Wondering how to get married at the Santa Barbara Courthouse? Look no further! We’ve photographed many beautiful elopements in Santa Barbara, and we’ve learned all the details you need to make it official at one of the most beautiful city hall locations in California.
A small wedding at the Santa Barbara Courthouse is a great way to get married the same day you obtain a marriage license; it’s also an excellent choice if you’re looking for an easy, unfussy way to tie the knot (even if you’re planning to host a fun reception for family and friends later on).
A wedding at city hall is still a big deal! In fact, the intimate ceremony setting is a beautiful opportunity for candid, emotional photos with just the two of you (or your very small guest list) and some gorgeous portraits around the courthouse grounds.
Without further ado, we’ll walk you through the steps for planning your small wedding ceremony at this gorgeous, Spanish-inspired architectural landmark.
Step 1: What kind of ceremony do you want to have?
You have two options for getting married at the Santa Barbara Courthouse; the big differences are whether you want a weekday or weekend, how many guests you’d like to invite, who performs the ceremony, and the location of the ceremony itself:
- Civil ceremony // A civil ceremony is more of the “elopement” we usually think of; it means your ceremony is performed by a Deputy Marriage Commissioner (provided by the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, located within the Hall of Records at the Courthouse). You can make a 60-minute appointment, which allows you to obtain your marriage license and have the ceremony performed in the same day. If you already have your marriage license, you can make a 30-minute appointment for just the ceremony to be performed. A civil ceremony is limited to weekdays (weekends are not available for civil ceremonies) and to a maximum of 10 guests in either the indoor location at the Hall of Records, or the outdoor location (labeled as “Clerk Recorder Assessor Area” on the map below), unless you make a special reservation for the Mural Room or Sunken Gardens at the Courthouse (which is an additional fee — we get into the fee structure a little later in this post!). You can also invite more than 10 guests if you reserve the Mural Room or Sunken Gardens (keep in mind the Courthouse doesn’t provide chairs, but there is seating for up to 100 in the Mural Room).
- Private ceremony // A private ceremony gives you a little more flexibility in terms of who will officiate the ceremony (you can choose your own officiant instead of having a Deputy Marriage Commissioner). You have to do a little more advance planning with a private ceremony: you’ll need to obtain your marriage license ahead of time, but you can invite more guests, you have more options for where to have the ceremony on Courthouse grounds, AND you’re able to pick a weekend date (weekends are not available for civil ceremonies). If you want to keep it small, ceremonies with fewer than 15 guests can get hitched at their choice of eight (8) exterior locations at the Courthouse, but these locations can’t be reserved (they are designated as A-H on the map below and are “first come, first served”). For larger ceremonies with up to 250 guests, you can reserve one of five (5) outdoor lawn spaces: Palm Terrace, Sunken Gardens, Fiesta Stage, Rotunda Lawn, or Giant Bird of Paradise. You’re also able to reserve the interior Mural Room if that’s more of the look you’re going for. Here’s a map to help you identify the outdoor locations:
Step 2: What days and times are available to get married at the Courthouse?
- Civil ceremony // For a civil ceremony, the typical option is a 60-minute appointment, during which you get your marriage license and have the ceremony performed immediately thereafter. Alternately, if you’ve already applied your marriage license less than 90 days before your desired ceremony date, you can make a 30-minute appointment for just the ceremony to be performed at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Remember, a civil ceremony can only be performed on weekdays, and reservations can be made a maximum of 90 days in advance. Available appointment times are 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the appointment request must be made via mail, fax, or in person using this form. The non-refundable appointment reservation fee is $23.
- Private ceremony // The date and time options for a private ceremony vary depending on your desired location and guest count. Remember that there are no reservations for the eight (8) exterior locations at the Courthouse (A-H on the map above), so you can plan any time you want, but know that you’re not guaranteed a location. Otherwise, you can reserve one of five (5) outdoor lawn spaces (Palm Terrace, Sunken Gardens, Fiesta Stage, Rotunda Lawn, or Giant Bird of Paradise) in 3-hour time slots: 11:00-2:00, or 3:00 – 6:00. These outdoor lawn spaces are $1100 to reserve, and you can reserve them up to a year in advance (you can also check availability online. Finally, you’re also able to reserve the interior Mural Room for $600 in 2-hour time slots: you can choose 12:00-2:00 or 2:30-4:30 on any day of the week including weekends, OR 10:00-12:00 on weekends only. To reserve any of these locations for a private ceremony, complete this form and return via mail or e-mail.
Step 3: What do I need to bring to get married at the Santa Barbara Courthouse?
This is information for a civil ceremony, or if you’re applying for your marriage license ahead of your private ceremony. Here’s what you need to bring with you:
- A valid state-issued form of ID (driver’s license or passport)
- Form of payment to cover the cost of the license and ceremony (and any additional location options you choose). Here is the basic fee info:
– Ceremony appointment reservation: $23 (you’ll pay this in advance when you make the appointment)
– Marriage license: $100
– Confidential license: $111
– Ceremony fee: $104
- Witness (this person also needs to bring their ID; no witness needed if you’re doing a confidential license)
- Rings (if you plan on exchanging them during the ceremony)
- Vows (optional!). The Deputy Marriage Commissioner is not required to let you read your own vows during the ceremony, but it doesn’t hurt to ask (some will allow it)! You can always read them to each other privately afterwards if it’s not permitted during the ceremony itself.
Step 4: Where do I go on the day of my appointment at the Santa Barbara Courthouse?
Parking is available in City Lot #7, which is the structure at 1115 Anacapa Street. The first 75 minutes are free, and then it’s $1.50 per hour thereafter! Head to the Hall of Records on the corner of Anacapa and Anapamu Streets; that’s where you’ll check in for your appointment.
Step 5: What else do I need to do to prepare?
These are all optional preparations to make your wedding day a little more special! For brides, a white dress (or jumpsuit, like Julia wore!) is always appropriate. We also recommend getting flowers! Fleur de Rye or Hogue & Co. are our top suggestions for getting a bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere for the ceremony (and photos afterwards).
Speaking of photos, that’s our other top recommendation for how to prep for your Hall of Records appointment: book a photographer! Even if you’re trying to keep everything low-key, which we suspect is the case since you’re going the courthouse route, it’s still a very special occasion and it should be commemorated with some beautiful photos of both the ceremony and the two of you together (and any family and friend photos with your guests!). Get in touch to see if we’re available; our elopement coverage for one hour is $750 and includes around 150-200 edited, high-resolution images downloadable from your online gallery.
BONUS: Anything else we should know about getting married in Santa Barbara?
First, we recommend making a reservation at a nearby restaurant to celebrate, and booking a hotel room for at least one night if you’re coming from out of town! Again, this is a special day — celebrate accordingly! Our top restaurant recommendations are The Lark, Finch & Fork, Loquita, or Bella Vista at the Four Seasons. El Paseo and Wine Cask are also popular spots (and are within walking distance) if you want to host an intimate reception with a few guests, too! If you’re looking for a hotel splurge, Belmond El Encanto and the Four Seasons Resort are both gorgeous properties, or the Hotel Californian is a great Funk Zone spot! A little less extravagant but still appropriate for a special occasion, Hotel Milo and The Wayfarer are both great choices, as well!