As a host, you regularly share your space and your city with guests so they can live like a local. But sometimes even locals need a push to discover the charm and flavor they’ve been missing, right in their own backyards.
In 2016, we added Airbnb Experiences as a way for travelers and locals alike to explore their passions or try something new. And in the spirit of starting off the new year by exploring new things, we sent a few of our writers in San Francisco to try an experience so they could see their own stomping grounds with fresh eyes and with hosts in mind.
Looking back on my younger years, I was always happiest when exploring the great outdoors. Whether I was trekking deep into Baja to uncover a hidden surf break or camping in the Anza Borrego Desert—when I was outside I was in my happy place.
Then I got older. Work and social obligations began to pile up, and before I knew it my expeditions became fewer and farther between. Even though I’ve never been one for formal new year’s resolutions, when it came time to think about what changes I wanted to make in 2018, reclaiming my love of the outdoors was at the top of my list.
Next thing I knew, I was heading out to Land’s End in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District for a guided hike. Typically, the western third of San Francisco is shrouded in a blanket of fog and temperatures in the 50s. But as I got off the bus and went to meet my tour guide, I realized I had lucked out—it was almost 70 degrees (in January!) and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I felt like I was really getting away with something, and I had a feeling this was a sign of good things to come.
My tour guide, Greg, was a longtime resident of the area. After exchanging pleasantries and getting to know each other, we were off.
Not long into our journey it became obvious that Greg possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco history. His expertise spanned centuries, and he could easily shift between discussing 19th century Bay Area maritime history, the native Ohlone tribe, and present day factors affecting the landscape.
Now I’ve been living in San Francisco for 10 years. I like to think that I’m well-versed in local history. But after meeting with Greg, I suddenly became aware that I have a lot of learning to do. Right from the get go, Greg was a wealth of knowledge. From pointing out sites of shipwrecks to providing a history lesson about now-defunct SF landmarks like the Sutro Baths, Playland at the Beach, and various incarnations of the Cliff House—I was treated to a history crash course that only a local could provide.
The hike itself was nothing short of spectacular. For several hours we ducked through the trees (which, thanks to Greg, I now know are Cypress trees) and visited several secluded beaches. Mile Rock Beach was a personal favorite. It’s off the beaten path and one of those special places that if you weren’t specifically seeking it out you’d walk right past it.
When we encountered the turnoff to Mile Rock Beach, I was at a point point in the hike I’d worked up quite a sweat. Who knew that hiking six miles early in the morning would be challenging for a writer who spends his 9-5 (and then some) inside typing at a computer? We were on the home stretch, and there was only about 20 minutes to go before we returned to Land’s End Visitor Center and called it a day.
Greg asked how I was doing and if I wanted to check out this cool spot that was one of his personal favorites. At first I said no, and wiped sweat off my brow and trudged forward. But then it hit me. I looked around at the beautiful, warm winter day and knew that even though the steep path down to Mile Rock seemed daunting, this was something I had to do.
When we got to the water, it was an ideal setting. Unseasonably huge waves crashed on the beach, the sun beat down, and we shared a picnic lunch practically in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a centering moment. It was two people enjoying nature and exploring. And it was 11am in a perfect world. An experience I will not soon forget
Takeaways for hosts:
- Know your history. While the hike itself was beautiful, the way Greg incorporated the history of the area into every turn really made the experience. This also applies to home hosting. Providing a brief history of your neighborhood or city for your guests can go a long way.
- Be passionate. From the moment I met Greg, it was obvious that he was extremely passionate about leading these hikes. Try to think of ways you can convey that sense of passion, like leaving a handwritten welcome note.
- Be welcoming. Throughout the hike, Greg made it a point to ask about my interests, and we ended up knowing some of the same people. If you interact with your guests, try to ask them about their favorite foods, places, or interests. You’ll likely find out you have stuff in common.
As a California native, I’ve experienced a lot of the natural beauty and culinary delights of this state. But I loved the challenge of discovering something entirely new that’s right under my nose every day. Searching the Airbnb experiences on offer near me, the Aerial Arts Taster class stood out as an exciting (possibly terrifying) thing to try. A mix of circus, dance, and gymnastics, aerial arts include lyra hoops suspended high above the ground and long strips of fabric, called silks, hung ceiling to floor. Just two blocks from work and on my regular commute route, the class promised to “get you hanging from the sky,” so I took a deep breath and booked it.
