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San Francisco City Hall Wedding Timeline

For those who have decided to forgo the tradition of a full day wedding and instead take the practical (and debt free) route of an intimate civil wedding, the San Francisco City Hallhas been on the rise as the cool place to do it.

Aside from the obvious economical thumbs up, this venue offers a stunning library of gorgeous corners and hidden spots for photos.

Most couples go for the In & Out package that includes 1 hour, enough to cover checking in, the ceremony and newlywed photos around the City Hall. This hour goes by quick and we efficiently use each minute of it. 

If you're entertaining the idea of getting married here or you've already booked me for a date, here's an in depth look at what to expect. A glimpse at how that hour is going to go down.

We'll use the example of an 11:00 am ceremony also with the assumption that you already have your marriage license. (Note: Booking your ceremony before noon is best. They're not that busy yet and still pretty much on time.)

10:50 am - I meet you outside Rm. 168. This room is easy to find, just ask the guards for quick directions as you come in the building. 

If you end up parking in the basement parking and entering the main doors facing Larkin, it's on the northeast side of the building. That means when you're facing the grand steps in the lobby, walk along the right side and turn right when you see a long hallway (the only one). Rm. 168 is at the very end.

I'll be there waiting. If you haven't sent me a photo of you in your dress, I'll text you on the day of what I'm wearing. Don't worry, we'll find each other. Maybe it's because of how long I've been doing this but I've got a knack for knowing who my bride is even if I haven't seen you (or a photo of you) yet. Trippy instinct.

After hugs and introductions have been exchanged, we go ahead and fall in line outside Rm. 168. You don't need your witness/es yet. Just me, your marriage license and both your ID's.

We go in and a staff verifies your ID's, borrows your marriage license, types something up, hands it back to you, hands you a fancy souvenir license and gives you a number. We go back out and wait for our number to be called ala DMV. 

Back at the hallway, there's a screen that displayes numbers on queue. Ceremonies are those that start with the letter "B." Forget the other numbers on display preceded with other letters. Those are for other trasactions (marriage license, City ID, etc.). We'll keep photos at a minimum in the hallway as the walls make the images come out somewhat yellow. We'll snap away when we get out of there. Light is beautiful pretty much everywhere after that. 

When our number is called, we go back to Rm. 168 to check in, now with your witnesses (if you don't have one, I'd be happy to be your witness). Turn to the left and you guys sit on the 2 chairs marked "Reserved." After greetings with the commissioner (the lady or gentleman who'll perform the ceremony), he/she will again verify your ID's and collect your marriage license (keep the fancy souvenir one). They'll have your witness/es sign your marriage license, ask you if you're exchanging rings and sometimes ask if you want to exchange personally written vows. Couples hardly ever do so sometimes they'll skip this question but if you prepared one, don't hesitate to say so if they forget to ask.

They'll then show you an 8x11 photo of the main lobby and you basically point to where you want to get married. Some couples choose the bottom landing of the stairs but most prefer on top -- the rotunda -- where I can capture sweeping views of the lobby in the background as I take photos during the ceremony.

When check in is over, we wait. They marry 3 couples every half hour and how long our wait time will be depends on whether we're 1st, 2nd or 3rd. We'll use that time taking photos on the 2nd floor (same floor as the rotunda).

11:10 am - As previously mentioned, they're hardly on time and most likely the ceremony will take place about 10 minutes past the original time you booked. Don't stress. 1 hour has always been sufficient in my experience (200++ SFCH weddings) and if we go a few minutes over, I don't trip and start charging you right away for overtime unless it's over 15 minutes past the hour.

The ceremony goes fast, around 5 to 7 minutes max. We take a few shots with the commissioner and candid shots of congratulatory hugs and kisses from your family and friends. If I'm your only guest, we'll take a selfie. *wink*

11:20 am - We proceed to the 4th floor and take photos of you guys as well as family/group photos.

11:30 am - We'll do the same on the 3rd floor.

11:40 am - We'll take photos at the entrance right by the main doors under the sign "City Hall." We'll take close-up shots of the rings and if the weather is good and time permits, we'll cross the street and take a few more by the grounds.

11:50 am - Coverage ends.

Each day varies but more or less this is how it'll go down. You can't predict how busy they're going to be by the day of the week but timewise, your best shot is in the morning before noon where it's usually less crowded and you have better chances of them being on time or at least close to the time you originally booked.

Some couples choose the West Coast Treat package for 2 hours and we go to a beautiful nearby location after the ceremony for newlywed photos. We usually go to either Crissy Field, The Palace of Fine Arts, Baker Beach, Fisherman's Wharf or Golden Gate Park.

For a more in depth guide to San Francisco City Hall weddings, click here.

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