The Tale of the Sutro Stewards

At least sixty people congregate in a parking lot hidden in the woods.  Young, old, hip, plain, flannels, jeans, back packs; groups circle around and mingle with each other.  Strangers are shaking hands, old friends laughing about good memories and new friends creating new ones.  A table is stacked with boxes of pizza, red keg cups of home brew grace the hands of many, tailgates are dropped, inviting anyone who wishes to take a seat.  It appears to be quite a party on this gorgeous, February, San Francisco afternoon.

Craig Dawson rises above the crowd, standing on the tailgate of his silver Toyota pickup. The back is full of tools, boxes of supplies, work gloves and trail maps. He calls the talkative group who are spread around the small woodland parking lot to attention. One by one people catch on and their heads turns to the man with the beard and graying hair. With the woods behind him, he is the portrait of a life-long outdoor enthusiast, and before him are his people.
“I really appreciate you all coming out this morning,” says Dawson. His eyes scanning over the crowd through his round framed glasses, admiring the turnout.

February fifth, was the first volunteer work day of 2011 for Sutro Stewards, a non-profit organization started by Dawson that commits itself to trail maintenance and expansion in the Sutro Hills above Univeristy of California- San Francisco Medical Center.

“I know it was early for a Saturday,” adds Dawson.  “But it’s a good way to sweat out a hangover and do some good.”

“Or get a hang over,” a volunteer chimes in as he raises his glass to Dawson.

Dawson started Sutro Stewards in 2006. As a native San Franciscan, he has carried on a love affair with the green oasis for most of his life, even using the woods as his commute route to and from high school as a kid.

Now he pioneers efforts to maintain those paths to ensure that the people of San Francisco have an expansive network of pristine trails that go on for miles. The ultimate goal of Sutro Stewards is  to connect the Sutro Hills with Twin Peaks while maintaining minimal road crossings and exposure to the urbanization that dominates San Francisco’s landscape.

Four hours earlier at 9 a.m. the scene in the parking lot is a bit more subdued. As the volunteers gather in the earlier hours, organizers were quick to take charge of the large turnout and ensure that their time is not squandered with excessive chit-chat. The group is divided up, tools are given out, while a short safety seminar telling people how to swing their hoes is given. Soon enough, the groups of people march into the awaiting woods, wielding hoes, pick-axes, garden sheers, shovels and rakes.

Sutro Heights belongs mostly to University of California San Francisco.  In 1998, UCSF began to work with neighbors to manage and maintain the open space preserve, developing an award-winning plan to secure the future of the 61-acre nature preserve. The aim is to improve the health of the forest, public safety and property protection, protect and expand native plants, enhance wildlife habitat values, maintain scenic quality and to improve public access.

In 2006, Dawson and other local volunteers met with officials from UCSF and proposed a stewardship program that would work to further address and act upon the points outlined in the original plan. Through cooperation and approval from UCSF, Sutro Stewards was born and began to do their work in the forest maze.  In the first year, volunteers clocked more than 5,000 man hours of work— it was a success.

On this morning, Steward organizers scramble to keep everyone busy. Rushing up hillsides, one group sets into decimating a crop of blackberry bushes that for years had gone unkempt. With their prickly, long arms reaching in all directions, the unwelcoming plant completely concealed a dramatic outcrop of Chert. Chert is a native, red-rock of San Francisco that can be found through out the area.

Revealing the aesthetic of the rocky outcrop is just one of the many missions for today’s trail maintenance. Volunteers say they want to expose the rocks so people can climb or sit on them so that they may enjoy the view of the ocean. The removal of a hundred square feet of blackberry bushes leaves volunteers with scratched forearms and a thorn or two stuck here and there, but the effect is a full hillside of large rocks that were previously inaccessible.

Bringing people from different walks of life together is  as much a goal as preserving and expanding the trails of Sutro Heights. The satisfaction and reward of working in nature and getting one’s hands dirty is something Dawson and everyone involved want to share with everyone who is interested.

Ari Van Leer, 18 and Kiana Bellinger, 19, are both freshmen at SF State. On Saturday morning many of their friends were sleeping late but they opted to try something new and volunteer their time working outside.

“I had been looking for a good volunteer opportunity,” says Van Leer.  “I heard about this through Kiana and it sounded really cool.  I like the idea of working to maintain trails for people to use and the aspect of everyone working together like this.”

Bright-eyed in her SFSU Gators sweatshirt, Van Leer explained that she is also interested in the prospect of working her way up as a volunteer and one day being more of an organizer.  She felt it would be an opportunity that could work well with her hospitality major—managing a team and seeing to it that productivity is maximized with a large group of people.

Unlike some organizations that work with the city to restore plots of land, Sutro Heights is owned by UCSF, so the stewards do all their work in co-ordinance with the school’s regulations and rules.  Dawson works hard to keep the Steward’s work in line with the original plan of preservation for the forest.
It is true that the Stewards are doing the heavy pulling, but in reality they are the muscle of a much larger machine that takes several pieces to operate smoothly.  Projects are typically coordinated with three groups on the UCSF campus.  There is the facilities management, who arranges for the work to be done.  The campus planning committee which develops plans and performs the necessary environmental analysis. And the community & government affairs committee, which arranges comments from the public and input toward project plans.

Last year a trail marker project was proposed.  In 2001, when the restoration plan was set into motion, there was a restriction put on using signs of any kind on the mountain.  The Sutro Stewards, in collaboration with the Boy Scouts of America, wanted to change that and install trail markers.  In order to do so, community and governmental relations requested community feedback on the idea.  At a public meeting, positive feedback was heard in favor of the idea and The Stewards were able to go ahead with the markers.

Maric Munn is the Director of Facilities Management for Capital Projects and Facilities Management. She acknowledges that not all projects proposed by The Sutro Stewards meet with community approval.  There are different views on how the mountain should look and what should be allowed.  The result is some often times lively and spirited public forums, according to Munn.

“The bottom line is that from my perspective, the Mt Sutro Stewards are a valuable resource in helping facilities management maintain public access areas of the mountain and I can’t express how appreciative I am of their hard work,” said Munn.

The Sutro Stewards don’t work alone.  Other organizations rally volunteers to join the Stewards on their monthly volunteer day and it is together that they work to maintain the trails that they use and cherish.

On this work day the Stewards are joined by SF Urban Riders, SF Rotary Club, Nature in the City and One Brick.  Each organization has a following of loyalists that rarely hesitate to contribute time and energy to a cause like trail maintenance and habitat restoration.

One Brick is a non-profit group headquartered in San Francisco that operates in nearly ten cities across the nation.  A network of volunteers, One Brick works to help reach the goals of other organizations by providing volunteer support.  A volunteer run organization, they provide thousands of hours of community involvement each year, helping take on a variety of causes.

Richard Hom is a One Brick volunteer team leader.  He does recruiting and training and has worked with the Sutro Stewards several times of over the past three years.

