Select Page

This year, the National Safety Council estimates around 49,000 injuries resulting from crashes on Black Friday alone and during the holidays, we can expect around a 34 percent increase in car accidents — and let’s be real, the weather and alcohol consumption aren’t the only ones to blame for these statistics. 

So how can we avoid a parking snafu, find a spot in a somewhat timely manner and remain calm during the process? Thankfully, we’ve got some holiday cheer for you during these dark times. We put together a comprehensive holiday parking guide to help you navigate mall parking lots and urban shopping centers as you get through your shopping list. 

Whether you use a mathematical formula, the latest parking app or just avoid shopping during peak days and hours, this guide will help you put together a plan of attack — peacefully. Keep reading if you’d also like to learn more about some of the best parking hacks to survive the not-so-jolly parking madness. 


The Mall Parking Problem: There’s a Formula for That

parking formula

If you were one of those kids who thought math was useless for day-to-day problems, you might want to reconsider after using this formula. 

Former mathematician Joseph Pagano was able to do some of the hard work for us and come up with a great strategy to help us find parking spots a bit quicker during the holidays. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average holiday shopping trip lasts around 120 minutes. So Pagano calculated that if you idle in an aisle where you see 10 spots on either side (20 total) and divide those spots from the typical shopping time, the wait time for the next available parking space should be around 6 minutes — that is, if the ruthless soccer mom swerving through the aisles doesn’t beat you to it!

Speaking of circling aisle to aisle, which many of us tend to do, this strategy can actually increase your time spent searching for a spot. Not only will you become a part of the problem by increasing congestion, but by the time you reach the next aisle, someone might be freeing up a spot in the aisle you were previously in. And you know there’s no worse feeling than when someone beats you to a spot right where you used to be! 

The Parking Psychology: That’s My Spot

Every year, we see dozens of headlines of people getting into fights, running to a spot to save it for the driver they’re with (please don’t do this, folks) or even denting their cars in an effort to beat another driver to a spot. 

If you’ve witnessed a parking fiasco or even been a part of these crazy news headlines yourself, you probably know by now that a mall parking lot is easily one of the worst places to be during the holiday season. But why do people get so aggressive when looking for a spot? 

Well, according to Andrew Velkey, associate professor of psychology at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, looking for a parking spot ignites our primal competitive instincts for acquiring resources. When we do secure a space, it activates our reward pathways which can make us feel territorial over “our” spot — nothing like the holidays to get us in a giving mood. 

Beware: The Holidays Are Coming 

Below is the lowdown on this year’s parking nightmare predictions to help you and your family better prepare and plan a successful shopping trip. 

12 Worst Malls for Black Friday Traffic

busiest American shopping malls

Although every shopping center can get busy during the holidays, there are some that definitely take the cake at being the absolute worst. Below, we gathered the top busiest malls during the holidays based on year-to-year increased travel time, their busiest hours and the extra time you should expect to spend compared to regular working days and weekends. 

On Black Friday, you can expect to spend anywhere from 18% to nearly 90% more time in these malls during their peak time frames. And although Black Friday is a beast of its own, this day is only the beginning of our yearly parkageddon. If you’re planning on doing some holiday shopping anywhere in these cities, including Houston and San Francisco, you might want to pay attention to the table below. 

Top 10 Busiest Holiday Shopping Days

The key to successful parking navigation during the holidays is knowing when to shop. 

More than 108 million drivers are expected to hit the road during the holiday season, especially the week of Christmas. According to AAA, peak shopper hours are between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and the best time to shop is usually between 9:00 a.m. and 11 a.m. 

Although heading to the mall later in the evening might help you avoid both car and foot traffic, you might find that many of the items on your shopping list are out of stock, so it’s best to go early. 

It might also be helpful to do a little research and look for predictions of the busiest holidays this year. This way, you’ll be able to plan your shopping around peak days, or even look for stores that offer curbside pickup if you’re on a time crunch. 

busiest holiday shopping days


To make things a little easier, above are this year’s predictions on the busiest shopping days for the holidays. At the top of the list as usual is Black Friday, but you may also want to avoid shopping the Saturday after Christmas, a.k.a. Super Saturday. Last year, it surpassed Black Friday by $2 billion in revenue

Cost of Parking Near Popular Shopping Districts

Unfortunately, urban shopping districts can be just as nightmarish when it comes to finding a parking space. 

Not only are the streets and parking structures crowded, but paying for a space can be quite expensive. As most metered parking doesn’t give you enough time to shop, drivers have no other option but to find pricey hourly parking garages to do their shopping. 

Below are some of the most expensive parking lots near popular urban shopping centers  across the U.S. that will help give you an idea of what you can expect to pay to park this holiday season. To help, we also list the best places to park near these locations based on distance and cost. If you plan on shopping outside peak hours or keeping your trip short, surrounding street parking might also be available. 

CityAverage Hourly PriceDaily Maximum PriceNearby Parking LotsBest Nearby Place to ParkTimes Available
Union Square,         San Francisco, CA$10.72$3620560 Geary St24 hours
Third Street Promenade, Los Angeles, CA$7.99$2527Public Parking Structure #624 hours
Pacific Place,   Seattle, WA$8.43$2833Pacific Place Garage24 Hours
Faneuil Hall,     Boston, MA$18.13$354760 State Street24 hours
Magnificent Mile, Chicago, IL$19.57$30126The Allerton Hotel Lot24 hours

best places to park near major shopping districts

Santa Came Early with Useful Parking Solutions

After those terrifying holiday parking statistics, below are some additional solutions to bring you some holiday cheer. 

