Eloping in Northern California
So you’ve decided to ditch the big wedding and have a small shindig (see what I did there)? Whether you’re looking to truly elope (just the two of you), have a tiny wedding, or throw an intimate bash, there are some logistics you need to take care of ahead of time.
Getting Your Marriage License
If you’re getting hitched in San Francisco proper, it’s easiest to get your license from SF City Hall. Please note that you must schedule your appointment in advance—they will not accept walk-ins! Appointments are available Monday-Friday beginning at 8:15 a.m. through 3:30 p.m.
You’ll pay a $110 fee and present them with all necessary documentation.
From there, the only requirements are that you have a legal officiant and that your ceremony takes place within 90 days of receiving your license. For more information, you can see the SF Gov website here.
You are able to use the license you get at SF City Hall for a wedding anywhere in California. If you plan to get married outside of the city or live in another area of Northern California, you can obtain your marriage license at your local county clerk. Fees vary so it’s best to check websites directly.
Information for Officiants
Once you obtain the license, you’ll bring it with you the day of your wedding! Your officiant will need to sign it after your ceremony, as well as one witness (though there is room for an additional witness should you choose to have two!).
Either you or your officiant can pop it in the mail once complete, and you’ll receive your marriage certificate in the mail!
Permits and Rental Fee
Depending on where you want to have your elopement or small wedding ceremony, there are costs associated with different places.
To make it easy, I’m breaking down some popular destinations. Please note that with any of these venues, filing for permits way in advance is advised. Some book out up to a year out. Some wedding planners (myself included) offer all-inclusive packages that take the leg work off your plate.
Golden Gate Park has several areas you can reserve for wedding ceremonies. Fees vary depending on the exact location, but reservation fees start at $264 and hourly rates begin at $66.
The Gathering Meadow at Lafayette Park is a great place to tie the knot! Rates begin around $600.
The Rotunda is a breathtaking venue for a wedding ceremony. Beware that making a reservation does not close it off to the public, so this is not a great option for those looking for complete privacy. Rates start around $700.
This is a great option for indoor space and the rental fee comes with the use of chairs! There is also discounted pricing for weekdays and Sundays. You can reserve this site for just about $250 on a weekday!
If the beach is more your scene, these two are both stunning locations for a ceremony. Permits and application fees cost around $400.
You can rent the private room in the Conservatory of Flowers for $1000 for a 1-hour ceremony. This gives your guests access to explore afterwards and the flowers and plants make for some truly epic photos!
Get married amongst the redwoods during an early morning or late afternoon ceremony! Muir Woods allows weddings between March and October and cost starts at $225.
Located up north in Sonoma, the state park has a super affordable picnic site! $500 for access from 10am - 3pm.
If you are getting married at one of the outdoor venues, it’s important to make sure the space is left as you found it. For ceremonies where you’ll have guests throw petals, you’ll need to pick those up afterwards. If you’ll be doing a toast, pack up all garbage and recycling at the end of your day.
Know Before You Go
Most of these locations do not include rentals or sound equipment for your use. If these are items you require (especially for those having more than 20 people), it’s best to coordinate with a wedding planner. If you know you are choosing a place that might be difficult to find, provide your guests with a map when sending out invitations! Cell service can be spotty, especially in wooded areas. Finally, dress appropriately! If you know you might have to hike or walk through mud, plan to wear comfortable shoes or change into your wedding outfit once you arrive at your destination!