Hom joins others in ripping out a hillside of blackberry bushes.  A round face with dark hair, he is all smiles as he holds up a 10 foot length of heavy blackberry vine.  The sturdy thorns do not penetrate his volunteer-issued gloves as he wings the vine in the air, asking if anyone wants to be bullwhipped; walking the tight line between hilarious and threatening.

Once the fear leaves the eyes of anyone within range, he steps down the trail a few yards and returns with a fistful of “miner’s lettuce,” an edible plant that is abundant through out the hills.  The fresh, green bit of sustenance quickly becomes popular and work halts momentarily while troops replenish their stomachs.
“I like to get people up here to Mount Sutro,” says Hom.  “In San Francisco alone, One Brick brings volunteers to at least three to five events each weekend, and this is one of my favorites.  It’s great to see people’s reaction to this place.  Most of them never knew it was here.”

Hom works as a patent litigation lawyer in San Francisco.  He started with One Brick in 2002, took a long hiatus to go to law school and returned in 2006.  After a while it was clear to organizers that he was manager material and by 2009 he became an event organizer.

One Brick has been bringing their team of volunteers to Mount Sutro since 2006.  Their goal as an organization is to bring people from all walks of life, who have the desire to volunteer, and set them up with other organizations currently working on projects.  The idea is for their volunteers to have fun, meet new people and give back to communities.

Colin Pierce, 27, is a biology major at SF State.  With sweat on his brow and his shirt soaked through, he joins four other young men in lifting a gigantic rock that must weigh around 250 pounds.  They have rolled the boulder onto a sturdy webbed net, and are all carrying the rock up a short hill to where a trench has been dug out.  The rock is only one of about 20, all around the same size.  All the rocks are now piled up next to the trench which traces a turn in a set of switch backs on the east side of the mountain.  The rocks are then painstakingly moved into place in the trench, and then more rocks are piled, with much attention to detail, on top of the first layer.  The result is a staggered pattern that will ensure the stability of the down hill turn.  A volunteer coordinator leads the team; this is a particular project that he has been itching to take care of for over a year and so far he is happy with the results.

This is how the Sutro Stewards do things, one thing at a time.  On the other side of the mountain, more groups are busy pulling evasive weeds and cutting back vegetation that is overgrown onto the trails.  A lot of work goes into keeping the trails in good shape.

As a dad and his little girl come up the trail everyone gets out of the way to let them by.  The man thanks the volunteers for all their work and tells them it looks great.  The immediate payoff and feedback is what  makes their job worth while.


The little dive bar is dark and crowded, a man at the front dressed in a suit offers you
free popcorn, and as you walk deeper into the place you notice the sign, “Vegan Drinks.” It is vegan drink night at Martuni’s bar in the SOMA. The back room is full of vegans, or friends of vegans, crowded around little tables holding pink cocktails. The room is filled with laughter and conversation, eyes darting from tables to look at the new faces. And after a few of those delicious pink martinis you find yourself immersed in conversation with your new vegan friends. This is San Francisco, one of the best places in the world to be a vegan.
“San Francisco is a pretty vegan-friendly city. Most restaurants that don’t make explicitly vegan dishes will answer questions about whether they use milk or meat stock, and if you call ahead and explain your, situation sometimes you can get special foods, which is lovely,” says Meave Gallagher, managing editor of “Plus basically everyone knows what vegan means, so you don’t have to explain your specific needs every time you go anywhere.”
Being a vegan SF State student is easier than you might think. Every campus vendor hassome vegetarian options, and most will accommodate vegans affordably. To be considered vegan, food must not be an animal, or an animal by-product, such as: meat, dairy, eggs or fish.
In the student center, the shop Natural Sensations has vegan cookies, smoothies and pita wraps. Their ginger chocolate cookie has a chewy texture with a citrus and chocolate flavor. Right next to Natural Sensations is Cafe 101, which has vegan donuts in maple, blueberry, apple and cherry. It’s so fluffy and creamy one would never know they are vegan, except for the lack of sticky lard residue that non-vegan donuts leave behind. The Gold Coast Grill has breakfast tofu scrambles and their veggie burger is filling. Unlike most vegan paddies that can be dry and grainy, this one is full of veggies and brown rice, leaving it moist and sweet. Outside, Jessie’s Hot House has vegan southern comfort food, like hot and spicy BBQ tofu and collard greens, garlic fries for and grits. Cafe Rosso has vegan Indian curry, hearty lentil soup, bagels with vegan toppings, and sweet penne marinara.
Stepping off the SF State campus will lead any vegan into the wonderland of the city’s delectable vegan cuisine and activities. There are countless places to eat off campus around the city.
For fine vegan dining try Millennium Restaurant on 580 Geary Street. Located within the Hotel California, it is carnival themed, and under what appears to be a large gold and maroon tent. Once inside the loud and dirty streets of the Tenderloin are quickly forgotten under strange illuminated chandeliers covered in gold fabric. Millennium is considered the best fine dining vegan place in SF, but expect to shell out a hundred dollars for a decent meal for two. To dine on a budget order appetizers and drinks, their claim to fame. The crusted oyster mushrooms appetizer has the texture and spiciness of calamari but better because it is vegan. Their cocktails are delicious and artfully prepared. You will love the look of it as much as the taste. Attend one of their Aphrodisiac dinners on the Sunday closest to the full moon of each month. For forty five dollars per person one gets an appetizer to share, a salad, sorbet (to clean the palate), an entree, dessert and a love potion tea. And for under two hundred dollars you can have the meal and a room at the hotel.
Best overall and reasonably priced vegan spot is Herbivore in the Mission. They serve breakfast before 2 p.m. and the basil pesto tofu scramble is the best scramble in the city. It comes with potatoes and pieces of whole wheat bread and jam. Try their cevich with oyster mushrooms, cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Served chilled, the texture and spiciness is just like real ceviche. Their homemade veggie burger is one of the best vegan burgers in the city. The burger is moist and has great texture made from veggies, grains and soy protein and served with salad and thick fries. Order a side of garlic aioli and one will be in vegan heaven. And to wash it all down order a carrot, apple, ginger and spirulina green shake is so sweet and delicious, one will hardly remember the healthy benefits.
A great brunch or lunch spot is at The Crepe House. Order the grilled tofu sandwich, creamy with grilled tofu, roasted peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and spicy mustard. It comes with a side of greens topped with a spicy creamy tahini dressing and a side of spiced roasted potatoes. And do not forget to order a cup of their delicious soy mocha for $2.75, a French Illy brand.
Another savory vegan burger in SF belongs to The Hotel Utah. Their homemade vegan burger for $9, or add avocado for $1, is grilled in garlic served with thick, crispy, mouth-watering fries. Eat and enjoy open-mic nights.
Missing the texture and rich quality of real meat? Try the Loving Hut. Part of a local chain, this all-vegan location just opened shop and is a great place to get healthy vegan fast food. They offer a variety from curries, sweet-and-sour soup, spicy Thai salads and desserts. Try the Vietnamese fresh spring roll served cold wrapped with mint and served with peanut sauce, so cool and refreshing. Their hot’n sour soup is spicy, warm and filling with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, celery, carrot and tofu, great substitute for chicken soup on a cold day. For those who miss the texture of meat, try the orange sesame bites. The orange flavored textured soy protein with sesame seeds is spicy and crunchy. “The mix of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines is sophisticated without being fancy, and if you are into fake meat they have lots of good options,” says Meave.
When craving a late night sausage Rosamunde is the place. Their smoked apple and sage vegan sausage comes with options of sweet onion, sauerkraut and wasabi mustard. Wash it down with a cold beer, they are known for their beer selection. Visit the other location at. The location on Haight is a literal hole in the wall where an eccentric German woman makes the sausage. You can take food into Tornado, the popular hipster bar next door.
For pizza, look no further than The Pizza Place. Oorder the Timmy’s Pie, a vegan pizza with pesto, roasted potatoes, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, mini tomatoes and caramelized onions. Served hot, the crust is soft yet crunchy, creamy pesto, slightly salty potatoes and sweet mini tomatoes is a mouth full of Italian perfection. On the side, order the mixed greens salad with creamy balsamic dressing served with organic greens, onions, carrots, mini tomatoes and radish, it is a refreshing and flavorful starter.
Have a sweet tooth? Maggie Mudd in Bernal Heights is the place for vegan ice cream and cakes. This little ice cream shop is always buzzing with customers, and they have a frequent buyer card which gets you a free cone. They serve cones, shakes, sundaes and cakes all lactose free, dairy-free, cholesterol free and made from creamy soy milk or coconut milk. They offer more than twenty seven flavors, from exotic to vanilla. Try their banana split in a warm freshly baked waffle, two or three ice cream flavors, banana, whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles, and any choice of sauce. Get an ice cream cone in popular flavors like creamy lychee coconut, tangy lemon poppyseed, dark chocolate tar mack, spicy pumpkin or orange cremesicle. Order a vegan cake for a special occasion.
Rainbow Grocery is a large and diverse store for vegan shopping. Rainbow is a vegan cook’s dream, they have an impressive selection of warm pastries, bulk foods, olive oils, beautifully diverse veggie selection and more vegan desserts, proteins, and substitutions than any other grocery store in the city. It is a co-op which means it is owned by the people who work there, not a corporation. They promote sustainability and biodiversity by mostly selling seasonal local produce. One of the best aspects of Rainbow is they do not sell meat (aside from pet food). According to, “We don’t want to profit from the sale of animals at this point.”
San Francisco is home to VegNews, a completely vegan publication. VegNews started in 2000, focuses on a vegan lifestyle, read by more than 210,000 people and has up-to-date information on living a compassionate and healthy lifestyle. Also, being environmentally friendly, they print on 75% post-consumer, recycled paper from New Leaf Paper. They offer vegan news, food reviews and recipes, articles on environmentalism and sustainability, travel, and pop culture.

