Travel and exercise don't always go together – we get it. Between pub crawls, restaurant check lists, museum visits, and endless photo stops, we can all let fitness fall by the wayside while we try to experience everything else a new city has to offer.
But for visitors to San Francisco, that doesn't have to be the case. Our famously off-beat city is full of inventive ways to get your heart pumping. This week, we're sharing seven off-the-wall ways you can get active, get some fresh air, and experience a new side of San Francisco all at the same time.
A herd of American bison, a 55-acre botanical garden, a Japanese Tea House – Golden Gate Park is full of out-of-the-blue surprises. And a few years ago, the park added a Frisbee golf course to the list. Serious "golfers" and newbies alike can spend hours tossing discs into a series of 18 "holes" – chain-link baskets atop metal poles – scattered throughout a tightly wooded course. Rent your own discs for as little as $6 at nearby Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate, print off a score card, and bring along a few friends for a walk in the woods that's anything but ordinary.
The largest body of water in San Francisco's massive Golden Gate Park, the manmade Stow Lake was created in 1893. Today, the 12-acre-long lake is a popular spot for bird-watching, picnicking, and boating. Grab a friend or two and go in on a rowboat ($20 per hour) or pedal boat ($25 per hour) at the Stow Lake boathouse, then glide your way around the lake's fairy-tale accents, from a stone bridge to a tiny central island.
Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
Fancy a trip out on the Bay without the Alcatraz-cruise crowds? Try plying the water on your own. At City Kayak, you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards by the hour starting at $35. Paddle out on your own around South Beach Harbor or join in one of the company's guided trips further afield. Newbie kayakers can schedule introductory lessons from $25; more advanced paddlers can get out to Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. For a quintessentially San Francisco experience, grab a "McCovey Cove Experience" rental and a waterproof radio. Then glide over to the waters just outside AT&T Park, where you can listen to a Giants baseball game on the airwaves and watch the skies for "splash hits."
San Francisco's known as one of the most chilled-out cities on earth, so the popularity of yoga here shouldn't come as much of a surprise to visitors. Nor should the fact that we like to spread the Zen for free! Saturday mornings, head to Golden Gate Park to get your flow on in the great outdoors. If you're keen for tacos and street art post-savasana, opt for free outdoor yoga classes Sunday mornings in the Mission District's Dolores Park. (While both classes are free, organizers gladly accept donations, so do your karma some good by bringing along any cash you can spare). Staying across the Bay at HI-Marin Headlands? Head down to the hostel's yoga room to work on your own practice!
Tucked away on the Marina Green, a waterfront expanse of lawn and trees between HI-SF Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge, the National Fitness Campaign's (NFC) "fitness court" looks, admittedly, a little odd. The court's system of ropes, ledges, bars, and rings may not exactly blend in with the area's bridge views and foliage, but it's meant to stand out.
San Francisco got its fitness court thanks to the NFC's mission of providing opportunities for outdoor physical activity in cities around the country. In 2012, the court got a complete makeover; today it's a state-of-the-art place for locals and visitors alike to get their endorphins pumping. The equipment focuses on seven basic movements, each using a different area of the body. By pushing, pulling, bending, hopping, and stretching against their own body weight, users get a complete workout – all while being cooled by salty ocean breezes.
Ever hear of those crazy people who actually swim in the frigid San Francisco Bay? Head to the Dolphin Club to meet them – or, better yet, to join them. While this century- old club house in Aquatic Park is usually open to members only, on Wednesdays and Fridays casual visitors can nab day-use passes for just $10. The club provides a hefty dose of history along with locker rooms, showers, access to the beach, and sauna for post-swim warm-ups; the chutzpah you'll need to actually take the plunge is up to you!
Forget the roller rink: here in San Francisco, we like to take skating outdoors… and then give it a twist. At 6th Ave. and Kennedy Drive, right inside Golden Gate Park, you'll find what's affectionately known as "Skatin' Place." This section of the park is closed off to vehicle traffic, making it skater-friendly seven days a week. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the spot hosts a veritable dance party on wheels. Check out the California Outdoor Rollersports Association's (CORA) Web site for details on how to join in!
On Friday nights, CORA also organizes huge, guided group skates through the city. Meet up with the "Midnight Rollers" Friday nights at Harry Bridges Plaza (corner of Market St. and the Embarcadero), then get ready to skate the city streets with a few hundred of your new best friends.
Ready to jumpstart your own travel fitness routine? Check out a map of all the places mentioned in this post. For even more ideas on how to get active in the Bay Area's great outdoors, browse our recent posts on urban hiking, beachside living, and hands-on volunteering in our National Parks.
What's your favorite way to exercise outdoors in the Bay Area? Tweet us your tips @HIUSANorCal
Stay at one of our three San Francisco hostels.