Parking in Los Angeles - Tips and Tricks to Stay Sane

Valet Parking

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Parking in Los Angeles is a perpetual headache for locals and visitors. These tips and tricks can help you find the best spot and avoid the hassle of a parking ticket – or worse, getting towed. 

If it's in your budget, the least stressful way to manage parking in LA is to hire a driver to do the LA driving and parking for you.

The next best way to reduce parking stress is to just to plan to pay for the parking associated with wherever you're going, whether it be to a restaurant, office, building, theatre or attraction. That might be an attached parking lot or garage, metered street parking or valet service, depending on what you're doing.

When it's available, valet service saves you the time and headache of trying to find a legal spot. It's usually faster than self parking when dropping off your car, but may take longer to retrieve your car after a busy event. Most hotels and many restaurants, theaters, and shopping malls now offer valet parking.

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Street Parking in Los Angeles

Parking signs in Los Angeles

Kayte Deioma

The parking rules change from city to city in the Greater Los Angeles area and from neighborhood to neighborhood and block to block within cities.  The same city block may have five different parking restrictions depending on the day and time of day.  Just because there's a meter, doesn't mean you can always park and pay. There may be rush hour time restrictions when you can't park. Just because you don't see a meter, doesn't mean it's a free space. It may be a numbered space that you have to pay at a pay station down the block. 

Free Street Parking

Free street parking is common in the LA suburbs and in some less-commercial urban neighborhoods, but is very rare in highly commercial neighborhoods. 

Residential Permits: You may think it's safe to park on the side streets and in the residential blocks behind major commercial streets like Wilshire Blvd or Santa Monica Blvd, and sometimes it is. However, in some of these neighborhoods you need a residential permit to park.  The residential permit may apply to both sides of the street or just one side of the street. If you are visiting someone in the neighborhood, they may have a visitor permit you can use while you're there.

Street Sweeping Restrictions: Most Southern California streets have a designated four-hour block of time when parking is restricted for street cleaning. You will be ticketed if you are parked there when the street sweeper comes by. Opposite sides of the street are swept on different days, so you may be able to park on the other side of the street id it isn't restricted for other reasons.

Time Limits on Free Street Parking: Streets near commercial areas that do have free parking often have one or two hour time limits. Parking enforcement may mark tires or note license plates as they do their rounds, so pay attention to the time limit to avoid getting a ticket.

>>>Individual Parking Meters in Los Angeles

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Paid Street Parking - Individual Parking Meters in LA

Parking Meter in Los Angeles

Kayte Deioma

All of the coin operated meters in Los Angeles, and most in surrounding areas, have been replaced by meters that take coins or credit cards. Most meters have a one or two-hour time limit, but there are a few areas that allow three to 12 hours of metered parking.  Enforcement hours and hourly rates vary by block. Most meters are in force at least until 6 pm. In busy nightlife areas, they may be in effect until midnight including weekends. Enforcement times are usually posted on signs and on the digital panel of the meter.

Paying with a Credit Card: When you pay a parking meter with a credit card, it sets a default amount of time, and you use the + and – buttons to adjust to the amount of time you need. Often the default at a two-hour meter is two hours, but that doesn't mean you have to pay for two hours. You can usually subtract time down to 15 minutes (or the lowest time increment available with coins) if that's all you need.

Advanced Parking Meter Features:

  • The new parking meters are set so that they blink green if the spot is paid up, and red if it's expired.
  • Some meters turn the lights off completely during the hours when you don't have to pay, so you don't have to try to squint in the dark or hunt down a sign to know it's OK to park. If only one meter has the lights off, it's broken. If the whole block has the lights off, you're outside the metered hours and don't have to pay. Unfortunately, not all the local cities are set up this way. For example, Santa Monica meters on Pico Blvd still blink red on days and times when they are not in effect.
  • Some meters, like the one above, tell you that you're trying to park during a restricted time and will not accept your payment. They also won't sell you parking time that goes into a restricted time period. For example, if there's no parking from 3 to 6 pm, and you park at 2 pm in a 2 hour zone, the meter will only sell you one hour of parking.
  • The Parker App monitors which meters are occupied and can tell you where to find a free meter in Downtown LA, Hollywood and Venice Beach. It will also tell you whether it's a $1 per hour or $8 per hour meter, and where to find nearby lots and garages (but not how much they cost).

Some credit card meters will not let you pay again at the same meter with the same credit card past the posted time limit, so you could top an hour off to the two hour maximum, but it won't give you any time beyond the initial two hour limit. Others meters let you pay for more time. 

