At UC Berkeley, the only free parking spots are available to winners of the Nobel Prize (the winners still have to apply for the permit). For everyone else, there's this guide.
When it comes to major commercial areas in Berkeley, it is an understatement to say that finding a parking spot is hard. Start with the fact that these major commercial centers (Telegraph, Shattuck, University, etc) are very dense and that there are numerically few parking spots. Add on top of that a demand for parking during the day. It is common to spend several extra minutes searching for an empty spot, so it is wise to take that into consideration whenever traveling in Berkeley. As of 2104 the city is experimenting with demand based parking rates, so the most popular areas have the highest fees, resulting in more empty spots.
Even when there is parking available, there are usually certain restrictions that apply. The most common of these is metered parking, with time limits usually running 20 minutes or 1 hour. On side streets near commercial areas it is also common to find residential permit restrictions (the Residential Preferred Parking (RPP) program). Even though the parking in these areas may be free, cars without permits are restricted to two-hour parking on weekdays and sometimes Saturdays, depending on the location.
There is lots of parking if you are willing to pay.
Special Event ParkingEdit
Every place that can will charge extra money during special events. On Big Game days most driveways are rented out, as are the playgrounds at area schools.
Live in Berkeley and have a car, ideally you will want a place with your own parking space. If that isn't possible, you can also apply for Residential Preferred Parking (RPP) with the city of berkeley, which raises the time limit from 2-4 hours to 72 hours, in your designated zone. After 72 hours you need to move your car, though enforcement of that rule is usually based on complaints by neighbors.
If you are smart, you will never take a chance and leave yourself open to getting a ticket. Parking enforcement is extremely strict around campus and the odds of getting a ticket are extremely high for those who are not careful.
A parking ticket can cost you $40-$80 easily, depending on the citation. For a reference, it costs $1.25 to park at a meter for 1 hour, which means you could safely park for 32-64 hours and probably come out ahead. In fact, parking fines are priced statistically so that it is cheaper to pay for parking in the first place. However, you would think that with the abundance of parking fees, they would bother to put up more visible parking instructions.
Beware that if you are new to the area, it is possible to pull into parking spaces and never pass a parking instruction sign, or permit pay booth. There is absolutely no free parking on the university. The university uses parking tickets as a major fund raiser. Being linked into the state DMV, they will impose late fees and attempt to prevent you from re-registering your vehicle should you not pay their outrageous $40-$80 parking fees.
UC Berkeley students are elligible to participate in the class pass program: a single fee nets you a transit pass for the entire year.