In a city where everyone walks, and there are hills.. lots of hills.. everywhere,... it's no surprise that SFers love taking their workouts outside. We believe that to really get a feel of a new place you're traveling to, you have to run up and down its hills, bike down its roads, and Downward Dog where the locals do. So the next time you're in San Francisco, get out of that stuffy hotel gym and try one of our fitness faves.
Buena Vista Park
Since Buena Vista Park (Haight Street and Buena Vista East) is an easy two-block walk from my house, I have no excuse to ever skip a workout. Located in the famed Haight-Ashbury district, Buena Vista is San Francisco's oldest park; it boasts spectacular views and feels a bit like a forest escape in the middle of the city. On days where I really need to move, I like to run up and down the park's stairs for a good hour and finish it off with a mini strength-training circuit at the top.
Whether you decide to take one of the many staircases or dirt trails, make sure to stop at the vista points along the way to the top. After making it to the hill's peak — 575 feet! — enjoy the view of the city before heading back down. And don't overlook the park's perimeter; if you're a fan of Hitchcock's Vertigo, then one of the buildings will look especially familiar. There's also a great example of a Cass Calder Smith modernist home.
I'm partial to the Panhandle (Fell Street and Baker Street) because it's close to my house and makes a convenient running or cycling loop. A long, skinny park that juts out of the much larger Golden Gate Park, it's just the right size for an easy jog or interval training. One loop of the Panhandle is about 1.5 miles, so I usually jog a few times around or continue into Golden Gate Park for more variation. Depending on when you go, you'll be working out with locals who use the park as their pre- or post-work exercise spot, so it's a great place to people-watch while burning calories.
Planet Granite (924 Mason St., 415-692-3434) boasts 25,000 square feet of climbing and bouldering, weight and cardio areas, and two yoga studios (many of the teachers are regular instructors at places like Aha Yoga and Yoga Tree and have trained under yoga greats like Ana Forrest and Rusty Wells). It's situated right across the street from Crissy Field, and there's nothing like climbing up a 50-foot wall and looking out the window to see the Golden Gate Bridge staring back at you. Day passes run $19 and give you full access to the gym and all its classes.
Lyon Street Steps
For a challenging outdoor workout, head to the Lyon Street Steps. Start at the corner of Lyon and Green, and head up the 288 steep steps all the way to Broadway and back. There's beautiful greenery all around, you can check some of San Francisco's most beautiful homes, and the view from the top is well worth the climb.
Bernal Heights Hill
Hiking to the top of Bernal Heights Hill (Bernal Heights Boulevard) at dusk was one of my first treks in the city with friends. As if you can't tell from this photo, there's a seriously gorgeous view of the whole city! There's a great bike path, plenty of room to sit and enjoy a sunset, and a million dogs running around. If you're down in the Mission, then you've got to check out this view. Hopefully you'll get to go on a day like the one pictured, where the fog isn't rolling in too deep.