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13 parking hacks every L.A. driver should know

graphic of a car emoji with a parking sign and a cursing speech bubble on either side.
Parking in Los Angeles? Let us help.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

When I was growing up, many a family outing was ruined when my dad, in a fit of frustration, would turn the car around and drive us all home when he couldn’t find a place to park.

As fate would have it, parking emerged as my superpower in adulthood. Prime spots materialize as soon as I pull up, and I rarely have to pay much for them. It is a potent gift to have, especially in Los Angeles, and one so foolproof and legendary that I have become the default driver any time I go out with friends and family (much to the relief of my perpetually parking-challenged dad).

But here’s a secret: Parking, like poker, is not solely a matter of luck. With patience and skill, you can improve your odds and game the system. Take it from a pro.

1. Make plans with yellow loading zones in mind

This is the most basic parking hack in L.A.: In yellow loading zones, parking is free, with no time limits, from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and all day on Sundays (unless otherwise indicated, of course).

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It’s one thing to passively know about yellow-zone exceptions; it’s another to strategically make plans targeted to when those windows of opportunity open. Eating dinner in Hollywood? Your reservation time should be 6:15 p.m. (or 7:15 p.m. in areas where anti-gridlock measures are in effect until 7 p.m.). Buying tickets to watch the Lakers at Staples Center? If you don’t care about the opponent, choose a Sunday game — scoring a yellow loading-zone spot will save you a lot of money and spare you from the post-game parking-garage exit nightmare.

Yellow loading zones are generously scattered all over Los Angeles. And several other cities — including Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Torrance, Redondo Beach and Long Beach — adhere to the same schedule.

Note that you’re out of luck at red, white and blue curbs and zones, where restrictions are in effect around the clock.

The city’s parking problems go back over 100 years. And by 2015, a study found, 14%, of L.A. County’s incorporated land was devoted to parking.

2. Keep an eye out for green curbs too

Here’s another colored-curb trick that is less known: Restrictions for short-term-parking green curbs, which typically limit drivers to 15 or 30 minutes, are lifted from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and are not in effect on Sundays.

3. Street park on holidays

In the street-parking-or-parking-garage calculus one makes all the time in L.A., it’s a no-brainer on holidays, when meters are free and many residential parking restrictions (including street sweeping, time limits and preferential districts) are not enforced. The city observes a bunch of holidays, which you can find here.

Double bonus: If a holiday falls on a Saturday, the city will also observe it on the preceding Friday; if a holiday falls on a Sunday, the city will also observe it on the following Monday.

4. Use yellow lights to your advantage

If I need to park on a major road and it looks like all the street parking spots are taken ahead, I’ll forgo racing through a yellow light. Instead, I use the time stopped at the intersection — and my unobstructed view — to scan for people getting into their parked cars. Once the light turns green, I’m first in line to grab whatever has opened up.

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5. Stop the parking garage clock

Many automated garages charge by the hour or by a block of hours, and the literal minute you elapse into the next time category, you’re on the hook.

Those garages almost always have pay stations by the elevators on each level (accessible by foot) and by the exits to the street (accessible by car). If you happen to be headed back to your car and find yourself right on the border of time blocks — let’s say it’s first hour free but $5 for the second hour, and you’ve been there for 58 minutes — don’t chance it: Immediately shove your ticket and credit card into the nearest pay station.

That’ll stop the clock, and you’ll get a grace period to drive out of the garage (usually 15 minutes). Don’t risk returning to your car with an unpaid ticket, getting stuck behind a bunch of other drivers and not reaching the pay machine until the 61-minute mark.

6. Hit up the DIY validation scanners

Most stores and restaurants require a purchase to get that coveted electronic stamp, but you can find self-service validation machines if you know where to look. At the Grove, there’s one at Nordstrom: It’s on the first floor in the cosmetics department, directly to your right after you enter the store.

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Don’t even bother at the Americana: Park free at neighboring Glendale Galleria — the structure near Target is a good bet — and walk over.

7. Valet at Hollywood Burbank Airport

Uber and Lyft fares have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and wait times have been horrendous. If you find yourself forced to park at Hollywood Burbank Airport, your self-park options are the short-term parking structure next to the terminal ($32 per day) or long-term lots C ($12 per day), E ($24 per day) or G ($23 per day).

If you can’t get a spot in Lot C, the best option for your money and your time is to valet: You’ll ditch your car steps from the terminal, and the rate is $24 per day — that’s right, less than it costs to self-park in the structure. You can book in advance online.

A hike is a good excuse to eat a sandwich. A sandwich improves every hike, and in L.A., you can almost always find one not far from the other.

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8. Your new hiking time is sunset

I don’t understand post-brunch hikers in L.A.: It’s hot out, the trails are packed and parking is scarce. The best time to set out for a short hike is late afternoon, particularly for trails where parking is a pain. You’ll catch plenty of midday hikers making their way back to their cars, and, if you time it correctly, you’ll reach the peak around sunset.

My parking advice for three popular parks:

Griffith Park: Vista Del Valle Drive. It’s free, there are always spots, and it’s easily accessible. Drive north on Vermont Avenue into the park and hang a left just before the Greek Theatre. There you’ll find a grassy lawn, picnic tables and the trailhead for Boy Scout Trail, which will take you up to the observatory (parking there now costs $10 an hour) and other trailheads after a moderate 15-minute hike.

Temescal Gateway Park: For years, I would pull into the paid lot for Temescal Gateway Park. Save yourself the $12 by nabbing one of the many free spots along Temescal Canyon Road just south of Sunset Boulevard. Enter the park via the tucked-away Temescal Canyon Trailhead near the northwestern corner of the two streets.

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Runyon Canyon Park: I allow myself one hopeful spin along Franklin and Fuller avenues before settling for parking on Hollywood Boulevard. The hike is so short that there’s really no need to circle endlessly for a closer spot.

9. Carry loose change in your car’s cup holder

The slight delay it takes parking meters to process a credit card is an unnecessary time suck, and coins give you better control over the exact amount of time you want.

10. A takeout tip worth a tip

I’ve never met a valet who wouldn’t let me park right outside the restaurant to grab my to-go order. This occasionally works for half-empty parking lots nearby that are manned by an attendant — explain that you just need a few minutes to grab your food and ask whether they’ll allow you to park free. Don’t abuse this: I pull this maneuver only when my order has already been paid for and I know it’s ready.

11. Scope out your destination first

Don’t be the sucker who starts looking for parking half a mile away (we don’t walk in Los Angeles, right?). Drive by your destination first to see whether there’s a metered spot right out front or an unrestricted residential side street.

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12. Be a leader, not a follower, and slow your roll

Never tail a driver who’s also searching for a spot — being in second position gets you nowhere in a nearly full parking garage.

It is crucial to break away quickly, but once you’re on your own, slow to a crawl. Parking speed racers are rookies who accidentally pass open spots and miss opportunities to glimpse people getting into their cars. I often idle immediately after turning onto a new row and linger until someone leaves; if a car comes up behind me, I wave them on to maintain my prime position.

Even if you are an ace parker and know all the tricks, you’re still stuck waiting until your parking-inept friends arrive. Help them (and your own sanity) out: If you spy a good spot after you’ve parked, text to tell them where it is.

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VIDEO | 05:53
LA Times Today: Parking hacks every L.A. driver should know

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

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