5 Parking Apps to Help Cut Down Your Search Time

On average, we spend 17 hours a year looking for parking spaces. At first glance, this may not seem like much, but the time adds up to $345 in costs per driver in fuel, time and emissions. These numbers can jump to over 85 hours in search time and $1,700+ per year if you live in a city like New York or Los Angeles. With an average of two vehicles per household, that’s a hefty price tag to pay to simply look for a parking space. 

Luckily, technology may be coming to our rescue. With so many recent innovations and smart parking solutions including apps that will locate vacant spots, parking reservation services and robots that will save you a space while you arrive, we thought we’d put together a list of helpful apps and tools to ease the parking stress and save you some time. 

parking technology

      • MyPark: This startup has developed a robot that holds your favorite parking spot at the mall. You’ll be able to specify a section of preferred parking spots, and the robot will deploy once a space frees up. Before downloading the app, make sure MyPark is available at your local mall.
      • ParkMobile: This app helps you find available parking and pay for it in advance. As your time is running out, ParkMobile sends you reminders and the option to pay for additional time through the app. They also offer to reserve spots during concerts and sporting events. 
      • ParkWhiz: Another great tool for finding short-term parking in cities and airports. ParkWiz helps you find parking near your destination, compare prices and pay in advance.  
      • SpotHero: A parking reservation service that helps you reserve valet services and find both short and long-term spots in parking lots, garages and airports. Once you make a reservation, SpotHero creates a parking pass with all the information you need to get to your space. You can also make multiple reservations which makes traveling so much easier.
      • Parker: Great for getting real time updates on available street parking. Parker also gives you updates on nearby parking lots and garages and the ability to pay in advance. 
      • Your city’s parking apps: Many times, your city offers its own parking apps which can give you accurate updates on available spots, traffic and price changes. 

Parking Hacks for Your Next Shopping Trip

Apart from the Pagano’s timesaving formula and parking apps, below are some useful parking hacks that are great to keep in mind when searching for a spot. 

parking hacks

      1. Do Your Research

An obvious tip, but important nonetheless, is to do your research. Before heading out, have at least two different routes and three different parking locations in mind. Know your various parking options, their prices and time restrictions. This can help you cut down time and frustration when plan A goes kaput.  

      1. Reverse Park For A Quick Exit

Once you’re done with your holiday shopping, we’re sure you don’t want to spend another minute at an overcrowded shopping center. Consider maneuvering your car in reverse upon arrival to get out of there in the blink of an eye and before someone honks at you

      1. Phone A Friend

During the holiday parking nightmare, you may need a lifeline. Consider asking a friend who lives or works near your desired shopping mall and ask if you can borrow their space or park at their house. In return, offer them a meal or a ride to and from work! 

      1. Don’t Honk

Has it ever happened to you where someone is clearly leaving but they see you’re waiting for their parking spot and it seems like they suddenly got the urge to take a nap or call every member of their family? Well, there’s a science to that. As we previously mentioned, finding a parking spot gives us a sense of accomplishment, therefore, making us feel territorial over this little piece of real estate that doesn’t belong to us. 

Studies show that people take longer to pull out of a parking space when they know someone is after their spot, and even longer when you honk. A recent study at an Atlanta mall by sociologist Barry Ruback of Penn State University, revealed that undisturbed drivers took an average of 27 seconds to pull out of a parking spot versus 43 seconds after being honked at. So be patient and try not to honk — even if they deserve it. 

      1. Park Facing East

If you live in a city with snowy winters, try looking for a spot facing east — especially if you’re planning on shopping for a few hours. This can help keep your car from accumulating too much frost and get you out the busy mall faster. 

      1. Know The Rules

Knowing your city’s parking laws can help you not only avoid a parking ticket or worse, getting towed, but it might even be useful when looking for a spot. In California for example, yellow curb loading zones are only enforced from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Outside of that time, they’re free unless the sign says otherwise (did you hear that LA drivers?). In Philadelphia, the Parking Authority gives everyone free metered parking every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas — knowledge really is power, folks.

      1. Park Near The Boring Stores

The average mall can have anywhere between 50 to 100 stores but not all will be equally popular. As you drive to your favorite mall, heading straight for the parking lots near the least busy stores can help you find a vacant spot a bit quicker. 

With these helpful tools and many more sure to come including self-parking vehicles and fully automated parking garages, we hope that we’ll see major improvements on the time we spend looking for a spot on both regular working days and busy holidays. If you’re planning on traveling or taking a road trip during the holidays, perhaps rent a small car to make it easier to find a parking spot. 

If you prefer looking for a spot the old fashioned way, Pagano’s formula is your best bet. Rent a car for your holiday travels and test these hacks out to see if you have better luck than drivers driving frantically up and down the aisles. Happy hunting and happy holidays! 

LA Times | Money Under 30 | INRIX | Wiley | WestGate Resorts | Sensormatic | Forbes | USA Today | Injury Facts | | Fortune