The blog site Vegansaurus is the best city guide to a vegan lifestyle. They target college age readers and their articles are hilarious, clever and brutally honest. On their site find recipes, restaurant reviews, events, links to every vegan blog and business in the city, and personal rants worth a read. The writers are hardcore vegans not afraid to express it. “When people are not bleeding-heart animal-rights-activist types, like all our vegan writers on Vegansaurus, I approach the subject from a ‘what you’re eating could kill you, and not just because of the cholesterol’ aspect. The animals, and animal products people eat now are not what their grandparents and great-grandparents ate, and we don’t even know the long term effects of consuming all those antibiotics and hormones. Ugh,” says Gallagher.

Everyday there are new and exciting ways to improve ones vegan lifestyle. Vegan apps are popping up for smart phones and include some really cool features.

Going out to a bar or buying some alcohol and want to know if it is vegan? Check out or download the mobile app, Vegan.FM, to make sure your alcohol is vegan friendly, one would be surprised by the strange stuff that gets thrown into alcohol production. According to, “Brewmasters, winemakers, and distillers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the processing and filtration.” Everything from fish bladder to an entire chicken can be ingredients in some alcoholic beverages.

Download VegOut to help you find local vegan restaurants. The app includes a GPS feature that helps find the locations and look up menus.

When going to popular restaurants vegans can use the veganXpress app to find vegan options on a mostly meat menu. The app includes over a hundred popular restaurants. It also has a list of vegan snack food, vegan beers, and vegan wine.

Shopping for vegan clothes and personal products is easy with’s app. You can search for over five thousand foods, drugs, personal care items, leather alternatives and cleaning supplies. It specifies if a product is GMO (genetically modified organism), chances of cross contamination and if a product is certified organic. This app is worth every penny since it makes it easy for those who wish not to do all the detective work on questionable vegan products.

Environmental Working Group has a free app called Dirty Produce. Most vegans worry about pesticides on their food and this app takes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. With over fifty veggies listed it tells you about the twelve most sprayed foods and least sprayed.

Veggie Web has an app that acts like a pocket cookbook. It has a collection of more than thriteen thousand user submitted recipes. It makes breakfast, lunch, and dinner easy while including grocery lists.

Locavore’s app makes shopping for seasonal produce easy. It has over two hundred fruits and vegetables with links to Wikipedia pages and recipes. It has data from all over the United States and is updates from Twitter, keeping up to date on local food news.

Since it can be difficult to meet other vegans, come to Vegan Drinks. The last Thursday of the month Vegansaurus and VegNews hosts an event called Vegan Drinks at Martuni’s from 6 to 8 p.m.. Organized so vegans can meet up and socialize. “The vegan community is decent-sized. Definitely come to Vegan Drinks on the last Thursday of every month at Martuni’s, if you’re of age. It’s co-sponsored by Vegansaurus, I would recommend, if you’re feeling like you need new vegan friends,” says Gallagher.

Start cooking vegan at home by experimenting with seasonal veggies, oils, sauces and soy proteins. The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Guodreau, is a great cookbook for beginner and experienced cooks. Called the “Vegan Martha Stewart,” by VegNews, Patrick-Guodreau makes vegan cooking fun and delicious. Almost every simple recipe has a photo and takes less than an hour to make. The recipes range from breakfast to dessert and cocktails and include varieties of cultural cuisines. There sections on dinner parties and seasonal meals as well as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Passover. Try the recipe for savory polenta hearts, warm roasted asparagus and thyme soup, panini with lemon-basil pesto or pumpkin curry.

Being vegan is beneficial to ones health, mind and spirit. “If you ever need a reminder as to why you’re vegan, read the USDA/FDA recalls page Every week there are products recalled due to contamination with bacteria that only comes from animals. That’s kind of insane, but sometimes you need a slap in the face,” Meave says.