>>>Pay Stations for Street Parking in LA

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Pay Stations for Street Parking in LA

Parking Signs in Venice Beach

Kayte Deioma

Not all paid street spaces have individual meters. If you don't see a parking meter, look down at the curb or the pavement to see if there is a number and look up and down the block for a Pay Station, an automated machine – sometimes not much bigger than a parking meter – where you can pay the fee for the space you are occupying. Be sure to note your space number before you head to the machine to pay. Like the meters, there may be +/- signs or arrows to change the amount of time you want to pay for. Most of the pay stations don't require you to display anything, but occasionally you'll find one that gives you a printout with expiration time to display on your dashboard.

Parking Enforcement: The new meters and pay stations tell parking enforcement officers which spaces are expired, and in some cases, if there's still a car in that space, making it much easier for them to find people who have overstayed their meter time. If you think you want to risk getting back to your car 15 minutes after your meter expires on the off chance they haven't gotten to you yet, you might want to reconsider. 

>>>Curb Colors and What They Mean

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Curb Colors and What They Mean

Red and Yellow Curbs in Los Angeles

Kayte Deioma

Red Curb – no stopping, parking or standing/waiting at any time.

Yellow Curb – Commercial loading only (30 minute limit with commercial license plate, 5 minutes without) Monday through Saturday 7 am to 6 pm unless otherwise posted on signs.  

White Curb – Passenger loading and unloading only for a maximum of five minutes.

Green Curb – Short term parking, 15 to 30 minutes as marked, Monday through Saturday 8 am to 6 pm unless otherwise posted. This applies whether it is a metered or unmetered space.

Blue Curb – Disabled parking for disabled people or their drivers displaying a valid disabled parking placard or license plate. (You may be ticketed if you are not the valid holder of the placard.)

>>>Parking Garages and Lots in Los Angeles

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Parking Garages and Lots in Los Angeles

Rates at a Parking Garage in Downtown LA

Kayte Deioma

Free Garage and Lot Parking

While some people hunt for half an hour for a free parking space on the street to run a simple errand, they may not realize that there was an easy parking garage nearby with the first 90 minutes or two hours free.

The City of Beverly Hills has nine parking structures that offer the first two hours of parking free and four more that offer one hour free, including several on or near Rodeo Drive.

The City of Santa Monica has 10 public lots near the 3rd Street Promenade and just blocks from the beach that offer the first 90 minutes or more free without validation. You can use the ParkMe App to find a reserve parking in Santa Monica.

Pay Parking Lots, Garages and Parking Apps

If you are going to an event at a large venue, there is most likely a pay parking lot or garage associated with the venue that charges somewhere from $8 to $10 at a theater lot to $20-25 at the Staples Center. Some places, the courtesy valet rate is the same or less than nearby parking rates, so check the valet rate before deciding on alternatives.

There are free-standing public and private pay parking lots and garages spread all across Los Angeles that offer alternatives at various price points. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, you can find flat-rate lots and garages near LA Live and the LA Convention Center that charge as little as $3 to $5 flat rate when lots at those venues are charging over $20.

To find these alternatives, I usually use or its associated app, which has good coverage of Downtown LA, a long stretch from Hollywood  to Santa Monica and Long Beach.

ParkMe is another app that lets you compare rates at pay parking locations and reserve a parking space in advance. The disadvantage of Parkme compared to BestParking is that it only shows you reservable locations, which doesn't include some of the less expensive lots.

>>>Parking at Los Angeles Malls

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Parking at Los Angeles Malls

Beverly Center Parking Garage

Kayte Deioma

One of the benefits of shopping at malls used to be free parking, but more and more LA malls are charging for parking and offering valet parking.

Free Mall Parking

You can still find free self parking for three hours or more without validation at these malls:

Westfield Culver City – Free, no limit, also has special family/expectant mom parking

Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks – Free, no limit, also has special family/expectant mom parking

Glendale Galleria – Free, no limit

Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance – Free, no limit

Citadel Outlets – Free, no limit parking in multiple structures and outdoor lot and overflow locations, $5 valet at the main entrance.

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa

Los Angeles is also full of strip malls and outdoor shopping centers that have free parking for customers.

Limited or Validated Free Parking:

Santa Monica Place – 90 minutes free

The Grove – 1 hour free in the garage, 2 hours free with validation from limited businesses.

Americana at Brand – 1 hour free without validation. Select venues offer 2 to 4 hours validated parking.

Westfield Topanga & The Village  - 1 hour free in the garage, 2 hours free with validation from limited businesses.

No Free Parking or very limited validated parking:

Beverly Center

Westfield Century City (Fox Hills Mall) – 30 minutes free, Validation Offered at AMC, Gelson's, and selected restaurants for the first three hours.

Hollywood & Highland – $2 for first 2 hours with validation from shops, restaurants or Visitors Center; or 4-hour validation from the TCL Chinese 6 movie theater.

Sherman Oaks Galleria – No free parking without validation. Limited free parking with validation.

>>>Tips for Driving in Los Angeles

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