Top 5 Reasons to Have a San Diego Courthouse Wedding

by | January 29, 2023

Part 1:  Why a San Diego Courthouse Wedding?


If you’re planning an intimate wedding or elopement, a San Diego courthouse wedding deserves some serious consideration.  It’s not just a popular place for San Diegans to get married but an ideal location for destination wedding couples as well. As an experienced San Diego photographer who has captured many courthouse wedding ceremonies, here are my top 5 reasons to choose a San Diego courthouse wedding, along with helpful planning tips.



1.  Location, location, location


The San Diego Courthouse is located at a beautiful scenic location on Pacific Highway. The courthouse, more formerly known as the San Diego County Administration Building, is a historical building with some great photo ops within the building and on the grounds of the San Diego Waterfront Park.

There are also many great places nearby for photos such as the Star of India, San Diego Embarcadero, Little Italy and Balboa Park. You can choose to get married indoors but the most popular option is the West Arbor.  This is outdoors in front of a bougainvillea-covered pergola with a stunning backdrop of the San Diego Bay.


couple-getting-marriage-license-courthouse-wedding-san-diego couple-getting-san-diego-marriage-licensebride-filling-out-application-for-san-diego-marriage-license


2.  Lots of great restaurants nearby


If you’re planning to celebrate afterward, there are many tasty options within walking distance. San Diego is a diverse community and it’s reflected in our cuisine.  We have a huge variety to suit any palate and budget.  From Mexican food to Asian, Italian, Indian, American, and more.  The options are plentiful!


3.  Hotels are just minutes away


There are many great hotels to suit any budget within blocks of the San Diego Courthouse or just an Uber drive away.  Imagine how romantic it would be to elope and spend your honeymoon here in San Diego. Or if you choose to have a destination wedding, convincing family and friends to join you would be an easy feat!


4. Stress-free


You can invite your closest friends and family or it can be just the two of you. Also, you won’t have to spend a year of your life planning.  You’ll be free to take in the So Cal vibes since you won’t have a rigid timeline to go by or anyone else’s expectations of how your wedding day should be. If you’re feeling bad about leaving anyone out, you could always have a separate celebration at a later date.


5.  Budget-friendly


While saving money isn’t the only reason couples choose to have a San Diego Courthouse wedding, it’s certainly a great one. But the best reason of all is that you can use the money you’ll save to hire a photographer. Okay, I might be a little biased but since you’ll be getting married in one of the most enviable cities in the U.S., you’re definitely going to want some gorgeous photos to show off to your family and friends. Think of the bragging rights people!

Seriously though!  Just because you’re not having a big wedding doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have great photos.  Your day is just as special, and your photos are the only tangible thing you’ll have to remember it by. You’ll definitely want a high-quality photographer to capture those memories.


As you can see, a San Diego courthouse wedding ceremony offers many compelling reasons for couples seeking an intimate, stress-free, and budget-friendly celebration. Overall, it’s the perfect way for couples to celebrate their love in a simple yet meaningful way! Who wouldn’t fall in love with the idea of getting married here?

Hopefully, by now, I’ve got your attention!  If so, you’ll want to go over these FAQs on what to expect when booking your appointment, applying for your marriage license, planning for picture-perfect photos, and more!

Part 2:  FAQ


A.  Where is it located and what are the hours?


The San Diego County Administration Center is located next to the Waterfront Park at 1600 Pacific Highway, Suite 103, San Diego, CA 92101.  Hours of operation are M – F from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Appointments run every 30 minutes.


B.  Is parking difficult?


Due to the location, you would think so but I’m going to let you in on something that not a lot of people know.  There is free three-hour parking on Ash St.  You’ll find it at an underground lot between Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway.  Easy peasy!  This video will show you exactly where to go.  You’re welcome!  🙂


C.  What do I need to know about booking the appointment?


Appointments can be made up to 7 weeks in advance (see below for the appt link).  Put your desired wedding date in this handy calculator to figure out the exact date when the schedule will open up for bookings.  Then mark your calendar and go on at 12 midnight for your best chance at getting your desired time slot.

You can get your marriage license and have your ceremony all on the same day.  This saves you from having to make two trips to the courthouse.

If you choose not to get married on the same day, the license is valid for 90 days, but you’ll have to make another appointment to come back for the ceremony. Some couples prefer this option so they can get the paperwork out of the way and have a stress-free ceremony.

Whatever you decide, don’t forget to bring identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or military ID. Good news! There’s no blood test required for a marriage license (yay!) and you don’t have to be a California resident.

The current fee for a civil ceremony is $107 and $129 for a public marriage license.  You will need at least one witness at the ceremony or they will provide one for you for an additional fee of $58.