Learn more about the politics behind vegan lifestyles by watching Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, about leather, fur and meat production. Read Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, which investigates the fast food industry and how consumers are affected.

There is no obligation to be a vegan when sampling the cuisine or enjoying the culture, and it will not hurt to expand your horizons and try something new and different. You may even find you really like it. New vegan restaurants are popping up all over the city and the variety of vegan cultures are endless. San Francisco is great city to explore and discover new experiences, especially for vegans. Next time you walk into a vegan restaurant and delve into that savory and flavorful bite of pizza, soup, burger or ice cream, remember how good it is for your body and how by eating vegan you are not contributing to animal cruelty, pollution, the spread of toxic chemicals and a corrupt food industry. It is a lifestyle choice that has a big impact.

When seeking solace in San Francisco, check out these spots

As I walk around the Mission, stressed out, homework, bills, work and so much more is on my mind. The sun is shining, but it is cool out. Perfect weather for some light hiking. I head up toward Noe Valley, but I know that the upscale shops and rich mothers will only add to my misery. I hang a left and start heading toward a little park that I hardly ever see anyone at.

On Castro and 30th Street lies Billy Goat Hill which has a great view of the city rope swing that throws you out over the edge of the hill and affords a sweeping view of the city. The swing is more like a rope with a loop in it where you can place a foot and stand up, or you can grip tight and hold on for the ride. Whenever I am in need of a clear mind and some good clean fun, I head up to Billy Goat Hill.

As I’m floating over the hill I am reminded that there are many peaceful and pleasant places in the city that offer similar delights. San Francisco is a place full of reserved natural areas that offer beautiful views of the land.

On the northwest side of town, bordering the ocean, the beautiful trails of Land’s End wind through cypress trees, around boulders, and the ocean breeze clears the air of any foul smells. This area, also known as Point Lobos, named so by Spanish explorers for the once thriving sea lion population.

Today the rocky beaches are full of oyster-hunting birds, washed-up debris, and if you look closely at low tide, you can see the shipwrecked remains of three boats that met their ends at the rocky outcroppings lining the coast at this point.

If you are daring enough to leave the main path here, there is much to be explored. Below the path and on the water’s edge, the waves crash in as you make your way over and around rocks. Some are chunks of cement with small rocks lodged in them, left over from the Sutro Baths.

“When I walk down to Mile Rock Beach it makes me think ‘Am I still in San Francisco?’ says Ben Vazakas. “There is a perfect view of the Marin Headlands.”

Vazakas moved to San Francisco just under a year ago. He has been exploring the city’s natural areas ever since. “We have so many here, why not take advantage of them?” he asks. “I go mainly to get away from the hustle and bustle. There is no one bothering you at these beautiful places.”

If you are lucky, you will even stumble upon the old bathroom, now slabs of cement with plumbing and a toilet seat sticking out. Graffiti covers what use to be the walls. While not a typical beach visit, this off-the-trail adventure is full of things to see, and lots to climb over. It is a way to explore the city’s history without roaming around its blocks. Each item washed ashore tells a story of its own, and there is no telling how hundreds of cement slabs ended up along the water’s edge.

For those who prefer to stay on the trails, or close to the parking lot near the Cliff House, 48th and Point Lobos Avenue, there is an expansive parking lot with a few trailheads. The trails are well-maintained and some are marked off with historical signposts telling of the land’s first occupants and how they used each area.

[pullquote foo=”bar” author=”Yvette Montemayor”] There’s something about hiking to the top of a hill to sit and feel secluded from the world. You can just get the hell away from it all.[/pullquote]

For many San Francisco residents Land’s End is a bus ride or two away. So, for those living southeast of the Outer Richmond neighborhood, Golden Gate Park might provide a more suitable getaway.

Golden Gate Park is about three miles long and half a mile wide. This man-made wonder is roughly 20 percent larger than New York’s Central Park. The park features a variety of activities. From walking along, admiring the shear beauty of the park, to an 18-hole frisbee golf course, to baseball fields, fly fishing practice ponds, wandering water buffalo, baseball diamonds, and open meadows with picnic tables, Golden Gate Park seems to have it all.

“Golden Gate Park is dope, because it has so many things,” says Tiffany Franklin, a long-time city resident. “There are the water buffalo near the lake, waterfalls, museums–it’s like the all-you-can-do park. I go to sit in the sun, enjoy nature, or whatever,” she adds.

On the east end, closer to Stanyon Avenue, the Conservatory of Flowers is a greenhouse that serves as home to roughly 1,700 plant species. Once you gallivant inside you can get lost among a variety of tropical and rare plants. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month, otherwise there is an entrance of $5 for students with IDs and $7 for adults.

Jaunt across JFK Avenue to the AIDS Memorial Grove and witness a tribute to all those who have felt the anguish and pain of AIDS in their lifetime. The Grove is decorated with beautiful stone memorials, sloping landscaping, and a variety of plants. If you are seeking a quite place for some reflection, the grove is a great option. Typically during much of the week, there are only a few people meandering through this part of the park.

Golden Gate Park is also home to a few man-made lakes, the DeYoung Museum, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, and many other gardens, polo fields and plenty of paths to provide you peace of mind and an inner-city escape from cement.

“I live across the street,” says Joe Johnson, a lover of Golden Gate Park. “I go jogging there. There are a bunch of joggers so there is a runner’s community. I like to run around the polo fields.”

“I don’t have to pay to go to a gym, because there is a great parcour trail,” adds Johnson. “I like to see all the green of the trees against the blue sky, when the sky is blue of course. The air is really fresh.” Parcour is a type of obstacle course using gravity to help promote fitness.

Even further south of Golden Gate, closer to the Outer Sunset, Ingleside, and West Portal neighborhoods, another great park houses a lake amongst dog play areas and a banquet hall. Pine Lake is one of two natural lakes within city limits.

Stern Grove is also home of the Stern Grove Music Festival that takes place every summer. There are multiple entrances to the Grove, 19th Avenue at Sloat Boulevard provides foot and bike access, but you can drive down and park in a small lot from Sloat. The recreation area takes up 33 acres and stretches from 19th Avenue all the way to 34th Avenue.

Once down inside, enjoy a peaceful stroll around the lake, watch the dogs running around, and sit and consume a good book at the stone, outdoor amphitheater. There are never many people there. Fog rolling in while sun shines down through the tops of the aromatic eucalyptus creates a mystical environment you can almost feel sweep through the area.

East of Stern Grove, and close to a BART stop, Glen Park Canyon cuts through three neighborhoods to reveal the lay of the land before the steep hills and rocky terrain were poured over with concrete. In fact, the first commercial manufacturing of dynamite occurred within the canyon thanks to Adolph Sutro. He was the 24th mayor of San Francisco. The dynamite plant exploded in 1869, killing two, injuring nine, and leveling the entire facility.

