To anyone who doesn't live there, driving and parking in D.C. can seem pretty tricky. Keep these tips in mind, though, and your next trip to the city will be a breeze. It's not as complicated as you think!

The thing you have to remember is that, in the city, everything comes at a price. Here is a breakdown of your parking options when you venture into Washington, D.C.

Free Parking

Much like the mythical chupacabra, free parking in front of your destination is often spoken of but never ever actually seen. The majority of the free spots in the city are in neighborhoods and are usually already taken by the residents. They know where all the spots are and generally send their visitors there. The best way to get free street parking in a busy area like Capitol Hill/Eastern Market is to get there early (before 9 a.m.) on the weekend. 

If you're not good at parallel parking on the street, the only free parking you'll find near retail areas will be garage or surface lots adjacent to major shops like grocery stores, or public buildings like schools and churches. The outskirts, like Ivy City, still have free parking along major roads, but otherwise, you want to be careful and check for signs.

street parking

Metered Street Parking

Most of the main streets around town have metered parking now. Instead of individual coin meters, they have free-standing pay stations that take cash or credit cards. You pay for the time you need, print a ticket, then display it in your car, on the dashboard. Make sure a meter checker can see it if you put up a car shade. You can also speed up the process by downloading ParkMobile and paying by zone with your phone.

Garage Parking

Parking in an hourly garage is usually your best bet. When you're scoping out your driving directions, take note of any nearby garages and their prices. What it costs in cash usually makes up for the headache of driving around looking for a cheaper street spot.

Always take your ticket with you, in case you can get it validated. At the D.C. Wharf, for example, if you're buying seafood from the fish market, your receipt is the validation. Give it to the attendant at the desk in the foyer, and your parking will be discounted.


Reserved Parking

Websites like Parking Panda, SpotHero, or ParkWhiz will help you find and reserve a spot at a surface lot or garage near your destination. You do everything online and simply present a copy of your receipt at the lot. Have some cash on hand just in case there's a valet component to your reservation.

Valet Parking

This is by far the best option if you can manage it. Most high-end restaurants will have pull-up valet service. Even if it's free, be sure to tip. Before you go, do a quick search on Yelp and see if your restaurant or attraction offers valet. That way you'll have a plan before you get there.

parking lot

Keep in mind, all of this goes out the window if you're going to something like a big street festival or outdoor event. Parking is then usually relegated to vendors, and Metro becomes your best friend. Also, D.C. is pretty navigable by foot if you have the physical ability.

**All of the photos in this article are courtesy of Pexels.

What are your best tips for finding parking in the city? Let us know in the comments!