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May 21, 2019

Everything You Need to Know About Parking Your Car in San Francisco

San Francisco has a lot to offer the curious traveler. From historic cable cars to iconic restaurants, eclectic museums and a thriving arts scene, the City by the Bay has something for everyone.

San Francisco is also the gateway to other iconic destinations in the area. Gorgeous wine country, charming Monterey, and breathtaking Yosemite National Park are all a day-trip away from San Francisco. Having a car can be helpful for exploring the attractions outside city limits, especially if you are short on time.

If you are going to rent a car during your visit, or if you're driving in, be aware of the parking rules in San Francisco. Here is our round-up of everything you need to know.

Rules for Parking

In order to park your car legally on the streets of San Francisco, you need to pay attention to three key details:

1. The color of the curb

  • Red curbs are no parking zones. Typically, you will find them near bus stops and fire stations.
  • White curbs are five-minute parking zones, which are to be used for picking up and dropping off passengers. You will find these near schools, hospitals, and restaurants.
  • Green curbs are 10-minute parking zones, typically found near ATMs.
  • Yellow curbs are parking areas reserved for commercial vehicles only.
  • Blue curbs are areas reserved for people with disabilities. They do not have any time restriction.

To park your car for longer amounts of time, you need to find an unpainted curb. Once you have located one, pay attention to the time limits.

2. Time limits

Look for signs that dictate the time limit for parking in the area. In a residential neighborhood, the time limit is usually two hours. If there is no signage, you can park your car for a maximum of 72 hours. After your time limit has expired, you must move your car to another block. Do not make the mistake of driving around and parking on the same block. You can be fined!

3. Street cleaning schedule

Street cleaning times are indicated in every parking zone. You cannot park your car before the street cleaning has occurred. If you are sure the streets have already been swept, you can park the car in the area, even if sweeping hours have not yet expired. You can find a street sweeping schedule for San Francisco neighborhoods here.

Other rules for parking in San Francisco

  1. Your parked car should always be in the same direction as the flow of the traffic.
  2. When parallel parking, your vehicle's wheels should be no more than 18 inches from the curb.
  3. When parking on a slope (of which there are many in San Francisco), your vehicle's front wheels should be angled such that if the brakes should fail, the vehicle would roll into the curb and not onto the street. For parking uphill, that means angling the tires away from the curb, and for parking downhill, towards the curb.
  4. Beware of tow-away zones. Certain parking zones are tow-away zones during rush hour. Tow-away restrictions are written in red on sign posts and on parking meters.

Paying for Parking

You can pay parking meters in San Francisco with coins, credit cards, prepaid cards, and even by phone. To utilize the pay-by-phone option, download the PayByPhone parking app. Enter the location of the meter and pay the requisite amount. You can use the app to replenish your parking time before it expires. There is no charge for using the PayByPhone app. Not so app savvy? You can also call 866-490-7275.

If you park at a multi-space parking pay station in San Francisco you can get on your journey more quickly, not having to look for monies or return to your vehicle to display a ticket. Furthermore, you can remotely extend your time limit from any pay station or via the Pay-by-Phone mobile app, eliminating the need to return to the original parking meter. The multi-space parking pay stations replaced single space parking meters to include new configurations that moved from pay-by-space to pay-by-plate technology. This technology tie together pay station data with license plate (LPR) technology, mobile enforcement solutions and "Cloud-based" payment methods, such as pay-by-cell.

You can get prepaid parking cards from local merchants in the city. They come loaded with $20 or $50 to spend. You can also buy prepaid parking cards online. However, they take at least a week to arrive. If you are looking to utilize the parking space of a restaurant or hotel, be aware that most places in San Francisco will charge you a parking fee.

Special Event Parking

Going to a Giants game? Attending an event at the newly renovated Moscone Center? Seeing your favorite band at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium? These major venues around the city have ample parking as part of or adjacent to their facilities. Rates and availability will vary, so contacting these venues for specifics is your best bet.

The Best Kept Secret for Parking

There are many parking lots operated by the Port of San Francisco along the Embarcadero, in the vicinity of popular tourist attractions such as PIER 39 and Oracle Park. These lots also tend to be cheaper than other parking zones in the city.

How to Find A Parking Space

You can use SFPark's official mobile app to find parking spaces in the city. The app is updated in real-time and follows dynamic pricing based on the availability of parking spaces.

The SFMTA use the approach to setting parking rates in San Francisco based on demand that encourages people to park in underutilized blocks and garages, helping to open up spaces in busy areas and at busy times. Through “smarter pricing for parking,” the SFMTA help to achieve the right level of parking availability by periodically adjusting meter and garage to match demand. Known as "demand-responsive pricing."

Parking at SFO

If you are leaving the city for a while, you can use SFO's parking facilities. Long-term parking rates are $25 per 24 hours. SFO parking is also useful if you are picking someone up from the airport. In order to ease the flow of traffic at the terminal drop-off points, SFO's hourly garages are free for up to 30 minutes. Wait there and have your fellow traveler call you when they're ready.

Park Smart

Like any big city in the world, San Francisco has to deal with issues like vandalism and theft. Wherever you park your car, no matter the time of day or night, be sure to take all valuables with you. If you love it, don't leave it. Additional tips for tourists can be found here.

Additional Tips for Parking Safely in San Francisco

There's Always Public Transit

Driving and parking in the city can be a hassle, especially during commuter hours. Fortunately, the city has dependable public transportation that makes every San Francisco neighborhood accessible. The network of Muni buses and trains, cable cars, and streetcars makes getting around San Francisco a breeze. And it is environment-friendly, too!

Want to know more? Plan your visit with our Official Visitors Guide!


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