San Francisco

San Francisco Work & Play: Don't Let Parking Get in the Way

Whether you're visiting San Francisco for business or pleasure or if you are lucky enough to live there, it pays to know the ins and outs of parking. Parking in San Francisco is no easy feat. In fact, many avail themselves of SFMTA options like buses, trains and cable cars to avoid dealing with it at all. By knowing the basics of parking in San Francisco, you can greatly reduce your risk of being slapped with steep fines, towed or otherwise dealing with some pretty big headaches.

Getting Down to the Basics

Our best piece of advice regarding parking in San Francisco is plan ahead. Due to the intricacies of rules regarding parking in various parts of the city, it's generally best to leave your vehicle elsewhere in the Bay Area and to rely on SFMTA public transportation options instead. Still, sometimes parking is a necessary evil. If you must drive your car into the city and park it, familiarize with these parking basics ahead of time:

 Parking Signs

First and foremost, always check for signs along the street before you even consider parking there. That's just as true about far-flung residential neighborhoods as it is for downtown. Obeying signs is your first line of defense against tickets, wheel clamps, towing and other woes, so check them early and often.

Curb Color Coding

Those who complain about the unfairness or vagueness of parking rules in San Francisco often just aren't paying attention. In an attempt to help people obey parking rules, San Francisco uses a curb color coding system in many areas. The meaning of various colors is as follows:

  • Red - No parking any time.
  • White - Passenger loading and unloading is permitted. There is usually a five-minute time limit. Restrictions based on time of day may apply too, so check nearby signs.
  • Green - Short-term parking. You are typically given 10 minutes or less between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. In metered areas, time limits of 15 to 30 minutes typically apply.
  • Yellow - Loading and unloading by commercial vehicles only.
  • Blue - Parking for drivers with valid disabled parking permits only.


Street parking usually costs money in San Francisco. The city largely relies on very modern meters that can be paid using credit cards, debit cards and prepaid cards. Many meters can also be paid by phone via downloadable apps. This is convenient because if you realize your parking meter is about to expire, you can often add time to it with your app. However, many metered spaces have time limits that are strictly enforced. Except for downtown San Francisco and a few other very busy areas, metered spaces are free on Sunday. However, time limits typically still apply.

Residential Streets
When looking for tips about parking for free in San Francisco, you may have been told to try parking on residential streets. This sometimes works, but many times, permits are required for street parking in such areas. Again, check nearby signs, and keep in mind that finding free parking anywhere in San Francisco is way easier said than done.

After finding a legal parking spot on a street in San Francisco, make sure you don't inadvertently break the law in other ways. A few basic parking tips include:

  • Curb Your Wheels - Parking in San Francisco often involves parking on very steep streets. If your vehicle is hit or if your brakes fail, your car could end up in oncoming traffic even with the parking brake applied. Avoid this by curbing your wheels. This means to angle your front tires so that your car will roll toward the curb -- and not into traffic.
  • Proper Parking Etiquette - When parking your car in San Francisco, make sure it's within 18 inches of the curb. Also, park your car facing the same direction as traffic.
  • 72-Hour Maximum Parking Limit - Street parking typically involves time limits of some kind. Whether or not there's a sign, please note that there's a 72-hour limit on street parking across the city.
  • Street Sweeping - Before parking your car on the street in San Francisco, check nearby signs to see if street sweeping will be happening in the next few hours. By law, no parking is allowed during sweeping or cleaning periods. Your car will be towed, and you will get a very expensive ticket if you disobey this parking rule.
  • Don't Block the Way - Pay attention when parking your car in San Francisco. Take care not to block sidewalks, driveways or crosswalks.
  • Avoid Parking Tickets and Other Penalties - Parking tickets are given liberally in San Francisco, and appealing them is pretty pointless. Interceptos, or parking enforcement officers, keep continual watch over street parking around the city. To enforce time limits, they often mark tires with chalk. Attempting to wipe away chalk marks can result in significant fines. Your car may also be towed, or a wheel clamp may be used to prevent you from operating it.
  • Understanding Parking Time Limits - People often think they can get around parking time limits in San Francisco by moving their cars a few spaces away when time is up. By law, however, you must park on an entirely different block or at least one-tenth of a mile away. Failure to do so can result in a very expensive parking ticket.

Parking Garages

Parking on the street in San Francisco is confusing. Parking garages are way more convenient and tend to be safer. However, parking in garages can be pretty pricey, whether it's a city-owned structure or a hotel parking garage. When parking downtown, however, parking garages are the way to go.

Parking and Using SFMTA

Whenever possible, minimize the amount of parking you have to do in San Francisco by availing yourself of various public transportation options. After arriving in San Francisco and parking in a public parking garage, hotel parking garage, metered space or elsewhere, use SFMTA buses, light rail, cable cars and ferries to get around for a very reasonable price.

SFMTA fare is easy to understand. It essentially costs $2 per half-hour of travel, regardless of the type of SFMTA transportation used. However, cable cars are excluded and cost $6 one-way.

By far, SFMTA buses are the most popular form of public transportation in the city. However, SFMTA light rail is convenient when getting between various parts of San Francisco. Ferries, including the Sausalito Ferry and the Angel Island Ferry, come in handy too.

Upcoming Events in San Francisco
Sun, Feb 7, 2016
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Parking
Brick & Mortar Music Hall Parking
Brick & Mortar Music Hall Parking
Mon, Feb 8, 2016
The Regency Ballroom Parking
Tue, Feb 9, 2016
Brick & Mortar Music Hall Parking
Orpheum Theatre Parking
Most Popular in San Francisco

Alcatraz -  A must see, but remember you'll need all day parking near Fisheman's Wharf.  Get it as low as $5 with SpotHero today!

Fisherman's Wharf - Has it's own set of attractions including Pier 39, the Wax museum, among other things.

The Golden Gate Bridge - You'll probably want to find some parking around Nob Hill, where you can capture a great picture of the 2 mile long suspension bridge.

SFO - Find parking near SFO, San Francisco International Airport.

SFMOMA - Always popular, even when it's not open (re-opens 2016).


Bottom Line on Parking in San Francisco

The bottom line on parking in San Francisco is to plan ahead as much as possible. If you're going to a ballgame, for instance, scout out convenient parking garages beforehand so you know right where to go. If you're flying out of a local airport, investigate the available parking options ahead of time to ensure smooth sailing. Wherever you end up parking, pay attention to signs and curb color coding. Take care not to block driveways and other areas. If street parking is too confusing, stick with parking garages. They may be pricier, but not if you use SpotHero.  If you're pressed for time and trying to get around time and enjoy taking in all the attractions save time, money, and have peace of mind, parking smarter is way cheaper than paying for parking tickets or having to locate your car after it's been towed away!