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The Ultimate San Francisco Parking Guide

  • City Parking
  • Renee Martin
  • 11 minutes

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It’s no secret that San Francisco parking is a nightmare. There are no guarantees on finding a parking spot where you need it when you need it ‚Äď unless you have mastered how to park smart in San Francisco. But street parking is risky, and off-street parking is so expensive! Or is it? Once you are through this blog, we bet you’ll have all the answers to safe and affordable parking in San Francisco.¬†

SFMTA’s¬†San Francisco Mobility Trend Report¬†confirms that despite an overall improvement in transportation options, the City by the Bay can’t seem to shake off its traffic problems. Since the report was released, the pandemic caused a brief dip in the stats. But undoubtedly, 2020 figures are not likely to have a lasting impact. The number of cars on the streets will continue to rise in the post-pandemic world, while San Francisco’s city parking challenges evolve with the times.¬†¬†

Parking tickets play a significant role in skyrocketing San Francisco parking expenses. Residents and visitors mostly complain about the high parking rates but often miss the bank-breaking parking fines. Being careless with street parking is one thing, but being unaware of the basic parking rules is worse. A run-in with parking enforcement can make a great travel experience turn sour fast. Even San Franciscans could use a refresher on the important rules and regulations to avoid a citation. So, waste no more time and catch up with all you need to know about San Francisco parking right now.  

Parking in San Francisco ‚Äď The Basics¬†

It doesn’t matter where you are in the city; these are the most basic San Francisco parking guidelines to follow:¬†

  • Do not block access to a driveway and get your car towed.¬†
  • Stay away from the red curbs with a DPT, SFMTA, or SFFD logo.¬†
  • Do not park at the same spot for more than 72-hours at a stretch. Move your car to a different block before this time is up.¬†¬†
  • You can park at green zones between 9 am and 6 pm, Monday through Saturday. However, keep in mind that green curbs are only for short-term parking ‚Äď up to 10, 15, or 30 minutes.¬†¬†
  • When parallel parking, make sure your car is parked 18 inches from the curb, facing the flow of traffic. The wheels must be turned away/towards the curb when parking on hills.¬†

Take a look at¬†SFMTA’s guidelines on parking legally in San Francisco here¬†for a complete review of the city’s street parking rules.¬†¬†

What do the different curb colors in San Francisco mean? 

Along with a thorough check for parking signs, curb colors are an important factor in San Francisco street parking rules. Here’s what each colored zone means:¬†

White: Passenger loading or unloading only, during indicated hours. Usually found near hospitals, schools, restaurants, bars, religious institutions, large residential or office buildings. 

Yellow:¬†Commercial loading or unloading only, during indicated hours. There are 5-minute non-commercial loading zones too ‚Äď check parking signs posted nearby.¬†

Green: Short-term parking only, during indicated hours. Usually found near dry cleaners, ATMs, Banks, post-offices, etc. 

Blue:¬†Accessible parking for vehicles with valid disabled placards only. These restrictions are active 24×7, except during street cleaning.¬†¬†

Red: Usually found in residential areas to maintain clearance for driveways 

Find out more about colored zones and parking restrictions in San Francisco here. 

Digital street parking meter in San Francisco

Is there metered street parking across the city? 

Metered parking is available on most streets in San Francisco ‚Äď take a look at¬†this map of parking meters¬†with the latest data.¬†

San Francisco parking meters are enforced from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday through Saturday. Free parking is allowed when meters are suspended on Sundays, except in the Fisherman’s Wharf and Embarcadero zones. Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day are also parking holidays in the city. During Oracle Park and Chase Center events, special event rates are applicable on metered street parking nearby, irrespective of the day.¬†¬†

READ: All you need to know about Oracle Park Parking  

Parking meters in San Francisco usually come with a 2-hour maximum time limit. However, about 25% of meters have a 4-hour limit or no limit at all. Meter rates vary from zone to zone; downtown and Embarcadero streets are the most expensive. You can feed the meter with coins, cards, or pre-paid SFMTA parking cards. Pay-by-phone or parking app payments are also available.  

More information on San Francisco metered street parking is available here. 

How did San Francisco reduce traffic with smart parking meters? 

SFMTA has introduced demand-responsive parking meters in the city’s busiest neighborhoods to ensure optimal usage of available parking space. Under this program, smart pricing is used to control the demand for metered parking spaces. When the demand is high, the meter rates rise, and the rates are reduced when the demand goes down. You can use the¬†official website or SFpark app¬†to find smart meter rates across the city.¬†¬†

How to apply for a Residential Parking Permit (RPP)

San Francisco has residential parking permit zones, where permit holders can park without time restrictions. Annual permits for permanent residents and short-term permits for visitors are available. You can apply online, via mail, or in person at the SFMTA customer service center.  

How to find affordable off-street parking in San Francisco

San Francisco has plenty of privately operated and¬†city-owned off-street parking facilities. However, the risking parking lot rates are a huge concern. It’s no myth, drive-up rates at most San Francisco parking garages and lots will make you poorer. The only way around it is to plan your parking for the day or stay in San Francisco and pre-book a garage space near your destinations. With more and more people adopting San Francisco parking apps and websites, most parking companies offer special rates and discounts on online reservations. On apps like¬†Way.com, you’ll also get perks like flexible cancellation, additional discounts, and¬†pre-paid parking passes¬†to multiple garages.¬†

city parking from way.com

Where can I find overnight parking in San Francisco? 

Street parking is mostly free after the meters are suspended for the day. However, San Francisco has an ongoing car break-in problem. So, we wouldn’t recommend parking on the street if you are unsure about the neighborhood’s safety. Your other option is 24-hour public parking facilities like the Union Square Garage and Sutter-Stockton Garage downtown. Privately-operated parking garages also offer great 24-hour deals.¬†¬†

Read more about Where to find the best overnight parking in San Francisco here. 

