Essential Tips to make your San Francisco City Hall wedding flow

(updated 2/21/24)

Hey there lovebirds!

If you’re planning to tie the knot at the iconic San Francisco City Hall, congratulations! You’ve chosen a breathtaking venue for your special day, and I couldn’t be more excited for you. As a seasoned wedding photographer who has had the pleasure of capturing many beautiful moments at this stunning location, I’ve got some insider tips to help make your day go off without a hitch. So, grab a cup of coffee, snuggle up with your partner, and let’s dive into the top 10 tips for couples getting married at San Francisco City Hall.

San Francisco City Hall Wedding

Tip #1:

Schedule your ceremony during off-peak hours: San Francisco City Hall can get quite busy, especially during popular wedding season. To avoid crowds and ensure a more intimate experience, try scheduling your ceremony during off-peak hours, such as early morning or late afternoon.

Tip #2:

Obtain your marriage license ahead of time: Don’t forget to obtain your marriage license before your big day! You can do this by booking an appointment with the San Francisco County Clerk’s office. Having all your paperwork in order will make the process run smoothly on the day of your wedding.


The best times of day to capture those dreamy wedding photos at City Hall when the light is absolutely magical is in the morning before 11am, and in the afternoon after 2pm. Trust us, you’ll thank us later when you see how gorgeous your photos turn out!

Here’s what to do to book your marriage license and civil ceremony

Get a marriage license appointment here ($128) & a civil ceremony appointment here ($103).

If you can, pick up your license before the ceremony so you can have less waiting around.
You can book an appointment up to 90 days in advance. They are Monday thru Friday, 10AM to 3:30PM.

Check in to the County Clerk’s Office at room 168, 15-20 minutes before your ceremony. They will assign you a number and then you wait in the hallway for 30 minutes give or take. When they call your number you will meet the judge who will be marrying you and you sign your license. The judge will instruct where to meet you. You can ask at this time where you would like to be married. The default is the rotunda but for good light I’d advise to request for the fourth floor, north balcony.

Ceremony Location: Rotunda (at the top of the Grand Staircase)

Days of the week: Monday – Friday, excluding holidays

Time slots: Every half-hour between 9 am – 3:30 pm

Maximum guest count: Up to 6 guests

When to book: Maximum of 90 days out; calendar opens at midnight PST

A few notes:

  • They no longer allow photographers to come in to room 168. Only the couple is allowed in to that area to wait and check in with the Justice of Peace (aka, your officiant).
  • Masks are required inside San Francisco City Hall, but may be removed for the First Kiss and while taking photos. Your mask must be kept on at all other times when not taking photos. Guests will be required to keep their mask on for the entire duration of your ceremony.

Secret sauce: The rules say to bring up to 6 people including your photographer but I have seen many couples bring more people than this. While this rule may not always be strictly enforced, it could be enforced at any time.

This is the basics for civil ceremonies. You can also do a private ceremony where you can have up to 100 guests. And you can even rent out City Hall as a venue on the weekend (share the mega palace vibes with your buds!)

San Francisco City Hall Wedding

What to expect

Heads up you will go thru security. So be ready to take off jackets, purses, bouquet etc. and put them in a basket/hand them to the security guard as you walk thru the metal detector. They are some of the nicest people who are quite used to seeing people in wedding attire and escorted by someone with a camera and a lot of gear

And expect people. I’d say the beginning of the week is a little more relaxed but heading toward the weekend, there are plenty more crowds, both Civil Ceremonies and tourists in general. It’s a wonderful little dance we do to take turns taking photos in different areas but it mostly turns out quite well!

How to prepare

Dress to impress: San Francisco City Hall is a stunning backdrop for your wedding day, so be sure to dress to impress! Whether you choose a formal gown or a chic suit, make sure you feel confident and comfortable in your attire.

Do: get a nice dress + a bouquet + a boutonniere (U & I Flowers) is my favorite florist!

Family Photo List: Put together a shot list with your photographer by writing out the special people who will be your witnesses that day and create a list such as:
Bride + Groom with Grace (Bride’s Mom) and Harry (Bride’s Dad)
Bride + Groom with Chuck (Groom’s Best Friend)

And continue listing in every combination you need!

For your couple’s photos here are some of the best spots:

  • 3rd floor windows and railing
  • Mayors Balcony
  • Grand staircase
  • 4th Floor balcony
  • …and Outside City Hall!


For all you camera-shy couples out there, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Our team knows all the best angles and poses to make you look and feel your best. Just relax, be yourselves, and leave the rest to us.


How to celebrate

If you want to go to restaurants close by the darling neighborhood of Hayes Valley is just a few blocks away and is easily Lyft-able and walkable. Little Gem and Absynthe have a wonderful vibe to it!

San Francisco City Hall Wedding

Here’s a sample timeline (3.5 hours) for a San Francisco City Hall Wedding:

9:15 – 9:30 AM Check in at the County Clerk’s Office (room 168), get your number then wait for number to be called

9:30 AM Photography coverage begins; meet outside the County Clerk Office corridor

10:00 AM Ceremony time! We will walk to the to ceremony location determined by the judge; this time is flex, and the actual ceremony will likely happen about 20 minutes after your booked time

10:20 – 10:25 AM Estimated actual ceremony time 🙂

10:30 – 10:40 AM Time for photos! Depending on how busy City Hall is at that point, we’ll find a spot for your group photos with your guests

10:40 – 11:00 AM Group photos

11:10 – 11:40 AM Couples portraits in City Hall (minimum 30 minutes, I usually recommend 45 so we can get some outside as well)

11:45 – 12:15 PM Travel to location #2 for couples portraits

12:15 – 1:15 PM Couples portraits at location #2!

1:15 PM Photography coverage ends


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