Get a grip on some good hand holds in...
Mission Cliffs is a little scrappy—it's dusty, and some of the machines (it's also a traditional gym) are a bit retro. In other words, the place has some character to it. You'll find skinny-jean-clad hipsters pondering "problems" (that's climbing-speak for bouldering routes) and shirtless diehards hanging from five-story holds. There's a main wall, an impressive network of arches, and a bouldering area upstairs that was renovated last year and tricked out with a lounge. Its proximity to Mission taquerias is an added plus because few things rival the satisfaction of chowing down on a burrito after a hard day's climb. // 2295 Harrison St. (Mission), touchstoneclimbing.com
Pro Tip: First-timers should take the Intro to Climbing class before making their first official climb.
Planet Granite's summiting views are worth the arduous, finger-straining climb up; the gym is housed in a Presidio warehouse that overlooks Crissy Field and the Bay. The space is a bit more spruced-up and family-oriented than Mission Cliffs, but still you'll find climbing-gym rats tackling any one of their 115 problems. Planet Granite also hosts a Singles and Swingers Night on the second Thursday of every month. Finally, an opportunity to chat up the chiseled climber you've been admiring from a few ropes over. // 924 Old Mason St. (Presidio), planetgranite.com
Pro Tip: Want to Zen out after an ascendant afternoon? Take one of Planet Granite's yoga classes to ground yourself again.
Dogpatch Boulders is more than an assimilation of climbing grips and textured rocks—it's a place where you can be fully present inside your body, undulating and contorting your legs and arms in Ganesh-like fashion. The 11 climbing walls are latticed by more than 300 routes, testing your physical and mental prowess along each string of mounting posts. This is not the time nor place to be tentative or cumbersome, but rather steadfast and precise with your motions. Add in the usual melting pot of both senior and novice climbers, and what you're left with is a supportive community of climbers who literally have your back. // 2573 3rd St. (Dogpatch), touchstoneclimbing.com
Pro Tip: You can show off your new bouldering moves at the Touchstone Climbing competitions that are held at Dogpatch Boulders throughout the month.
Berkeley Ironworks, above the other three climbing facilities mentioned, is great for first-time climbers. Between the gym's plethora of introductory classes and workouts, this gym is a must-visit for anyone itching to scale a 40-foot wall but doesn't yet have Spidey skills. Once you get a feel for your newfound pastime, try to tackle the "Wave"—Berkeley Ironworks' ab-straining, finger-tensing climbing section. // 800 Potter St. (Aquatic Park), touchstoneclimbing.com
Pro tip: Get your core hella toned and defined with Ironwork's Deep Core workouts.
...Under the Sun
Gyms are all fine and good, but sooner or later you're going to want to test your skills on real rock faces. Check out climbing site supertopo.com to look up detailed climb information on more than 700 boulder problems within a 90-minute drive of San Francisco. The boulders at Goat Rock on the Sonoma Coast feature the lulling sounds of the Pacific in the near background, much like Stud Ladder at the Dillon Beach bouldering area in Tomales Bay. Closer to home, Indian Rock in North Berkeley has beautiful views and is a perfect spot for beginners.
In the North Bay, take on Turtle Rock and Split Rock on Tiburon's Ring Mountain, which features 25 problems, ranging in difficulty from V0–V7 (translation: "pretty easy" to "maybe you're part spider"). If you're looking for more of a road trip, Bishop is pretty much bouldering paradise, with more than 2,000 problems spread across Mammoth Lakes National Park, including the Happy and Sad Boulders and the giant eggs of the more exposed Buttermilks.