Where to find monthly parking in San Francisco? 

Monthly parking spots are available at both SFMTA public parking facilities and privately-managed parking lots. Monthly parking in San Francisco is a great option for those who need daily parking in the same neighborhood, like near your home or workplace.  

Parking in San Francisco’s busiest neighborhoods¬†

Parking anywhere in San Francisco, especially in and around downtown, is a solid challenge. Even seasoned drivers struggle to lock a spot on the streets without taking a few laps around the block. While demand-responsive meter pricing and other initiatives taken by the parking authorities help, there’s still a long way to go before San Francisco solves all its parking problems. Here’s a quick round-up of what you can expect in the city’s busiest neighborhoods.¬†

Downtown San Francisco 

Auto traffic in downtown and Union Square is unbeatable, and finding parking anywhere nearby is always stressful. Union Square Garage, Sutter-Stockton Garage, Ellis and O’Farrell Garage, and St. Mary’s Square Garage are the most popular public parking facilities. But there’s more ‚Äď almost 8000 garage spaces are available in downtown San Franciso. The easiest way to find a good deal and a guaranteed parking spot near you is to pre-book it online.¬†¬†

Read: How much is parking in downtown San Francisco? 

San Francisco Chinatown 

Saturday is the busiest day in San Francisco Chinatown. Street parking could be a bit tricky as there are plenty of residential streets. There is one open parking lot and four public parking garages too. But the best option is a secure garage ‚Äď you’ll¬†find affordable Chinatown parking deals here.¬†¬†

Traffic at San Francisco Chinatown

Embarcadero Parking 

Embarcadero is San Francisco’s tourist hot spot; San Franciscans also love to spend their time here. With multiple attractions and popular destinations like the¬†San Francisco Ferry Building, availability and demand for Embarcadero parking spaces rarely find a balance. But the good news is that there are plenty of garages nearby to plan your parking. The Pier 27 Parking Lot near the San Francisco cruise ship terminal usually has open spots available throughout the week, except when a ship is in port. The Pier 15 Parking Lot near the Exploratorium is a bit pricier, but it does offer plenty of parking spots.¬†¬†

Pier 39 Parking 

Pier 39 has a 24/7 parking garage across the street from its entrance plaza. Some restaurants validate parking, and you might get a couple of hours free of charge. However, the demand is also through the roof. The same goes for street parking in this touristy area, and finding a spot at the last minute ‚Äď on or off the street ‚Äď won’t be a quick task. You’ll also not find any free street parking any time or day.¬†¬†

Read: Where to find Pier 33 parking before taking the Alcatraz ferry. 

Parking in popular San Francisco districts 

San Francisco has several distinct neighborhoods with unique characteristics that drive all-year-round traffic. Take a look at some of the prominent neighborhoods where you’ll need San Francisco parking tips to get around without hassle.¬†

Nob Hill Parking 

Nob Hill is one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco and is relatively small. Parking in this swanky neighborhood is rarely cheap, but you can¬†find affordable Nob Hill parking garage deals online. Street parking is available but might not be easy to find – especially on Sundays. You’ll likely find yourself parallel parking on a hill, so take the proper safety precautions. Remember to turn your wheels towards or away from the curb, depending on whether your car is facing downhill or uphill.¬†¬†

North Beach Parking 

Parking in North Beach gives you easy access to both Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown. But the downside is the frequent local events, which closes down street parking. Arrive early in the day for the best spots or¬†pre-book a garage space¬†to avoid last-minute delays.¬†

SOMA Parking 

South of Market Street is the largest neighborhood in San Francisco.¬†SOMA parking is relatively trouble-free, with plenty of free parking on the streets. If you find a spot without permit restrictions, it’s likely available free of charge. But do keep an eye on the parking signs for any restrictions. Finding affordable SOMA parking garages isn’t hard either, especially on a parking app.¬†¬†

Market Street traffic in San Francisco

Financial District Parking 

San Francisco’s Financial District is not ideal for street parking. Part of the area is subject to residential parking restrictions, and the signage is not that great.¬†Financial District parking lots and garages¬†are the best bet. Do note that many of the garages in this neighborhood close in the evenings.¬†

Civic Center Parking 

The San Francisco Civic Center has its garage at 355 McAllister Street, with more than 800 spots. It is open 6 am ‚Äď12 am on weekdays, 8 am‚Äď12 am on Saturday, and 9 am‚Äď10 pm on Sundays. There are more affordable garages nearby on Ellis, Turk, and Polk Streets. Limited metered parking is also available if you’re willing to walk a few blocks.¬†

Mission Parking 

The oldest neighborhood in San Francisco poses the biggest parking challenge. Not only do you have to look for parking spots, but also worry about the crime rates. If you plan to use street parking, steer clear of Mission Dolores, where parking permits are mostly required.   

Read: Vehicle Thefts in San Francisco up 20% Year Over Year. 

Sunset Parking 

The Sunset parking situation differs depending on whether you’re in Outer Sunset or Inner Sunset. The former is more driver-friendly, as it’s less busy with fewer popular attractions and businesses. Finding parking on Inner Sunset is more fraught with differing parking restrictions, particularly during rush hours. To avoid confusion and accidental towing, park in Outer Sunset and then walk or take public transportation to Inner Sunset.¬†¬†

Russian Hill Parking 

Russian Hill is largely residential but gets its fair share of tourists driving through the streets for the great views of the Bay. Street parking is expectedly stressful due to the heavy traffic. If you must park on the street, try Bay Street, between Polk and Van Ness. Here, you can park unmetered any time except for 4‚Äď6 pm.¬†¬†

READ: 4 Tips to Find the Best Parking Garage in San Francisco 

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