The Ultimate Guide on How To Park a Car in Chicago

If you live or play in downtown Chicago, you know how serious we are about parking. It’s practically a competitive sport. Think I’m joking? Not even a little. 

Take a peek at Instagram’s @chicagodibs to see just how protective Chicagoans are of their parking spots come winter. From furniture, to holiday decorations to religious figures, no object is safe when it comes to calling dibs on your shoveled out parking spot. 

A photo of cars on a snowy Chicago block and a spot saved using furniture, DIBS style
Cars lined up after a winter storm in Chicago, with “dibs” called using a table and chair. Photo courtesy of David Wilson

How Expensive Is It To Park in Downtown Chicago?

As if snow, ice and slush aren’t stressful enough, parking in the city can be expensive too.  

According to Colliers International, the average monthly parking cost in San Francisco is $375 and in Boston it’s $405. The most expensive is in New York City at a whopping $562! But in downtown Chicago, we can be thankful that monthly parking typically run about $200 to $300. Not too bad for being the third-largest city in the U.S.! 

If you don’t have a home with a garage, the economic and logistical challenges drivers face can be stressful. To help, I’ve gathered together my best tips for how to park a car in Chicago.

Residential Parking For Downtown Renters

The majority of managed apartment buildings in downtown Chicago have on-site parking garages. In luxury apartment buildings, renters usually have the option of adding on garage parking with additional fees, which typically range between $200 and $300 a month.  

Money saving tip: While the prices are not negotiable, apartment managers occasionally offer special deals such as a couple of free months of parking. Parking is also typically managed separately from your actual rent so heck, it never hurts to ask :).

Also, some apartment buildings will allow you to choose month-to-month parking, instead of requiring you to include parking on the lease for the entire term. So, some renters will add parking only during winter months if there is street parking available nearby during warm months.

Off-Site Public Parking Garages

But, some apartment complexes don’t have on-site parking. So where are you supposed to park your car if your apartment building doesn’t have space available? Luckily, there are lots of public parking garages throughout downtown Chicago. Monthly 24/7 rates typically range between $200 – $395 at public garages. 

Money saving tip: Several public garages offer discounts for limited hours. For example, a recent search on Spot Hero listed a garage on Lake and Wells offering a monthly rate at $125 for Monday – Friday 2:30pm to 8:00am, plus 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday. 

A private parking garage, like this one in West Loop, often offers monthly parking rates. 

Alternatives To Renting Parking Garage Space

If you’re striking out trying to rent a space in a parking garage, or can’t find anything close to your apartment, I have a great solution. Find someone who owns a condo (and along with it, a parking space) but doesn’t own a car to fill that space. Often, these car-free residents will lease their private spaces. 

Also, private owners of smaller garages, surface lots or private spaces offer spots for monthly rental too. 

Money saving tip: Private owners may be willing to negotiate rates, or offer free months, especially if you are planning to rent a parking spot long-term. 

Here are my favorite resources for searching monthly parking:

Electric Vehicle Stations in Downtown Chicago

With the growing popularity of electric vehicles, there’s a greater effort to increase EV charging stations in public and private garages. In fact, in 2020 the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance requiring new construction of residential and commercial buildings to accommodate EV stations. 

Many luxury apartment complexes were ahead of the curve and started adding EV charging stations over the last few years. Under the new ordinance, newly constructed apartment buildings with five or more units that provide on-site parking will have at least 20% of spaces dedicated to electric vehicles. 

If you’re searching for an EV station in downtown Chicago, check out this handy finder tool

What Are Chicago Street Parking Rules?

Chicago Street Parking Residential Permits

In downtown Chicago’s residential neighborhoods, you’ll notice streets that are lined with signs declaring the block is for permit parking only. This is a necessary and pretty affordable solution if you live in a neighborhood like Lincoln Park or the Gold Coast

To find out if permit parking is available near your apartment or home, simply look up an address. The cost is under $100 for a city sticker, plus an additional $25 for the annual residential pass. You’ll need to show proof of your residence, such as a copy of your lease, when you apply for the sticker. 

A street parking sign for Cubs game nights in Chicago
In Chicago’s residential neighborhoods, keep an eye out for signage regarding permit parking, especially near Wrigley Field! Photo courtesy of Erica Fischer

Is There Free Street Parking in Chicago?

In a sea of street parking restrictions, there actually are still areas in Chicago where you can find free parking! 

While there isn’t any free street parking in the central business district of downtown Chicago, you can find it in other downtown neighborhoods like River West, West Loop, South Loop and Old Town

Even more free street parking is available in border neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, West Town and Wicker Park. 

If you’re wondering where free parking is located in the city, check out Spot Angels. The city of Chicago also has an online map showing street parking designations, but Spot Angels is much easier to navigate, and there are tips from other users.

Money saving tip: Avoid tickets and tow-aways by always checking for street signs. Look for street cleaning days and hours, rush hour restrictions, and other time limits.

Meters and Overnight Parking in Chicago

Even in neighborhoods with some free parking, you might need to rely on parking meters from time to time. In most areas, the parking meters charge $2 per hour between 8:00am and 10:00pm, Monday through Saturday. 

That means nights are free, as well as Sundays. But (and this is a big BUT) – pay close attention because there are some areas where there are exceptions.

Also – keep in mind that if you’re in the Loop area (Chicago’s central business district), all rules are off the table. Be prepared for additional time limitations, more expensive rates and no free overnight parking. 

If you need to pay the meter for a while before the free overnight hours start, you don’t need to make a mad dash in your pajamas to feed the meter. You can pay remotely with the Park Chicago app. You’ll also get notifications when your time is about to expire and can even pay with your phone to extend your time. What a time to be alive, right? 

Wanna live life on the edge? I have a friend who never pays the metered parking. His philosophy is, rather than pay $5-10 every time you park, just plan that sometimes you might get a ticket – or not. Sounds risky to type-A me, but hey, to each their own. 

A overhead look at street parking in the heart of downtown Chicago
Be ready to become a parallel parking pro when you squeeze into metered parking spaces in Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods. 

Getting Towed is a Chicago Rite of Passage

I swear I’ve never met a long-time resident of Chicago who doesn’t have a painful story about their car being towed. 

Whether you overstay a meter, park too close to a stop sign, or simply forget to move your car on street cleaning day, there might be a day you walk out and find your car missing. Now don’t panic. One of two things has happened: either the city or a private company has towed your car. 

How to Find Your Car if the City of Chicago Has Towed It

There are multiple places where the city stores towed vehicles from city streets or public property. You can search for the location where a car was towed on the city’s website. 

How To Find Your Car If It Was Towed by a Private Company in Chicago

Parking in a private lot without permission or overstaying is a sure-fire way to get towed. Private towing companies in Chicago have a reputation for being aggressive, so take a deep breath and look for the signage threatening to tow. 

Call the number on the sign to find your car and cross your fingers that the tow fee won’t set you back too far. 

Pro tip: Don’t park in shopping centers and then leave the premises. Shopping center tenants covet those spots to protect their business and hire out security to watch “parkers”. If you park and leave the lot, you’re taking your chances!

Find a Home For Your Car – And Yourself!

Now that you’re armed with Chicago’s best parking tips, I hope your chances of encountering parking pirates, expensive fees and towed away vehicles have vanished!  

And remember – if you’re looking for an apartment with a heated parking garage or EV stations, we’ve got your back. Our team of experts at HotSpot Rentals would love to help. Give us a shout today, and we’ll help you find the perfect apartment for you with a great spot for your car.