In a down economy, the little luxuries are always the first to go: the mani-pedis, the spa days, the pricey fitness club membership with the weekly personal training sessions. If only waistlines shrank along with GDP. Luckily there's no shortage of ways for miserly gym rats to stay fit in the city sans sports club, so even if that lose-ten-pounds resolution is long gone by Valentine's Day, at least your savings account won't be.
Step it up
In a city as hilly as San Francisco, paying a gym to use the StairMaster is as ridiculous as using a tanning salon in Hawaii. Make the topography work for you — and your glutes — by climbing one of the many sets of stairs scattered conveniently throughout the city. The stairs at Buena Vista Park, with a 575-foot vertical rise, make for some butt-burning terrain in the Haight. If it's been a while since your last trip to Coit Tower, hit the famous Filbert Street steps, which start at Sansome and snake up toward the tower through the verdant sculpted gardens of Telegraph Hill. In Pacific Heights, between Green and Broadway, you'll find the Lyon Street steps, highly trafficked by seekers of cheap cardio. A rewarding vista of the Palace of Fine Arts awaits those who make it to the top, but you might have to settle for a scenic view of your kneecaps if you find yourself doubled over in exhaustion. The workout, the fresh ocean air, the view: It's almost enough to forget your nose-diving stock portfolio — so long as you keep your eyes averted from the zillion-dollar Pacific Heights mansions.
Lap it up
The city has nine public pools, including the new indoor, heated Hamilton Pool in the Western Addition, set to open this summer. Admission to all pools is just $4 per swim, or $36 for a 10-swim scrip ticket (available online at www.sfgov.org or at McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan, 831-2747); lessons are just a buck extra per visit.
Actually, it is about the bike
Whoever invented the stationary bike should get major demerits. Sure, the Exercycle can give you ridiculously sculpted Lance Armstrong calves just like a regular Schwinn can, but think of all the sightseeing you're missing, not to mention the savings on gas money and bus passes when you actually use your bike as — gasp! — transportation. Try biking to work one day (if you need help picking when, try May 14, S.F.'s annual Bike to Work Day).Visit www.amarpai.com/bikemap/bikemap.html to plot door-to-door bike routes you can customize depending on how steeply you're willing to climb. Once you're officially a bicycling badass, you can join Critical Mass in its monthly takeover of city streets. Just show up at Justin Herman Plaza at the Embarcadero around 5:30 p.m. the last Friday of the month.
Cost: Free if you already have the bike (or pick up a cheapie on Craigslist for under $50).
Ohm on the cheap
Isn't enlightenment supposed to be free? Try telling that to the fancy yoga studios now charging up to $20 a class. But yoga has always been an egalitarian activity, and there are ways to maintain a regular practice — even in the city — without going broke. Most studios have a first-class-free policy, and many also offer "community" classes once a week that are usually free or less than $5. Donation yoga —classes given in a pay-what-you-can format — is on the rise at places like James Howell Studio in the Castro (find more listings on yoga teacher Tony Eason's site www.ynottony.com).
Entirely free classes aren't hard to find, either: The Mission YMCA has a free Iyengar class every Friday at 5:30 p.m., and there are free classes in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays at 11 a.m. (meet near the Botanical Gardens at Ninth and Lincoln) and at Sports Basement on Sundays at 1 p.m. Lastly, ask around to find a yoga instructor-in-training — betcha someone in your Facebook network knows one. Instructors are required to have a certain number of hours of teaching practice before they can be certified, and those teaching classes are usually free.
Cost: $0-$5 or pay-what-you-can.
Be a cheap skate
Matthew Poole, author of Frommer's San Francisco Free and Dirt Cheap, recommends "Cheap Skate Sundays" in Golden Gate Park, when John F. Kennedy Drive between Kezar and Transverse is closed to cars. If your quads didn't survive the rollerdisco era or you're too embarrassed to break out those old Rollerblades, Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate at Fulton and Sixth avenues will rent you a pair for $5 an hour or $20 a day ($6/$24 for in-line). Don't miss the skate dance party that breaks out in a nearby lot to check out the moves of skaters with mo' madder skillz than yours.
Sweat with the oldies
Karen Solomon's Cheap Bastard's Guide to San Francisco recommends shelling out seven bucks for ballroom dancing lessons, held Monday through Thursday nights at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 321 Taraval. Or hit up the newly renovated Harvey Milk Recreational Arts Building in Duboce Park, which has classes ranging from tap and hula to "ethni-jazz for seniors." Most classes are free, and the ones that aren't usually don't cost more than $4.
Go on a May-December hike
Once you've picked up someone to play Maude to your Harold — perhaps at "ethni-jazz for seniors" — head toward Ocean Beach for a romp around the ruins of Sutro Baths, which were briefly featured in the 1971 film. The lavish public bathhouse built by former S.F. Mayor Adolph Sutro opened in 1896 and was quite the attraction until it burned down in 1966. From there, you can catch trails through Lands End, Eagle Point, the Lincoln Park Golf Course, and up through Seacliff (more mansions — just ignore 'em. Those people might have millions in equity, but you can bounce a quarter off your booty).