How to Elope in San Francisco

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Thinking of a sunny San Francisco elopement for you and your love? Then, my friend, you have come to the right place. While we here at Zola are unequivocal fans of all things weddings, we believe that the perfect wedding is yours, no matter what that journey from “yes” to “I do” looks like. For couples who want to skip the fanfare of a large, traditional wedding, an elopement is an awesome and equally romantic alternative. But how does one—or two, rather—elope exactly? That’s where we come in.

As you might have already discovered, a romantic San Francisco elopement, although less difficult to plan than a shindig of one hundred guests or more, still comes with its own set of challenges, questions, and decisions. Enter this quick and simple “how to elope” guide. We’ll make this process as easy and stress-free as possible, so that you and your partner can focus on the big-picture stuff like a lifetime of happiness, for example. Doesn’t sound too bad, huh?

Couple at San Francisco's City Hall

Photo Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

Why Elope?

So here’s the skinny on San Francisco elopements: they’re affordable, stylish, personal, and, honestly, a ton of fun. Every couple has their own reasons for choosing elopement over the traditional wedding route. They might want to avoid stress, huge expenses, or family drama. Maybe they’d rather exchange vows in a more intimate—or altogether private—setting instead of in front of hundreds of guests. Whatever the reason for your elopement, this ceremony can be just as special and as memorable, if not more s0, than a big wedding. The greatest part of eloping (besides not having to fuss over tablecloth colors and cater to Aunt Susie’s gluten allergy)? These ceremonies are much easier for couples to personalize.

Gone are the days where an elopement meant you had to sacrifice style and customization for a more practical ceremony. Now, thanks to the growing popularity of San Francisco elopements, countless vendors are specializing in making your elopement as personalized, stylish, and fun as any larger soirée. So unless you want to make the big leap into “happily ever after” at the local City Hall (which, in San Francisco, is absolutely gorgeous), you can now host your small ceremony at almost any San Francisco wedding venue you choose, from your favorite spot in the city to a hot air balloon. We told you the sky’s the limit.

Couple posing inside San Francisco's City Hall

Photo Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

In addition to choosing from endless settings for their elopement, it’s also a common trend for modern couples to follow up their private ceremony with a reception that they’ve designed—either just for the two of them or for friends and family. So if you want skip a public ceremony, but have a traditional reception later in the day or even months later, you absolutely can. 

Now let’s tackle the logistics, shall we?

What You’ll Need

A Plan

Sure, you can approach your San Francisco elopement with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-or-gown outlook, but it will be to your advantage to establish a basic plan and timeline when the big day arrives. If you’re going to want more than a ceremony on the day of your elopement, it’s best to develop a solid schedule for what all your day will entail, from ceremony preparations (hair and makeup, getting dressed, and “first look” photos if you’d like them), to the ceremony itself, to the reception (don’t forget to make any necessary reservations). This timeline will keep you, your partner, and any vendors you hire on track for the day and ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible.

A Location

As we mentioned before, elopements in San Francisco don’t have to be held at the City Hall, as lovely as that building is. You can select almost any venue you’d like, just like you would if you were planning a big gathering. Do keep in mind that even though you’re eloping, you still need to book early if you want to skip City Hall and have your wedding at a location of your choosing—you’ll be competing with other couples for open dates. In order to lessen the chance that another couple has snagged your reservation, we recommend eloping on a less popular day or time: off-season, on a weekday, in the morning, etc.

Couple posing outside of San Francisco's City Hall

Photo Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

A Marriage License

San Francisco elopements don’t take much, but what they absolutely do require is a marriage license. Without this oh-so-important legal document, your ceremony won’t be officially recognized as a marriage by the state and you certainly don’t want that. We don’t want that. And we’re betting your partner doesn’t either. The good news? It’s super easy to get one in the state of California. Click here for a simple and easy breakdown of everything you need to know about how, when, and what you’ll need to get your California marriage license.

Who You’ll Need

Contrary to popular belief, you’ll need more than just your spouse-to-be to have a successful elopement. Let’s discuss the other players involved.

An Officiant

This might be a no-brainer for you, but we don’t want to leave any stone unturned. So who counts as a wedding officiant? Cited verbatim from the California Department of Public Health website:

  • A priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination.
  • A judge or retired judge, commissioner of civil marriages or retired commissioner of civil marriages, commissioner or retired commissioner, or assistant commissioner of a court of record in this state.
  • A judge or magistrate who has resigned from office.
  • Any judges or magistrates of the United States
  • A justice or retired justice of the United States Supreme Court.
  • A judge or retired judge of a court of appeals, a district court, or a court created by an act of Congress the judges of which are entitled to hold office during good behavior.
  • A judge or retired judge of a bankruptcy court or a tax court.
  • A United States magistrate or retired magistrate.
  • A legislator or constitutional officer of this state or a member of Congress who represents a district within this state, while that person holds office.

A Witness

Can I get a witness? Um, yeah, you better. In the state of California you are only required to have one witness at your ceremony. The witness may be any person of any age as long as he/she is able to understand they are watching a marriage and can sign their name. The witness may not be the officiant or the couple getting married.

Couple in San Francisco's City Hall

Photo Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

A Photographer

You don’t technically have to hire a photographer for your elopement, but we strongly recommend it. When your wedding day memories becomes a blur because your brain is overwhelmed by emotions, you’ll want crystal-clear photos to remember it by. The best way to make that happen is to have a talented San Fran photographer there to capture every precious moment. Take a look at Zola’s Real Weddings in San Francisco to find some killer SF wedding photographers that capture the mood and style you love.

Black and white photo of couple inside San Francisco's City Hall

Photo Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

Additional San Francisco Wedding Vendors

If you’d like any additional services on your wedding day, you’ll need to reserve those San Francisco wedding vendors ahead of time. A few that we always suggest to our eloping couples are hair and makeup artists, florists, and planners. The first two go without explanation. The third vendor recommendation, however, always raises a few eyebrows and usually prompts protests of “But I’m not having a big wedding!” Just hear us out. Especially for non-locals, planning even a San Francisco elopement can feel overwhelming and it never hurts to have an extra set of helping hands on your big day. We suggest hiring a local wedding planner to help guide you through the wedding preparations, give you insider advice, and make sure getting hitched goes off without, well, a hitch.

Simplify the process even more by using Zola’s wedding checklist to cross off those items listed above. And don’t forget, even though you’re eloping, you should absolutely still set up a wedding registry on Zola—your friends and family are going to want to demonstrate their excitement and support even more than usual because they might not have been invited to (or even known about) your private affair. And, finally, congratulations! You’re one step closer to saying “I do.”

Featured Image Credit || GoodEye Photography + Design

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