"There are three versions of San Francisco," the cool chick behind the desk at a hip yoga studio in the Mission District recently shared with me: “the first group is the suits cloistered around Union Square,” she laughed as I described my experience in the city accompanying my conference-going boyfriend so far. “The second are the tourists trapped in Fisherman's Wharf or Chinatown, and finally, you have us locals.”
Which is clearly the group I wanted to hang with – a cool collection of local yogis who know the city of San Francisco better than any Fodors or Lonely Planet guidebook. Immersing into local culture is always my aim while traveling, and more often than not, my yoga mat leads the way. Once I find a local yoga studio to practice at, I can pretty much count on gaining insider tips on what to see and do – from a local’s perspective.
If you've got upcoming travel plans (or even if you don't, maybe by the end of this story you'll find a reason to get up and go!), follow these tips to bypass the suits and tourists and flow with the cool, in-the-know locals:
- Before stuffing your mat in the travel bag, and your ass-ana into Coach class, spread the word to your pals near and far where you're headed. See who has a recommendation on yoga studios. And if your friends don’t know, see who they know – seven degrees of separation! We all know somebody who knows somebody who does yoga somewhere. A quick FB post to my pals always elicits a few cool places to check out.
- Research the studios you've come up with online via their website, review sites (just be careful, as some of the most awesome studios I've visited have received unfair reviews), and determine what classes and teachers you want to take. A studio’s mission statement, class descriptions, and teacher bios are a great way to determine what you can expect once you arrive.
- Narrow down your selection and create a yoga itinerary before you leave. Don't wait until after you arrive! You’ll likely be too busy booking up other activities. What’s more, if you arrived armed with a few classes locked in ahead of time, there’s less chance of relenting into a boring afternoon amidst fanny-pack and tennis-shoed tourists at the ‘gotta see’ monument you could really care less about. Choose days/times you plan to attend class, and how you'll get there. Which brings me to my next point:
When You Arrive:
- Skip the taxi ride and try the subway, bus, or, if it's not too far to walk, your own two feet. I love sitting on a local bus, yoga mat slung over my shoulder, fooling everyone around me into thinking I know my way around! With a little pre-planning online you can quickly determine what routes go where and how much to pay – which is no doubt a lot less than a taxi. Save the cab fare for yoga classes.
- Pick a studio, and try to stick with it. Sure it might be fun to hopscotch all over town at different studio each day, but choosing one and sticking to it throughout your visit has rewards. By the end of my three visits to Laughing Lotus in SF, I had two new FB friends, a list of yummy, hip, and affordable restaurants to consider, and a cool T-shirt I enjoy sporting around back home proving I got down with the locals on my last trip. On another trip I ended up sharing a pizza with a new yogi friend after class.
- Talk to people. Ask the front desk staff, the teacher, the yogi next to you, what they recommend and love about their town. Allow these wonderful yogis to channel their inner concierge and help you out. A New Yorker tipped me off to a temporary pop-up shop in Chelsea Market after class last summer and I now own a custom dress made from a local Brooklyn fashion designer that warrants huge compliments and “where did you get that?” every time I wear it.
- Finally, be sure to send a thank you email or note to the owner of the studio(s) you visited. We’re yogis – and sending a sweet note of gratitude does the world and everyone in it wonders. Namaste!