Just park it here

IF there's anything worse than driving in Los Angeles, it's parking in Los Angeles. Finding a place to curb your wheels in some of the area's hottest shopping districts is as rare as that empty stretch of freeway -- and just as memorable. Discover the ideal spot, and you're talking about it for weeks.

The explanation is simple: Parking and shopping are by nature oppositional forces. One is all about free will, autonomy and gratification. The other is about coercion, conformity and discomfort. Or put another way: Parking is "a choice that's made for you," as filmmaker David Bret Egen explains it. "You have to pay even before you buy anything, and you're getting nothing in return."

Egen is something of an expert in the field. His documentary "Pain & Parking in Los Angeles" chronicles the impossibility of finding a place to park in an increasingly congested city. Of course you can go to extreme measures, as Egen shows -- carrying a can of gray paint to spray out the red zones, packing a set of orange road cones or placing a specially modified trash can over a fire hydrant. But we wouldn't recommend it.

Instead, we consulted with retailers, local governments and some of our most serious power shoppers and scored a few tips on finding a perfect piece of asphalt at some of the most popular venues in town.

Beverly Hills

With plenty of municipal lots and privately owned garages, the key to shopping the Hills isn't finding a spot. It's finding a convenient one, and the one-way alley from South Santa Monica Boulevard to Brighton Way just east of Rodeo is a mother lode of convenience.

To reach the alley, drive east on South Santa Monica Boulevard between North Rodeo and North Beverly drives and make a sharp right turn between Brooks Brothers and the Paley Center for Media. At the top of the alley, and right in front of Brooks Brothers' rear entrance, are five parking spaces reserved for the clothier's customers, many of which remain unoccupied even on busy days. Farther down, on the right side, are about 30 validated valet-parking spots for patrons of the Polo Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani boutiques.

To reach Wilshire Boulevard's axis of retail (Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York), park in one of Saks' two lots (one is accessible from South Bedford Drive, the other from Peck Drive). A standard-issue store validation nets two free hours of parking.

That's less than 40 minutes per store, so for anything longer, you should try to score a special SaksFirst red-stamp validation that allows unlimited free parking. Although it's a perk traditionally reserved for the retailer's charge card holders, the red stamp has occasionally been bestowed upon others.

Third Street Promenade

Dozens of stores on the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade from Anthropologie to Zara, as well as the nearby Fred Segal complex on Broadway, draw foot traffic, most of which piles out of cars parked in the seven parking structures clustered on 2nd and 4th streets. To find out which garage has the most open spaces, pull out your PDA and log on to http://www.parkingspacenow.smgov.net/ for immediate real-time access to a satellite map displaying the number of available spaces. It's updated every five seconds (when a garage reaches capacity, its information box turns red and the word "FULL" appears).

South Coast Plaza

At 2.8 million square feet, Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza is the third-largest shopping center in the U.S. and home to everything from class (Christian Dior, Hermés) to mass (H&M, Wet Seal). To nab one of the best of the mall's 13,000 parking spaces, take Bear Street to the south parking structure, located between Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's. Enter the garage and, instead of taking the first left toward upper levels, take the second left and descend one level.

Because the natural inclination of most drivers is to follow the flow of traffic upward, this floor always seems to have an ample cache of open spaces, and as a bonus, they are merely a matter of steps from the mall's luxury wing.


Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice has enjoyed a retail renaissance over the last five years, with boutiques such as Stronghold, Pamela Barish and Brick Lane joining art galleries and furniture stores. Fortunately there are two oft-overlooked public parking lots sandwiched in an alleyway between Abbot Kinney and Electric Avenue. One runs from Palms Boulevard to Milwood Avenue and the other from Milwood to California Avenue. Together they offer 50 angled spaces with eight hours of free parking during the week and four hours on the weekend.

Beverly Center

Thanks to the nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Jerry's Famous Deli, whose visitors and customers monopolize spaces in the big beige box on Beverly Boulevard, parking here is always in short supply. But to improve your odds, enter from the San Vicente side and stay in the leftmost lane.

After pulling a parking ticket, make an immediate left turn across the exit lane and park on Level 2. Most drivers, winding their way up to the center's more crowded levels, usually bypass this floor.

Westfield Century City

Westfield Century City has taken valet parking to a whole new level. At the valet stand on South Santa Monica Boulevard, exchange your wheels for a pager, and then when you're ready to leave, simply depress the two buttons on the fob and within five minutes your car will be waiting for you.

Parking in the mall is also easier for those in a family way. Dedicated spaces near elevators, escalators and entrances lined in Pepto-Bismol pink and topped with signs are reserved for expectant mothers. No placards, stickers or ultrasounds are required; mall management relies strictly on the honor system.

The Grove

Valet parking at the Grove isn't particularly cheap or convenient, but it is comfortable. The valet stand accessed via Gilmore Lane or Farmers Market Place may be the only one in the city with carpeting, floor lamps, overstuffed leather chairs, throw pillows, couches, floor-to-ceiling drapes, concrete planters and even the occasional bowl of candy.

And finally,

Remember, if you're lucky enough to have scored a yellow, DMV-issued "Clean Air Vehicle" decal for your zero-emission or super ultra-low emission vehicles, or drive a Honda Insight or Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius or Ford Escape, you may park in the city of Los Angeles at any on- or off-street meter free of charge (subject to posted time limits, tow-away zones and the like) through the end of this year. The city of Santa Monica has a similar program limited to cars sporting the clean-air decal.

And in a pinch there's always the yellow curbs, which are reserved for commercial loading between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Otherwise, it's fair game.


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