Six Quirky & Surprising Facts about the Santa Barbara Courthouse

Six Quirky and Surprising Facts about the Santa Barbara Courthouse 

Here are a few things nobody tells you about the Santa Barbara Courthouse that I think are surprising and interesting.

Santa Barbara Courthouse by the Numbers

Fun Fact 1: The National Historical Landmark Designation

The Santa Barbara Courthouse is not  only a State Historical Landmark but also has a National Historic Landmark designation.  Only 3% of the US Historic Places receive that designation and there are only 2,500 of them int the country. 

Fun Fact 2:  What It Cost to Build and Maintain the County Courthouse

The Courthouse Cost $1,368,000 to build in 1929, which is over $21 million in today’s dollars, and the current renovation that will go on until 2029 (partly because they do not use power tools due to the noise) will cost at least $10 million.

Fun Fact 3: Santa Barbara Courthouse Wedding Locations You Can Reserve

There are six main wedding ceremony locations you can reserve at the county courthouse but the Clock Tower isn’t one of them. But you can take pictures there as you can see here.  The best outdoor locations right now due to the scaffolding and construction are the Palm Terrace and Sunken Gardens to have a better backdrop. Or the Mural Room if you can afford the extra expense. See this page for more details. 

Fun Fact 4: The Number of Weddings and Elopements Going through Santa Barbara Courthouse

On Feb 29, 2024, the leap year, the courthouse conducted 22 ceremonies. If you annualize that kind of volume and normalize it to say 15 weddings per day, that works out to roughly 3900 civil weekday ceremonies and approximately that many conducted privately on the weekends. 

(Not) Fun Fact 5: No Bathrooms in the Santa Barbara County Hall of Records

This might be a great thing to add to the $10 million dollar courthouse renovation list. Strange because folks often come driving in from a long ways off and are also sometimes nervous and/or caffeinated prior to filling out the paperwork for the license. There is no bathroom, you have to go across the street to the Santa Barbara County building or use the restroom bathroom on the corner. 

Fun Fact 6: The Courthouse is partially geothermal and heated by steam from a pipe system

“Beneath the lawn on the North-Western corner of the Courthouse lies a geothermal field.  Constructed in 2003, the geothermal field provides a sustainable source of energy, powering the building’s heating and cooling systems. The lawn was drilled with 32 holes, 5 and 1/4 inches in diameter, 18 feet apart bored to a depth of 400 feet where the earth has a constant temperature of 69 to 70 degrees. Circulating water in pipes is heated or cooled to that constant temperature.  While unseen, this geothermal field is vital to the Courthouse’s operation, showcasing innovation and environmental responsibility within a historical landmark.”–Wikipedia article on the courthouse.

Oh, and our Courthouse is also one of the most photographed places in all of California, and did I mention how long the docent training program takes? The list goes on and on!

Doug Ellis


Getting Ready for Your City Hall and Courthouse Wedding Photos

Professional Santa Barbara Wedding Photos Make a Real Difference

I believe that there is a big difference between just taking happy snaps  and capturing moments that can be cherished and shared for a lifetime. I have been photographing courthouse weddings in Santa Barbara since 2007, and this place truly brings out the beauty of couples in love.
A Santa Barbara courthouse wedding is not just your typical civil City Hall ceremony in an urban center. This spot not only offers a beautiful setting but also provides tons of backdrops for stunning photos. 

Every Santa Barbara courthouse wedding photographer will agree that after 16 years of doing it, it is never tiring for me to come back here and capture those timeless moments underneath the magnolia tree, or on the stairs.
The clock tower that overlooks the sunken gardens and beautiful public library and arch gives you perfect shots, and with corridors full of colorful and grand architecture to the small alleys and doors that provide a romantic backdrop for intimate moments, you are sure to get Santa Barbara courthouse wedding photos that are worth a lifetime of memories. 

Connect With Us to Secure Your Date and Time for Courthouse Wedding Photos 

What to Wear to Your Courthouse Wedding or Elopement? 

