Where to Practice Driving

Parent Q&A

  • Stick shift driving practice locations

    (6 replies)

    Hi all, Where are good open and empty places to practice learning stick shift? When my older daughter was learning to drive 3 years ago, we started at the Golden Gate Fields racetrack parking lot and then graduated to the naval air base in Alameda (thanks to a past post on this list), Now my younger daughter is learning. But the racetrack is fenced off and the air base is much busier with new businesses. Other ideas?


    When my son was recently learning to drive, a friend recommended Mare Island, and it was great.  It's a mostly (?) abandoned naval base with lots of streets and very little traffic--perfect for those first few lessons.   BART parking lots are also good places to practice on weekends.  I often drive by the Lafayette BART and its second lot is usually empty on weekends.

    My question for you:  have you found someplace to rent a car with a stick shift, or do you or a friend have one?  We'd like our son to learn to drive a stick but we sold our last stick shift car several years back.  I think our family and friends mostly have automatic transmissions, and I'd be a little hesitant to ask to borrow one anyway because I suspect the learning period might be a bit hard on the clutch. 

    Good luck!

    When my elderly mother got out of the hospital and then a respite stay at a living facility and wanted to start driving again, I gave her an informal "exam" at the Acalanes High School parking lot on a Sunday,  The speed humps made it less than ideal, but there was plenty of space, and it was not hard to get to (just of 24 at the Pleasant Hill Road exit).  Another place I thought of, but farther away, is the lower parking area at Hilltop Mall -- again on Sunday morning before the stores open. 

    School, store  or church parking lot.  I taught my kids in parking lots with speed bumps so they had to practice letting out the clutch before the bump.

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Good Areas to Learn How to Drive in Berkeley

Feb 2011

Can anyone recommend big parking lots or very sparsely used areas for beginning driver's lessons in & around Berkeley? Actually, come to think of it, any recommendations on giving driving lessons--getting started, lessening nervousness, breaking down the lessons, driving a stick--would be most welcome! Thanks.

I think every kid in Berkeley for the last 40years who learned how to drive a stick shift, did it in the parking lot behind the Golden Gate Fields race track. Take Gilman all the way to the end, past the main parking lot and back down to the water. Turn into the lower parking lot.

As for technique, have them start off in first gear and use just the clutch, no gas. When they can do that in first gear, try it in second, then third. This will give the sense of how to gently release the clutch. After that, let them add a little gas. Whey they are comfortable on the flat, move to the hill next to the water and practice there. Malcolm

In response to the question about where to learn to drive: for first steps, the parking lot at His Lordship's restaurant at the Berkeley Marina, then moving to the entire marina area. Next, I would recommend the quiet streets of El Cerrito just near the border of Albany.

I think learning to drive a stick should follow getting comfortable in a standard transmission. And driving early Sunday morning is good -- before traffic gets started. Good Luck! kathryn

My dad taught me how to drive at the Golden Gate Fields parking lot and that still seems like a great place. We did some at the Hilltop Mall parking lot too, while that was closed. One thing he did at GGF that was helpful was to take some of their sawhorses and make pretend parallel-parking places for me. He started out making them big, and then slowly made them smaller and smaller. Good luck! Eden

Hi, I'm going through this right now with my daughter who has her permit. It is hard because there is so much traffic in the Bay Area.

We used the DVC parking lot in Pleasant Hill to start out, but I'm hoping someone else has another suggestion closer to you. In general, early on weekend mornings is a good time to practice on the streets cause they are more empty (of course that may not be a favorite time to get up!).

We're about ready to try the freeway and I scouted out a couple of onramps near my house where there is no merge--the entry lane turns into its own freeway lane or else just exits again. I think these are going to be good places to start.

Also, I just wanted to let you know that she did her first in car lesson with driversed.com and I do not recommend them. They use mini-coopers and while these are cool cars, I learned after the fact that they are hard to drive. Also they aren't marked ''student driver'' and again, that may be more cool, but less safe. Anyway my daughter was a little freaked out after her first lesson and we had to coax her back into driving again. Now she is fine.

From my own experience learning to drive, I would encourage you to try to use a calm voice and be specific--''move over to your left'' is better than ''look out!'' If you feel like it's not clicking with you, ask another adult to take your teen out for a few times and then try again. good luck!

Wide-open spaces to practice driving a stick shift

December 2002

We're looking for wide open spaces to practice driving (general maneuvers and stick shift). We've been down to Golden Gate Fields parking lot (south end), but security was on to us in a minute and though they let us stay, we don't want to overstay our welcome. It's kind of a bad time of year to find empty BART or mall parking lots - any suggestions? Thanks. Cathy

Try the north side of Golden Gate Fields. To get there, drive up over the hill past the main entrance and main parking of the track and down the hill on the other side; stay on the left side of the main parking while driving through. This is where my son practiced driving. There is a large parking lot that belongs to the track on that side which is usually not accessible but there is also a park right next to the water with a large parking lot. This is the lot that we used. If I remember correctly you have to go past a parking booth; just tell them you're passing through to go to the other side. Joan

The Alameda Naval Air Station is practically deserted on weekends, especially now that soccer season is over. It has empty parking lots, and streets for practicing straight driving, turns, etc. Also, we drove in the industrial area of Oakland, near Mandela Parkway and West Grand. Industrial parts of Berkeley are probably quite empty on weekends, too. Have fun. Cynthia

The former Alameda Naval Air Station has acres upon acres of unused parking lots. Some are large enough to let a learner get up to 2nd or 3rd gear. Traffic on the roads through the station is sparce. Getting there is a short ride through the Broadway Tube and then right a couple of miles at the first major intersection just past the Alameda College campus (I don't remember the name of the street). When practicing there with my daughter a couple of years ago, security patrols looked at us in curiosity, but didn't interfere. Adam

in response to where to practice driving.... you can try the old naval air station in alameda Liana