If you are among the minority that own a vehicle of your own in Chicago– then you know the struggles of finding parking, even more so when it comes to free parking in Chicago. Valets and meters can add up very, very quickly– especially if you happen to find yourself in the heart of the city often. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help make finding free parking in Chicago easier than it should be. And, for the record– you don’t need a fancy car to get free parking. I just photograph a lot of cars as I’m wandering the streets.

I personally don’t own a vehicle to cruise around in Chicago– I find biking to be the most enjoyable (and dangerous) way to navigate downtown, sometime even resorting to Divvy Bikes when I didn’t prepare to bring mine. However, being that I do have a deep rooted love for automobiles, I have some friends that’ll occasionally toss me their keys.

Meter Beaters App for Free Parking in Chicago

When I do find myself behind the wheel– the Meter Beaters App for iPhone & Android has saved me a crazy amount of money. They have over 200 miles of Chicago streets mapped out with locations of free parking– including large venue parking updates, such as the United Center. The app seems to keep progressing– one new feature is the ability to mark open parking spaces, that way other app users will be able see where there is a guaranteed open free parking spot in Chicago. Think of it as a good samaritan act.

Meter Beaters also factors in the restriction times for all of the areas covered.

13 Essential Chicago Apps To Better Your Life

When the Meters Don’t Need to be Fed

*This is aimed towards people passing through Chicago, or new to the city.

Take note of these rules, and you’ll be reminded again at the payboxes, but this will allow you to plan accordingly when you venture into the city.

In some parts of Chicago, free parking is never a thing. In other locations, the meters will lay dormant for a certain period of time allowing you to park freely.

Free Parking for the Majority of Chicago

Many of Chicago’s meters run on the schedule of $2 / hour between 8:00 am – 10:00 pm, Monday – Saturday. Sundays are typically the meters’ day of rest and you can park for free (some North Side neighborhoods excluded). There are usually signs around that have the parking regulations on them– so keep your eyes peeled and memorize or write down the free parking times of the areas that you frequent the most.

Free Parking in River North

River North only gives you a small timeframe to snag free parking since they enforce their meters 7 days a week. However, there is a small grace period everyday from 12:00 am – 7:59 am that’ll allow you to access free parking in Chicago’s young and wealthy neighborhood. (Overnight parking is not permitted though.)

Free Parking in the Central Business District

The business district is a little more forgiving when it comes to free parking in meter areas; however, that’s because there isn’t much to do in this area after 10:00 pm.
Everyday from 10:01 pm – 7:59 am you can pull into a meter spot without having to worry about feeding it money.

Free Parking in Residential

This rule can vary area to area, but it is something to keep an eye out for. Sundays are typically free parking; while, Monday – Saturday only requires meter money from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Stay alert though, some areas require permits to park.

Loading & Standing Zones

These zones can vary from location to location as well– but they are only enforced for a specific timeframe everyday (typically business hours). Any other time they are fair game. The signs will clearly state when they are in effect or not.

Free Parking in the Loop

That doesn’t really exist. Meters are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

While free parking in Chicago may not be completely widespread or the most convenient– it does show up more frequently than fabled unicorns and saves you money. Some think that unicorns are more abundant than Chicago free parking spots– but if you utilize these tips, you will soon realize the truth.


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