In a city of precipitous hills, never-ending stairways, and limited parking spaces, it's hard to stay sedentary any time of year — even if most of your movements are restricted to a convenient 2-mile radius, like most vehicularly challenged urbanites. Unlike metropolitan areas that offer little to no opportunities to get beyond the gravel and bond with nature, San Francisco boasts a plethora of activities that encompasses not just the rigorous sport of people-watching from the comfort of your sidewalk cafe, but also close-to-the-earth escapades that'll get you to embrace your inner jock, daredevil, contender, and wayfarer.
If the mere thought of biking around the city conjures stereotypes of Critical Mass–championing hipsters with no respect for rush-hour traffic or hapless pedestrians, it's time to shift your paradigm and get in gear. There are a number of advantages to ditching Muni or your car in favor of more scenic, pedal-powered routes. Biking is not only a pragmatic, inexpensive, environmentally friendly way to get around that promotes safer streets and communities (not to mention shapely gams), but is also a fabulous way to get out and meet your city.
If you haven't strapped on a helmet since your tween years, have no fear. Aside from free classes on bicycle safety and the rules of the road, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also teaches chary pedestrians how to conquer wobbly wheels and ride with confidence. Despite all the pretty greenery, we still live in a city, so the focus tends to be on understanding and dealing with road hazards, from petulant commuters and disgruntled Munigoers to using your bike on public transportation. By the end of the courses, you'll be avoiding nonpicturesque shortcuts and shifting gears with the best of 'em. (833 Market at Fourth St., 10th floor, 431-2453, www.sfbike.org/?edu).
For self-guided two-wheel tours of the city and Marin County lasting 45 minutes to four hours, check out free downloadable maps and rent a bike at the Blazing Saddles shop at Fisherman's Wharf (2715 Hyde at North Point, 202-8888, www.blazingsaddles.com).
If you've always been enthralled by people who can scramble up Half Dome faster than a leaping lizard, first consider the hassle of having to grapple with top-roping and figuring out all your knots. Sure, San Francisco has hills, but there aren't a lot of scalable mountains within the city limits. That's why indoor rock climbing might be the savviest alternative. Touchstone Climbing, which offers six indoor gyms in the Bay Area, instills all the confidence you'll need to get to the competitive level. Mission Cliffs, the original Touchstone gym, attracts even the most devout outdoor climbers with its 50-foot headwall. Terrain ranges from bunny slopes for beginners to steep promontories for the more experienced. Yoga, cardio machines, and other fitness programs are also available for the faint of heart or those with a touch of vertigo. Head on over and get to clambering. (Mission Cliffs, 2295 Harrison at 19th St., 550-0515, www.touchstoneclimbing.com.)
If you've ever fantasized about being Icarus, that mythological figure who plunged to his demise after one glorious sunward flight on a pair of wax-covered wings, consider a happier ending with hang gliding. It's probably the best unmotorized, free-wheeling, exposed-to-the-elements way to get your flying ya-yas out. During the summer, when the west winds are at full force, you can find a varied crew of gliders speckling the skies above Fort Funston (also known for its hiking trails). Fort Funston is an intermediate hang-gliding site — H3 rating required — with a launch area that takes sky-loving adventurers far from the hubbub of the city. A multitude of shops in the immediate area can put newbies in touch with instructors to learn about safety, wind conditions, why knowing when the tide will be high is important for landing, and how to make the most of your knowledge without going the full Icarus. Start at the Fellow Feathers Clubhouse (206 Fort Funston at Skyline, 333-0100, www.flyfunston.org), and check out the webcam for weather conditions before you go.
Braving the open waters in a kayak is tinged by a certain romantic aura that recalls Polynesian voyagers paddling across the Pacific armed with only navigatory intuition and constellation know-how. While some bay kayakers will prefer to futz around waiting for home-run balls to whiz out of AT&T Park and plunk into the waters, Sea Trek's moonlight kayaking tours and classes in perfecting whitewater skills will bring out the extreme sport lovers in all of us. Aside from basic paddling classes and camping and kayaking trips to Angel Island and the sea caves of Mendocino, Sea Trek also offers scenic forays from Sausalito for more leisurely sailing. (Schoonmaker Point Marina, Liberty Ship at Schoonmaker Point, Sausalito, 332-8494, www.seatrek.com.)
If you've ever walked out to Lands End on a balmy, slightly windswept day and admired the postcard-perfect sailboats that seemed to be simply bobbing around looking pretty, think again. It takes some smarts and skill to keep a steady course and stay ahead of the wind. Seafaring novices can easily build their brains and brawn with a class at Spinnaker Sailing. Before you're ready to take the helm, consider a basic keelboat sailing course. Aside from getting the lowdown on navigation and weather, you'll learn all about anchoring, first aid, and everything else it takes to be skipper-ready — or at least to get home safe and mostly dry. Basic Keelboat II earns you American Sailing Association certification, when you are ready to set your mast to more challenging horizons. (Pier 40 at Embarcadero, South Beach Harbor, 543-7333, www.spinnaker-sailing.com.)
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