Where to Park?
On many days, particularly during the non-summer months, parking can be relatively painless at Sunset. Free parking is available on the south shoulder of the PCH between Sunset and the Bel-Air Bay Club. There is also paid parking at the Gladstones parking lot, east of the restaurant. On weekdays, you can often enter the Gladstones parking lot before 11 am without paying, but I certainly can't promise you that this will always be the case. The most important thing to understand is that parking becomes VERY DIFFICULT and sometimes even DANGEROUS on two distinct circumstances:
1) Whenever there is a strong swell running. Even when conditions are lousy, surfers will flock to Sunset at the first mention by the local media of a "high-surf advisory." This is comical because Sunset is actually most magical on days when nobody is reporting a decent swell (due to the fact that Sunset picks up a lot of reflective energy and is highly unpredictable.) Nonetheless, if the waves are head-high or bigger, every human, dog or ferret with a board will head for the beach. This means that all the free parking will probably be taken by the time you get there. Worse yet, clueless maniacs will pull illegal u-turns, dart in and out of traffic to try to grab an open spot, or double park while waiting for someone to leave. Meanwhile, other drivers are reacting to this madness and creating further madness. To top it off, all the surfers who would never be caught dead actually surfing Sunset are still checking the waves there (instead of watching the road), as they drive by on their way to Topanga and Malibu. Therefore, I recommend you EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION when parking or driving anywhere near Sunset when there is a decent swell.
2) On any weekend or holiday when it is very hot and sunny in the valley or inland, particularly in the summer. Sunset is the first place where you can park for free on the beach coming west on the Santa Monica freeway. Therefore, hordes of sweaty individuals come to cool off at Sunset when trying to escape the heat. Usually, this effect does not start to kick in until about 11:30 am. (I guess they all have hangovers from the night before.) Oddly, it lasts until 5 or 6 pm. I am always shocked at how many folks decide to head for the beach AFTER it starts to cool off, but they do. So you have to plan for it. These people will pull all the same wacked-out and illegal maneuvers as the surfers do during a big swell. Face it, we are all terrible drivers... so let's just ditch our cars and go paddle!