Insider’s Guide to San Diego Courthouse Weddings: FAQs, Tips, and Benefits

Newlyweds standing in fountains at Waterfront Park after their 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 photographer, I’ve had the privilege of capturing numerous courthouse wedding ceremonies.  I’m excited to share seven compelling reasons why a San Diego courthouse wedding, should be at the top of your list. Additionally, I’ll answer common questions and provide insider tips to ensure your courthouse wedding planning is seamless.

Part 1:  Why a San Diego Courthouse Wedding?

Newlywed couple sits under San Diego County Administration Center sign after their courthouse wedding

1. Location, location, location

 

Nestled along Pacific Highway, the San Diego Courthouse, officially the San Diego County Administration Building, stands as a beacon of historical charm. Offering picturesque views and ample photo opportunities both indoors and within the scenic grounds of San Diego Waterfront Park, it’s an ideal spot for tying the knot. The West Arbor, adorned with bougainvillea and overlooking the San Diego Bay, is a favorite among couples seeking a picturesque outdoor ceremony backdrop.

Couple getting married under the west arbor at the San Diego County Administration Center

2. Stress-free

 

A San Diego courthouse wedding provides unmatched simplicity. Say goodbye to months of planning and hello to soaking in the Southern California vibes without the constraints of a traditional wedding timeline or anyone else’s expectations of how your wedding day should be. For those feeling guilty about excluding loved ones, consider hosting a separate celebration at a later date.

Couple applying for their marriage license at the San Diego County Administration CenterCouple signing their marriage license paperwork at the San Diego County recorders office

3. Intimate

 

Whether you envision an intimate exchange of vows shared solely between you and your partner or prefer to celebrate with a small gathering of your closest family and friends; the courthouse provides the perfect setting. Its intimate atmosphere fosters a sense of closeness and connection, ensuring that your wedding day aligns perfectly with your vision.

Couple in wedding attire being playful in the hallway of the San Diego County Administration Center

4. Budget-friendly

 

Budget-friendly doesn’t mean compromising on quality—especially when it comes to capturing your special day. 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. With a San Diego courthouse wedding, you can save on expenses while still ensuring your memories are beautifully preserved.

5. Lots of great restaurants nearby

 

After saying your “I dos,” indulge in a culinary adventure at one of the many restaurants within walking distance. From Mexican to Asian, Italian to Indian, San Diego’s diverse culinary scene caters to every palate and budget.

** Explore my top recommendations for reception ideas after your courthouse wedding where you can continue the celebration in style.

After getting married at the San Diego courthouse this couple is posing on the grounds of the County Administration Center

6.  Hotels are just minutes away

 

There are many fantastic hotels conveniently located nearby, offering accommodations to suit various budgets and preferences, and just a short walk or Uber drive away. Imagine how romantic it would be to extend your celebration into a honeymoon or entice friends and family to join you for a destination wedding. Given San Diego’s status as a world-class vacation destination, who wouldn’t want to celebrate with you in paradise?

 

7. Historical Significance

 

San Diego’s courthouse holds a rich history, adding a layer of significance to your wedding day. By exchanging vows in a place steeped in tradition and heritage, you’re not just starting your own chapter of love but also becoming a part of the city’s story. The blend of historical charm and modern romance creates a unique atmosphere that will make your wedding day even more memorable.

Couple sitting by the fountains at the San Diego Waterfront Park after their civil ceremony

As you can see, a San Diego courthouse civil 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 love in a simple yet meaningful way! Who wouldn’t fall in love with the idea of getting married here?

Now that you’re intrigued, dive into these FAQs to learn more about what to expect when booking your appointment, applying for your marriage license, planning for picture-perfect photos, and more!

A couple in casual wedding attire pose at the County Administration Center with downtown San Diego in the distance

Part 2:  FAQ – How to Get Married at the San Diego Courthouse

 

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

 

The San Diego County Administration Center sits adjacent to the Waterfront Park at 1600 Pacific Highway, Suite 103, San Diego, CA 92101. Operating hours are Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, with appointments available every 30 minutes.

Playful bride and groom portrait in the early morning light by the San Diego harbor

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

 

Plan ahead!  Appointments can be booked up to 7 weeks in advance. When you’re ready to secure your slot, you’ll find the appointment link conveniently located at the bottom of this blog post. Then mark your calendar and go online at midnight for your best chance at getting your desired time slot. And don’t forget, you can get your marriage license and have the ceremony on the same day, saving you from making multiple 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.

couple stands in foliage at the San Diego County Administration Bldg for courthouse wedding photos

C.  What documents should I bring?

 

Make sure to bring identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or military ID. The good news is there’s no blood test required for a marriage license (yay!), and you don’t have to be a California resident.

