San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony Wedding
Welcome to San Francisco City Hall! Many couples choose the San Francisco City Hall wedding because it’s affordable, convenient, and elegant. This page will specifically address the San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony Wedding.
The Mayor’s Balcony is one of the most central and visible parts of the building. It’s easily recognizable because of its location directly underneath the big clock. Also, the Balcony has an iconic gold railing. In addition to weddings, the Balcony is often set aside for official civic ceremonies and events. The Balcony is often visited by wedding photographers and tourists alike, because it’s a great vantage point from which to capture City Hall. In 2013, the fight to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act was finally won. In June of that year, the Balcony hosted the first federally-recognized same sex San Francisco City Hall wedding.
San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony Wedding
When they first reach out to me about documenting their City Hall wedding, most couples ask the following questions:
- What is the best time to get married at San Francisco City Hall?
- Will City Hall crowds be a problem?
- Which is better for a private 1-hour reservation – the Mayor’s Balcony, or the 4th Floor?
- When is the best light at City Hall?
- Is it worth it to rent the Mayor’s Balcony for our wedding ceremony?
- Should we get our own officiant, or use one of City Hall’s?
On this page, I will provide the answers, and specifically address the advantages and disadvantages of the San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony wedding.
The Best Time to Get Married on the San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony
The Balcony is one of the best vantage points from which to see the entire building. This means that as you stand at the gold railing for your ceremony, the entire atrium of City Hall will be visible behind you. On the one hand, this means that your guest can appreciate your ceremony with a striking juxtaposition against the backdrop of the main part of the building. On the other hand, this poses the challenge of having other people in the background of your photographs: tourists, photographers, wedding couples. City Hall tends to be busiest during the afternoon hours of 11AM – 2PM. For this reason, it’s best to consider booking your ceremony as early as possible, or as late as possible in the day. This will give you a better chance of having more of the building to yourselves. Additionally, City Hall is usually busiest on Fridays. Booking your ceremony for a Monday or Tuesday should give you an emptier and less hectic environment.
Deciding Between the Mayor’s Balcony and 4th Floor Galleries
Your wedding ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so of course it’s no surprise that you want to pick the best possible location for it. If you are planning to spend $1,000 to rent the space, you want to make sure your money is invested well. The package for the Mayor’s Balcony includes seating for up to 40 guests, and access for up to 100. This means that inviting over 40 guests will require some of your guests to stand during your ceremony. In addition to nice wooden chairs, City Hall Events will also provide you with a small table, on which you can serve champagne and sweets.
There are several advantages to choosing the Mayor’s Balcony:
- The Balcony affords guests a wide, unobstructed view of the heart of the building.
- The same view will be available as the background for your family & guest photos.
- The Balcony is easy to find and access by elevator from the Polk Street of the building.
- The Balcony has great historical significance.
- The gold railing and tall, elegant lamps provide beautiful architectural accents to your photos.
- There is a natural aisle formed by a set of descending steps.
- There is ample space for musicians to set up on the right wing of the Balcony.
- The Balcony provides a richer and more varied color scheme than the all-white/ivory 4th Floor Galleries.
There are also several challenges that must be addressed by an experienced photographer:
- The unobstructed view of the building means that other City Hall visitors will appear in the background. It’s up to the photographer to compose them out of the shots, and/or to remove distracting elements using lighting or post-production.
- The Balcony does not get direct natural light. The light falls down indirectly from the large 4th Floor windows, as well as the small windows on either side of the Balcony. This means that an experienced photographer should have their own lighting and should be prepared to shoot long exposures if necessary.
- The Balcony reservation only provides 40 chairs, while the 4th Floor Galleries allow 60. If you have a large guest list and a long ceremony, this may be a disadvantage.
The Best Light on the Mayor’s Balcony
When San Francisco offers a bright, crisp, sunny day, City Hall tends to be full of light. The indirect window light bounces around the light stone of the building and provides lots of brightness on the Mayor’s Balcony. On rainy or foggy San Francisco days, the window light is much more subdued. This means that the majority of the light on the Balcony is coming from the tungsten lamps. This makes the Balcony much darker and moodier, and requires long exposures and off-camera lighting. However, if captured well on a moody day, a San Francisco Mayor’s Balcony wedding can look truly spectacular. Since it’s almost impossible to guess the weather in San Francisco, my advice is: walk through the building if possible, and book the space that feels right to you. Then, get the best photographer who can make your wedding shine in any conditions.
Is it Worth Renting the Mayor’s Balcony For Your Wedding Ceremony?
If you are planning to have a formal, sit-down ceremony with over 20 guests, it’s worth it. It seems like a lot of money, but that’s until you do your homework on wedding venues. You’ll find that there are very few places where you can have an elegant, sit-down ceremony setting for $1,000. That’s what makes the San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s balcony wedding so appealing for many couples. If you do choose to go this route, I highly recommend you consider booking a private officiant. City Hall civil ceremonies are in high demand, and often this means that officiants are overbooked and falling behind schedule. If you bring in your own officiant, you avoid the City Hall check-in process. Also, it allows you to customize your ceremony. For example, you might want to observe special cultural traditions, read your own vows, and/or bring in musicians to accompany your ceremony. One musician to consider is the excellent violinist Pourya Khademi, pictured below.
Hopefully this page has been helpful in planning your San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony wedding. If you have any other questions, please contact me directly and I would be happy to provide a consultation.
Hey! This site has more helpful articles about planning your San Francisco City Hall Wedding.
You have several other options when it comes to having your ceremony and celebration in the building:
Civil Ceremony in the Rotunda
4th Floor Gallery North Wedding
4th Floor Gallery South Wedding