A myriad of green spaces are scattered throughout the Bay Area, making the city a charming location for my morning jogs. I’m always so inspired to see multiple generations enjoying the city’s nature together, and soaking up the sights. No matter how old you are, exercising outside has a way of making fitness more fun—whether it’s going for a gentle stroll, jogging, or swimming.
As your loved one grows older, staying physically active only becomes more important: exercise is known to help prevent disease, boost mood, and reduce stress. Spending time in nature, meanwhile, can improve your loved one’s immune system, increase their energy, and sharpen their mental focus. So if your aging loved one happens to live in the Bay Area, they’re in luck—this is one of the most beautiful places in the country for exercising outdoors.
Idyllic Spots in the Bay Area to Exercise with Older Adults
Caregivers and their aging loved ones can enjoy stunning city views and nature landscapes while exercising outdoors in any of these Bay Area parks or gardens:
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Skill level: easy, wheelchair-friendly
This spot boasts over 80,000 green acres surrounded by massive redwood trees and beautiful beaches with nearly 200 miles of trails for walking or hiking. Take your loved one for a stroll down Crissy Field to watch the windsurfers, or wander along Fort Funston to watch dogs frolicking on the beach. You can also find activities like lawn bowling and archery, or rent a rowboat or pedal boat to paddle around the lovely Stow Lake. Whether your loved one is looking for a challenging hike, or just a gentle saunter along the Golden Gate Promenade, there are plenty of options for all physical levels here.
- Skill level: moderate to difficult
If your aging loved one is really into fitness, Baker Beach features 200 stairs made of sand that they can use to exercise. Compared with regular concrete stairs, these sand steps are much gentler on joints—though they actually offer more resistance. Formally called the Baker Beach Sand Ladder, this area is part of the famous Pacific Coast Trail. While climbing stairs, you and your loved one can soak up the fresh sea breeze and lovely views of the Golden Gate Bridge together.
The Dolphin Rowing and Swimming Club
- Skill level: easy to moderate
Swimming is one of the best physical activities for older adults since it’s so easy on the joints and body in general. The Bay Area is home to many indoor pools, but the Dolphin Rowing and Swimming Club lets its members swim in the open water. Non-members can get a day pass for just $10, but be sure to check the schedule beforehand to find out which days are open to the public. The club also hosts organized swims and competitions throughout the year, and rents boats.
Berkeley Rose Garden
- Skill level: moderate
Located near the UC Berkeley campus, the Berkeley Rose Garden provides a serene backdrop for you and your loved one to go walking. One of the garden’s most notable features is a beautiful staircase called the Rose Walk, constructed and designed by famous Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck in 1913. The stairs are surrounded by foliage and moss, and following them down will lead you and your loved one to some restful benches so you can drink in the beautiful surroundings. While the garden itself has many steps or steep inclines, older adults in wheelchairs can still enjoy the street-level lookout, which is accessible by entering on Euclid’s east side.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
- Skill level: moderate, wheelchair-friendly
Located about 65 miles from San Francisco, this huge state park is a beautiful place to bring your loved one for a day trip out of the city. There are more than 80 miles of walkable trails, lined with sky-high redwood trees and various waterfalls. The Berry Creek Falls hike even boasts a waterfall that’s 70 feet high. Two trails are accessible for older adults using a walker or wheelchair, the easiest being Redwood Loop Nature Trail with its wide and flat terrain that is just over half a mile long. The Skyline to the Sea Trail is half that length, but more difficult due to an elevation increase of almost 30 feet. You’re treated to a great view at the top, though!
Buena Vista Park
- Skill level: moderate to difficult
While the Bay Area is known for massive public spaces like Golden Gate, it’s also filled with smaller parks that are very well-maintained. In San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district you’ll find Buena Vista—the city’s oldest park. This forested space has trails for walking and hiking, and a peak that’s over 550 feet high. The path there has stunning views of heritage buildings along your walk—and numerous places for you and your loved one to stop and rest while checking out the vistas buenas of the city below.
Lyon Street Steps
- Skill level: difficult
An alternative to Baker Beach, Lyon Street’s 244 steps are an ideal place for a cardio workout. The stairs are wide to allow others to pass easily (a great accommodation for varying fitness levels), and their location attracts people of all ages. On the way up you’re surrounded by lush plants and trees, along with views of beautiful San Francisco homes and buildings; at the top your loved one will be treated to a beautiful view. Try going mid-day since the stairs can get a tad crowded during “rush hours” before and after work on weekdays.
- Skill level: easy, wheelchair friendly
Situated between Fell and Baker Street, the Panhandle is located just off of Golden Gate Park. The Panhandle’s smaller acreage offers a comfortable, accessible space to exercise in. The park has a 1.5 mile long loop for walking, jogging, and cycling—making it suitable for any level of activity your aging loved one enjoys. Best of all, the entire park is quite flat, making it easy to navigate if your loved one is in a wheelchair. The Panhandle tends to attract a pretty young crowd, especially on weekends: young adults in their 20s and 30s head here to hang out on the grass and play basketball on the courts. This gives the space a youthful energy that you and your loved one might find enjoyably refreshing.
And this list is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to beautiful spots in the Bay Area. With so many amazing places to walk, hike, and swim outside, there’s no shortage of destinations for you and your aging loved one to explore in this fabulous place. To keep you both safe outdoors, remember to use sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to reduce sun exposure, and have a water bottle on hand to help prevent dehydration. Being physically active in nature is such an enjoyable way to improve your health—and it’s also a great way to spend quality time together. So break out the comfy sneakers and start planning your next outing!
If you’re unsure how to best support your aging loved one with their physical and emotional health, Institute on Aging offers a range of resources and programs to help. Contact us today to learn more.