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Visitors’ guide to affordable parking in San Francisco 

  • City Parking
  • Celine Jerly
  • 6 minutes

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Did you know – there are more than 400K spots for parking in San Francisco? And yet, even seasoned drivers in the city sometimes fail to find one quickly. For a first-time visitor in San Francisco, even from a neighboring state, driving around looking for parking can be a nightmare. To top it all off, you’ve got to figure out all parking rules or get ready to pay off some of the most expensive fines in the country. Here’s a low down on how and where to find affordable parking spots in the City by the Bay.   

Getting around San Francisco by car would be easier if you had a parking spot waiting at all your destinations. Unfortunately, even the “official” parking lots near major attractions can’t make that dream come true. Most restaurants and hotels also charge a fee on on-site parking, and it’s not going to be cheap – you can bet on it. Street parking with SFMTA’s demand-responsive pricing, pay-by-plate technology, and other initiatives sound promising. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always find the perfect spot instantly. At this point, you’ll agree that off-street parking is the best option. But driving up to a San Francisco parking lot or garage will leave your wallet a lot lighter.   

San Francisco parking is generally expensive. But it’s not impossible to find affordable parking in the city. Here are a few tips on how to save more on parking in San Francisco:  

Cheap street parking in San Francisco  

San Francisco parking meter rates vary from zone to zone – downtown and Embarcadero neighborhoods are most expensive for obvious reasons. With the demand-responsive pricing in play, you can reduce street parking expenses to a limit. The real-time updates on the official app will help you find cheaper metered parking spaces near your destination. Parking a couple of blocks away will usually get you a better deal.   

Look for multi-space parking pay stations in the city, which use the pay-by-plate technology. These allow you to extend your time limit remotely using an app or at any other pay station. You can avoid the hassle of returning to your car every time the meter runs out. However, if there is a maximum time limit posted, make sure to move your vehicle before it expires.   

San Francisco parking meters

Pre-paid parking cards of $20 – $50 are also available online. You can also apply for SFMTA visitors/short-term residents parking permits – weekly, and daily permits are available online. It can increase your chances of finding a street parking space without the 2-hour time limit.   

Finding free parking in San Francisco might not be easy on weekdays, but meters are suspended on Sundays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. However, streets near Fisherman’s Wharf and Embarcadero are exceptions. Special event restrictions could also be in effect for Chase Center or Oracle Park parking. Make sure to check posted signs to avoid a San Francisco parking ticket 

San Francisco parking rules – A short review  

Half the battle is won when you understand the parking rules in the city because San Francisco parking tickets are costlier than premium garage spaces. SFMTA offers a detailed guide on how to park legally in San Francisco, but here’s all you need to know in a nutshell.  

72-hour maximum time limit

You can park in the same spot on the street for up to 72 hours unless otherwise indicated by posted signs. The exceptions range from the specific meter and free parking time limits to street cleaning restrictions and RPP (Residential Permit Parking) zones. To avoid overtime parking citations, move your vehicle to another location – even across the street or around the corner – before the 3-day period is over.   

Parallel parking in San Francisco

When parallel parking on San Francisco streets, always face the direction the traffic is moving. Also, make sure your car’s wheels are within 18 inches of the curb.   

San Francisco Parking on slopes 

When parking on a hill or sloped driveway, angle your wheels in a way that would prevent the car from rolling into traffic. If it is hit or the brakes fail, turning your wheels towards the curb or side of the road will allow the car to roll away from the street. Do not forget to engage your parking brake.   

San Francisco parking on slopes

Check the bumper

The car’s front and rear bumpers shouldn’t be extending into a driveway, restricted color zone, or crosswalk. It’s easier not to park near these areas unless you have no other option.   

Look for San Francisco parking signs

Posted signs are your parking lifesavers – don’t ignore them. Look 100 feet in both directions of a street parking spot to ensure you are not violating any rules or restrictions.  

Check curb color

Stay away from red curbs – these are no-parking zones usually found near bus stops and fire stations. White curbs are pick-up/drop-off zones with a 5-minute time limit, while green curbs found near ATMs have a 10-minute parking time limit. Yellow curbs are reserved for commercial vehicles, and blue curbs are for accessible parking.   

Time limits in permit areas

In RPP zones, those without a permit cannot park for more than the posted time limit, typically 1 – 2 hours. Make sure to move your car at least one block away when the time limit expires.   

Park after street sweeping

Street sweeping restrictions are usually enforced for 2 hours. But can park on the street after the sweeping truck has passed.   

Tow-away zones in San Francisco

Tow-away zones

It is illegal to park on marked or unmarked driveways, sidewalks, and crosswalks as it obstructs traffic. Some parking zones are also restricted during commute hours – always check the meters and street parking signs for tow-away restrictions.  

Accessible parking in San Francisco

Vehicles displaying a valid disabled placard or license plate can be parked at blue curbs and in restricted areas like RPP zones. This is applicable on placards or licenses issued by another country or state. However, other rules and regulations like the 72-hour maximum time limit, No-Parking, street cleaning, etc., are applicable.   

Find an affordable parking garage

Keeping track of all these parking rules could be a bit too much when trying to enjoy a few days in San Francisco. Even on a shoestring budget, you could be easily tempted to park at a paid parking lot and do away with the hassle of finding street parking. However, drive-up rates at San Francisco parking garages could stop you, especially those near major attractions. The easiest solution is to pre-book your parking – but, of course, that requires a bit of planning. If you have already drafted a good itinerary for your San Francisco trip, the task gets easier.   

Now all you need is a parking app or log on to websites like Way.com. Enter your destination into the search bar and instantly get a list of affordable San Francisco parking lots and garages nearby. You can compare rates and amenities offered at each facility – choose a parking spot that best suits your needs and budget. Online reservations also get exclusive discounts and special rates when you book in advance.   

Affordable parking in SF

Read more blogs on affordable airport parking, the best insurance for your car, and top-rated car washes near you.


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