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If you’re planning a private wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall, you’re likely getting married on the 4th floor. Perhaps you’re still researching what to do. Either way, you’re in the right place. We have photographed weddings at SF City Hall for more than a decade, and many of these are one-hour weddings. This is everything you need to know about SF City Hall 4th floor weddings.

When it comes to SF City Hall weddings, most people think of civil ceremonies. Those are the public ceremonies at the top of the grand staircase, with at most a small handful of guests. It’s less than ten minutes long and you’re done. This is not the case for private one-hour weddings. These weddings are, as the name states, an hour long.

So, let’s get into it. This is your ultimate guide to getting married on the fourth floor of San Francisco City Hall.

San Francisco City Hall wedding photography - Channing and Eric, photo 6
Private Ceremony at San Francisco City Hall

North vs South Gallery

For simplicity’s sake, when we refer to the fourth floor, we mean the North Gallery. You can also get married in the South Gallery, but hardly anyone does that. It’s not even an option on the booking calendar. Sunlight streams through the windows of the South Gallery all day, so it’s glaringly bright and horrible for pictures.

So. This is all about the 4th Floor North Gallery.

The Space

Before scheduling your wedding, you want to make sure that the space is appropriate for your guest count. The fourth floor accommodates 100 guests. If you would like seating (which is what we almost always see with larger groups), City Hall can provide up to 60 chairs. This means that the remaining 40 guests would stand behind the chairs along the back wall. (See the photo below).

After the wedding, when the chairs are whisked away, the fourth floor is an incredible space for photos. We can easily take a whole group shot on the 4th floor.

The atmosphere of the fourth floor is the best in the entire building. It feels light, airy, and grand, as there is no ceiling directly overhead. Overall, you get a sense of grandeur that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the building, or honestly in many buildings that you’ll likely visit in your lifetime.

In our opinion, the best thing about the 4th floor is the privacy. (And the photography, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.) Since you’re already on the topmost floor, there are no upper levels looking down. And due to the layout, anyone below you can’t see much, either. The staff will also rope off the area to prevent the public from entering the space.

So, assuming you have less than 100 guests, you have an incredibly airy, spacious, gorgeous, private, grand ceremony venue when choosing the 4th floor.

one hour ceremony, seated guests, private ceremony in San Francisco City Hall

The Photos

Every couple and group we photograph in SF City Hall gets photos on the 4th floor. In fact, it’s where we spend most of our time. Every civil ceremony we photograph, we immediately take them to the 4th floor afterward for most of their pictures.

Here, the lighting is the best in the entire building. There is no other area that comes close. We can take pictures in the middle of the hallway, along the railing, and along the windows. It’s our favorite area of city hall, and has excellent lighting no matter the month or time of day.

By having your ceremony on the fourth floor, you are guaranteed beautiful photos before, during, and after the wedding.

You’re also guaranteed beautiful photos with an experienced City Hall wedding photographer. Contact us so we can check our availability for your wedding date.

Marie and Lorenzo 4th floor wedding
Marie & Lorenzo’s beautiful October 2021 wedding

Officiant

For private weddings, you must supply your own officiant. You can either get a friend or family member to officiate, or hire a professional officiant. We have some recommendations on our preferred vendors page.

Pricing

The rental fee is $1000, and has remained unchanged for several years. While civil ceremony and license costs increase every year, this has been a flat rate for a long time. This rental fee covers use of the space up to 100 standing guests and does not include chairs. If you would like chairs set up for your guests, you are limited to 60 chairs. Any extra guests would need to stand at the back of the space.

There is an additional rental fee for chairs. If you want to rent 60 folding chairs, it would cost $210. Check the City Hall Events Equipment page for current options and rates.

Another cost to keep in mind is your marriage license fee. As of December 2021, the marriage license fee is $112. Make an appointment here.

Scheduling

SF City Hall has an online calendar where you can view availability before calling. This is so much more convenient, and we love that they have this option now. So, make sure to check the calendar with some dates and times in mind before calling.

They now have the option to book your wedding two years ahead of time!

Food and Drinks

In the past, San Francisco City Hall permitted outside food and drinks. That is no longer permitted. This rule was implemented before the pandemic, so it is not COVID-related.

Acoustic String Musicians

We love when weddings bring in music for their ceremony. It’s such a lovely touch. Since this venue is public, they are strict about this. Only acoustic string musicians are permitted, with no more than two performing together. You must choose from city hall’s approved musicians list. We personally recommend Corelli Strings.

Timing

Private one-hour weddings start as early as 9:00 am, Monday through Friday. The latest appointments start at 3:00 pm.

The time limit of one hour is very strict. At the beginning of the hour, staff will rope off the area, and you can get started. At the end of the hour, staff will enter and start removing chairs and will remove the ropes. So make sure to use every minute wisely!

Once the space is cleared, it is easier to take certain photos. We make sure to take advantage of every moment.

Parking

Parking near San Francisco City Hall can be difficult. Street parking is very hard to find. Remember that you are in the middle of the city and this building is a popular tourist destination. However, there is a parking garage that we recommend. It’s located on McAllister, next to Civic Center Plaza. It is underground, which makes it easy to miss. Look for the single Parking sign above the entrance.

bride entering 4th floor private wedding ceremony at city hall
Bride entering the 4th floor ceremony area, through the roped off area.

Coordinator

If you haven’t already assigned someone to help you coordinate during the ceremony, we are happy to help while we’re photographing. We have a ton of experience with this and end up doing it for almost every wedding anyway. We’ll help with timing, seating of guests, get the cue from the officiant that it’s time for the bride to walk in, and anything else that’s needed.

Seating Arrangement

Honestly, we don’t think we have ever seen the seats arranged any other way than the standard theater arrangement. This is where all the seats are in rows facing the bride and groom, with an aisle between them. City Hall staff only sets this up in this way. However, they do set them up in theater style, you are welcome to rearrange them however you like.

A side front view to show space and seating.

COVID

Fortunately, at the time of this writing, there are very few ways in which city hall weddings are affected by the pandemic. SF City Hall was completely closed for over a year during the pandemic, and has been open since earlier this summer of 2021. Currently, everyone inside the building must wear a mask. During weddings, masks are required for all guests. Please make sure to check local city ordinance and regulations for SF City Hall itself before your wedding.

What about the Mayor’s Balcony?

That is a topic for another post, which we will post soon! Note that we wrote about 4th floor first because it’s the only option we recommend for one-hour weddings. Take our word for it.

We hope that we answered all your questions about getting married on the 4th floor of San Francisco City Hall! Get in touch with us if you need any more guidance, or are interested in our photography.
 

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