How to Get Married at the Santa Barbara Courthouse

Wondering how to have a Santa Barbara Courthouse wedding? Santa Barbara Courthouse is one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous courthouses where you can be married. I have shot full weddings and small civil ceremonies/elopements in which the couples have come in from Canada, the east coast, and even England! The architecture celebrates the city's Spanish heritage, the building is filled with natural sunlight, grand open hallways, and you can walk around the grounds for over an hour and get so many photo ops that you'll feel like your photos were taken at 10 different locations. I absolutely love the intimacy of civil ceremonies a.k.a elopements and I want to help couples make it easier to sort through all the information. So I've put together this blogpost specifically for couples wanting to elope and to hopefully make this an easier process for them. A few of the same questions keep popping up, so I wanted to put all the information in one place and create a handy guide for you all. I’ve answered the most frequently asked questions below, but if you have any unanswered questions after this, please ask me in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help you out! And, of course, I hope you consider me to capture your day!

What are my options?

You can have a civil ceremony  (commonly referred to as an elopement in which a county clerk performs the  ceremony) or a private ceremony (in which you hire your own officiant to perform the ceremony).

1. Monday through Friday:

   a. You can have a civil ceremony performed at a pre-determined appointment by a county clerk. Usually attended by less than 10 guests.

   b. If you plan on having a bigger guest list yet still performed by a county clerk, then prior to the ceremony date you must reserve an area of the Sunken Gardens or Mural Room. You will need reservation confirmation of one of these locations before you can set an appointment with the clerk’s office. To reserve either of these locations, see #3 below.

   c. If you plan to have a private ceremony, you can get your marriage license prior to your ceremony date, will need to reserve an area of the Sunken Gardens or Mural Room, and you will need to hire an officiant to perform your ceremony. To reserve either of these locations, see #3 below.

2. Saturday and Sunday the County Clerk office is closed so you will have to obtain your marriage license prior to your ceremony date, and have made a reservation to use an area of the Sunken Gardens or Mural Room, and hired an officiant to perform your ceremony. 3. You must reserve the Sunken Gardens and the Mural Room at or call 805.568.2460, Option 4. The county clerk will ask to see a copy of your reservation before performing the ceremony.

-Pricing for the Sunken Gardens can be viewed here:
-Pricing for the Mural Room can be viewed here:

How much does it cost to have a civil ceremony at
the Santa Barbara Courthouse?
The marriage license itself is $100, to reserve the civil ceremony time slot is $23, and the actual cost of the civil ceremony is $104, on-premises. However, if you need to use either the Sunken Gardens or Mural Room the cost will be $116.  Please note, that in addition to the $116 you will pay to the county clerk, there will be a separate payment you will make to the Parks & Recreation to reserve one of these locations. Fee will be determined on the specific location you choose. 
How do we get a marriage license? You can get your license up to 90 days before the ceremony date (keep in mind, licenses are only valid for 90 days). You can start the online process here. You can purchase your license in another county and bring it to the Santa Barbara County Clerk office. You do not have to be a California or United States resident or citizen (yay for international elopements!). Both parties must be present and have legal photo identification. Once you’ve made your appointment for your marriage license, you’ll pick it up from the County Clerk’s office on the first floor located at the corner of Anacapa and Anapamu Streets. For the full legal guidelines, go hereHelpful Hints: I suggest that if you are having a private and bigger ceremony, then get your marriage license before your big wedding day. Who wants to be filling out paperwork that morning when you should be drinking champagne with your wedding party?? Yet, for a small civil ceremony I suggest just doing it all in one appointment.

If I'm having a civil ceremony, when should I make an appointment? If you get your marriage license the same day as your ceremony, your appointment with the county clerk will be 60 minutes. If you already have your license and just need the civil ceremony, then your appointment will be 30 minutes. 

Helpful Hints: Appointments can be made up to 90 days in advance, so if you want to get married on a popular date or time (Friday afternoons are most popular), make sure you book your appointments as soon as you can. Also, there is a grace period of 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, you will have to reschedule your appointment. 

Do we need to bring witnesses? For a public marriage license, you only need one witness, and you can have two sign your marriage license. For confidential marriages, you don’t need a witness (more info here on the difference between public and confidential marriages) Your photographer can absolutely sign as your witness (it’s always an honor to be asked!). Bring your witness(es) with you to your ceremony appointment.

Where will the civil ceremony be performed? For a civil ceremony of 10 guests or less, you can have the ceremony performed inside the Hall of Records on the second floor mezzanine, overlooking the balcony. But if you prefer an outdoor setting, your ceremony may be held directly outside the Hall of Records archway door, framed by palm trees and looking out into the Sunken Gardens.

For an additional fee, and if you have made prior reservations with either the Parks Department , you can have the ceremony performed in an area of the Sunken Gardens or the Mural Room. You will pay a  $116 fee to the County Clerk in additional to the fee that you will pay to Parks & Recreation Department. The county clerk will ask to see a copy of your reservation before performing the ceremony.

Who will marry us? There are a number of judges/justices of the peace who rotate performing civil ceremonies. All the ones I’ve met have been lovely and wonderful. If you’re having a private ceremony, here is a list of officiants I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside over the years.

Nanette McIntyre  
Patrice Handley
How many guests can we bring? For civil ceremonies inside, you’re allowed 10 guests. However, if you have your ceremony outside, the number of guests isn’t set in stone as long as they don’t overflow into other areas of the Sunken Gardens. If you have over 10 guests I would recommend reviewing the options of the Sunken Gardens or the Mural Room see which area would better suit your guest count. For private ceremonies, same as above in which you would reserve an area of the Sunken Gardens or Mural Room that would best serve your guest count.

What if I can't get my preferred appointment? We do offer packages with an officiant and photographer made for last-minute weddings! We offer these packages only Monday through Thursdays, and only within 2 weeks of your desired wedding date. 

Is there parking nearby the Santa Barbara Courthouse? Yes! Directly across the street from the Anacapa St. entrance is a four level parking garage - 75 minutes free and $1.50 for each hour after that.

What is the best day/time to get married there? Civil ceremonies on Fridays tend to book earlier than the other weekdays. And, of course, Saturdays and Sundays are very popular for private ceremonies. So booking your appointment sooner than later is always ideal in order to get your desired time slot.

How much does it cost to have you come shoot our Courthouse civil ceremony? I have 5 new packages tailored specifically for couples having civil ceremonies performed at Santa Barbara Courthouse, starting at $500. You can view them in full detail here! For full-coverage weddings, packages start at $3000. Please contact me for more information.

Do you have any specific spots at the Courthouse that you like shooting in? There are so many gorgeous spots in the building (and outside it!) that each photo session can differ. Below are some of my favorite areas and by no means are they the only places!

The Courthouse Entrance

Inside of Entrance Archway
Fiesta Stage-Great for Family Portraits
2nd Floor Hallway
Mural Room
Circular Staircase
Clock Tower