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Is it just us? or is parking a big factor?

  • w

More and more with the parking situation in San Francisco, my husband and I find ourselves opting for more easier parking restaurant if we had a choice. Once upon a time valet parking was thought of as a waste of money, now we gladly plop down the ten bucks in exchange for a chance to just walk into a restaurant without the round and round game. I know out there in culinary land there are so many undiscovery treasure, yet no parking keeps us away. Are we too lazy and chowhound unworthy, or are others doing the same?

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  1. I cherish high end places where I can find parking on my own. Josie's in Santa Monica comes to mind with it's huge public no charge lot behind it. When we visit SF we cab to the restaurant, which is fine, but when you get out at a late hour finding a cab can be a trick. I have asked the restaurant to call for a cab, but the wait has been really long a couple of times. When I have to use valet parking, I do, and like you don't begrudge them their fee. In fact, I always tip another buck or two to the person who actually returns the car, on top of the mandatory fee at the valet station.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Mike Kilgore

      Coming from a big city (Chicago), i have always found the cab situation in even medium-large cities (like SF) to be both irritating and mysterious. Come on Dallas, St.Louis, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Miami, ETC. (To say nothing of the worst offender: LA) Where the heck are your cabs? They should be both ubiquitous and fast to appear. Instead they are costly and inaccessable.

      1. re: Cliff

        Personally, I think the best cab service is in NYC. (I've never been to Chicago). Half the time you have to call for a cab in D.C. & S.F. and lucky you, if you can even FIND a cab in L.A. In L.A. everyone drives their own car or uses a bus. Just because it's a big city apparently doesn't matter at all. They've been talking about subways in L.A. for almost 50 years. That's about all it is...talk.

        1. re: Kit H.

          No, we actually have a subway now. It services appoximetly .05% of our city. It does have some really nice art in the stations though.

          1. re: Mike Kilgore

            At least in LA you can call a cab... and it comes!

            1. re: JudiAU

              unless you are in Westwood... two weeks ago I did just that -- for a quick ride down from Sepulveda to Santa Monica (probably less than 2 miles?). It took the cab 90 minutes to show up after I had called.

    2. Yep, Dallas really doesn't have cabs in a NY kinda way, but it's getitng better. You'll find them outside most hotels (Zaza, Adophus, Fairmont) and clubs (Ghostbar, Sense, Candleroom, Medici) and now some of the larger or hotter restaurants like Abacus, Nobu, Craft, Hibiscus.

      But back to the original post, I too hate going to places that have no parking. And in SF, I once drove for hours looking for a space, only to walk forever to get to where I was going (some place in Chinatown with great dumplings)!

      At least in Dallas, we're fortunate that if you're willing to walk (or get there early), you can nag street parking for just about anywhere. Now, that might annoy some residents who live near hotspots, but most streets around really heavy hot spots have severe parking restrictions (all over the knox/ Henderson area for example) making it impossible to park there at night anyway.


      1. It's very much an issue in downtown Richmond, VA. I am a horrible parallel parker. Two of our favorite local restaurant, Edo's Squid and Comfort, it's really a pain and sometimes I don't want to go to either place because I'm not in the mood to deal with the parking issue.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          I am proud to say that I once parallel parked outside the Tobacco Co. in Shockoe Slip, Richmond, VA. I squeezed between an Audi and a Mercedes and was probably touching both when I was done!

          I don't know what the solution to the chronic parking crisis is: If you have to pay $10 to park for lunch everyday, then that can easily eclipse the cost of the meal. But then free street parking is taken up early in the morning (by commuters and workers) leaving no space for restaurant customers.

          In either case, retail and dining customers stay away and it's the establishments that ultimately suffer.


        2. Parking is a big factor in Boston where free parking is extinct. It's normal to pay $10+ for parking at many of the downtown restaurants. Driving in Boston can also be a thrilling experience.

          4 Replies
          1. re: cheryl_h

            Tell me about it... I felt like I was in the Minotaur's maze when driving into Boston... but at least it has a decent transportation system (at least when I visited) foor such a small city, so getting to places for chow wasn't too bad.

            1. re: Blueicus

              Yes the subways are excellent, though for 2 people to travel to and from a destination it's going to cost $5. I'm terrified every time I have to drive in downtown Boston and I've lived here over 10 years. I pity visitors.

              1. re: cheryl_h

                Ah, but what is the exact cost of using your car to drive to and from and park? I'll bet it is a good bit more than $5.

