Real Estate Today

San Francisco parking tips: Finding the sweet spot

A parallel world
Photo: Terrapin Books

There is no question that I am parking obsessed. Over five years ago, when my compact station wagon died, I bought a Mazda Miata with a major part of my decision based on the length of the car. Many friends and business associates thought I had gone around the bend, but five years later it’s clear I was a visionary ahead of my time.

Fast forward to today where Minis, Fiats and Smart Cars are found on just about every San Francisco street. Today parking is on the minds of everyone who owns a car in San Francisco.

Recently I found a paperback book titled Finding the Sweet Spot: The Insider’s Guide to Parking in San Francisco, by David LaBua, in my office mailbox. I intended to scan quickly through the book, but once I got started, I found it to be full of useful information.

LaBua includes some disconcerting facts that cannot be ignored. In San Francisco, there are 280,000 unmetered parking spots, 23,000 metered spots, and 450,000 registered vehicles. One can only imagine how many of those vehicles are looking for parking daily. We can include an unknown amount of residential parking spaces into the mix, but the bottom line is there are more cars than parking spots in San Francisco.

This book covers just about everything imaginable: parking karma, painted curb and sign interpretation, tips and tricks, meters, garages, parking permits, and towing.

If you have lived here for very long, you have probably experienced all of what is talked about in the book, and maybe you know it all already. For the most part I do, but it is still nice to find a compact reference book with everything I need to know in one place. I am keeping my copy in the glove compartment of my lovely, small Miata.

In case you are not in the mood to read a book, here are my own sweet ideas.

When in doubt call 311, the city’s information line, for answers to parking as well as other questions that require information from a city department. I have consistently found the operators to be knowledgeable and polite.

Never go anywhere in a car without emergency money, preferably a roll of quarters. Standing in front of the Apple Store on Chestnut, stunned that there was a parking space, I popped in my parking card. The card was almost new but didn’t work. Next, I slipped in my credit card and it didn’t work. I had heard about calling from the meter to pay for time, but had not taken the time to figure out this system, so I went back to the stone ages and used quarters in the meter. The meter now had a few minutes and I decided to try my cards again, carefully reading the directions. I found that the parking card needed to be inserted in the meter with a different side up than the credit card, and eventually I got both my credit card and parking card to work. The city has a website complete with phone app to aid in finding parking, but honestly I have not found this useful in finding a parking space. In the Marina and Cow Hollow residential streets, I am always amazed that by the time a person is getting into a car there is a car waiting for them to pull out and the spaces are rarely empty.

I learned a new idea I had never considered by watching this YouTube video. If you use the website and find there really is no parking available at your destination, the information can be useful in making a decision to choose a different destination, or choose to bike, walk or take public transportation and forget driving a car altogether.

Also, I learned how to add money and time to a meter remotely. I find that nothing will cause me to run screaming from my car faster, or to throw a quiet fit on the sidewalk, than finding a parking spot and not being able to feed the meter.

Having finished Finding the Sweet Spot, I am now armed with enough information to go out on the streets and park my car!

Carole Isaacs is a Real estate agent with McGuire Real Estate (Lombard, Bluxome and Noe Valley offices), a photographer and a lover of all things San Francisco. Visit her Facebook business page at or call 415-608-1267.
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