A San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony is one of the hidden surprises this city offers, and couples come from all over the Bay Area, California, and even Europe to get married in this majestic building. And while the photos options inside and around the building are plentiful, it’s also fun and convenient to grab some quality portraits around the city after the ceremony. Since SF is so small, many scenic places such as Union Square, Yerba Buena Gardens, Financial District and the Embarcadero are just a short drive away.
If you’re coming in from out of town, or even if you live in SF but have never stepped foot in City Hall before, this post will help you get acquainted with the space and the process, and will help you feel more comfortable as you navigate the building on your wedding day.
San Francisco City Hall History
The current building replaced the original city hall which, like much of San Francisco, was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. who also architected many other San Francisco landmarks, including the War Memorial Opera House, Temple Emanuel and Coit Tower. If you’ve ever been to Paris, you might find that the dome looks quite familiar; that’s because it’s an emulation of Mansart’s Les Invalides dome.
If your ceremony happens on a sunny day (best bet for this is to schedule the ceremony in the afternoon – after the famous fog burns off but before it rolls back in), the golden ornamentation on the dome’s exterior will gleam beautifully in the sunlight. I’ve taken some pretty stunning photographs with the dome and the blue sky in the background. Not to worry – even on foggy days the building’s grey exterior soaks up the ethereal light and makes for some beautiful photographs.
Some famous films have been shot at City Hall, including Dirty Harry, The Rock, and A View To A Kill.
Getting Married at City Hall
The good news about a San Francisco City Hall wedding ceremony, is that reservations may be made in person or online, and up to 90 days in advance of the date. Online, go to the county clerk’s website to make your San Francisco City Hall wedding reservation. You’ll need to book two appointments: the first, to get your marriage license, and the second is your Ceremony time. It takes about 30 minutes to get your license, so it’s best to book the two appointments at least 45 minutes apart.
As of July 1, 2010, the license fee for getting married at City Hall is $95.
Once you get to City Hall, head to the Office of the County Clerk – Room 168 – where you will obtain your marriage license. You’ll need to have valid photo ID’s with you. After this, you’ll “take a number” and will be called to sign the marriage documents in front of the officiant and your witnesses. It’s fun to have friends or family witness the signing. What about wedding photographers? Yep. I’ve been a witness for several couples. It’s an honor and I’m happy to help!
Selecting Your Ceremony Location
When you’ve obtained the license and all the documents have been signed and witnessed, the officiant will ask you where you’d like to hold your ceremony. There are several great spots to choose for your ceremony, but the Rotunda and the Balcony under the clock are the most popular. On busy days (usually later in the week) those spots may not be available or may require a longer wait. A good way to ensure that you get the spot of your choosing is to schedule your weekday San Francisco City Hall ceremony on Monday or Tuesday, when there aren’t as many ceremonies going on. The fourth floor is also an incredible spot to get married. You and your guests are perched above it all, and the huge windows provide beautiful, flattering diffused light which makes for gorgeous photographs.
Tips for San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography
Your wedding photography at San Francisco City Hall consists of several parts:
- Obtaining the Marriage License – Although it’s important, this is not the most glamorous part of the day. I will photograph in a very photojournalistic style to capture your preparations, interactions, and those pre-ceremony butterflies.
- The Ceremony – City Hall is magnificent, so there will be beautiful photos no matter which location you choose for your City Hall wedding ceremony. I also shoot the ceremony in a very photojournalistic style, to let your wedding moments happen naturally and to allow you to enjoy making the commitment to one another.
- Portraits Inside City Hall – After the ceremony is an excellent time to take portraits that encompass the building’s majestic architecture, and also to take advantage of all the quirky nooks and crannies. From the expansive staircase, to the light wells and balconies, there are endless possibilities. This is where working with a knowledgeable photographer becomes really important, because you’ll be able to visit the most interesting spots in the shortest amount of time.
- Portraits Around City Hall – Once you joyously emerge through the gilded doors, there are ample opportunities to take photographs on the grounds outside the building. The lawns, groves of trees, surrounding buildings, and even some of San Francisco’s “characters” can all make for interesting pictures. Something’s always going on in the plaza and together we’ll play and create some memorable photos. Of course, City Hall itself provides the most stunning backdrop. Note that depending on your schedule, you can also take the outdoor portraits before you enter the building for your ceremony.
- Adventures Beyond City Hall – If you have time, there are many scenic places to visit in the vicinity of City Hall. From visiting the classic SF landmarks, to the famous neighborhoods, parks and beaches, I am happy to plan the day’s itinerary with you, and even be the guide and chauffeur.
I offer convenient weekday packages – contact me at 415.706.9350 or email firstname.lastname@example.org when you are ready to book your San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer.
More information is available at the Office of the County Clerk, located in Room 168 in the City Hall building. You can reach them by phone at (415) 554-4950, by email at: email@example.com, or online at www.sfgov.org/countyclerk.