A couple who just got married posing for a portrait by the downtown train station

D. What are the fees and requirements?

 

The current fee for a civil ceremony is $107, and it costs $129 for a public marriage license. Remember, you’ll need at least one witness at the ceremony, or they can provide one for you for an additional fee of $58.

A just married couple kissing on the grounds of the San Diego Admin Building

E.  Should we choose the indoor or outdoor location?

 

Opt for the iconic West Arbor outdoor venue for unparalleled views of the San Diego harbor. To secure this popular spot, early scheduling is advised. Keep an eye on availability, which may vary due to weather, maintenance, and Waterfront Park events. Indoor ceremonies accommodate up to 15 guests, while outdoor gatherings are weather-permitting and can host any number of attendees.

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

However, if you’re concerned about rain on your big day, rest assured that we can easily move the ceremony indoors if needed. Therefore, opting for the outdoor spot initially is highly recommended. Booking indoors during the rainy season might mean missing out on the opportunity to move the ceremony outside if the weather improves, as indoor spots could already be reserved.

A couple stands under a jacaranda tree at the San Diego Waterfront Park

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

 

There are two options I highly recommend: the early morning appointment from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. or the late afternoon appointment from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Why these times? They not only offer less crowded periods but also provide the most flattering lighting for photographs.

If these preferred timeslots aren’t available, aim for the closest appointment to either of these times. But not to worry if they’re already taken; we can still capture stunning photos regardless of the timing.

Thankfully, the area surrounding the courthouse has ample shade and landscaping, making it an excellent setting for your civil ceremony. Its adaptability ensures beautiful photos can be taken at any time of day.

A couple poses by the window during their San Diego courthouse marriage appointment

G.  How long can we expect to be there?

 

Prepare for a duration of approximately two hours, accounting for licensing procedures and the ceremony itself. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to navigate parking, security checks, and check-in processes smoothly. That includes your guests as well.  They can comfortably wait for you in the large waiting room while you’re completing the licensing process.

Pretty late afternoon light on bougainvillea in the foreground of a wedding portrait

H.  Is parking difficult?

 

Given it’s a downtown San Diego location, with numerous tourist attractions, restaurants, and amenities abound, one might expect parking to be a challenge! However, here’s a little-known secret: there’s complimentary three-hour parking on Ash St., conveniently located in an underground lot between Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway. Check out this video for an easy guide to locating it.

Bride and Groom share a kiss in front of the harbor after their San Diego courthouse wedding ceremony

I. Vows

 

San Diego courthouse wedding vows are brief and prewritten, typically lasting less than ten minutes for the entire ceremony. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t add a personal touch to your civil ceremony.

Consider giving the officiant a heads-up and politely asking if you can share a few words. They’re usually accommodating, and depending on their schedule, they may grant your request. If not, don’t worry—you can always exchange your heartfelt vows after the ceremony, making your moment even more special and personalized.

A black couple who just got married at the San Diego courthouse walk a path along some birds of paradise

J.  What should we wear?

 

Feel free to express yourself! A San Diego courthouse wedding embraces individuality, so there are no attire guidelines. Whether you prefer casual chic, formal attire, or even traditional wedding attire, wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Your courthouse wedding is about celebrating your love authentically, so dress in a way that reflects your unique style and personality.

Creative photo of couple in wedding attire looking at each other with the downtown San Diego in the distance

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!

Ready to start planning? Visit my helpful links to kickstart the process.  I love the charm and simplicity of city hall weddings. So, if you’re looking for an experienced and affordable San Diego courthouse wedding 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 guide you through the process!  Contact me today!

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

Schedule your appointment.

Handy tool to help you calculate the date 7 weeks prior to your desired appointment date.

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

Phone: (619) 237-0502

A helpful YouTube video on how to get your marriage license: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2i4Xz-rdcs 

Prefer a different vibe than a courthouse wedding? No problem! I’m skilled at capturing both intimate courthouse moments and larger weddings. Whether you’re planning a big celebration or a small-scale event, I’ll make sure every moment is beautifully captured. Let’s create unforgettable memories, regardless of the size or style!

A couple poses in front of the window after their San Diego County Administration Center Wedding

 

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