What's the situation with parking in downtown San Jose, CA?
Can I park for free anywhere for short times in the daytime? Or for a long time in the evenings?
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There's a lot of street meter parking in San Jose, CA, and a couple of garage structures with entrance tickets.
Parking in the garage could be expensive, but many businesses do validation of certain garage parking, and thus you can often park for free if you're willing to purchase something in a participating nearby business:
Safeway in downtown has an underground parking lot with free validation; you can purchase groceries, a sandwich or a drink at Safeway, and park for free for a couple of hours (2 hours, IIRC); Safeway's underground lot is in the middle of the same building on a side of which Safeway is located, entrance is from a mid-street parallel to San Fernando (use lower entrance, upper is for the condominiums). Note that since 2012-01-01 it's no longer legal for Safeway et al to provide free plastic bags in San Jose, so, bring a bag, if needed, or expect to pay at least 10¢ or so if you need one on the spot.
Flames Eatery & Bar is located in the corner of some garage parking structure on 4th Street, adjacent to SJ/SJSU Library; you can park in the said garage, get some food at Flames, and get your parking validated (which, in the daytime, provides only a couple of hours of parking, but in the evenings and weekends is good for the whole night/day). I've also noticed that if you exit the garage after hours (say, at 02:00), then the gates are just open, so, at least sometimes, they seem to not enforce validation during the night in the said structure.
Also, generally, you can park on all streets in downtown after 18:00 or 19:00 (and perhaps after 20:00 or 21:00 near SJSU) for free; and all meters are usually completely free on Sundays.
If you need to be in downtown during the daytime, and are willing to walk 10 to 20 minutes to downtown, then you can usually park for free and without any hourly limits just on the outskirts of the downtown. Generally, all street parking north of Julian St is free (other than within Japantown San Jose), but you still need to be careful to park properly and according to the signs; I've once got a parking ticket before noon by supposedly parking too close to the driveway of the area which didn't have any parking limits (the guy in front of me parked too far off the other driveway, perhaps it was a bad-faith resident who was trying to keep two spots to themselves).
Note that since the summer of 2012 it's illegal to smoke in most public places in San Jose: outdoor patios in the restaurants, queues and bus-stops are supposed to be smoke-free in San Jose by the city ordinance. (If you're a social smoker, Sunnyvale downtown on Murphy St wants to hear from you!)