Simplified SF City Hall Wedding Day Timeline

Did you book a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall and are looking forward to a simple wedding day? You've made a great choice - it is so much easier to plan a city hall wedding than it is to plan a big traditional wedding. Civil ceremonies are simpler, more affordable, and easier to plan.

But you should still make a timeline! Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be stressful. I'm here to inspire you to create a simple SF City Hall wedding timeline for your civil ceremony.

Start with the Basics 

In order to create a timeline for your San Francisco City Hall wedding day, first determine a few basic things. These will help you figure out which day of the week (Monday through Friday) to choose, what time your ceremony will be, and what plans to make before and after. Answer these questions to get started:

  1. How many guests are you expecting?

Just like with a big traditional wedding, your guest count is one of the most important considerations in your timeline. Only six guests are allowed to be up on the rotunda with you during the civil ceremony. Plan out who those six people will be ahead of time. Then figure out what to tell your other guests about the plans for the day.

  1. Does the time of day for your ceremony, or for any gathering afterward, matter?

Does the time of day matter to you? For example, if you have older relatives who need to drive home after you all celebrate together, you may want to have lunch instead of dinner. But if you would rather party late into the night with all your guests, you may want an afternoon ceremony. Perhaps you want lunch with a small group so that you can spend the rest of the day with your new spouse. Envision what you want or need your wedding day to look like.

  1. Do you have your heart set on a particular restaurant?

If so, then that makes some of the timing decisions for you! Some restaurants close on certain days of the week or open late in the afternoon. If you’re not sure about where to go, take a look at my recommendations for San Francisco City Hall reception dining options.

  1. How long will it take you to get to SF City Hall?

Do you live in the city or outside the area? Are you staying in a hotel? Are you relying on someone else to transport you? Keep these things in mind when choosing a time for your ceremony. You don’t want to schedule an early morning ceremony if it’s going to be stressful getting there on time! On the other hand, if you are staying in a hotel, and it’s important to you to start early, then grab that 9 am slot.

A quiet moment on the Grand Staircase during a Thursday afternoon at SF City Hall
  1. Do crowds bother you?

If you want SF City Hall to yourselves, keep in mind that there is no guarantee for that to happen no matter how much you plan ahead. But, you can increase your odds of a quiet building by scheduling your civil ceremony for earlier in the day. Fridays are the busiest days, so schedule for earlier in the week when the building is less likely to be crowded with tourists.

  1. When do you plan on getting your marriage license?

If you live locally, you should get your marriage license before the wedding day. You have up to 90 days before your ceremony date to get your license. If you’re from out of town, either get it the day before the wedding or at least an hour before your ceremony time.

-->View our detailed guide to getting married at San Francisco City Hall

Sample City Hall Wedding Day Timeline

Now that you’ve figured out the basics with your guest list, where to go afterward (your “reception”), and day of the week, you're ready to create a timeline. 

Let’s create an imaginary scenario - although not entirely imaginary, since it’s based on real couples I've photographed at SF City Hall.

Tina and Shaun live in San Jose, so it will take them at least an hour to get into the city. This doesn't bother them, and they plan on booking a nearby hotel for that night. Since they both work during the week, they decide to get married at city hall on a Friday. This way they can enjoy a three day weekend. Since Fridays tend to be the busiest, they plan for a morning ceremony. They hope that it will be a bit quieter than it would be in the afternoon.

They decide that they want to get married in the fall, so they get on the county clerk website in late June, which is 90 days before their ideal date of Friday, September 23rd. Luckily, they’re able to reserve their 10:00 am appointment time. While logged into the county clerk website, they check for marriage license appointments. There's an appointment open three weeks before their ceremony date, so they book it. They often work from home and are able to make an early afternoon appointment.

They narrow down the six people attending the ceremony to their two sets of parents and Tina’s two sisters. Their remaining guests include a few relatives and their closest friends - about 20 people in total. They’re not too particular about where they have lunch after their city hall ceremony. But they would prefer a private dining room or area. Shaun finds the Chef's Table at La Mar to be a great fit and makes a 1:30 pm reservation.

The only thing left for them to figure out is a wedding photographer. Luckily, Tina discovers Red Eye Collection to photograph their city hall wedding and books the 90-minute photo package.

Their Final Timeline

Friday, September 23rd

7:00 am - Leave the house and head into the city.

8:30 am - Pick up flowers from local florist.

9:00 am - Change clothes and touch up makeup.

9:45 am - Walk into SF City Hall and meet up with family. Head to Room 168.

10:00 am - Meet their wedding photographer and check in with the county clerk.

10:10 am - Go upstairs with their six guests and wait for their names to be called on the Rotunda. There is one other couple who arrives soon after, who also booked the 10:00 slot. (Currently, there are up to two couples per half hour.)

Civil ceremony on the Rotunda inside San Francisco City Hall

10:15 am - The judge calls their names and the ceremony begins - the ceremony takes less than six minutes.

10:30 am - Photos with guests inside city hall. Afterward, the guests choose to roam the building while they wait for the couple to finish their photos.

10:45 - 11:45 am - Wedding photos of the couple, mainly inside SF City Hall. The final moments are spent leaving the building for classic entrance pictures and outdoor shots of the building.

12:00 pm - Get a drink and enjoy a brief time together with just the two of them.

1:20 pm - Arrive at La Mar and meet their guests for their 1:30 lunch reservation.

After lunch, check into the hotel and enjoy the rest of the weekend in San Francisco.

And there you have it - a simple timeline for SF City Hall civil ceremonies. I know that it’s important to keep the day running as smoothly as possible, and having a timeline in place makes things that much easier. 

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