The canyon is roughly 70 acres of undeveloped land that is home to the largest remaining free-flowing creek in San Francisco. On the water’s edge willow thickets provides habitat to many of San Francisco’s dwindling wildlife.

Signs warn visitors entering the park that coyotes roam the grounds. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls also choose the Canyon as home.

Picnic tables, a baseball diamond, and a children’s daycare center offer landing spots for all-ages at one end of the park. A couple of trails lead away from there up through tall trees, along rocky cliff paths, and down into swampy land as you get closer to the creek. Climb up the rocks and to the edge of one of the many cliffs and enjoy the juxtaposition of the natural land and ritzy neighborhoods.

For those living in the Portola, Bernal Heights, Excelsior and Mission neighborhoods, Bernal Heights Park is a fantastic spot to enjoy sweeping views of the city. On clear days you can see clearly north to the Marina and east in to Oakland.

From the Mission, hike up any street toward the top of the hill on any of the many staricases and garden paths leading to the park.

“Bernal has blackberry bushes at the bottom,” says Will Thompson. “They are fun to eat while you look at the city.” He has been frequenting the hill since he moved to the Mission over three years ago.

About halfway up, above Alabama Street, a mini-park has been constructed with benches, a dog-waste bin, and freshly planted trees. Climb the steep stairs next to beautiful homes and enjoy the expanding landscape the whole way to the top.

“There’s something about hiking to the top of a hill to sit and feel secluded from the world. You can just get the hell away from it all,” says Yvette Montemayor. She grew up living close to the hill and has hung out there since she was a young girl.

“I like to go to the park alone and sit, read, contemplate. Sort out my thoughts,” says Montemayor. “Especially parks like Bernal– that’s a good thinking park. It is off the beaten path.”

Once at the peak, take a walk around the radio tower, enjoy the panorama from the hillside, climb around some rocks, or lay in the grass. The hill is the perfect place to take in the spectacle of the city and get some perspective. Enjoy the scene as dogs frolic, hawks soar overhead, and people make new friends.

“There are all these hawks that fly around and kill rats and other birds,” Thompson recalls, “One time we saw it grab a mouse and drop it. So, we walked over and looked at it. It landed next to a tiny vodka bottle so it looked like it got wasted and passed out. But, of course, it didn’t,” he laughs. “Parks are a good place to make out with chicks.”

McLaren Park is an expansive park full of rolling hills, tall trees, magical meadows, picnic spots, and much more. Walking around this park you can encounter all types of people. There are trails for mountain bikers, families taking short strolls, lovers enjoying picnics, and a little something for everyone.

McLaren is the second largest park within city limits. The park spans 317 acres. It is a hidden gem out past the Portola district, close to the Excelsior, and Visticon Valley. Two large play areas feature tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, children play areas, picnic tables, soccer fields, and seven miles of trails for hiking, jogging, and walking.

“I heard there are buried bodies there,” says Vazakas. “There are great views. Not too many people know about it. Most of the time there is no one there. I like to bike to the top and hang out at the picnic tables.”

A nine hole golf course slopes through the park, a water tower and reservoir shoots up beyond the trees. The blue tower is visible from BART and the freeways. The water tower and reservoir delivers water to the surrounding communities.

The secluded McLaren Park amphitheater is a modern reinterpretation of a Greek-style amphitheater. It is located in a natural slope in the land, allowing different leveled seating to better view the large stage. Just off of Shelley Drive, the amphitheater can hold an audience of 700. On a day the amphitheater is deserted, it is a great place to find some solitude among an ancient looking structure.

Yerba Buena Park is a perfect escape right in the middle of tall buildings, taxi cabs, and over-priced stores. Walk in to the park, take in the fountain, the small pond, and forget that you just stepped off of busy Mission Street. Relax in the park, lay in the grass, and glimpse the tall buildings that surround the open space. This small natural area is perfect for a quick lunch break or a few minutes watching the clouds pass by.

Another place to observe the clouds is between the Castro and Haight districts. Corona Heights is up some winding roads within a neighborhood full of large homes. Enter the small grassy area of the park and be greeted by dogs running around. Walk up the stairs to the right and after a steep, windy, ascent, be greeted by large boulders, handy for blocking the wind, and get an amazing panoramic view of the city. The peak of the area is 520 feet above sea level.

It is home to many of San Francisco’s native reptiles. Many beautiful butterflies can be spotted floating around the area. There are also many varieties of birds who make their nests within the park. The area is protected under San Francisco’s Natural Area Program because many areas of the park are made up of native plant communities.

“Discover a new place you might enjoy, a spot you can claim as your own,” says Vazakas. “Plus, you won’t have to see waves of people at Dolores Park.”

Besides getting some piece of mind and some fresh air, San Francisco’s parks have a lot to offer. They are the last habitats of native wildlife and plant species. For many, they are a sanctuary away from the demands of every day life in San Francisco.

Outta SF

She is sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, leaning towards her long mirror as she carefully applies a thick coat of eyeliner. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is playing in her cave-like room. She grabs her black jacket, purse, and heads off for a night out with friends. She pulls her scooter from the garage to the driveway and when she turns it on, she realizes the meter is not working. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Kaela PerLee says to herself. Annoyed, she makes her last attempt knowing in the back of her head that it is not going to work. In San Francisco, this would not come as a hastle as PerLee can easily catch public transportation almost anywhere within a short walking distance. Living in Daly City however, is another story. “Walking from my house to Daly City BART takes 20 minutes, and though the actual BART ride is not long, I have to make sure I head to a BART station before midnight to catch the last train out of San Francisco.” PerLee knows it is more of a drag going out at night, so she constantly reminds herself when to say goodbye and start making the long trip home.

[pullquote author=”Kaela PerLee”]I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but I depends on where you live.[/pullquote]

PerLee moved from Santa Rosa to attend SF State University almost two years ago, and it has been a new experience living away from home, as she sometimes feels shortchanged not being able to live in actual San Francisco. With rent so high, many SF State students struggle to find an affordable place to live in the city. Whether it is Daly City or the East Bay, having to commute longer distances can get in the way of enjoying the active, lively environment of San Francisco. Some college students transfer or apply to SF State to experience the diverse lifestyle the city offers, along with its campus. Others, for certain reasons, reside outside the city. So are students really missing out on the experience of living in the city? Or is cheaper rent worth the longer walks, commutes and extra efforts?

Matthew Bacera remembers those tedious mornings when he lived in Daly City. He recalls having to walk up 87th Street, then down the long stretch of Junipero Serra where he walked over the same bridge, passed the same gas station, then the abandoned buildings and animal hospital that never seemed to be open. As the Century Theater sign got bigger, Berca felt the long walk coming to an end as he reached BART, and left the dreadful fog of Daly City behind. “Because I lived on the border of Daly City and San Francisco, there was no MUNI nearby for me and so I had to walk to the BART station everyday to take the free shuttle,” says the 22-year-old SF State student. Now that he lives in Park Merced, it takes him a swift two minutes rather than two hours to get to class. “The convenience makes my life a lot easier in so many ways as I can plan my schedule and daily routine without worrying about how to get back to Daly City, seeing as how their public transportation seem to stop running around 8p.m.”

