San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding
I am a San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer. On this page, I share what I’ve learned over many years of San Francisco City Hall wedding photography experience. This is all the information you need to know about planning your San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor wedding.
Why Should You Choose a San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding?
San Francisco City Hall offers several options for holding your wedding ceremony in the building. For intimate weddings with fewer than 6 guests, it really doesn’t make sense to rent out a part of the building. The best option is to pay $83 and go with the standard civil ceremony reservation. However, if you want to hold a formal wedding ceremony in a beautiful environment, you should make a one hour wedding reservation at SF City Hall. The 1-hour reservation costs $1,000. It’s an investment. I have a page on this site which goes into detail about the San Francisco City Hall Mayor’s Balcony wedding. Here, we will focus specifically on the fourth floor. You can see an example of a complete SF City Hall 4th Floor Wedding.
What Makes the San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding Unique?
There are several main differences between the Mayor’s Balcony and San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding. When considering which one to choose, you should think about the following:
Both spaces can accommodate up to 100 guests. However, the Mayor’s Balcony can only provide 40 chairs, whereas the Fourth Floor Galleries can provide up to 60 chairs.
The Mayor’s Balcony provides guests a wide view of the building behind the wedding couple. This is a spectacular experience. However, there is a trade-off: it also means that couples and events in the background will be noticeable. The 4th Floor North and South Galleries sit at the top of the building, and guests will only be able to see the top slice of the atrium. This gives the ceremony a feeling of greater privacy.
The Mayor’s Balcony gets indirect light from the building’s windows and tungsten lamps. When the day is sunny and bright, the Mayor’s Balcony is brighter. However, a typically foggy SF day will mean much less available light there. The 4th Floor Galleries are always illuminated by the large semi-circular windows above them.
The 4th Floor has a distinct, warm color palette of whites, greys, ivories, browns, golds. You should consider this carefully if you are going for a specific visual style for your ceremony.
The Fourth Floor Galleries at City Hall are essentially long hallways. This makes them ideal for staging a processional during your ceremony. The chairs will form a natural aisle.
City Hall is a public building, which means that tourists arrive frequently. They are eager to photograph everything in sight. The City Hall events folks will rope off access the 4th Floor to ensure that you have total privacy during your ceremony.
What’s the Difference Between the 4th Floor North and 4th Floor South Galleries?
This is a very frequently-asked question. The answer is simple. The light is the difference, and it’s the reason why most couples opt for the North Gallery. During most of the year, the path of the sun brings direct sunlight through the large semi-circular window on the South side. Direct sunlight can create uncomfortable warmth and visual discomfort for you and your guests. It can also pose specific photography challenges by creating areas of strong highlight and shadow. To avoid this issue altogether, it’s best to simply reserve the 4th Floor North Gallery. However, for some couples the North is not available on their intended time and date. If you are set on having the 4th Floor as the setting for your ceremony, you should still book the South Gallery. An experienced City Hall photographer should always have their own lighting and the ability to deal with any lighting conditions.
How to Make the Most of Your San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding
You will pay $1,000 to reserve a Fourth Floor Gallery for one hour. In order to make the most out of your investment, the time needs to be managed wisely. I recommend the following schedule:
Guest arrivals and mingling:
You should notify your guests that the Fourth Floor Gallery will open for them at a specific time. You should tell them to arrive at City Hall at least 30 minutes prior to that time, in order to account for traffic and parking considerations. They will also need extra time to clear the security in the building. If at all possible, tell guests to avoid driving to City Hall and take a Lyft/Uber instead. You should also be very clear with them about which gallery you have reserved – North or South.
Advise them to take the elevator to the fourth floor. The more clear and precise you can be with your instructions, the better the chance that your guests will be punctual. This will help everyone avoid stress and ensure that your ceremony begins on time. Once your guests arrive, they will have plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of the 4th Floor and take as many selfies as their hearts desire.
Getting seated for the ceremony:
You should appoint a friend, or ask your officiant to be very clear with guests about when it’s time to get seated for the ceremony. Clear instructions will help your ceremony begin on time. This task should be delegated to someone with an authoritative presence. I am happy to help facilitate this as well.
Placing your stuff:
Guests often come with stuff. Strollers, bags, jackets, gifts. In order to keep the ceremony photographs beautiful, and to keep the space clean, you should ask a friend to help your guests place their things out of the way of the main ceremony area. This will ensure a smooth processional, without any obstructions. And it will also make for better photographs.
Bringing a pop of color:
Because of the neutral color scheme of the 4th Floor Galleries, bringing a pop of color will really enhance your photographs. You could pick colorful bridesmaids’ dresses, flowers, ties, shoes, or even socks. Any pop of color will look amazing when contrasted with the neutral canvas that the fourth floor provides.
Adding music to your ceremony:
Having live music, such a string ensemble, harpist, or guitarist can significantly enhance your San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding ceremony. Just make sure the vendor you choose is experienced with playing at City Hall and understands its uniquely challenging acoustic environment. Also, the musician should be familiar with the San Francisco City Hall rules and regulations regarding live music.
Planning for group and family photos:
The best way to get the most out of your group and family photos is to provide your photographer with a list ahead of time. Having a clear list of shots will help the photos get organized quickly and efficiently. I typically begin with the largest group first, and then work down to smaller and smaller groups.
Coordinating an orderly “exodus” for your guests:
Promptly at the end of your one-hour reservation, the City Hall facilities workers will come to collect the chairs. Guests typically leave their bags, cameras and jackets on chairs. Those will need to be collected in an orderly fashion in order to allow the facilities folks to quickly and easily collect the chairs. You should have your authoritative friend (or me, the photographer) make an announcement to your guests about what happens next. They will appreciate the guidance, and you’ll have a smoother “exodus”.
How Should I Arrange My San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding Ceremony?
There are essentially two ways to arrange your ceremony space:
You can pick the traditional way, having the chairs symmetrically on both sides. They will face toward the decorative pillars and the opposite side of the 4th floor.
You can turn the two banks of chairs towards the middle of the fourth floor, facing inward. This creates a more intimate and unconventional environment for your guests.
Should I Bring My Own Officiant? Or Use One of City Hall’s?
The answer is easy. You are going to invest $1,000 just to book the space for your San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor Wedding. If you don’t mind investing a few hundred extra dollars (or asking a willing friend/family member), your ceremony will be greatly enhanced by bringing your own private officiant. You will skip having to go through City Hall’s check-in process, and you’ll not be confined to the standard, official 3-to-5 minute ceremony. Having your own officiant will give you a personalized ceremony. Time and space to read your vows, to soak in the moment, and to involve other friends and family members.
Over the years, I have worked with several highly competent celebrants, and I’d be delighted to recommend a San Francisco City Hall wedding officiant.
I hope this page has been useful in helping you plan your San Francisco City Hall 4th Floor wedding. Please contact me directly and I would be happy to answer any additional questions.
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