These landmarks are perfect for elopements or intimate events.
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If you've ever dismissed the idea of having a courthouse wedding, you probably didn't consider how beautiful a city hall venue can be. Think about it: While not every town's civic center is a shining example of period architecture or an emblem of American history, so many (especially those located in urban areas with cultural significance) are. We're talking about the courthouses that go beyond the utilitarian—the buildings that give you and your future husband or wife a little piece of history just for exchanging vows there.
Based on the courthouses we've just described, you likely have two at the front of your mind: New York City Hall and San Francisco City Hall. Both are breathtaking in their own right—New York's is a marriage mecca for urbanites, while San Francisco's is about as epic as a state building can be—but there are so many others all over the country that transcend city hall stereotypes. To prove it, we went ahead and rounded up the prettiest courthouses in the United States. Complete with options on both coasts, the Midwest, and the South, this list is bound to cater to your elopement or intimate wedding's needs—and proves that courthouses are just as pretty as traditional big-day venues.
Though all of the following structures are different (the result of their dramatically diverse architecture styles), they have one thing in common: Each one feels grand in some way (stately columns, winding staircases, and epic domes have that effect!). Another important unifier? They make incredible wedding photo backdrops, as you'll see in the images ahead.
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Resident urbanites and tourists alike know the magic of the Marriage Bureau at the New York City Clerk's Office—the iconic elopement mecca (a reputation that precedes Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big's fictional ceremony, white suit, something-blue Manolos, and all) has seen over 1.2 million marriages since 1930. Before you grab a ticket and exchange vows in the historic building—it first opened to the public in 1811, making it the oldest city hall in the nation—however, you'll need to apply for a marriage license and wait a full 24 hours before your ceremony. These ceremonies happen on a first-come, first-serve basis, so, depending on the day, you might have to sit tight to say "I do." Post-nuptials, don't forget to snap photos on the property's long flight of steps and in front of its columned entrance.
Photography: Jenelle Kappe Photography3 of 16
Chicago City Hall
If you're planning an intimate wedding or elopement at Chicago City Hall, take advantage of the building's Neoclassical architecture—the sloping arches and domed hallways make for epic photo ops. Though its interior and exterior façade are breathtaking, its garden roof (yep!) is the building's most iconic feature. Though the lush rooftop isn't typically open to the public, scheduled tours are available to special parties. We'll go ahead and say that your wedding day makes you a special party by default; take advantage of the occasion and call to see if they'll open the secret garden for you.
Photography: Ashlee Mintz Photography4 of 16
Philadelphia City Hall
A designated national historic landmark (and at one point, the tallest habitable building in the world!), Philadelphia City Hall is the perfect wedding venue for history buffs—it's also about as grand and aesthetically pleasing as a courthouse can be. After you exchange vows, you'll want to commemorate your tiny little sliver of Philly history: Be sure to snap a portrait angled way up, with the statue of William Penn in view. For the very best photo of the building, however, you'll want to pose in front of its north façade on Broad Street (like the couple seen here).
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Couples travel from all over the world to exchange vows in San Francisco City Hall. In fact, it's not unsurprising to see full-blown weddings here. There's certainly space for events of all sizes: The building's opulent main room is over 500,000 square feet and occupies two city blocks. Whether you're keeping it simple with a one-hour celebration on the Mayor's Balcony (from that vantage point, you'll have one of the best views of the Grand Staircase, pictured here) or planning a 200-guest affair under the Rotunda, it's important to note that San Francisco City Hall is one of the only courthouses on this list that caters to both.
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Photography: Nick Plus Danée6 of 16
Cleveland City Hall
Though eloping at Cleveland City Hall is definitely an option, its dramatic Rotunda is the part of the building most associated with weddings. Like San Francisco City Hall, this space can accommodate a large guest count (up to 250 guests!)—but it comes with one additional perk. The courthouse has a contract with a lauded local caterer, who works exclusively with Cleveland's most noteworthy venues (Cleveland City Hall included). If you're intrigued by the idea of a city hall service, but still want the classic big-wedding experience, this space is for you.
Photography: Mallory Dawn7 of 16
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
It's difficult to choose the prettiest element of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse—the white-washed building's Spanish-Colonial design (complete with a four-faced clock tower and terra-cotta roof!), hand-painted interior murals, iron-wrought chandeliers, and lush sunken garden and grounds are proof that each facet of the landmark makes for unparalleled wedding photos.
Photography: Jessica Lorren8 of 16
Palm Beach natives likely already know about the city's wedding-worthy historic 1916 courthouse, but couples eloping in Florida probably don't. The soft yellow property—complete with stately central columns, striped awnings, plenty of palm trees, and an in-house museum—is one to bookmark if you're considering taking a trip to make it official. There's no better place to do so. Walk out of the courthouse and boom, paradise: You're already on your honeymoon.
Photography: L.A. Birdie Photography9 of 16
Anne Arundel County Courthouse
It doesn't get any more classic than a brick, colonial-style city hall topped with a billowing American flag—which is exactly why Anne Arundel County Courthouse, located in Annapolis, Maryland, makes this list.
Photography: Lisa Woods Photography10 of 16
Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse
Complete with stately lanterns and criss-crossed window panes—and framed by desert foliage—the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, is a popular elopement choice for local couples. Just a heads up: Though you can apply for a marriage license online, you'll have to wait three days post-approval in order to actually tie the knot here.
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Photography: Laura Anne Watson11 of 16
DeKalb County Courthouse
The best part about this picturesque landmark? The historic DeKalb Courthouse, located in Decatur, Georgia, is just minutes away from Atlanta (which means you and your guests can travel into the bustling city for a post-ceremony lunch or dinner!). The space, complete with marble walls and arched windows, is also available for rent—brides- and grooms-to-be looking for formal, but unique venues in the South, take note.
Photography: Bri Johnson Studios12 of 16
Designed to rival New York City's government buildings just across the Hudson River, the granite and marble City Hall of Jersey City features a blend of Victorian and Classical architecture. As if the building wasn't pretty enough, the courthouse got a renovation in 2008, which involved fixing the plaster friezes, stained glass windows, and dome.
Photography: Prohibition and Pearls Photography13 of 16
Lapeer County Courthouse
Michigan's Lapeer County Courthouse feels classic in an entirely different way—more Southern mansion (front porch and all!), this small-scale space brings decidedly cozy vibes to your intimate elopement.
Photography: Photography by Alexandra Lynn14 of 16
Allegheny County Courthouse
The Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of the country's finest buildings in the Romanesque Revival style. It's also one of the best city halls on this list for wedding photography—even inside. The reason? The main building was built around a central courtyard, allowing natural light to reach most of the interior.
Photography: TNK Photo15 of 16
Pasadena City Hall
The Pasadena City Hall you see today is the result of the City Beautiful movement in the 1920s (a people-led initiative that directed $3.5 million to the development of a civic center). We'd say that project name is about as salient as it gets—complete with elements of two major architectural styles (Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival), the building's most striking feature is the West entrance's dome, which measures 26 feet tall and 52 feet wide. You absolutely can't get married here without pausing for a photo in front of it.
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Photography: CH Cinema & Photo16 of 16
Though Seattle City Hall's façade is stunning in its own right, the building's observation deck, which boasts city-wide views, is its defining feature. It also makes the government center unique to this list—while most of these courthouses offer indoor ceremonies only, Seattle City Hall's officials regularly conduct services outside.