On the other hand, Art Education major, Heather Boyer, can handle the extra hours of commuting to SF State from Fremont all in effort of staying closer to family and friends. Like Bacera, Boyer’s mornings start about three hours before class. She takes an hour to get ready, grabs quick breakfast, then walks to Fremont BART, which takes around 15 to 20 minutes. It takes a little over an hour until Boyer makes it to Daly City BART where she catches the shuttle; her final commute to State. When Boyer plans to hang out in the city, she finds ways to save money and time by staying at a friends house and driving instead of relying on public transportation. Living outside of San Francisco doesn’t stop Boyer from enjoying the city living perks, but she does however, prefer Fremont’s weather and economic living. “I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but I depends on where you live,” says Boyer.

While people choose to make a home outside the City in hopes saving some money, the cost of public transportation can still add up. Taking BART one way from any city outside of San Francisco to Powell Street is no less than $2.95, compared to the $1.75 spent commuting within San Francisco. MUNI has bus lines crossing any area within the city and offers a transfer that is valid for two hours for $2. As for San Mateo’s public transportation, the SamTrans runs only every half hour between certain times, depending on the day, and charges $2 without a transfer.

Michelle Dayrit a Fremont resident and newly transfer student spends $50 commuting from Fremont to San Francisco then to Berkeley (where she works) twice a week. But like Boyer, despite the traveling woes, Dayrit still prefers the quiet living environment Fremont offers.

Attending a school like SF State usually means that a good percentage of those commuter students do not depend on their parents, and have economic statuses where they have to work in order to pay for their own education. “I don’t qualify for financial aid and both my parents passed away, leaving me with no help from family. Therefore, I have to work full time and take out loans in order to attend SF State,” says Dayrit, 26, a communications major. “But I’m okay with it. They never said it would be easy, but they did say it would be worth it.” Having an ill father, Boyer also felt it was important to stay home to be there for her father, and help out with household expenses. When her father passed away, Boyer’s priority was to stay close to her family. Born and raised in the East Bay, Boyer does not feel the need to move to San Francisco as most of her friends and family live in Fremont while she can still commute to the city for school or to hang out.

In Bacera’s case, moving to San Francisco gave him a better opportunity to find a job, which compensates him having to spend more money. One of the greatest temptations of living in San Francisco, Bacera describes, is its vast variety of delicious local restaurants and bars conveniently located everywhere in the city. Which makes it easier for students like him to spend more money on dining out rather than taking the time to actually cook something. And even if cooking is an option, grocery shopping in the city is not cheap.

Commuting from the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is Mechanical Engineering major, Jason Mehrens. Everyday, he spends about an hour in his car battling traffic, from Mill Valley in Marin County to SF State. For Mehrens, the disadvantage of living away from San Francisco is having to commute all the time. Whether it’s a school function or personal leisure in the city, driving is the easiest option. Mehrens lives with his parents to save money and has a tuition waiver through the Veterans Affairs office. Even with some financial assistance from the government, he still has to take out loans and work some hours in order to cover college costs, which leaves him with very little free time to spare. Having spent one year at Chico State then three years living in Santa Barbara working on his Associates Degree, Mehrens feels like he has already experienced college living. “I can’t make up my mind if I want to live in the city because I work in Marin,” says Mehrens. “If I worked in the city, then I would probably make the move, but I don’t like the feel of living in close proximity to thousands and thousands of people stacked on top of one another.” It is hard trade given the miles of parks and rich forests Marin houses, or the serene atmosphere the city has to offer, as hours can go by without having to hear the laud noises of traffic and busy city people. For Bacera, moving closer to campus has encouraged him to become an active in campus life. He is trying to join the History Students Association and now finds himself having more time to attend sporting events since he’s commute time was cut significantly. But for others, like Dayrit and Mehrens, getting away from the city’s rowdiness is worth the extra miles and longer BART rides.

New arrivals for the hip hop community

Pop open a bottle of champagne and fill up the slim, cylindrical crystal glasses. Now place them in the air and repeat the chorus for the song “Runaway” off of Kanye West’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:

“Let’s have a toast for the douche-bags, let’s have a toast for the assholes. Let’s have a toast for the scumbags, every one of them that I know. Let’s have a toast to the jerk-offs, that’ll never take work off.”

A cheers and a clink of glasses are in order for the month of November and the hip-hop community. Kid Cudi dropped his sophomore album Man on the Moon Vol II: The Legend of Mr. Rager on November 9 through G.O.O.D. Music Productions. He was not alone with new music, as Kanye West released his fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on November 22 on Roc-A-Fella Records. The two albums revealed altered directions in comparison to past albums for both of the rappers.

Kid Cudi’s sophomore album is a deep, personal piece of work that illustrates a man who struggles between the love of his crazy lifestyle and finding a way to control it. With help from other artists such as Mary J. Blige and Cee-Lo, he is able to mesmerize listeners with his machine gun, mumbling rhyming style and smooth, soulful vocals. He accomplishes this all over a variety of eclectic beats that mix the hip-hop and alternative worlds that make up his own sound.

Throughout the album, he continues to bounce back and forth with party anthems, electric guitars, dark beats, and a variety of instruments. Songs such as “Erase Me” and “Ashin’ Kusher” keep him aligned with the energetic, hip-hop edge that is essential for all rap artists. The distinction is that he adds subtle differences, like electric guitar and other elements that are relatively unheard of in hip-hop albums.

Some songs introduce fans to Cudi’s dark, sinister side. “Wylin’ Cuz I’m Young” starts with nothing until suddenly a bongo drum and a clap drops. “The Mood” consists of a keyboard and an echoing sound as if someone is flapping a piece of sheet metal into your ear.

Along with varying tones and beats, Cudi is able to bounce back and forth with his unique signature styles of high-speed yet low-key rap and echoing, hoarse vocals. “Mr. Rager” is the song that best defines his versatility.

The content of his second album also reminds listeners of his rumored drug-use. There drug-themed anthems that are synonymous with the Cleveland-based rapper, like the track “Marijuana.” With a guitar and a piano providing a chill sound, Cudi appears to be inviting other stoners to join him and blaze a fat one as he sings a chorus about “pretty green bud.”

Kanye West’s new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is all about trying to center himself. His album takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster ride where sounds change promptly and messages are shared from the rapper’s clever lyrical arsenal.

He opens his album with a steady beat that builds up the listener’s appetite. “Dark Fantasy” features a piano melody throughout the song, while a snare and a toe-tapping beat mix in as secondary sounds. Some of his lyrics give a sense of determination with a hint of arrogance and illustrate that he still has the same mentality that he came into the rap game with.

