The San Francisco City Hall Wedding Process
Whether you live in San Francisco, or you're coming from far away to get married at SF City Hall, it will be helpful for you to understand the process. First of all, there are two options for how you can hold your ceremony at San Francisco City Hall.
- You can make a standard ceremony reservation through the SF City Hall website. It will cost you less than $100. You'll check in with the County Clerk 5 minutes before your ceremony time, and then the ceremony itself will last about 3-5 minutes. This is a very efficient and inexpensive way to officially tie the knot. However, such a reservation may only be made beginning 90 days in advance of your intended wedding date.
- You can make a 1-hour reservation of the Mayor's Balcony or the Fourth Floor North or Fourth Floor South Galleries. This option is available Monday through Friday, and costs about 10 times as much as the other option above. You're looking at about $1,000. City Hall will set up a private space for you, roped off form the tourists and other visitors. They will set out elegant wooden chairs for your guests, as well as a table for champagne and sweets, should you want one. This is a great option for couples looking to have a more elaborate ceremony. You can bring in musicians (strings, harp, guitar - for example), as well as your own officiant. You'll be able to utilize the private space to arrange large group pictures with us, the City Hall wedding photographers.
Which option is better?
It depends on your vision for the wedding ceremony. If you want to elope, or have a small group of family and friends joining you, then it may not make sense to invest in the more formal and expensive rental. However, if you want to utilize the beauty and elegance of City Hall as the backdrop for a more formal ceremony, perhaps with your own officiant, musicians, vows, readings, champagne, cake, and seating for a larger number of guests, then the rental is an excellent option.
Both options require that you present a valid marriage license to the officiant marrying you. The license can be obtained at City Hall prior to your ceremony. You can get it a few days before (and do some reconnaissance in the building while you're at it - check out our "guided tour of City Hall"). You can also schedule it 30 minutes prior to your ceremony appointment, if you want to get all the administrative stuff done in one shot. The marriage license will be public record, or - for a fee - you can get a confidential one.
Ceremony Check-In Requirements
When you go to the County Clerk's Office to meet with the commissioner, you'll need the following:
- Valid IDs for you and your soon-to-be-spouse
- Marriage license (already obtained)
- One or two witnesses (unless your license is confidential; if it is such, you do not need witnesses)
- Be on time - the check-in is at the County Clerk's Office (Room 168), 5 minutes prior to your ceremony appointment time
If you have reserved a space and are using your own officiant, you DO NOT need to do the ceremony check-in at the County Clerk's office.
It is VERY important that you are on time for your appointment. Many couples get married at City Hall every day, and you do not want to lose your spot in line, especially if the rest of your day is time sensitive (e.g. you have to meet guests at a restaurant later, or you have a flight to catch to your honeymoon destination). However, please note that City Hall is not always punctual, so don't worry if your ceremony doesn't start exactly on time.
If you're driving up from another part of the Bay Area, know that traffic jams are the rule, rather than the exception. Parking around City Hall can be tough, especially on Fridays and during the summer/fall months when there are many concerts and events in San Francisco. Park on Grove street between Polk and Larkin if you can; otherwise look for parking in the underground garage on the plaza. Going through security and navigating the building takes some time, especially when large tour groups are around, and when a bride is wearing uncomfortable high-heeled shoes.
Give yourself ample time to arrive, to clear security, and to get to your appointment. A wedding day doesn't have to be stressful!
The Deputy Marriage Commissioners
The deputy marriage commissioners are the folks walking around in the black robes. They are responsible for carrying out your official wedding ceremony. When you show up to your wedding ceremony appointment at San Francisco City Hall, you will first be interviewed at the County Clerk's Office by your marriage commissioner. They will make sure the information on your marriage license is accurate, and that your witnesses fill out the document appropriately. They will present you with a souvenir marriage certificate and instruct you on timing and expectations. They will ask how to correctly pronounce your names and clarify whether you plan on exchanging rings. After this brief check-in, the commissioners will direct you upstairs to the Rotunda, where they will meet you in and conduct the ceremony. The ceremonies are quite short, 3-5 minutes, and each commissioner has their own individual style of speaking and interacting with wedding couples. Some are more eloquent, some are more "by the book". However, all are required to read a standard ceremony script. Some may arrange you and your guests; some may defer to the wedding photographer. They marry many couples each day, so please be courteous and polite to them!
When is the the Best Time to Get Married at San Francisco City Hall?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. The simplest answer is: whenever it's most meaningful and convenient for you to have your wedding! Of course, City Hall must have corresponding availability. If you are eloping or have a very intimate group of guests, you might consider the early morning or late afternoon hours, Mondays and Tuesdays, when the building is emptiest. Fridays are definitely the busiest day, and 10AM - 2PM or so are the busiest hours. If possible, avoid scheduling at those times. However, you might find that your guests can only attend during lunchtime, or perhaps the date you really want only has a 12:30PM appointment available. Don't worry, you'll still get married! It might just take a few more minutes, and we will have to rely on our expertise to smoothly guide you around the building if it's more crowded.
What about time of year? Is it better to get married in the spring, summer, fall or winter? Well, most San Franciscans know that September and October are generally the warmest and nicest months of the year. City Hall also tends to be very busy in December, when many people hurry to tie the knot around holiday time, as well as for tax purposes. Again, the best answer is that you should pick the time of year most meaningful and sensible for you and your guests.
Finally, make sure to contact the City Hall events office to check days when the building might be partially closed off for government functions or private events.