San Francisco Parking
San Francisco parking can be a stressful experience, especially if you are not used to city driving, but here you can find some useful information to help you with your experience.
Advice to Visitors
If you are staying downtown, it's probably not worth it to rent a car. San Francisco parking can be a hassle, and it's easy to get around using public transportation. Many hotels charge enormous fees for keeping your car overnight, and the nearby parking garages, although cheaper, usually do not allow you "in-and-out" privileges.
Downtown San Francisco Parking Garages
Parking garages downtown are not created equal!
When I park downtown, I try to only park in one of the 2 garages that I have listed below. They typically charge $2-$3 per hour, as well as have reasonable flat rates for evening parking.
If both of these garages are full, try to see if you can find a garage with a $10-15 flat rate for the day.
There are several downtown garages that will charge $2-3 every 15 minutes (for example, the garage right below Union Square), and even though they have a maximum (maybe around $30-$35), you will easily reach it within the first 3 hours!
Here are two garages that I recommend for visiting downtown San Francisco.
- Sutter Stockton Garage
This garage is located at Sutter and Stockton, but you can also enter the garage from Bush Street. It is close to both Union Square and the Chinatown Gate.
- Portsmouth Square Garage
This garage is located right beneath Portsmouth Square, and is tucked between the financial district and Chinatown. You can also park here to access North Beach if you don't mind walking a few blocks. Entrance is on Kearny Street between Clay and Washington.
For motorcycles: parking rates are $6/day at most garages.
For long-term parking for motorcycles, and month-to-month parking for cars and car shares, The Ellis & O'Farrell Garage and the 5th & Mission Garage have cheap rates.
Map of Recommended Downtown Garages
View Downtown SF parking garages in a larger map
San Francisco Parking Meters
Parking meters are now active 7 days a week from 9am-6pm, meaning that evenings are free. The times they are active will always be posted on the parking meters themselves, so just double check them to be sure. Many of the newer meters will actually state whether it is necessary to insert payment or not.
The prices vary in different parts of the city, however typically a quarter will buy you 8 minutes, which is close to $2/hour. Many meters take only change or special San Francisco parking cards, however there are more and more places in town that have new meters installed which accept credit cards.
You can also download an app called PayByPhone (I am not affiliated in anyway) that allows you to pay for your parking by entering the meter number. It's convenient if you do not have change, but they charge a fee of .45 cents to use their service. When you use this service, the meter will not show that parking has been paid, but I checked with a parking enforcement officer, and they confirmed that they have a way of checking if you have used this service. It has definitely saved me when I didn't have any coins!
San Francisco Parking Card
Since a quarter will usually not buy you more than 8 minutes, and many people don't carry rolls of quarters in their pockets, consider purchasing a San Francisco Parking Card. You just insert the card into the slot on the meter, and watch it slowly add time to your meter. When you are satisfied with the amount of time, just pull out the card.
Curb Your Wheels!
San Francisco is famous for its hills, but parking on them can be a hazard if your wheels are not curbed. It's important to prevent runaway cars, and this is taken very seriously in San Francisco. The failure to properly curb your wheels can result in steep fines!
Street Cleaning Signs and Permit Parking
When parking on the street, make sure to note if there are any street cleaning or permit parking restrictions. Many San Francisco neighborhoods with tight parking require cars to have a permit indicating that they live in the neighborhood, in order to park there for more than 2 hours.
If you are parked on a street during street cleaning hours, before the street cleaner has passed through, you are guaranteed to get a ticket!
A local tip: If it is obvious that the street cleaner has already passed through a street scheduled for cleaning, but it is still during the designated street cleaning time slot, you are safe to park your car there without getting a ticket.
Painted Curbs and What They Mean
Red: Never, never park in a red zone. They are designated for safety reasons, and parking in a red zone area could very likely invite heavy fees or the possibility of having your vehicle towed.
White: These areas are usually designated for passenger loading, and have a time limit of 5 minutes. The driver must stay in the car!
Yellow: These zones are for delivery drivers with commercial license plates only, for the purpose of loading and unloading. This restriction is typically applicable from 9am-6pm, Monday-Saturday. That means, if you see an available parking spot with a yellow curb after 6pm or on Sundays, you are usually free to park there!
Green: This is temporary parking only, and mostly for less than 10 minutes! You are free to park here, but pay close attention to the time limit. This is also usually just applicable Monday-Saturday from 9am-6pm.
Blue: Areas with blue curbs are designated for people with valid handicap parking permits. Don't park here unless you have one.
Watch Out for Tow Zones!
Getting your car towed is very painful lesson, and one that I unfortunately had to learn.
Never park your car on the street without reading the signs carefully.
I got my car towed when parking on a street that I had parked on several times before, because I didn't think to check the signs, and they had recently turned it into a tow zone between the hours of 8pm-2am.
My car was in the tow lot for only an hour, but I had to pay $500 to get it out!
There are several streets in San Francisco (especially downtown) that don't allow any street parking between the hours of 5am-9am and 3pm-7pm. This is to help the morning and afternoon rush-hour traffic flow more smoothly.
If you park somewhere at noon, it's easy to think that it's ok to keep your car there, because there could be several other cars lining the streets, but always remember to read the nearby parking signs to be sure!
A San Francisco Parking Habit to Watch Out For!
Everyone knows that you should not park or stop at a bus stop, but it still happens a lot in San Francisco. That's because with city parking as tight as it is, it sometimes seems like the best spot to quickly pull over, and pick up or drop off a friend.
But be aware!
Even if you stop for just a minute - if a bus pulls up behind you, they can snap a picture of your license plate, and you will receive a ticket in the mail! (Same goes if you cut a bus driver off.)
If you plan on staying in San Francisco for an extended time (a couple of months, for example), but all the hassles of having a car and dealing with San Francisco parking seem like too much to deal with, signing up for a Zipcar account may be something to consider. A small annual fee allows you easy access to cars located conveniently in parking lots all around the city, and you can rent them for low hourly rates, with gas and insurance included.
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