D.  Should we choose the indoor or outdoor location?


The most popular choice by far is the West Arbor outdoor location.  This is an iconic spot for the San Diego County Administration Building.  Couples love the idea of getting married with a picturesque view of the San Diego harbor in the background.  If you have your heart set on this spot, I highly recommend scheduling as early as possible.

Keep in mind that Fridays are the most popular days for booking. Monday is the 2nd most popular day.  Also, West Arbor availability is subject to change based on weather, maintenance, and Waterfront Park events.

**Be sure to check this schedule to make sure your date isn’t affected.**

If you’re planning on having your ceremony indoors, keep in mind that you can only have up to 15 guests, as the rooms are small.  If you’re planning it outside, you can have as many guests as you like, weather permitting.  Luckily, we live in a city where the weather is usually always permitting!


E.  What is the best time of day to get married?


There are two options that I recommend.  The early morning appointment from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.  Or the late afternoon appointment from 4:00 to 5:00.  Why?  Because not only are these the least busy times of the day but also when lighting is best for photos.

If you can’t get either of these appointments then the next best thing would be the appointment closest to either of these times.  But not to worry if you don’t get it!  We can still get great photos! Luckily the area around the building has shade and nice landscaping.  This is another reason the San Diego Courthouse is a great location for your civil ceremony.  It can work any time of day!groom-pretending-to-kiss-bride-san-diego-courthouse-downtown

F.  How long can we expect to be there?


That depends on when you’ve scheduled your appointment.  While the marriage ceremony itself takes no more than 10 minutes, it takes a while to get through the licensing process.

Lunch hour and Friday afternoons are usually busier but on average, expect around two hours.  This way you’ll have plenty of time for your license, ceremony, and photos afterward.   If you’re planning to take photos in another location, then it could take an additional one to two hours depending on the location.

If you have guests attending, one thing that can slow the process down is when they run late.  You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to walk from the parking lot, go through the security check and walk upstairs.  Think of it like going to the airport.

It’s best to arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment.  That includes your guest as well.  There is a large waiting room where you can comfortably sit together while you’re waiting for your number to be called.

Now if it’s just going to be you and your forever person, this will cut down a lot on the suggested time frame.  It’s best to talk it over with your photographer (hopefully that’s me) so they can plan the perfect amount of time for you!



G.  What should we wear?


One of the best things about having a San Diego courthouse wedding is that you can be as casual or as formal as you want.  There are no rules here!  As a photographer who has photographed many courthouse weddings, I’ve had couples show up in a variety of outfits.  From everyday casual to business casual or full-on formal attire.

Oh, and don’t forget the bouquet! They make for great photo ops and give your photos that just-married feel, along with adding a nice pop of color!  For an affordable option, take advantage of in-season flowers from your local florists.

groom-kissing-bride-on-cheek-san-diego-courthouse-marriage bride-groom-posing-at-courthouse-san-diego bride-portrait-san-diego-county-courthouse

H.  Vows


San Diego courthouse wedding vows are prewritten and pretty short.  As I mentioned earlier, the entire ceremony is less than ten minutes.  However, don’t let that stop you from adding a personal touch to your civil ceremony.

Your best bet is to give the officiant a heads-up and politely ask if you can say a few words.  They are pretty nice people and depending on whether or not they are on schedule or running behind, they may grant your request. If not, no worries, you can always exchange your heartfelt vows after the ceremony.


I. Conclusion and Helpful Links


From the intimate and personal experience to the stress-free planning, and the budget-friendly options, there are many unique advantages to a San Diego courthouse wedding. By now you should be well prepared to plan one that’s uniquely yours.  I hope this blog has inspired you and given you the confidence to embark on this memorable chapter in your life!

Here’s some helpful links to get the process started:

Schedule your appointment.

County Resources:  Requirements, Marriage License, Civil Ceremony, Appointments, Forms, FAQ 

Phone: (619) 237-0502 or e-mail: ar******@sd******.gov

Email:  AR*************************@sd******.gov

A helpful video on how to get your marriage license: 

It just so happens that I love photographing city hall weddings. So, if you’re looking for an experienced and affordable San Diego photographer, inquire here for my courthouse marriage prices. I have photographed countless San Diego courthouse weddings and would love to use my experience and expertise to help you through the process!  Contact me today!

Have other plans in mind for a small wedding or elopement?  I can still help!  I photograph lots of those too and can give you suggestions on locations and venues!


Looking for my San Diego courthouse wedding photos?  Check out another gorgeous courthouse wedding here.

Planning a destination wedding to San Diego?  Check here for the latest updates on the Coronavirus:  SD Official Website





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