When you are parking in a place like San Francisco it is important to pay attention to the subtle details of the city and change up your plans a little bit if need be. It is one of the few cities like New York or Miami where parking spots are so few that it is important to get a spot picked out for the night early rather than wait until it gets dark. Typically the best plan is to stay busy and enjoy yourself all day long until you are tired and ready to go to bed, jump into your vehicle, drive to a place where you can overnight, and immediately turn off the lights and go to sleep. In a place like San Francisco where the parking is at a premium and difficult to find, it is much wiser to find a parking spot by 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. in a safe area where you are allowed to park all night.
There are thousands of parking spots like this in the city aas long as you get one early enough. You can park on the street in most residential neighborhoods. Try to find the nicer neighborhoods and make sure the curb is not painted red. Make sure there are no signs about overnight parking. What you are trying to do is to make use of the law that says that you are allowed to park in the street all night even though you are not technically allowed to sleep overnight in your vehicle. So what you do is simply pull in around 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock when there are parking spots available, close up your van,, get out and go for a 5 to 10 mile bike ride, jump on the city bus to go for dinner on the other side of town, or grab a cab and go to the marina and hang out for four or five hours. Then make your way back to your vehicle after dark and go to sleep immediately.
So the parking plan in a big city is essentially the same as that in a small city with the exception of the timing. When the parking is very tight, if you wait until 7:00, 8:00 or 9:00 o'clock at night to get your parking spot there will not be any left. Then you will be driving far and wide getting aggravated trying and find a parking spot. So use this modified strategy for parking extremely tight, regulated, and low parking supply cities like San Francisco and New York City.
Make sure that you take the proper time to enjoy San Francisco. Most people drive through it, staying one or two nights in a hotel. Trying to see the whole place, they never scratch the surface of this incredible place. Not only is it so geographically diverse that you can easily spend a week on the trails, beaches, mountainous regions, bays, estuaries, and the nature preserves, but it is quite easy to spend a week or two as well looking at the museums and art galleries and another week or two walking the streets and hsopping. For instance when planning walk Haight Street today. It is about four or five miles round trip and there are hundreds of unique, one-of-a-kind shops selling unique one-of-a-kind products that you may never every see again on the planet. And there are some people there that are importing things from the strangest regions of the world. It is very nice and very much worth seeing. It is an easy walk. Park somewhere comfortable for the day and stroll through.
Do not attempt to drive all over San Francisco with your automobile. It is extremely busy. It requires long, sometimes dangerous, street after street navigation through hilly roads, with pedestrians everywhere, and street trolleys and city buses screaming by. It is complicated and confusing at times even with a map. There are pedestrians everywhere. There are parts of the city that you don't even want to have your car in. There are many, many areas where at first glance it seems you can stay all day. Then once you get parked you realize that you cannot stay there longer than two hours and the meter does not allow you to put in but a dollar's worth of coins which last only an hour. Some places have free parking but require that you move every three hours. San Francisco is very, very unfriendly to tourists trying to use their automobiles in the city.
You can stay on the outskirts of the city along the water front wharf and the marina areas for anywhere from $10 to $20 a day depending on the season. There is plenty of parking in and around those areas if you are willing to pay. If you want free parking you have to go further inland and the further you go the more difficult it gets because you are fighting with the locals. The best thing to do is to find a base camp where you can stay all day like we did with the YMCA membership or a gym, or library.
Even the grocery stores here do not allow you to stay in their parking lots longer than two hours before they will have your vehicle towed. Do not monkey around taking chances with liens and laws. If you do you are going to end up with an unhappy experience.
So, for the entire time you are in the big city park at your base camp that is located near a bus line. If it is a half mile walk then you know that each day you have to walk a half a mile to the bus which will then take you into the city and to other bus route pick ups so you can explore the different areas. There are 40 to 50 different routes in the city. There are trolleys and cable cars and subways and cabs and every one of them is competing for the parking spaces and the traffic is horrendous. So you are much better off with public transportation and letting them run you around anyway.
It will cost $1.50 per person to go one way or you can buy a $10 pass for all day, there is a discount for a three-day pass, and also a monthly pass available. Monthly pass prices vary with the season but they allow you unlimited access to all of the public transportation systems. You can run around with the municipal map and can get picked up and dropped off at a hundred different places.
You can spend two days in San Francisco or you can spend a month but if you are trying to follow a $40 a day budget San Francisco will be one of your most difficult places due to the parking situation and city transportation. If your plan is to come here and quickly see the best highlights of the city then you are better off paying the $10 to $20 to park at some of the larger tourist areas like the Pier 39 where you can pay $10 to $20 a day and have your car parked there all day so you can take a bike ride over the bridge, walk the wharf, see all the tourist shops and all of the stores, see the seals at the pier. Take a second day and pay that same $10 to $20 to park and head towards Union Square or another big shopping district. Take a third day and pay your $10 to $20 to park and take a trolley ride or bus tour of the city that will cost you $10 for the entire day. That would be the quick and easy way to see the highlights of San Francisco.
Another parking option is the 24 hour in and out privilege parking lots along the wharf and piers for about $200 a month. Of course you would not want to tell them that you are sleeping in the vehicle, they probably are not going to let you do that, but as long as you can get in and out of the vehicle discreetly then you can have in and out privileges and you can park there throughout the day, nights, and weekends.
If you want to be here for a full month like I do then you need to park at the places like the YMCA or the Palace of Fine Arts which has a lot of free street parking all day. Then walk to the closest bus pick up and use that bus to negotiate all the other bus lines that take you to Haight Street, Union Square, the Marina district, etc. You can go to the Financial District, go to a museum, an art gallery, or a festival that may be going on in the city. This is a huge metropolitan city so if you do it that way and you are very patient and realize that it is going to take you an hour-and-a-half to two hours to get to any destination then it can be done over the course of a month and you can have a great trip.
Visit San Francisco California for the main page of information covering aspects other than parking.