Beware of parking signs in San Francisco.
The AAA guidebook for Northern California and Nevada does clearly warn, and gives accurate estimates of the costs. One thing it doesn't emphasize is that they really mean it.
San Francisco has a serious parking problem. There are more automobiles than there are parking spots. With typical California ingenuity, they have turned this problem into an opportunity.
In parking meters, a quarter will buy only 5 minutes (in some, less desirable places, as much as 10). So, come equipped with three dollars in quarters if you want to park downtown for an hour. And one hour is the most you can get. Not enough time for lunch in a fancy restaurant, like the one we visited, Aqua.
Organized parking is very rare and comes at a cost of $2.50 per twenty minutes, or more. Doesn't look all that trust-worthy either.
So, we hunted around and found a spot that looked all right, several blocks away. After lunch, we walked to the spot which was empty. Looking up, we saw a sign that said no parking from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. To make a long story short, we called the number on the sign and took a taxi there.
We found the location doing a booming business, with long lines. A steady stream of tow trucks was arriving, unloading, and going out again. We expected to pay maybe a hundred bucks, but the bill came to $238.75 and when we finally did get the car, there was a ticket on the windshield for an additional $60! Wow.
Three hundred dollars--the penalty for not seeing a sign 15 feet above the ground. Or, for being unwilling to hand over $15 for parking even further from the restaurant. During the evening the restaurant offers valet parking (price unknown), but nothing at lunch time.
Since that experience, we noted other parking dangers. Further out, there is two hour parking where there are no parking meters. There is an exception for local residents, whose cars carry a neighborhood sticker. Overnight parking is allowed. If you can find a spot. Park in an illegal location (several per block) and you will be towed. Exceed the time limit and you will be ticketed. More than four tickets and you will be towed.
Further, each side of each block has a sign warning of tow away for a two or three hour period each week. We befriended a local merchant, who asked us each time we passed, "Where did you park?" Upon hearing our reply, he told us the details of the difficulty of that side of whichever street.
Wow, what an expensive ordeal! Our conclusion is that San Francisco is not a friendly city for automobiles. Leave yours across the bay in your hotel parking lot and take the ferry into the city. Or, take your chances, but you have been warned.
We won't be returning unless we absolutely have to--we didn't leave our heart there.
"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair" may have been good advice in the 60's. Today, better advice is to leave your car behind, or bring lots of quarters.
Harriet Jarman Layton's song
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