As you can see from my wedding gallery the attire run the gamut and is entirely up to you, but a courthouse wedding is great with any classic Californian style, from casual to formal and sophisticated. Traditional black suits and white dresses with matching accessories are always timeless. If you want to get Santa Barbara courthouse elopement photos that are more modern and stylish, you can go for lighter colors such as pastels, or even bolder colors. Brides can choose to wear a dress, jumpsuit, or even a two-piece wedding set.
For grooms, you can choose from either a classic suit or a more laid-back look with business casual slacks and a linen shirt. If you are looking for Santa Barbara courthouse elopement photos, it is always best to be as comfortable as possible, so be sure to wear whatever makes you feel most confident and relaxed. 

When Is the Best Time To Take Santa Barbara Courthouse Wedding Photos? 

It partially depends on the actual venue location you have reserved from the Santa Barbara Parks & Rec department, because some of the locations, including the Mural Room, are indoors. For outdoors, the ideal times are generally before 11AM and after 3PM.  The last ceremony is at 4:30 as the courthouse officially closes at 5PM.   Santa Barbara is a very popular destination for weddings and elopements, so you may want to avoid peak hours, which are usually from 10 AM to 2 PM on weekends and holidays. 

When it comes to what month is best to take photos at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, I recommend any time between March and November. The weather is mild and the light is beautiful during these months. Spring weddings are nice because the grass and palm trees are so green and lush and the fountain out front is going, and it is less warm and bright than summer, and less crowded than the fall months of Sept-November which is peak wedding season. 

California is generally warm all year round, but it’s best to plan ahead and check the weather forecast before you decide on a date. Light rain can actually be OK but wind over 10 MPH can be tricky with a veil and dresses and anything like that! Just make sure to have your wedding planned ahead as these months are when service providers, as well as photographers tend to get booked up quickly. 

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Are There Any Restrictions on Photography at the Santa Barbara Courthouse? 

The Santa Barbara courthouse is generally very photo friendly and not a hostile environment for photographers. Weddings are not considered a commercial use but a permit is required for commercial film and photoshoots at the courthouse. The use of property under the jurisdiction of Santa Barbara County Community Services Department for film and photo shoots requires a permit ($75 cost), plus payment of a fee that is based on one of the following categories of use:

  • Feature Films and TV Movies
  • TV Series and Music Videos
  • TV Commercials, Automobile Stills and Videos
  • Educational and Documentary Films
  • Still Photography on Public Right-Of-Way

This is free and included with your courthouse wedding photography coverage fee. For a civil ceremony officiated by a County official, you are allowed up to eight people in or around the back of the courthouse Hall of Records (near Anapamu street across from the County building), including your photographer. If you prefer a private ceremony with more people,  the flexibility of choosing your own officiant is another plus. Having your license done ahead of time and officiant chosen ahead of time also frees up extra time in the evening for photos, as you don’t need to wait for the courthouse to be open.

 If you wish to know more about the details about photography and filming in the City of Santa Barbara and within the County, feel free to visit the Santa Barbara County Film Commission website.

How To Get Married at a Santa Barbara Courthouse?

 If you are really unfamiliar with the process, here is a guide on how to have a courthouse wedding in Santa Barbara that you can use as a reference and you can read the official website here. You can book online up to 90 days in advance. 

Option 1: In-person Small Civil Ceremony or Courthouse Elopement.  You can book an in-person civil ceremony at the Santa Barbara Courthouse with your partner and up to 10 guests (including your photographer). First, you’ll need to make an appointment online and decide on a date that works best for you.  Then, during your appointment, you’ll get a marriage license and have your ceremony.  Click here to see the Calendly link on how to schedule the license and ceremony in English, or in Spanish. 

Option 2: Small or Larger Private Ceremony
If you prefer to have a private wedding with fewer than 15 guests (including the photographer), you can opt for a private ceremony. You’ll need to look for an officiant of your choice, make sure they are authorized to perform marriages in the state of California, and book them ahead of time.  I have a few favorite wedding officiants that I have worked with in the past and can offer you my recommendation.

