The Amateur Parker Ö

San Francisco Parking a Real Treat

July, 2010

By Melissa Bean Sterzick

From now on, whenever I start complaining about parking, Iím going to snap the rubber band around my wrist and remind myself: At least I donít live in San Francisco.
Oh, yes, itís a beautiful, diverse and historic city, with great museums, fabulous restaurants and memorable sites in a sophisticated atmosphere, with a perceptible lean toward the left and heavy incentives for conservation.
But parking there is like looking for water in the desert.
My family recently drove up the California coast for vacation purposes, if thatís what you call four people and all their stuff in the car for hours at a time and two of those people have ľ-cup bladders. Our chosen route took us from the Los Angeles area to Morro Bay, Monterey, Big Sur and then San Francisco by way of Highways 101 and 1.
If you go that way, you enter San Francisco from a stretch of the most beautiful fields and cliffs and hills dotted by the occasional farm stand. It takes about an hour to go from an almost completely unpopulated area to one of the most densely populated areas in the country. Itís quite a shock.
It felt like we had been funneled into some terrible heavy-metal ant farm. Between the one-way streets and the maxed-out parking, we could get where we wanted to go only if we tried to go somewhere else. On our way into town, we were mysteriously drawn into Golden Gate Park, even though we were trying to get to our hotel near Union Square. We easily found a parking spot, consulted our map again and eventually made it to our lodgings.
The next day, we wanted to go back to Golden Gate Park to visit the de Young Museum but could not get near the place. We were unintentionally on our way out of town before we realized it and had to circle back several times to find the museum. But now that we were ready to stay awhile, parking was scarce. And thatís also how we ended up on the Golden Gate Bridge Ė we were trying to get some lunch. It felt like the ďTwilight Zone.Ē
We stayed in San Francisco for two nights, and it was well worth the parking challenges to see the beautiful sites, ride the trolley, and have some spectacular Italian food.
One thing I would mention to anyone considering a trip to the city is that hotels quote you a nightly rate, but do not tell you they charge for parking until you are checking in. That charge can be $20 or more depending on where you are staying. Some hotels donít actually have parking on-site, so you will pay for it and have to get on their shuttle every time you need your car. None of this is a surprise to the sophisticated traveler, but Iím not quite there yet.
We paid for parking at our hotel, and luckily it was right under the building. We did not need to board a shuttle, but we had to present a room key, driverís license and first born to get in and out of the lot. I understand that was for our safety, as well as the financial interests of the hotel.
One of the more fascinating aspects of parking in San Francisco was the perilous angles of many of its streets. We drove up a street so steep I can recall only one other time I have been on a similar incline, and that was in a 4WD driven by a college friend so excited by his new truckís off-road abilities that he never heard my screams.
What we noticed was that no matter how steep the street, parking was still an option. Cars were lined up, head in, just balanced on the outside edges of their downhill tires, looking like a stack of dominoes ready to go over.
We wondered what that kind of abuse does to a car and its suspension, tires and all-around structural stability. And I guess youíd better not drop anything getting out of your car because youíre never going to catch it.
It seems that in LA, I have it pretty good in the parking arena Ė regardless of Thursday street-cleaning day, recent and never-ending root abatement and sidewalk replacement in my neighborhood, and the yogurt shop infiltration at my local grocer.
I know, easy parking doesnít really compare to the beauty and history of one of our countryís great cities, but Iíll take it.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PTís amateur parker and proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.