Summer in the City: Tips for Finding Athletic Outdoor Activities


Welcome to Like a Boss Girls’ Summer Refresh — your monthly series of tips & tricks to help city dwellers forget the congested streets and overheated subways to find affordable, glorious summer bliss! Goal #1 is finding a way to get some fresh air and sunshine with active outdoor activities that won’t break the bank.

Let’s face it — living in an urban area in the summer heat and humidity can make enjoying any outdoor activity a little difficult — especially when you’re on a budget. Many weekend getaways are difficult to access and enjoy without a car. Public outdoor space in the city is free to use, but tends to be crowded and packed with tourists—and that’s not even taking the dismal bathroom situation into consideration. Plus, most sports have one major requirement: space — which is at a premium in cities, so soccer fields and pools are often in short supply. But don’t give up quite yet! Sometimes all it takes is a little research.

The Magic of Athletic Outdoor Activities

In a busy city, summertime is a major time when people start wishing they had a rooftop, a balcony, or a courtyard in their apartment complex so they could get outside and soak up some Vitamin D without soaking up whatever else in on that public patch of grass. Sun exposure (skin cancer aside) has lots of great benefits, including increased serotonin, bone strength, and better sleep. So we need to find a way to get outside and enjoy that summer weather! (Tip: Wear sunscreen. The sun can still catch you no matter how fast you run.)

Getting Started

One of the best outdoor activities for getting exercise only requires a walking or running path. The best part? These trails are free, available 24 hours a day, and packed with other awesome locals looking to unwind while getting their steps in for the day. An app like AllTrails can help you find trails in your area that meet your criteria. If you like to have data on your workouts, Map My Run is a great way to record your route and see other stats like distance, pace, and calories burned.

Ask your active friends to share their favorite routes, especially lesser-known options that will allow you to go for a run without playing “dodge the tourist” the entire time. The AllTrails app includes user reviews, so you can get the scoop on which routes have the best terrain, views, bathroom stops, and more.

Most cities have running groups you can join for free or for a minimal cost, with levels ranging from “recreational/social runner” to “marathon prep”. Nike+ Run Club is a great app that will connect you with other runners in your area, plus you will have access to training regimens put together by the professionals. If you’re looking to make friends first and running is secondary, look for a group like the appropriately named The Most Informal Running Club, Ever in New York City, which pairs running with post-workout social events.

Tip: It sucks that we have to say this, but be cautious of sparsely-populated and isolated running paths, especially after dark. Keep your phone on you in case of an emergency (which may include something as lame as tripping over your own shoelace).

athletic outdoor activities

Team Up

One of the best things about living in a city is that there are thousands of people in your area who are looking to stay active. For that reason, you can find a myriad of teams to join. From soccer to volleyball to Ultimate Frisbee, the chances of finding a team or league dedicated to your favorite sport is very high (lawn mower racing, anyone?). Many leagues will even let you build your own team if you have a large enough group of friends or coworkers who want to play together. Try searching for local sports leagues on a website like ZogSports, which allows you to search for all different types of social sports leagues in major cities nationwide.

A major perk of getting involved with an established sports league is that they take care of the annoying details for you, from scheduling matches to booking venues to ordering team t-shirts. Another advantage of joining a league is that you will be committed to playing your sport of choice on a regular basis—perfect for anyone who is serious about participating in summer athletics.

Tip: If you end up enjoying your time on a summer team, ask your teammates if they are involved in any other leagues throughout the year that you might be able to join. Although many sports operate on a seasonal calendar, you may find that half of your volleyball team transitions to basketball in the winter–which is a great way to extend your athletic horizons in the off-season. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Think Outside Of The Box

When you’re searching for affordable & active outdoor activities, don’t limit yourself to the most common sports. There is a wide array of unique activities you can try that will get your blood flowing in the sunshine! Kayaking, high ropes courses, rock climbing, quadcycling, trapeze classes, hitting some balls at the driving range, and rooftop surfing classes are just a few examples of unique ways to break a sweat outside in the city.

