Outdoor Volunteering in San Francisco for Older Adults

Think about San Francisco, and what do you imagine? If you live here, you probably think of the street you live on, your favorite neighborhoods, the traffic, or the buildings. That’s normal; we live in the human environment. But we also live in the natural environment, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

volunteering in san francisco for older adultsThink about San Francisco, and what do you imagine? If you live here, you probably think of the street you live on, your favorite neighborhoods, the traffic, or the buildings. That’s normal; we live in the human environment. But we also live in the natural environment, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
But like everywhere else, San Francisco exists as an overlapped natural world. And when you start to think of it that way, the city is dwarfed. There are vast green spaces where the noise and the bustle fade away. There are parks where wild animals flit about unconcerned with man. And there is the crashing majesty of the ocean, this powerful force teeming with life which will be here long after our time has passed.

And, by volunteering, you can be a part of it all.
San Francisco and the Bay Area are full of opportunities for older adults to volunteer, at all levels of activity. Why would you want to volunteer outdoors? A few reasons:

  • Contributing to a better environment
  • Learning more about nature
  • Learning more about your city
  • Educating people about all of the above
  • Helping yourself and others become better stewards of the planet
  • Fun!

Outdoor volunteering in San Francisco is a great way to explore the intersection of nature and humans and to be a part of it. For older adults, there aren’t many better ways to get out, get active, and get stuff done.

Why Outdoor Volunteering Is Important

Here at IOA, we are very big believers in the importance of volunteerism for older adults. Some of the benefits include:

  • An increase in routine, which is important for mental health
  • Socialization with peers and with others
  • A sense of purpose, especially after retirement
  • Physical and mental activity

All of these are true for outdoor volunteering and in many cases, even more so. We love the outdoors, which is why we encourage San Francisco summer festivals and other summer activities for older adults. There’s something about fresh air, the ocean breeze, and the sunshine (in moderation and with caution) that makes people feel more alive.
Volunteering is being a part of something. So here are some areas to which you could donate your time.

Outdoor Volunteering Opportunities for San Francisco Older Adults

Not every one of these places might be your cup of tea, but hopefully, there are one or two that inspire or excite you. They could all use volunteers.


The Presidio National Park is one of the area’s crown jewels: a sprawling mix of nature and history, overlooking the Bay. From the vast grounds to Fort Winfield Scott, it draws people interested in both history and natural beauty. As such, there are a lot of volunteer opportunities, including:

  • Docent
  • Ambassador
  • Greeter
  • Special Event Volunteer

You’ll be sure to find a position that works for you.

Presidio Archeological Volunteer

We know this is technically still the Presidio, but wanted to especially point out that you can volunteer to help the archeologists who learn more every day about the history of the region. Help find, wash, sort, label, and otherwise assist archeologists who are finding new things out about the American, Spanish, and Native history of the region. We think you’ll really dig it!


The name sort of gives it away here, but mere words can’t describe what it is like to aid the National Park Conservancy in identifying and tallying 19 species of birds of prey. You can find these majestic and powerful birds and help contribute to their long-term survival.
Full training is provided starting in July each year, with the peak season in the warm months of September and October. Some of the areas might be challenging for less mobile older adults, but others will find it deeply rewarding.

Marine Mammal Center

It’s hard to get more deeply involved in protecting the ocean’s wildlife than this. The Marine Mammal Center is dedicated to protecting the beautiful species that have spent their time finding their food, raising families, and sometimes sunning in the sun, long before the age of man, and countless millennia were being threatened by modernization.
At the Mammal Center, you’ll “rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals, educate the public about ocean conservation and so much more.” We know you’ll find it worthwhile and fulfilling. It certainly has our seal of approval.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes is another one of the natural wonders of the region that can take your breath away every time you see it. As a volunteer, you’ll experience land and the sea differently, interacting with them in ways that the general public never does. It’ll deepen your understanding of the mystery and beauty of where the land meets the water.
And there are almost innumerable opportunities here, from “restor(ing) critical habitat by collecting and planting native grass seed, protecting riparian habitat, and locating, identifying and removing exotic, invasive plants” to “educat(ing) park visitors about tule elk, snowy plovers, elephant seals, and gray whales” to repairing trails and answering questions and monitoring wildlife. You won’t just be volunteering: you’ll be part of the park.

Golden Gate

What better way to be part of San Francisco than by volunteering at the great monument of the city, a triumph of engineering and ingenuity buffeted by an enormous park, free and open to the public and filmmakers alike?
As a volunteer, you’ll remove invasive species, repair historical monuments like WWII barracks, monitor and protect wildlife, aid scientists, and assist the public. It’s a great way to learn more about the monument, the park, and the history and wildlife that has formed them.

All National Parks

Of course, there are a lot of state and national parks in the region, both up and down the coast and inland. In volunteering with the Parks Conservancy, there are almost innumerable things you can do.
What’s nice about the Parks Conservancy is that they have special group projects for groups as small as 5 people. It is something you can do with your friends and family, building closer bonds and continuing to give back.

Giving Back While Giving Yourself a Gift

Really, this is what volunteering is all about. You get outside. You get around people. You get away from people, too, planting native species or cleaning a trail or counting hawks, watching them beat against the sky as they circle in the buffeting wind, lonely and powerful, with steel reserve.
Those are sublime moments that will burn as embers in your memory, a tribute to a life well lived. The friends you make, the lives you touch, the people you educate, the bonds you form, and the difference you make: all of these add up to something in life. They add up to you making a difference, in your life and the life of a city, trying to balance its majestic and sprawling weight against nature.
You can be part of that balance. Outdoor volunteering is a great way for older adults to give themselves a gift while giving the gift of themselves.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Contact us today to learn more.

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