Wedding Photography at San Francisco City Hall (and beyond!)

Here’s a frequently asked question I get:

“We’re having a civil wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. Besides ceremony pictures, can you suggest some locations around City Hall and in San Francisco in general for our wedding photos?”

The short answer is, I usually create an individual itinerary for each couple, depending on their schedule, the number of guests coming with them, and what they want to see in their photos. But, after working with so many wonderful couples, I’ve found that there are several really popular itineraries. So, here’s a set of possibilities that can help guide your planning! Enjoy!

The Marilyn Monroe (2 hours)

In case you didn’t know it, or didn’t believe it, Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco City Hall on January 15th, 1954. Because they were hounded by the press, the time and place were kept a secret. Nevertheless, the information leaked and crowds gathered at City Hall to get a glimpse of the pair. Civil ceremonies are quick, and their ceremony began at 1:46PM, concluding at 1:48PM. Two minutes! The couple then tried to duck out as quickly as possible.

You probably won’t have hundreds of people mobbing your SF City Hall wedding, which leaves us with a bit more time to do some fun photography inside and outside City Hall. Just to make sure that we don’t have the media on our six (and to ensure that you have a lot of fun) we’ll craft an unpredictable route through the building. This two-hour itinerary will provide ample time for us to document your license-getting, your ceremony, and a diverse set of photo-ops in the most beautiful parts of the building.

The Tony Bennett (3 or more hours)

Everyone knows “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, Tony Bennet’s signature song. Written in 1954 by a gay couple, George Cory and Douglass Cross, who were nostalgic for SF after moving to NYC, the song eventually was shopped to Tony Bennett.

Many couples considering a City Hall wedding actually decide to travel to SF from another part of the country, or even the world! I’ve documented the City Hall weddings of couples from Germany, Russia, Southern California, Israel, Virginia and New York, just to name a few. There’s something magical about our City and our Hall that draws people here.

For couples who want to capture both City Hall and another ‘true piece’ of SF, here are some options. After documenting the ceremony and doing a quick tour of City Hall, consider one of the following routes (or add in some extra time and combine some elements):

  • Take a drive to Crissy Field and the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, passing through the Presidio. There are a lot of interesting textures in the Presidio, the former military base. The wood, brick and cannons you’ll find there will make a nice addition to your photos. End at the Golden Gate bridge for some sweeping shots with the bridge and the City skyline in the background.
  • Head over to the top of Nob Hill via Powell or California Street, passing along the Cable Car routes to capture those classic only-made-in-SF shots. At the top of Nob Hill, you’ve got amazing views, along with the grandeur and architecture of the big hotels like the Mark Hopkins and Fairmont.
  • Go directly to Union Square to get some photographs in a bustling, glitzy, urban setting. Union Square is full of interesting displays and textures and a bevy of San Francisco’s finest characters. The Powell Street Cable Car line also runs right through the Square.
  • Head to the Ferry Building and the adjacent Embarcadero. This is an extremely fertile photographic environment, with the multi-colored Market Street F trolleys passing by, the texture of the financial district and Justin Herman Plaza, the art that’s displayed along the Embarcadero, and of course, the Bay Bridge and the water in the background.
  • On a sunny day, you can go west towards Golden Gate Park and the beauty of the Conservatory of Flowers or the Japanese Tea Gardens. There’s plenty of public and secluded spaces in the park to take gorgeous, organic photos. This is a really great option on a nice, warm day because the afternoon light makes for gorgeous pictures. Another stop on this itinerary can be a tour of Haight Street, with its colorful walls, shops, and characters, and it’s marvelous late afternoon light.