9 Ways To Work Out In S.F. Without EVER Entering A Gym

No matter how much you love your gym’s TRX instructor, restricting your workouts to a fluorescent-lit, climate-controlled studio can get stale and uninspiring (not to mention, expensive). Our solution: Taking advantage of this city's endless array of hills (you know, the things you typically avoid walking up) and make the outdoors your ultimate playground!
From an urban hike with killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge to a leg-defining staircase built to resemble the Santa Teresa Steps in Rio de Janeiro, we’ve gathered — and road-tested, no less — S.F’s unparalleled calorie-busting terrain. So, whether you consider yourself a casual walker or consummate gym rat, you’ll find an impressive fitness alternative in this town you call home. Ready to get going? Then lace up and let Mother Nature take the lead.

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16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Legs, meet the stairway to toned glutes. Tucked away in Golden Gate Heights, this community-built fortress of booty burn doubles as an art gem (all 163 steps have been covered in beautiful mosaic tile). The decorated project was intended to be a present to the neighborhood, but after running up them a few times you’ll consider them a gift to your newly sculpted stems.

Start: 16th Avenue and Moraga Street
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Bernal Heights Hill Walk or Hike
Trade in your monotonous treadmill power walk for some fresh Bernal Heights air. The 433-foot-tall hill offers a number of winding routes to the top, making the ascent anything but routine. Start your climb at Folsom Street and take the road that snakes all the way to the peak, or bypass the trotting dog-walkers and opt for one of the crisscrossing dirt trails — they’re slightly more demanding anyway. Before you head back down, be sure to soak in shots of Sutro Tower, The Mission, Noe Valley, and, of course, the eerie stone labyrinth. No gym can compete with a neighborhood treasure like that!

Start: Folsom and Ripley streets
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Coit Tower Stairs
The pathway to Telegraph Hill’s most stately (read: touristy) landmark also serves as a great replacement to the boring gym stepper. Start your trek at the impressive Filbert Steps on Sansome Street and make your way up the three-section stairway (don’t forget to stop and smell the perennials). When you arrive at the entrance to Coit Tower you’ll want to take in its awe-inspiring 360-degree panorama before heading back down. Use the Greenwich Street stairway for an alternate backdrop.

Start: Filbert and Sansome streets
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Strawberry Hill Hike
Don’t let the name throw you off — you won’t be handpicking aromatic fruit here. But Strawberry Hill will give you an opportunity to get your hike on in a special, almost magical place. Located in the middle of man-made Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, this miniature island maintains an unparalleled level of charm (think adorable paddle boats and glimpses of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge). Once inside Stow Lake, start your walk at either the Rustic or Roman Bridge, then march up the stairs next to the waterfall or take the tree-lined pathway to the crest for breathtaking views of San Francisco. You’ll wish this scenic spot was a city secret.

Start: Golden Gate Park, 50 Stow Lake Drive
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Lands End Hike
With sweeping views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge, this Outer Richmond walkway (often referred to as the Coastal Trail) is a great choice on a clear day. Joggers and hikers won’t find the three-mile workout to be particularly hilly, but there are some narrow pathways that require focus. Start the journey near the historic Cliff House off of Point Lobos Avenue and head north toward the Coastal Trail. Along the pathway, you’ll have the option to detour to spots like the Legion of Honor (look for it about a half mile into the hike) and the Labyrinth and Mile Rock Beach, which offer a good vantage point to see the Pacific (a little photo-op never killed a workout!). The trail will spit you out near Sea Cliff, but if your legs are up for it, continue through the neighborhood all the way to the turnaround at Eagles Point.

Start: The Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Avenue (between Merrie Way and Upper Great Highway.
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Twin Peaks Hike
If you’re hunting for a workout that offers an escape from the hustle and bustle, this urban hike belongs on your itinerary. It’s not the toughest trail, but if you maintain a brisk pace you can raise your heart rate and get your sweat on. Start at the Pemberton Steps (at Clayton and Corbett) and admire the blooming gardens as you glide through the tree-covered residential passageway. When you’ve run out of stairs to climb, turn left onto Crown Terrace, right at Raccoon Drive, and left onto Twin Peaks Boulevard for the final .75-mile push. You can connect with tourists at the wooden steps, or if you’re up for a challenge, march directly up the summit. Trust us: Once you get to the top you’ll forget you’re smack in the middle of S.F.

Start: Clayton Street and Corbett Avenue
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Lyon Street Steps
If running stairs was actually a means of entertainment, the Lyon Street Steps would be the uncontested hot spot — this two-part batch of stairs is frequently crowded with hard-working city dwellers. A perennial fave among personal trainers and cardio junkies, expect to see a handful of fitness buffs doing push ups and fat-zapping burpees in between sets. Walk or run up the 244 steps, but be sure to tell your calves, quads, and glutes to stop complaining about the burn — they’re at a party, after all.

Start: Lyon and Greet streets
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The Embarcadero to Fort Mason Run
Joggers, lend us your ears sneakers — we found the perfect incline-free area to pound some pavement. Running along the Embarcadero’s mostly flat, uninterrupted footpath (high five for limited curb breaks!) is perfect if you’re looking to let loose and increase your stride length, assuming you can handle the swath of out-of-towners scooping up “Only in San Francisco” garb near Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the bayside jaunt you’ll see Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, and depending on where you turn around at Fort Mason, you can log this one as a 5-miler. Okay, you can have your shoes back now.

Start: The Embarcadero and Washington Street
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Broadway and Broderick Hill Intervals
Stationary cardio machines have got nothing on this sidewalk-only Pacific Heights stretch. While only a single block, the roughly 33% grade incline is a superb place to exhaust yourself through intervals. Power walk (or run, if you dare) up to Vallejo Street in less than two minutes, then protect your knees and enjoy your surroundings as you return to the base for another grueling set. You might want to keep your masseuse on call — you’ll feel this one in the shins almost immediately (we did!).

Start: Broadway and Broderick streets