved through the SF City Hall Events site, as they include space reservations and chair rentals. 

If a nice small wedding at City Hall is your goal, but find the 6 person too limiting, a 1 hour rental is a great alternative. You are able to reserve this hour, with a starting time between 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (except holidays), just like the civil ceremony, but this option costs $1,000 (as of 2020 but check on the SF City Hall Events page to get the most up to date information).

Surprisingly you are able to have a whopping 100 guests, but be aware, chair rentals are at additional cost, and neither of the One Hour locations seat a full paty, so expect to have some standers if you have a big group. Your ceremony will take place in either the Mayor’s Balcony or the Fourth Floor Galleries. The Mayors Balcony is smaller, limited to 40 chairs, while the Fourth Floor Galleries are larger, with a 60 chair capacity. Overlooking the neoclassical main floor under the City Halls beautiful rotunda, the Mayors Balcony is appealing to many, and many couples appreciate the ability to enter by walking down the small set of stairs standing before the balcony. The Fourth Floor Galliers, however, ofter the best light, which makes it my recommendation to couples who want an emphasis of photography. Although you get the space reserved for the full hour, City Hall is still open for business, so bear in mind both locations will have a significant amount of noise, from ambient chatter echoing through through the chambers, to the dings of the elevators passing by. I would describe one hour times and spaces as semi private.

As far as decorations and music, your options are limited. Advanced permission to use a hand held chuppah can be requested, but otherwise no other decorations, cerimonial or otherwise, are allowed. You won’t be able to jam out to your favorite playlist either, but limited acoustic music can be played, provided it is performed by one of their approved vendors. Unlike a civil ceremony, Another key difference is that you will need to provide your own officiant. If you don’t wish to use a traditionally ordained figure or professional officiant, you can bring a family member or friend who either gets ordained beforehand, or signs up to be a Deputy Commissioner for a day. Note that the latter option has limited availability in date and time, so plan accordingly!

After your hour is over, you still have the ability to stay and take photos in the rest of City Hall, and after any family and friend photos are complete you can always head to another location for more couples photos!

2 Hour Saturday Rental

The next option available is the 2 hour rental which is only available on Saturdays starting at 9:00 a.m. with the latest start time being 12:00 p.m., depending on availability. The ceremony takes place on the Grand Staircase, and with a 200 guest limit, it will fit all but the largest parties. The base rental fee of $5,000 and that includes chairs, and like the one hour rental, you will need to provide your own officiant. This package is an affordable balance between a City Hall wedding and a traditional venue. 

The two hours is parly to allow time for load in and load out, as large parties can be time consuming to accommodate. That being said, you will still end up with more space and time for photos, which I find great for squeezing in bridal party pics after the ceremony. Another big plus, is the ability to freely take pictures in front of the grand staircase, which near impossible during the busy week! Being such a large chunk of the day, I find most couples will take a break after the ceremony, but the early time slots do allow for brunch, early dinner, and/or a trip to a reception.

Evening Rental

The last option is the evening rental, a private event which gives you access to the Rotunda and a light court, while utilizing the Grand Staircase for the ceremony, the Mayor’s Balcony for the cocktail hour, and dinner and dancing in the main hall, under the Rotunda. This option is quite magical and decadent, the closest to renting City Hall itself as a venue, though it’s definitely the most pricey option, starting at $10,000. Many couples find it attractive nonetheless, as the price is still very competitive with other bay area venues.

You are able to do an evening rental on weekdays and weekends, and again, you will need to provide your own officiant and hire most of your vendors from City Hall’s list of approved vendors (any photographer shoot there though!). This is the perfect option for those looking for a large wedding all conveniently in one beautiful location. Since evening rentals are complex affairs, definitely reach out to the City Hall Events team to get more info on what is available and what would work best for you.

Other Info!

Do I need to make appointments?

Yes! You will need to make a separate appointment for both the marriage license and the civil ceremony/ private ceremony. If you are going with the civil ceremony route, you can make both appointments for the same day, but it must be at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony appointment time. It’s best to look at the online calendar for both appointments, to make sure you have your license ready before the ceremony. The marriage license is valid for 90 days so you can get it early to alleviate stress.

Two types of marriage licenses

In California there are two types of marriage licenses, public and confidential. With a public marriage license, it becomes part of public record and requires a member of the public (a witness) to verify. A confidential marriage is a unique California partnership, a private or “secret” marriage contract between two people, granted by a state clerk. This license was designed back in the day (1878) to protect people’s public image, and as such does not need witnesses, but california does required to have been living together prior to applying for the license (though no proof of duration is needed).

Both licenses allow you to get married anywhere in the state of California and are both valid and legal marriages. You do not need to be a California resident to get a marriage license but you will both need to bring a valid i.d.

To get your marriage license you must bring:

Best times and days to get married.

For civil ceremonies and 1 hour rentals, it’s best to avoid Fridays, and Thursdays can be iffy as well. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you can’t get married on a Thursday or Friday, but things will be a lot busier. Although ceremonies themselves will be timely, you may have to wait for other couples finishing up their shoots, and compete with the other photographers, if you want specific images. 

In my experience, the best days seem to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays, preferably the earliest or the latest appointments, favoring morning ones especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

That being said, choosing the best times for you, your partner, your family, and your friends will keep the day the most stress free. It’s also wise to check for any special events happening in the area, and be conscious of seasonal decor. That latter point may work in your favor, as many couples love the end of the year holiday decorations.

Best Areas in City hall for photos

There are so many gorgeous locations inside City Hall but a few of my favorites are:

  • Fourth Floor North Gallery – Great light means great photos.
  • Third Floor North Side – Another north side? This side of City Hall is super popular with photographers for a reason!
  • Grand Staircase – This is a lovely spot but can get super crowded. If we are unable to take a wide shot there, it is still possible to get some lovely shots that are tighter, or you can just embrace the crowds!
  • South side stairwell – This is a little more intimate and has lovely light
  • Mayor’s Balcony – You can get great views of the Rotunda as well as the staircase here.
  • City Hall doors, Outside Portal – This is a classic photo, you can come out celebrating, or pause for a quick kiss!
  • Second floor- This is an under utilized area, with great architecture and less foot traffic.

Sample Civil Ceremony Timeline


  • 07:00 a.m. Getting ready photos at home or cute AirBnB/Hotel
  • 08:00 a.m. First Look and Outdoor Couples photos 1- Hour
  • 09:20 a.m. Arrive at San Francisco City Hall
  • 10:00 a.m. Get Married
  • 10:15 a.m. Family/Friend Photos
  • 10:30 a.m. Couples Photos in City Hall
  • 11:15 a.m. Leave for Brunch/Lunch Celebration with family/friends


  • 01:00 p.m. Getting ready photos at home or cute AirBnB/Hotel
  • 01:45 p.m. First Look
  • 02:30 p.m. Arrive at San Francisco City Hall
  • 03:00 p.m. Get Married
  • 03:15 p.m. Family/Friend Photos
  • 03:30 p.m. Couples Photos in City Hall
  • 04:15 p.m. Leave for Couples photos at second location
  • 04:30 p.m. Couples photos 40 minutes to 1 hour
  • 06:00 p.m. Dinner with family and friends

There are so many ways you can plan your day and I am happy to give more recommendations!

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  1. Wow you did it all! There is so much great info here, all a couple has to do it hire you and you have all of the answers! Great job doing the hard work for your clients and capturing amazing memories too!

  2. This is super helpful advice for anyone planning to get married at City Hall. I hope this pandemic ends soon so that the festivities can resume!

    1. Thanks! We are really spoiled with our City Hall, but the great news is you can be from anywhere and get married there!

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