The direction shifts rapidly in the next song “Gorgeous,” which showcases a kazoo-sounding instrument as the lead sound with a guitar that assists as an ear-tingling, secondary pitch. While his cockiness continues to be on exhibit, a hint of humility dashes in as his lyrics discuss the great ability a person can have, but faces a bigger question of how they use that gift.

The sound of his album takes a new direction almost halfway through the track list. With strong beats backing emotional lyrics, “All Of The Lights” features a star-studded cast including Rihanna, Elton John and Fergie. The song focuses on West’s understanding of everything that he’s done wrong and his hopes for regaining the attention and love he once received from everyone.

“So Appalled” reverses the album into a cold and depressing direction. A string orchestra narrates as he concludes that it’s disgusting to think that he couldn’t help others with his music at the height of his popularity, wealth and fame.

Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s new albums are both classic narrations of the trials and tribulations as they climb to the top of the industry. Both records help the artists regain their position as two of the most influential musical voices of their genre and generation.

Partying with a Purpose

Philanthro Productions has raised $210,000 for various charities including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Invisible Children and Upward Bound House since its inception. The organization is currently active in three major cities in California: Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Yan Pu, 26, is a Minnesota native now working full-time for a venture capital firm who really, really enjoys going out, Pu is the co-president of the San Francisco chapter of Philanthro Productions, a non-profit group started in Los Angeles in 2007. The organization throws events after choosing another non-profit to partner with through a rigorous screening process. They market their events, which are aimed a younger crowd, similar to nightclub promoters.

“Philanthro helps to eliminate the trade-offs between spending time with your friends while contributing to a good cause,” says Pu.

Co-founder, Andrew Geisse, says he’d like to see that number tripled. “More qualitatively, I hope we are able to expand into more cities, but we are very cautious about this process,” says Geisse. “The purpose is to keep improving on our ability to deliver our mission. I’d like to see each city throw an event that the original founders never thought Philanthro would be able to do.”

Geisse’s wishes have come true in some sense. On November 13, Philanthro Productions participated in a multi-city event benefiting Pencils of Promise, an international non-profit that focuses on building and supporting schools in developing countries.

It is through these sort of large-scale events that Geisse truly feels Philanthro’s impact. “One of our first events in L.A. was for Susan G. Komen,” Geisse says. “They’re a huge organization and the money that Philanthro raises out of a single event is a drop in the bucket of their operating expenses. But, we got over 800 out to our event, educated them about breast cancer and used the event as a platform to build our own Race for the Cure team, which ended up being over 100 people.”

The San Francisco Bay Area is a city where many non-profits begin as it is a welcoming platform to try new ideas. Another fairly new-comer to the philanthropy scene is Reason to Party, based out of San Francisco.

Reason to Party often holds events at beautiful venues like the St. Regis Hotel. They recently held a benefit party for We Players, a theatrical group that performs on Alcatraz, at Medjool Restaurant.

Under his pristine Dolce & Gabbana sneakers and well-manicured outfit, hides an incredibly excited and exuberant young man named Arsen “Ari” Kalfayan, the co-founder of Reason to Party. Kalfayaen comes from a financial background as a former account executive for Fisher Investments. The UC Davis graduate is also part of the CrowdFlower team. Kalfayan’s typical day includes servicing Fortune 100 Companies and creating new opportunities within that space.

While working at CrowdFlower, Kalfayan wanted to create something for twenty to forty-something-year-olds to do that was productive, fun and beneficial. Perhaps this inspiration came from his mother who is known for helping others; Kalfayan has a history of being involved with his community and political scene since middle school.

“They are getting something they’d already want to do, and giving back,” Kalfayan says about people that attend Reason to Party events.

Walking up the first flight of stairs at Medjool, Kalfayan is stopped at least three times by guests of the We Players benefit party. Kalfayan is certainly the man of the hour, if not the night.

Events like these make anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a night. Although the events are successful, Reason to Party cannot expand until it receives its official non-profit status–the organization plans to go after corporate sponsorships.

“We’ve already had meetings at Wells Fargo, Google and Genetech,” Kalfayan rattles off a few big names. “The concept really sells itself. People want to give back; they just need that extra push.”

Social networking sites play a big role in marketing for both organizations. Reason to Party is fueled 100 percent by social media and grass roots efforts. “It’s totally viral,” says Kalfayan.

Philanthro Productions also utilizes Facebook, GoogleBuzz and Twitter several times a week. The San Francisco Chapter currently has 825 “likes” on Facebook. They keep people interested by posting videos of musical artists performing at the events as well as photos from all the events.

Pu has not heard of Reason to Party. While she acknowledges that there are many other non-profits in existence with a similar business model, she believes Philanthro’s ability to generate the most return on their events makes them a stand-out organization.

“For every dollar spent throwing an event, we are able to generate $14 in contribution to our partner non-profit,” says Pu. “We try to stay efficient in our spending so that approximately ninety percent of proceeds go straight to the non-profit. We also pride ourselves on educating the patrons at our events with creative production elements.”

The Pencils of Promise event will do just that, says Pu. One way is through decorations, the event will have napkins with facts about Pencils of Promise and the places it will affect. A live stream of all the parties will also be featured using “We want [the guests] to know why they are here and where their money is going.”

Laos is one of the places attendees’ money will go to for this particular event. Philanthro Productions teamed up with Pencils of Promise (PoP), based out of New York City, to create a nationwide party to benefit building a school and supporting the SHINE program. SHINE stands for Sanitation, Hygiene, Identity, Nutrition and Environment, and it will be implemented into the schools built in Laos, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Mimi Nguyen, 26, remembers her first trip to Laos during the rainy season to help build another school in 2009. “You know, most of the time you are campaigning and you’re not on the ground putting the hammer to the nail. But, the moment you do, you realize the fruits of your labor,” says Nguyen.

On August 15, Nguyen decided to make the move to be a full-time member of the PoP movement as Director of Development.

“It was very difficult not to think about Pencils of Promise every single hour,” says Nguyen.

Both Nguyen and Pu agree that working in the non-profit world gives more than a good feeling at the end of the day. A new skill set is something that both women agree is gained.

“Externally, you can inspire others to get involved,” says Pu. “But, internally we help develop volunteers. You can learn different skills that you couldn’t necessarily learn at your daytime job. You can take a leadership role in a pressure-free setting and make contacts with people in the fields you are interested in.”

Nguyen gushes about the ability to meet many people in different industries and the opportunity to learn from them. But she also

appreciates the intrinsic value she feels with her team members. “It’s almost like going back to school,” Nguyen says. “As if there is a project you’re insanely excited to work on in a team setting and you know that no one has any other desire than to meet this mission.”

The hard work put in by PoP and Philanthro is apparent on Saturday night as people line up around the corner at Azul Bar & Lounge in Union Square for the multi-city challenge; the doors have only been open for thirty minutes. Passers stop inquisitively asking what is going on and some even end up joining and buy their tickets at the door.

