Like with most busy cities, parking in the USA’s San Francisco can be difficult, particularly downtown. Even experienced drivers and locals have trouble parking without circling the block — so what’s a tourist to do?

Demand-responsive meter pricing and other parking authority programmes assist, but the challenge of parking in San Francisco (SF) remains. Here’s a guide to where you can find yourself a nice spot in the city’s busiest neighbourhoods that fall under the JFK Parking facility.

1. Downtown SF

Finding parking downtown and at Union Square is difficult. The most popular public parking garages in the area are Union Square, Sutter-Stockton, Ellis and O’Farrell, and St Mary’s Square, so be sure to check all those spots out when keeping your eyes peeled for a space.

Tip: Downtown San Francisco has over 8,000 garage spaces. Pre-booking online is the best approach to locating a decent rate and a guaranteed parking place nearby.

2. SF Chinatown

Chinatown is busiest on Saturdays. Residential streets make street parking difficult, so if you can, try to avoid driving on the weekends. One parking lot and four public garages are available in these parts.

3. Embarcadero

The San Francisco Ferry Building and other attractions make Embarcadero parking scarce. However, there are several adjacent garages for parking if you’re looking to explore this bustling waterfront.

Unless a ship is in port, the Pier 27 Parking Lot near the SF cruise ship terminal offers open lots all week. The Pier 15 Parking Lot near the Exploratorium charges more, but has many spaces, so consider that too.

4. PIER 39

Also located along the Embarcadero, PIER 39 is a popular shopping centre that features a 24-hour parking garage across from its entry plaza. Some eateries here even validate parking for two hours! Naturally, demand is also high in this tourist-heavy location, so roadside parking is scarce and difficult to nab. Sometimes it’s just better to pay the parking fee and save time.

5. Nob Hill

San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood, Nob Hill, is anything but modest. Home to the city’s swankiest hotels and those iconic steep streets, you’ll find the area buzzing with life. Thankfully, online Nob Hill parking garage prices are reasonable. Street parking may be scarce, particularly on Sundays.

Take measures while parallel parking on a slope too. If your automobile is heading uphill or downhill, turn your wheels toward or away from the curb, just to be safe.

6. North Beach

Here’s where you’ll find all those delectable Italian eats and retro-flavoured bars! If you live for all things old school and want to get a taste of the Beat Generation, then this is the neighbourhood to be!

North Beach parking makes Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown accessible — so you could actually kill a few birds with one stone if you plan to explore. However, regular local events limit street parking. Arrive early or reserve a parking space to prevent delays.

7. South of Market (SoMa)

Street parking is easy in this warehouse-filled district rife with upscale restaurants and high-energy nightclubs, and a permit-free space is typically free. Just be sure to check the parking signs for limitations. Parking apps make finding cheap SoMa garages easy too.

8. Financial District

Street parking in SF’s Financial District is tricky. Residential parking restrictions apply, and signage is poor. However, this CBD’s parking garages are the poshest ones in town (and you can imagine why).

While you’ll be able to cop a space to visit this neighbourhood’s striking buildings and happy hour hotspots, do note that the area’s garages usually shut at night.

9. Civic Center

History lovers and fans of the performing arts will surely want to pay the Civic Center a visit at some point. Drive on to 355 McAllister Street that houses the Civic Center’s 800-space garage. It’s open on weekdays from 6am to 12am, Saturdays from 8am to 12am, and Sundays from 9am to 10pm. However, Ellis, Turk, and Polk Streets have cheaper parking garages if you’re looking to budget. Alternatively, you can also walk a few blocks for metered parking.

10. Mission District

Parking is most challenging in SF’s most hipster area. Overflowing with old-school taquerias, live music joints, craft cocktail lounges, chef-driven eateries, and a thriving street art scene, parking Mission can be… a mission. Maybe Uber it for this one. Also avoid Mission Dolores’ permit-required street parking.

11. Sunset District

Outer and Inner Sunset has different parking situations. Due to fewer attractions and shops, the former is more driver-friendly. Different parking rules make parking on Inner Sunset difficult, especially during peak hours. Park at Outer Sunset and walk or use public transit to Inner Sunset to prevent misunderstanding and inadvertent towing.

12. Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge has free parking. Enter Langdon Court Lot in the GPS to find the parking lot, which is not widely recognised and not listed on the bridge’s official website. This is better than the Welcome Center Visitors Parking Lot, which is sometimes busy and only accessible for two hours at USD2 (approximately RM8.70).

Wrapping up

In terms of security, San Francisco’s parking spaces make driving in the city a viable option for women travellers. It’s now much simpler to obtain a secure parking place in the city, given the abundance of options.

There are well-lit and supervised parking lots and garages, street parking places in high-traffic locations, and neighbourhood spots that provide a feeling of security. Whatever method you select, always be alert and take additional safety measures to protect yourself and others when parking or walking to and from your vehicle.