                We don't have a car and use public transit and taxis in Boston to get to our chow.

                To give you the car-free parallel to this conversation. We find we don't go to restaurants that are far from public transit as often because of the extra cost of the cabs.

                We almost never choose dining destinations we must rent a car to reach because then one of us has to forgo wine to drive home. You become spoiled when driving home never enters your decisions about beverages.

                1. re: BostonZest

                  I assume you're in Boston or close to the city? We're about 30 miles west so not driving is not an option. We can drive to the nearest T station, pay a parking fee and proceed from there. This is comparable with driving into and parking in the city.

                  I don't drink alcohol so that's never a factor.

          2. I am proud to say that I once parallel parked outside the Tobacco Co. in Shockoe Slip, Richmond, VA. I squeezed between an Audi and a Mercedes and was probably touching both when I was done!

            I don't know what the solution to the chronic parking crisis is: If you have to pay $10 to park for lunch everyday, then that can easily eclipse the cost of the meal. But then free street parking is taken up early in the morning (by commuters and workers) leaving no space for restaurant customers.

            In either case, retail and dining customers stay away and it's the establishments that ultimately suffer.


            1. I once pulled up to Surya on 3rd Street in Los Angeles, and when they didn't have valet, decided not to go (parking is difficult in that area). That's pretty much the only time I haven't gone to a restaurant because of parking, but having to pay for valet for a random weekday meal (I have no problem with it if I'm dropping fo something special) can be annoying sometimes. I've found, at least in L.A., the price of valet is rarely related to the price of the meal, and more a function of location, which can be a pain sometimes. Just a rant.

              1. We moved back to Manhattan a couple of years ago and kept our car (my husband does a reverse commute). For us, parking the car has become a bit of game .... challenging ourselves to find free parking when going out to eat. At this point, we pretty much have it nailed down - including in SOHO on the weekends. But this only works if you have a bit of time to spare! Best score recently was a free spot on a beautiful Sunday afternoon on Broadway, across from Lincoln Center - in an area that's almost impossible to find free parking. No wonder I love Calvin Trillin's "Tepper Isn't Going Out".

                1. I got one better for ya. I parked outside Tower Records in Times Square once! I looked and looked, and the meters were covered over with yellow jackets and the signs said it was free at that time of night!


                  1. Since I live in the DC Suburbs and eat in DC all the time, I ride the METRO (our subway) whenever I can. While you can find a place to park and usually at no cost at night, and most good restaurants have valet service, I find that being able to drink a bottle of wine and then let them get me home has a definite appeal.

                    1. Don't care about parking if it's a place I really have to eat at. I use valet whenever possible...but I will walk a mile for a great meal.

                      1. One thing worse is when restaurants are located inside of other places (e.g., a museum, hotel, auction house, shopping mall, office building, airport, etc.) and you HAVE to use that entity's valet! There was a time (about 5 years ago in Dallas) that you could pull into any hotel parking lot and park for free. Not anymore at the Four Seasons, or Mandalay Bay, or Anatole (all places with good Dallas restaurants).


                        1. I live in SF. If I really want to go to a particular place, whether or not parking is accessible is of no concern to me at all. I will use a combo of driving and parking where available, then public transportation and/or cab if necessary. Sometimes I will try to meet someone in the East Bay for lunch, though, and will try to choose a place that is relatively close to BART.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Atomica

                            We liave in Alameda in the East Bay. Since my wife works in the city we have dinner in there most Friday nights. She takes BART to work and I take BART over in the afternoon. NO DRIVING, no parking problems. There are a number of excellent places close to the BART stations at Embarcadaro and Powell. However, if not walking, grab a cab. We ate at a great little French place on Nob Hill last night. Pardking would have been a bear but it was a $6 cab ride from Aqua in the financial district and then a free cable car ride back down to the BART station. There is also muni if one wants to head down to the Castro. BART goes to the Mission, so no problem there.

                            So, seldom if ever does parking denote where we have dinner. Plus, there's the added factor that having perhaps a cocktail or two and then maybe a bottle of wine with dinner, you don't have to worry about driving that on your mind.

                          2. I remember when valet parking started in Russian Hill [San Fran]. All of a sudden all the "secret" parking spots were always filled.

                            Oh, the going rate is $15 now per Luella's website.

                            The parking situation is a factor when you are dining with a group.

                            Buses, you worry about when the route shuts down for the night.

