Washington, D.C. has one of the best public transportation systems in the country, so if you have the option, you’re usually better off taking the Metro to get where you need to go. Even if you’re coming from out of town, most Metro stations in the suburbs have lots or garages where you can leave your car all day. All Metro parking is free on weekends or holidays, and three stations even have lots where you can leave your car for up to 10 days. Check out WMATA’s site for details on your nearest station.
But let’s say you must drive into the city, for whatever reason. Then you basically have two options (assuming the business or attraction you visit doesn’t have its own garage): street parking or a pay garage.
Option 1: Street parking.
If you choose to park on the street, you might be lucky enough to find a free spot, especially if you’re nowhere near a commercial area, but in most residential neighborhoods where those spaces exist, there is a strict two-hour time limit for non-residents. Usually those limits are in effect Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
More likely you’ll find one of the city’s 17,000 metered spaces. In most areas these cost $0.75/hour from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. In the following busy areas of the city, though, it costs $2/hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday:
- Adams Morgan
- Penn Quarter/Chinatown
- U Street, NW Corridor
- Downtown Central Business District
- Maine Avenue and Water Streets, SW
- The National Mall
- Wisconsin Avenue, NW (from Van Ness Street to Western Avenue)
Fortunately, you no longer have to lug around rolls of quarters to use meters in the district. While they all still accept coins, they also all accept credit cards. Or, for an additional $0.32 transaction fee you can use a mobile app and pay with your phone.
Unfortunately, most have a maximum time limit of two hours, so however you pay you will have to go outside and refill the meter periodically.
Option 2: Garages
Most likely of all, if you drive into the city you’re going to end up paying to park in a garage. Most of these have steeply declining rates where you pay heavily for the first hour and then pay only about double that first hour amount to stay for the rest of the day. That means your best value is almost always to find one place and leave your car there all day.
Rates vary by neighborhood, but generally in neighborhoods with visitor attractions they hover between about $16 and about $22 for the full day. You’ll notice the same company names in multiple neighborhoods: Colonial, LAZ, Altman’s, Central. You can compare the prices on their websites, but the simplest one-stop way to find the best price is the Best Parking app, available for free for iPhone, Android, or Blackberry. You can search it by neighborhood, address, or attraction.
Even garages fill up, though, especially on parade or festival days. You really are better off on the Metro.