With your own private wedding ceremony you need to obtain your marriage license ahead of time, but you can invite up to 15 guests, AND you’re able to pick a weekend date (weekends are not available for civil ceremonies).

Ceremonies with fewer than 15 guests can choose from of eight (8) exterior locations at the Courthouse, but they can’t be reserved (they are designated as A-H on the map below and are “first come, first served”).

Larger ceremonies require reservations at the five (5) outdoor lawn spaces or the Mural Room.

Paperwork Requirements for Courthouse Weddings and Elopements

Before anything else, make sure to collect and prepare all necessary documents and items. This includes a valid state-issued form of ID (driver’s license or passport) as well as the 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 (paid in advance) 
  • Marriage license: $100 
  • Confidential license: $111 
  • Ceremony fee: $104.

This is of course subject to change so check out the County of Santa Barbara marriage fees page here. Witnesses should also bring a valid form of ID. For micro weddings and elopements that witness can also be me! If you plan on exchanging rings during the ceremony, make sure to bring them as well. You can write vows if you wish to do so, although it’s not required. 

Is It Necessary To Make a Reservation for a Wedding Photoshoot at the Santa Barbara Courthouse? 

Yes! Especially during the busy season of summer and fall. As early as 90 days in advance is recommended for booking your photographer for your wedding day. Make sure you don’t overlook advance reservations to eliminate any kind of stress or chaotic incidents. 

Is Parking a Problem at Santa Barbara Courthouse? 

While it can be challenging to park on Anacapa street or Anapamu street right in front of the Courthouse,  there are two main parking garages nearby–the first is situated at 1115 Anacapa Street right by the library, and also a second lot behind the Granada theatre at 1221 Anacapa Street, between Victoria Street and Anapamu Street. The first 75 minutes of parking in this lot is free and afterward, it costs $3.50 per hour. Please remember that street parking has a limit of 75 minutes and try to be mindful of it!
After you’ve parked, check in at the Hall of Records on the corner of Anacapa and Anapamu Streets. From there, you will be guided to where your ceremony will take place. 

How Much Does it Cost for Professional Wedding Photos at the Santa Barbara Courthouse? 

The Santa Barbara courthouse is literally one of the most photographed places in California and people come here from all over the country and world to take photos. There are many destination wedding photographers coming in from LA and San Francisco but there are advantages to being a local. 

The cost of taking professional Santa Barbara City Hall photos at Santa Barbara Courthouse varies widely depending on the quality of service you require and which photographer you decide to hire.  Some photographers have hourly rates but you should always check with them beforehand in order to get a better idea of what their work will cost you.
I personally charge a $750 per hour minimum for Santa Barbara Court House weddings photos, but prices can range from $300 on Craigslist to five figures for the prominent wedding photographers in Malibu, LA and Santa Barbara. 

Here’s what you can expect to get when you decide to work with us:  My experience, perspective, easy going and fun loving nature, your choice of our associates, my lighting assistant and gear/clothing/accessory sherpa, and then a shareable online proofing gallery of high res selects and slideshow within three weeks of your big day. 

You also get  optional Dropbox delivery of high-resolution files, help with prints, an album, and/or wall art if you choose to purchase them.

When choosing your Santa Barbara wedding photographer, make sure to ask all questions you have, including the quality and redundancy of their equipment, what kind of post-processes they have, how many edited photos you will receive and when, as well as the delivery method. This way, you are sure to have zero misunderstandings or disappointments when it comes time to get your images.

Click here for Your Custom Quote or to Reserve Your Date for Courthouse Wedding Photography

Celebrating all Orientations and Expressions of Love Regardless of Gender

I see all celebrations of love for all preferences and ethnicities and gender identities and pride myself on celebrating your unicity and devotion for each other.  I strive to make your Santa Barbara elopement or microwedding a memorable experience for you and your partner. Take inspiration and navigate through my captured moments to get an idea of what you can expect when you book your special day with me.
If you’re ready for a wedding photoshoot session at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, don’t hesitate to contact me and reserve your date today. Let’s make your wedding day one to remember! 

Doug Ellis


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