                            Cabs are usually good in the tiny city of san fran; in my area i can flag one down in 5 minutes, but once leaving mc2 [now myth] I wound up walking home.

                            I heard of one person from the peninsula who rented a garage space near North Beach so he wouldn't have to have any such hassles. One of the building's tenants loved it because he had free parking during the week.

                            1. You'll notice that all the people who have stated that parking doesn't effect where they eat live in SF, NYC, Chicago, London, or some other city where they actually HAVE public transport.

                              Also, in those cities, you can live in the suburbs, take transport to the general vicinity of the restaurants, and then take a cab/ tram/ rickshaw, etc. But if there was no public transport in the Bay Area and you lived in San Jose, you'd HAVE to drive to SF and park there.

                              Now, if you lived in say Dallas (don't talk to me about DART--too limited and does not run late enough), you wouldn't have the same options.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: TexasToast

                                Actually we have friends who live in San Jose that we meet in the city for dinner once every couple of months. They drive from San Jose to the Fremont BART station, park their car for free and then take BART into the city. Again, hassle and alcohol become pretty much a none issue.

                                We moved to SF from Dallas, lived there for 25 years. Normally parking wasn't an issue as most places had lots or were close to lots. DART was just opening when we left so have no experience with it. We ate at City Cafe on Lovers a lot and they had underground parking. Since we lived in the N. Dallas area, it seemed most of the places out there including Addison always had plenty of parking, certainly a lot more than anyplace I can think of in SF.

                                1. re: rtmonty

                                  I've done the Fremont thing. It's okay, I mean, ultimately, it's just more convenient to drive in and park in one of the garages on Embarcadero.

                                  City Cafe is still there. DART sucks, because it's failed to expand with the city. Most of the parking lots in Addison have become valet only and those that are not, are taking the overflow from those that are so it's horrendous there.

                                  The whole DFW area is enjoying a renaissance of late and parking has just gone, I mean, entire city blocks (which were parking lots) are being razed and hotels going up! Certainly it's not as bad as SF, but give it 10 years and it'll be well on its way.

                                2. re: TexasToast

                                  ...and the cities that don't have good transport typically have enough parking, or are set up so that restaurants are freestanding structures with their own parking lots. There are exceptions in every city -- Dallas, for example, has absolutely the worst-set up downtown in terms of actually getting round it that I've seen in a long time, and Seattle has so many restrictions on parking that it's mind-boggling.

                                  In LA, we have the worst of both worlds -- there simply ISN'T enough parking, but the transit service wasn't meant to shuttle people around various parts of the city, it was meant to transport workers from the suburbs and outlying areas to several central areas -- downtown, Century City, Westwood, Universal City, Burbank, etc. Taking public transit from my home to Beverly Hills (which is a 5-mile drive and takes about 20 minutes in normal traffic) would take an hour and a half at best and more like two hours in normal conditions.

                                  Parking is absolutely a factor in where I eat. "Let's go to Tama," says my wife. "No," say I, "I can't deal with their valet and there's no parking anywhere nearby." "How about Angelini Osteria?" "Are you KIDDING? Parking on Beverly Boulevard??" "What about JiRaffe?" "If you'll drive and find parking, I'm all for it."

                                3. Yep, downtown Dallas sucks in terms of navigation and parking, And now, there are condo's and restaurants so it's all going valet! It used to be you could find a spot as no-one would donw there after 6, but not any more!

                                  Just 30 miles west, Fort Worth has WONDERFUL parking, a lot of it free after 5:30 or 6 and tons of cycle and skate cops and armed private security. www.sundancesquare.com There are some great palces to eat there too!

                                  As for L.A., last I looked, you could park on Sunset, at least the strip part before Tower Records (on meters, but after a certain time, aren't they free?) and what about the side roads off of Wilshire? Or have I just been away too long?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: TexasToast

                                    You're right that there's street parking on Sunset with meter, and yes, the meters are free (in the City of L.A. anyway) after 6 PM, but if you actually find one of those spots free on a Friday or Saturday night, you should go buy a lottery ticket.

                                    The side roads off of Wilshire -- in Koreatown, they're all parked up, all the time. In West LA, they're all preferential-parking districts and you need a permit. In Beverly Hills, you have to have a street-parking permit anyway.

                                  2. Well, here's an interesting link about this same issue.


                                    I think it matters a lot more to some people than they'd like to admit!