The downside of some of these activities is that many of them tend to come with a relatively high price tag–but there are ways to get around that. Check out places that offer off-peak kayak and canoeing rates, or search for promo codes or deals on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to try out some alternative outdoor activities at an affordable price.

Tip: Usually, adventure companies that provide activities in proximity to any major city will have transportation options that will get you to and from their location. If there’s a obstacle course that is a 45-minute drive outside of the city, chances are that the facility is used to accommodating nearby city dwellers who rely on public transportation to get around. If you don’t see transportation options listed on their website, give them a call (crazy, I know) and see if they offer any convenient transportation options that work for you!

outdoor activities

Use Available Resources

A wonderful perk of living in any city with quality urban planning in place is that the infrastructure is set up with the goal of keeping residents happy, engaged, active and healthy. Don’t forget to stay up on all of the free or inexpensive outdoor activities being offered in your city. Bike shares, outdoor yoga, pop-up fitness events and outdoor dance festivals are just a few examples of awesome ways to get some exercise outdoors while enjoying your city.

Most cities run some type of summer series sponsored by local businesses, large outdoor venues, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Researching your local summer offerings and adding them to your calendar in advance is a great way to add some variety to your list of outdoor budget-friendly activities!

Tip: Divide and conquer! Brainstorm with friends who are interested in outdoor athletic adventures and keep a running list of your ideas on a shared Google doc. Add the free outdoor Zumba class you saw on Facebook and your friend might add a note about an upcoming 5K that her coworker mentioned. Crowdsourcing ideas is one of the best ways to discover summer activities in your city!

My Experience with Tackling Tennis in the City

Last year, I went from complaining about my lack of access to outdoor sports in New York City to playing tennis in the fresh air twice a week.

Here’s a quick rundown of how I started.

I grew up in the Maryland suburbs, where access to tennis courts was never difficult to find. There were free public courts, affordable tennis centers, higher-end clubs, and fully-equipped training facilities. When I moved to New York City, I thought my tennis days were behind me. I rarely saw a tennis court around; and when I did find courts, they often required permits, waiting lists, and reservations.

I deemed it all too stressful and too difficult to figure out to be worth it. I assumed that if I wanted to be able to play tennis in NYC, then I was going to have to pay hundreds of dollars every month for a tennis center membership – and that was an expense I wasn’t financially ready to commit to. I figured tennis was a something I’d have to permanently give up because of my decision to live in a major city. Thank goodness I was wrong! 🙂

outdoor activities

Last year’s beautiful summer weather was the push I needed to knock some sense into myself. There had to be plenty of people playing tennis in the city who couldn’t afford a club membership. If they could crack the code, why couldn’t I?

It was time to take action. My friend and I committed to finding a way to play tennis twice a week, and we were willing to put in the extra legwork to figure out where and how. After many hours devoted to inquiry phone calls, online research, in-person court visits, and some financial calculations, we were able to determine which local courts required summer permits without the expense of reservations.

A year later, I am thrilled that we made the decision to invest our time into finding a long-term solution. The exercise, fresh air, and joy that tennis brings to both of us during the fall, spring and summer is well worth it!

Go Outside And Get Moving!  

My biggest tip for finding a way to play sports in the city? Commit to taking the time to research your best options and figuring it out. If you truly love participating in outdoor athletics, you will find a way to join a team, find a location, or formulate a way to make it happen. Participating in sports and other outdoor athletic activities tends to cost a little bit more than it would if you were living outside of a major city, but with a little legwork, you can find budget-friendly options that work.

Doing something active on a beautiful summer day can add so much joy (and cardio!) to your summer experience. Talk to your friends about starting an intramural soccer team, joining a neighborhood running group, or learning if there’s any easy way to get to a nearby golf course. Take the initiative and you’ll discover new ways to love your city!

Feel free to share any tips on where to find sports in the city in the comments below!!