I'm going to SF for a couple of days as a part of a road trip and would like to only street park. There's a map of permit parking zones and I assume that everything that is not colored on the map is regular street parking. (I know, there are probably limitations like 72-hour one etc, but I'm staying in the city for shorter than that.):enter image description here

My hotel is somewhere around Union Square (in between zones R, C and U on the map) and I would like to try to park my car somewhere close by once I arrive and switch to walking because I don't need a car to get around there. (It's ok if I need to re-park in 24 hrs, but more than that would be too much trouble.)

So the question is do I need to know anything in particular about SF street parking that might not be obvious for people from other US cities? (Apart from carefully reading signs.) Any hacks or tricks? Is it safe to leave your car on a street for a couple of days? Etc.

  • 2
    Note that as of early 2018, San Francisco has an epidemic of car break-ins, the worst in the country. Mar 3, 2018 at 1:01

9 Answers 9


The only real limitations are

  • the meters themselves, some of which are active at unlikely times: read them carefully
  • the posted signs about street-cleaning and such, so look for those signs and read them too -- the more obscure the rule, the more vigorously enforced it will be, so if the sign says "No parking 9am - 10am on the third Thursday of the month", you can rest assured that at 9:01 on the fatal day, the meter-maids will roll through in their Cushmans, leaving drifts of tickets in their wake like autumn leaves.

The meters are actually quite convenient. They take credit-cards, you can refill them remotely by phone, and so on.

If you are going to leave it all day, find an unmetered spot or call a parking service like Luxe ($15 a day).

  • 3
    Off topic, but I am wondering about the word "cushman". What kind of slang is it? Couldn't find it on Google and urban dictionary says it means "A tall, athletic, hot guy", which I assume isn't what you meant.
    – Sylverdrag
    Nov 12, 2015 at 3:04
  • @Sylverdrag A complete guess, but I think they mean a car made by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cushman_%28company%29
    – Gaurav
    Nov 12, 2015 at 4:02
  • I wish I had known about Luxe! On my holiday, I had to pay an exorbitant fee to park our hire car in a parking structure for a few days. (Funnily enough, the exorbitant fee for losing your ticket was less than the exorbitant fee for parking.)
    – Coxy
    Nov 12, 2015 at 4:31
  • Thank you for the Luxe tip! Would never have thought about anything like that.
    – Nikita R.
    Nov 12, 2015 at 4:40
  • 3
    @Sylverdrag -- every SF-DPT meter-maid cruises in a gas-powered tricycle scooter called a Cushman Interceptor. Every time I see one, I cannot help but think of Max and the last of the V8 Interceptors. Nov 12, 2015 at 12:15

Some additional tips:

  • Permit zones generally have 2-hour parking for everyone without a permit.

  • Make sure you do not block a driveway. In many parts of the city, you will find streets where the houses are tightly spaced and have garages. Between the driveways you may see a space that looks almost large enough for your car. Do not be fooled! If your car sticks into the driveway by any amount, it has a good chance of being ticketed and/or towed.

  • If you are on even the slightest incline, curb your wheels. It's required by law and you may get a ticket if you don't. And be sure to set your parking brake, even if you have an automatic transmission.

  • 1
    Thank you for the curbing wheels reminder, I regularly forget about it.
    – Nikita R.
    Nov 12, 2015 at 4:33
  • I've also been burned by the (non-) curbed wheels! I'm surprised by how slight of an incline will still require it. My new policy is to curb the wheels any time I can decide which direction is uphill. The only time I don't is when the street is so flat that it is impossible to decide which way is more uphill than the other way.
    – pkaeding
    Nov 12, 2015 at 8:57

If you are willing to pay a small fee daily you can leave your car at the Milbrea, Ashby, or North Berkeley BART stations, which all have parking lots, and then take the BART into the city from there.

Which one to choose depends on the direction you will be driving in from / out to.

  • That's a good idea, thank you for that. Do you know how safe is parking there compared to street parking? (I mean in terms of a chance to get your car getting broken into.)
    – Nikita R.
    Nov 12, 2015 at 19:04
  • I've lived in Berkeley (Ashby & North Berkeley stations) for a long time. You should be fine so long as nothing is visible inside the car. Nov 12, 2015 at 21:03

If you end up parking downtown, double and triple check to make sure you didn't park in a tow-away zone. If there's a sign anywhere on your side the block that says tow-away, even all the way on the other corner, be prepared to run back to your car or find a different spot. Streets like Geary have red topped meters, making it quite hard to overlook. Other streets are not so obvious, so watch out!