                                    1. Parking is a deal killer in resto shopping in fairfield county CT. My DW and I plan our dining times around parking. In South Norwalk we would never make a 8PM saturday reservation, never find parking. In New Canaan, Westport or Greenwich, not as big a deal. It is a big deal out here in suburbia.

                                      1. In Phoenix, free abundant parking -- whether self or valet -- is viewed as mandatory at restaurants everywhere except downtown. Interestingly, there is one very popular cluster of restaurants under common ownership that is notorious for its inadequate parking. The owners have defended the situation with a suggestion that limited parking makes their establishments more "urban" and presumably more sophisticated. Their claim reminds me of a common practice in the software industry: Take a product limitation and make it into a feature. In any case, I suppose those of you who live in cities with limited parking can take comfort in the thought that some restauranteurs in more suburban environs are trying to emulate your conditions.

                                        1. I'm in SF as well and the parking situation is a headache. I don't care for public transportation nor catching a cab, so I drive everywhere. I wouldn't not go to a restaurant because parking is bad. However, I'm now more selective about restaurants due to this situation. I don't worry too much about high end places since there are usually parking options. When it comes to more casual restuarants, I would choose the one with easier parking if they are of equal quality. For cheap eats, I almost always go with easy parking as I rather not pay more for gas looking for parking than the meal. Also, if I'm tired, parking plays a much bigger role in my selection of a restuarant.

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: anna

                                            I agree, but I think what bugs people the most, is when the restaurant "artificially" creates a parking "shortage" and then charges $5-10 (or more) for valet parking.


                                            1. re: TexasToast

                                              Similar to a resto in a hotel that charges you $5 per coat to hang it in the closet in the middle of the winter. It has the suplly, it knows it has you by the "you know whats" and then charges a fee. :-{. (That's my urghhh face)

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                But I think the WORST is when places cone off the street, either in terms of 10 parking meters, or, an actual public road in order to set up their valet stand so thay can park cars there (and, more importantly, YOU can't)!


                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  Wow - I have never heard of charging to check your coat - do tell - where is this?

                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    I've heard a dollar an item is quite common.


                                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                                      I certainly tip for coat checking, but this sounded more like an upfront charge/fee rsther than a gratuity.

                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                        That's what I meant. A tip of a dollar is fine, but I've seen places with little plaques that say what the cost of an item is. I just have never seen $5 that's all.


                                                        1. re: TexasToast

                                                          I've never seen $5, but L'Express in Montreal charges, or used to charge, $2 (Canadian)...

                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                            If I was in a mood, I might say "no thanks, I will hold on to it" just to make a point. Or...if I did not feel like inconveniencing myself and being bothered, I might just pay the freight.

                                                2. re: TexasToast

                                                  yeah... like some establishments have their staff park in their lot, so they can justify a valet service.

                                                  1. re: S U

                                                    I never I thought I'd defend valet parking, but here we go: In a place like LA, parking is scarce. Valet parking is a way of making most efficient use of the parking that is there, including parking that wouldn't normally be available to the public. The parking resource has to be maximized and valet parking does that. Otherwise you'd have an even harder time parking.

                                                    It's logical to worry about when a bus stops running--check the schedule or the trip planner on the transit agency website. They even have this in Dallas, though it won't give you very encouraging answers! The LA transit system is actually far better than Dallas', especially around Downtown LA and Santa Monica.

                                                    "Multimodalism" seems natural here, unless one lives in deep suburbia. Some restaurants are only reasonable to drive to, some are better accessed on transit, in central cities a cab may work, some you can walk to. I only wish restaurant reviewers and chowhounds would list transit directions when they review a restaurant, so that people who want to take transit to a restaurant can.

                                                    I'm glad to hear some folks take BART to San Francisco restaurants, I've always been mystified why more people here don't--especially since there's a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge every Saturday evening.

                                                    1. re: Nathan Landau

                                                      I understand that in difficult parking areas there should be valet service, but when the restaurant labels their lot as a "self-park (public and/or private) lot" area rather than "restricted employee lot", then has the staff take up every last spot in order to justify an expensive valet rate -- I tend to get miffed. I wouldn't mind if they need the space for their own employees and label the lot as such, but the establishment shouldn't masquerade it on the website as available parking for diners.

                                              2. If you say it's happening, I believe you, but it's a very weird business practice. The vast majority of businesses would ration scarce parking for their customers and force their staff to park in less convenient locations.