Two rows of Christmas lights are strung atop the alleyway where several informational tables are set-up. Every guest is given a pencil with a dollar amount attached to it and some have a chance to win a drink ticket. He or she must go to one of the tables and figure out how much that amount can do for a child. Ten dollars supports thirty-one days of education and $250 provides a teacher’s salary for one year.

Geisse stands amazed with fellow Philanthro members admiring the crowd composed of people in their mid-twenties and early thirties. The Pencil of Promise event is a culmination of all the knowledge gained since Philanthro’s birth, says Geisse.

“We didn’t know anything about how to throw an event at a club in the beginning,” says Geisse. “It feels great to see this. Everybody who put together this event did this on their nights and weekends or they are trying to sneak out for a call during the day.”

Inside Azul, people are buzzing with excitement around the bar and cozy dance floor. The music is pumping and the guests are excited about Ashkon Davaran, Internet celebrity–thanks to YouTube–and the Giants fans, who will be performing. Adam London, 27, the other co-president, introduces the surprise performer before stepping away.

In 2009, London became involved with Philanthro when a college fraternity brother introduced him to the non-profit to help run development sponsorships. “I was passionate about raising as much money as possible,” says London. The Pencils of Promise event raised over $7,500, which very close to London’s hope of hitting the $10K mark for a night.

London also hopes to “coolify” Philanthro and volunteering in general. He believes San Francisco’s eclectic culture will make this possible and London is excited for coming year to say the least. “I love that we have a consistent following, but my style is more to push the limits and try new things,” says London. “We can’t always throw club events. Some people would rather go to an art auction or a wine tasting.”

London encourages college students to get involved with a cause they believe in and suggests some local programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Greater San Francisco, Real Option for City Kids (ROCK SF) or the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial.

“Pick a program or non-profit that aims to fix a problem you think needs fixing and volunteer your time,” says London. “You’ll be amazed how good you feel after.”

Civilian bootcamp

The alarm next to your bed goes off at 5:30 in the morning and as tempting as it sounds to just hit snooze and enjoy the comfort of your warm bed, you decide against it. It’s pitch black outside and your room is icy cold but somehow you force yourself to stand up. The holiday season is upon us but there is no excuse to gain that warm winter weight. Throw on some workout clothes and hurry up because you’re about to burn off last nights sugar cookie(s) and don’t forget to grab a water bottle and a small towel because your first boot camp class starts in 30 minutes.

It is too early to function and your eyes can barely stay open. Standing next to a handful of other people, who look equally as tired, you wonder what the hell you got yourself into. You cannot remember the last time you have been awake this early.

“Welcome to operation rapid response! Arms up, level with your shoulders. Elevate your knees to your hips on each kick. Keep your back straight. Keep going!” START fitness instructor Bianca Buresh yells.

Suddenly you’re running in place and the blood starts flowing. There’s really no time to think because the instructor transitions quickly through exercises. Today’s work-out consists of thirty minutes of indoor training, then thirty minutes outdoors. Many boot camp classes can be both indoors and outdoors and can be for people of all fitness levels. Today’s indoor training class focuses on muscular strength, stamina and overall aerobic conditioning while outdoor training includes running, sprinting and focuses on developing aerobic efficiency.

Loud music begins playing in the background. You start to wake up. The music helps you get focused motivated. “Mountain climbers! Lets get down on the ground!” Bianca yells out. She shows everyone what to do by getting in the push-up position and alternating her right knee to your chest and then the left knee, then tells everyone to do the same and as quickly as possible. Thirty seconds of this and you’re back on your feet jumping up, then dropping to the ground doing push-ups. Twenty more repetitions! Jumping, dropping to the ground, push-ups; it feels never-ending. Bianca instructs everyone to shout ‘hoorah’ after the last push-up. Everyone begins counting down from ten and then finally you get to the last push-up. Yes, almost finished!

“I didn’t hear everyone shout hoorah!” Bianca says. “You’re going to do ten more repetitions! Don’t forget to yell hoorah this time.” There are no breaks to get water or let you catch your breath. It’s up to you to excuse yourself to do either of these. Once the indoor session is finished everyone hurries outside.

Instructors at START fitness do not yell at people to do an exercise and are trained to motivate and coach people by demonstrating proper exercise techniques. Boot camps are not just for the military anymore. Many boot camp fitness groups are located around San Francisco, usually downtown, along the Embarcadero, at Crissy Field and in the Marina district. People actually pay to attend these intense fitness boot camp classes.

Army National Guard Staff Sergeant, Ken Weichert, and his wife Stephanie Weichert, founded START fitness, one of San Francisco’s first civilian boot camps. The boot camp formed in 1997 and is the longest running boot camp in the country. It is a group exercise program and incorporates military-style workouts.

Imagine jogging alongside a six-time soldier of the year, master fitness trainer and veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm. Probably not in one of your top three things to daydream about, or imagine yourself adding to your Tuesday’s to-do list. For a small group of individuals living in San Francisco, this has become their favorite way to work out.

Sgt. Ken has devoted his life to promoting fitness, resilience, leadership and getting people into shape. So move aside yoga classes, there’s a new, bad-ass fitness group in town. Maybe there’s something about a tall, military-looking guy that really motivates an individual to push themselves as hard as they can. These military trained instructors are one of many reasons boot camps are becoming more popular.

The training techniques used by START fitness instructors are also practiced by the U.S. military. Ken and Stephanie have trained thousands of soldiers through Operation Fit to Fight, a fitness instructor training program they started. This program was was created to train soldiers for basic combat training. Many exercises from this program are similar to those in that are in START fitness workouts. Ken and Stephanie also produce health and fitness programs for GX Magazine ( a National Guard Magazine), and programs for the National Guard and Military websites.

The exercises are created to target target specific muscle groups and a person can burn between 600 and 800 calories in one sixty-minute class session.

Sgt Ken has been has served the military for seventeen years and travels around the country to train soldiers before they are deployed. Ken is usually in San Francisco for one week out of a month.

So, you just wrapped up the first thirty minutes indoors of the fitness boot camp class, now you’re outside and it’s time to work out for another thirty minutes. Bianca instructs the class to do lunges uphill for one block then continue jogging uphill another three blocks until you reach Lafayette Park located at Sacramento and Gough Streets. There, the class jogs up a flight of stairs, does push-ups at the top, jogs back down and is told to do suicides. This continues until the end of class.

Your muscles are shaky and you feel a little nauseous but you can’t help but smile and feel good about yourself.

According to multiple Yelp reviews, the START fitness boot camps,”really kicks your ass!” Whether you make this a daily routine is up to you. Six in the morning is early, but at least you get it out of the way and still have time for school and work. Maybe thinking about all the bad food you want to eat this season will be enough motivation.