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Why is parking in San Francisco so expensive?

  • City Parking
  • Celine Jerly
  • 5 minutes

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Did you know failing to move your car during street cleaning in San Francisco could set you back by $85? Almost $20 more than what you’ll have to pay in New York for the same parking citation! Overall, parking in San Francisco can make up a chunk of your daily expenses. Even metered street parking can’t help you save much. Demand-responsive meters, special event rates, and more roadblocks lay on your way to affordable parking on the city streets.

It won’t be a surprise if metered street parking costs as much as hourly rates at parking lots in San Francisco. When you weigh the pros and cons, off-street parking wins hands down. It’s safer and convenient than street parking. It could be affordable too when you know where to find the best deals. Clue: Get on a San Francisco parking app or website.   

How to avoid expensive street parking  

Street parking is quite popular in San Francisco, but it isn’t always the cheapest option. If you score a free parking spot, you are in luck! All you need to worry about now is the maximum parking time limit. As for metered parking, keep a careful watch on the rates. Double-check that signboard for any temporary restrictions that could add on a parking fine to your expense. Keep in mind that 75% of San Francisco parking meters come with a 2-hour maximum limit. Feeding these meters to extend the time limit will only result in a parking citation.   

Meter rates in San Francisco vary from parking zone to zone. Downtown and the Embarcadero will have you spending the most with hourly rates ranging from $2 – $4.50. Demand-based meter pricing is also used in busy neighborhoods, where rates are incrementally adjusted for optimal parking space usage. It simply means that you’ll pay more during peak demand and pay less when the demand goes down. Rates range from 50 cents to $6.50 an hour. It would be best to look out for special event rates, especially near Oracle Park and Chase Center. Finding your way around varying meter rates is easier when you have the right resources – like a real-time parking map on a smartphone app. When headed to a high-demand area, you’ll often find a street with cheaper meter rates only a couple of blocks away from your destination.   

San Francisco parking meters

Find free street parking in San Francisco  

Most meters are in effect from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Saturday. However, there are exceptions like Fisherman’s Wharf, where meters are operational from 7 am to 7 pm. In busy neighborhoods and Port of San Francisco, some meters run till 10 pm or midnight. Free parking is available across San Francisco on Sundays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. But there are a few exceptions – streets near Fisherman’s Wharf and Embarcadero are metered every day. Look out for special event areas near Oracle Park and Chase Center too. Even when you are familiar with a street, it’s best to check posted signs and meter displays to make sure you are parking legally. If you find an unmetered spot, check the time limit on signboards, note the street sweeping schedule, and check the curb color before you park.     

Why are San Francisco parking tickets expensive? 

San Francisco parking tickets reportedly generate almost $90 million annually – that’s quite a handsome revenue for the city. If you do the math, SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) is pushing over a million citations per year. So, what makes parking and parking tickets in San Francisco so expensive? One explanation is that the rates and fines are calculated based on the city’s living cost and encourage public transportation. SFMTA has also introduced a Community Service Program for those who cannot pay the heavy fines – for every hour of service, $17 will be credited towards your ticket. However, you can only pay off a maximum of $1000 in fines per year using this program.  

Affordable parking lots in San Francisco  

In San Francisco, it might seem impossible to find cheap parking – especially in downtown, where there’s always high traffic. Most garages have drive-up rates in double digits, and those could go up any time due to high demand or special events. If you are on a road trip to San Francisco, do your research before heading over. Most of the “official” parking lots near tourist attractions could be disappointing. The visitor’s parking lot at Golden Gate Bridge, for example, is small and often crowded.   

parking in San Francisco Pier 39

But don’t give up yet and pay the high price at the first garage you see. Download a parking app on your phone, and you’ll surely find affordable options for even valet parking in San Francisco. When booking accommodations in the city, check if your hotel has complimentary parking – if not, you’ll be better off pre-booking a garage space nearby instead of paying through the nose for on-site parking. Also, when putting together an itinerary, look for a parking garage close to a bunch of attractions you can cover in a day. You can leave your car in the secure parking lot and stay stress-free all day. If you must access your car frequently, check out parking lots with In/Out privileges. However, parking for longer durations at one lot will cost you a lot lesser than parking in multiple garages throughout the day.   

If driving around San Francisco is the routine for you, looking for monthly parking deals is the best option. Find an affordable parking garage near your work or home, and save a lot more by paying a monthly fee. Most parking lots encourage online reservations with exclusive offers and discounted rates. You can easily find these deals on parking apps and websites. When looking for hourly parking, book in advance for the lowest rate at a San Francisco parking lot. 

city parking 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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