San Francisco has a lot going on for it – the Bay Area is regarded as one of the most vibrant places to live in. With its exotic climate, multicultural populace, and eye-grabbing landmarks, the ‘City by the Bay’ is popular with visitors too. No wonder it’s the second densest city in the US! But drawing such crowds also means having a hard time parking in San Francisco. Finding inexpensive on-street and on-site San Francisco parking has proven to be a bane not just for out-of-towners but also for resident San Franciscans.
But don’t let that stop you from enjoying Fog City! Explore San Francisco from the comfort of your car and save yourself the hassle of haphazard planning. Here’s our guide to the most famous San Francisco attractions and a ready reckoner on where to find cheap parking near them.
Golden Gate Bridge
You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the most iconic suspension bridges in the world, it has also been featured in a ton of movies, from Superman to Godzilla!
Completed in 1937, the 1.7-mile-long bridge is truly an engineering and aesthetic marvel. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning, silhouetted against rays of sunlight, surrounded by wispy, white fog is a sight you must not miss! You can also head down at night to see it lit up against the night sky, the distinctive ‘international orange’ color complementing the yellow of the lights.
The nearest cheap parking can be found on Marina Boulevard or Post Street.
A walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown is like going through a time machine back into the Orient. This ‘little China’ is the oldest and largest Chinese enclave in the country, having existed since 1848. It has managed to preserve its unique language, culture, and architecture intact for 150 years.
Some of the unique attractions that draw visitors include the Dragon Gate that flanks the enclave entrance and the Tin How Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in the country. It also hosts the Chinese Historical Society of America, an archive of Chinese-American culture, and the only Chinese hospital in the US. It is also responsible for popularizing fast food like chop suey and dim sum.
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Be sure not to miss the spectacular sight of the Chinese New Year and Parade – showcasing enthralling performances from lion dancers, stilt walkers, and acrobats!
Cheap parking near Chinatown can be found at California Street, Washington Street, and Montgomery Street.
Asian Art Museum
The multiculturalism in San Francisco has given it the nickname ‘Baghdad by the Bay.’ If you want to see first-hand why, then head on over to the Asian Art Museum. It has an eclectic collection of artwork, pottery, and metalwork drawn from various civilizations across Asia – including Iran, Tibet, China, India, Japan, and many more. This is also representative of the 35% Asian population in the city. As a city that revels in diversity, where better to catch a trip to the past than the museum!
You can park your vehicle at cheap spots found on Polk Street, Geary Street, and Ellis Street.
Imagine being able to walk into a prison and walk out without the need for handcuffs or prison guards! Well, a cruise to Alcatraz Island – a former federal prison – will give you an experience of what criminals in the 50s and 60s felt like. A National Historic Landmark, Alcatraz has hosted some pretty famous ruffians – including mobster Al Capone. You can take a guided tour of the famous prison and experience an inmate’s life first-hand. Just don’t try to attempt an escape – no one has done so and lived to tell the tale!
To get to Alcatraz, you need to first park your vehicle anywhere on Marina Boulevard, Bay Street, or Front Street, and then take the ferry run by Alcatraz Cruises.
California Academy of Sciences
If you’re someone who loves learning about the great outdoors from the comfort of the cozy indoors, you’ll be right at home at the California Academy of Sciences. Take a trip through natural history at the Kimball Natural History Museum, which showcases all major natural sciences. Stare wide-eyed at the Rainforests of the World exhibit (a green utopia in a glass dome), trace evolutionary history at Africa Hall, or set your sights on the sky at Morrison Planetarium.
Parking can get bothersome during community outreach programs when there’s increased footfall. You’d be better off parking at Post Street or Market Street.
There’s not a single baseball fan who won’t make a beeline for the AT&T Park/ Oracle Park - home of the San Francisco Giants! During every Major Baseball League (MBL) event here, sporting fans unite to cheer on their home team and join in some raucous fun. Be sure to mark your attendance too, otherwise, you’ll be missing out on a cracker of a game. Once you’re done soaking in the intoxicating atmosphere of MBL season, don’t forget to get a picture in front of the SF Giants Wall of Fame for your photo album.
Parking spots are hard to find during peak sporting season, but you can find cheap spots at 2nd street, 3rd street, and Harrison Street.
All the sightseeing in SF can leave you tired out – so if you want to splurge, grab a bite, or enjoy an evening of street performances, head to the waterfront area known as Fisherman’s Wharf.
Try spotting the nearby sea lion colony, or try your hand at some arcade games. You can pop onto the F Market heritage streetcar/tram to take you around all the wharf - especially the shopping hub Pier 39 and the eatery/restaurant hotspot Ghirardelli Square. Navy buffs can also visit the USS Pampanito, a decommissioned submarine and maritime museum.
You can find easy parking to access Fisherman’s Wharf at Bay Street and Powell street.
San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Centre
Connoisseurs of opera, symphony, and theatre will find kindred spirits gathering here every day to witness the best in the performance arts. Steeped in history, the Centre was also the host of the San Francisco Conference in 1945. The charter of the United Nations was signed in Herbst Theatre here. Another offering at the Centre is the San Francisco Symphony, which has been hosted here since 1980.
You can find affordable parking at Polk Street and Ellis Street to visit the centre.
Named after mountain man and conservationist John Muir, the Muir Woods National Monument beckon to nature-lovers and environmentalists alike. One of the oldest forests in the world, their signature giant coastal redwood trees grow as high as 380 feet and are between 500-800 years old!
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, trekking and hiking in the shade of the giant redwoods is the pinnacle of the outdoors. While you can go on solo hiking trails, there are also ranger-led activities meant to create awareness on climate change and forest conservation.
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The monument parking area has enough spots for several vehicles, but it is best to make reservations ahead of your visit.
San Francisco Airport
Yes, don’t be surprised; San Francisco Airport is an attraction in itself! As the largest airport in the Bay Area and second busiest in California, it serves as a vital transit node for trans-Pacific and other flights in the country. But passing through it is such a delight that passengers often arrive well in advance just so that they can check out the airport offerings!
SFO Museum is a big draw among frequent fliers and aims to be a ‘museum without walls.’ It is the first museum in an airport to be accredited with the American Alliance of Museums. The Harvey Milk Terminal 1 is also iconic for showcasing the former gay rights activist and politician’s life.
Like everywhere else in the Bay Area, getting affordable SFO parking is always an issue and can often cost an arm and a leg. Especially for those who have itineraries of less than 7 days, finding SFO long-term parking can be challenging. However, there are lots of cheap SFO airport parking options if you choose to go for off-site parking near the airport.