The majority of meters downtown are also 2 hour only. That means it maxes out at 2 hours when you fill it. Then it's just a matter of going back to the meter and filling it up again, which is supposedly a violation, but I don't think anybody's been given a ticket for feeding the meter.

Be very quick when parallel parking, a lot of drivers here won't hesitate to swoop in behind you and steal the spot.

I wouldn't leave my car parked overnight anywhere near the Tenderloin, I've seen plenty of smashed windows to know better.

Expanding on the don't park in driveways idea, pay close attention to the lines when parking downtown. On a lot of the spots there will be a 'T', with the top facing the sidewalk. The top tells you how far out you can be, and the line defines your spot. If you find a spot that you can fit in, but requires you to even be on the line, pass it. Meter maids will give you a ticket even if your bumper is on the line.

Don't park more than 8 inches away from the curb, ideally you should park within two inches.

WATCH OUT FOR BICYCLISTS!!!!!!!!! This is no joke, anyone who lives in SF knows how a cyclist can pop out of nowhere with the idea that they can overtake you. Not a lot of them follow the majority of traffic laws; so if you pull out of a parking space while one is coming up, causing them to swerve out of your way, you can get moving violation.

If you're going to be driving around in SF please please please do not be a timid driver, and obey stop signs. I've never been close to being in an accident with another car, except when people think stop signs are optional and blow right through them. Slow down when you need to, speed up when it's okay to. Don't hesitate to take your right of way, and you won't have me screaming profanities at you while revving my engine.


If you have a smartphone, you may want to get a SF-specific parking app (see e.g. http://sfpark.org/how-it-works/applications/ or search the app store). SF makes quite a bit of detailed parking data available, and I hear the apps are super-useful.


Best advice for street parking might be: don't! - SF has something of a car break-in epidemic, especially in the tourist areas, which includes Union Square and surrounds. Typical article: "Car break-ins are epidemic in San Francisco"

If it's only a day or so, then a parking garage near Union Square won't break the bank - but do check to ensure that they allow overnight parking.

You might also want to consider asking desk staff at the hotel ahead of time to see if they have any advice, or if they can recommend a convenient garage.

Alternatively, you could consider street parking in a neighborhood further out from the city center (see other answers for regular parking restrictions that apply), and catching MUNI/transit to Union Square.


Having lived in the city for six years, I believe parking around Union Square is hard but not the worst, thanks to there being several large garages. There's one right under Union Square, https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/parking/parking-garages/union-square-garage. The daily rate of $36 is better than a parking ticket or a break in while street parking.

If you get a parking ticket, don't feel bad. You are not alone, and paying your fine contributes to keeping San Francisco a great city :)

"Is it safe to leave your car on a street for a couple of days?" Not really. Don't leave anything of conceivable value visible. I heard of neighbors' cars being broken into for children's boxes of juice and cookies.


The post might be kinda old but it's never too late for an answer ;) You should checkout our app: SpotAngels.

It's a simple to use app that's designed to keep drivers from getting towed or having parking tickets. Even in a city that's enacted a baffling array of parking laws like San Francisco.

There's no hassle, you just park and we make sense of all the crazy rules :) We're currently available in more than 25 cities across the US and Europe.

Nevertheless if you're in a city that we do not cover yet, feel free to snap a picture of any parking sign that you may encounter and we will make sure to update our data there within the next 24 hours ;)

  • 1
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    – CalvT
    Jul 6, 2017 at 13:19
  • @CalvT븃 The post is edited now :) Thanks for the heads up Jul 6, 2017 at 13:29
  • No problem! It's nice to find someone that actually does it! Just make sure you read the post I linked :)
    – CalvT
    Jul 6, 2017 at 13:31

I know you've indicated that you only want to street park, but have you considered parking garages? They're not that expensive (especially in the evenings), and many are multi-level buildings, so there will be plenty of room. Here's a site that will give you the cost to park at basically every parking lot/garage in SF, given an entry and exit time. Personally, I've paid $2 for 2 hours near 4th and Market on weekday evenings.

I would really avoid street parking unless you don't care what happens to your car. Dents and scratches are all real possibilities given how tight many parking spots are and how bad California drivers are. Depending on where you park (Tenderloin, for example), getting your car broken into is almost guaranteed if you park overnight on a street.

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