What I expected was a two hour class that would take me out of my comfort zone, make me giggle, and leave me with some photo evidence so I could impress my teenage daughter. I had no idea I’d discover a community of competitive athletes as well as regular folks who love the physical challenge and artistry of aerial arts. What’s more, my time with host Amy Bond left me empowered and confident to take more risks in my everyday life than I could have anticipated.
Amy owns SF Pole and Dance, is a competitive pole dancer, an entrepreneur, a lawyer here in San Francisco, and an Airbnb experience host. The day I visited, Amy’s airy loft studio was bustling with half a dozen dancers preparing for the Golden Gate Pole Championships and a couple women taking private lessons with a professional aerialist and instructor on the silks. After a cardio warmup and primer on proper hand and foot holds, Amy led me through a number of lifts and suspended poses that were harder to execute with grace than they seem! Amy’s approach to the class is welcoming, encouraging, and inclusive—she adapts to her guests’ pace and fitness levels, but she also pushes you to explore new boundaries. Her passion for helping each guest and athlete build confidence and strength fuels this class, and she tops it off with a stunning, dreamy freestyle performance that leaves you wanting more.
I’m a local. But this experience was like nothing I’d ever tried before. I’m thrilled to have tapped in to a network of folks who love this city and its arts scene, and who practice their craft just blocks from where I write for Airbnb hosts every day. Now when I commute home, I grin as I pass Amy’s studio. I’m more connected to my own community and more equipped to recommend an incredible experience to visitors and locals alike.
Takeaways for hosts:
- Know your guests and suggest experiences that the guidebooks miss. Are you hosting an adventuresome mother/daughter duo for a getaway? A group of gals celebrating a bride to be? Or best friends toasting retirement and looking for something sassy to try? An experience like this Aerial Arts class brings the fun with a dash of fierce—and your guests will thank you for helping them discover it. Who are you hosting, and what might they be inspired by?
- The most unique facets of your city might be right around the corner. Get curious and do some exploring! You might discover a poetry reading night or Salsa dance class down the street, a barista who loves to teach coffee art, or cycling enthusiasts who welcome guests to ride with them on Saturdays.
- Don’t be afraid to share more than your space. Like my host Amy, you might have expertise that guests would love to experience. What could you share with guests in a couple hours or a couple days?
Here in the Bay Area, ramen is big. We have dozens of ramen shops boasting lines out the door as patrons wait eagerly to slurp it up. (You’re supposed to slurp, by the way.) We even have ramen festivals that attract so many people that police have to enforce crowd control measures.
My own personal love of ramen began as a college student when I stumbled across my first bonafide ramen shop near campus that exposed a world far beyond the dried block of packaged noodles from my childhood. So naturally, my taste buds perked up when I stumbled across the ramen-making experience hosted by a Japanese chef. I had to give this a try.
On a foggy Sunday morning, I arrived with 11 other would-be chefs at a modest tasting room for a commercial kitchen located in an industrial area of San Francisco. After engaging in some introductory chatter, Mari, our chef for the day escorted us into the kitchen where we learned to hand mix, knead, roll, and cut our noodles.
While waiting for the noodles to rest, Mari walked us through a detailed history of ramen as we sampled the various types. Mari was both funny and informative as she explained the styles of broth, noodles, and toppings—plus some surprising details on ramen’s history. For example, ramen noodles actually came from China, but each Japanese city developed its own style of serving them up.
It was now time to assemble our ramen bowls and cook the noodles, which is a tricky task. The noodles only take about 50 seconds to cook, which means you only have about 50 seconds to do the following: ladle broth into your bowl, whisk in flavorings such as miso, sesame paste, and ground chilis, pluck your bok choy out of the boiling water, and then shake off your cooked noodles and gently slide them into your bowl, all without spilling a drop.
We all survived the assembly and sat down for a very pleasant lunch of custom ramen bowls swimming with hand-made noodles that we had created just one hour earlier. It was delicious, but perhaps the best part of the lunch was connecting with the other people in the group who came from all over the world. We had a group from Sweden, a couple from France, and locals from all different backgrounds. We all slurped together in total satisfaction.
Takeaways for hosts:
- Experience an old passion in a new way. I’d never even considered making my own ramen until I took Mari’s class. Now I want to throw a ramen party and share this new knowledge of an old love with all my friends. Experiences can add depth to hobbies and interests that you already have, giving you more to share with others—maybe even your guests.
- Get beneath the surface of your local culture. Before Mari’s class I had eaten and enjoyed plenty of ramen. But making noodles from scratch while learning about the history surrounding them made me appreciate ramen even more. Hands-on experience with your local culture can provide more context and understanding, which you can pass on to your guests.
See, try, or taste something totally new in your city—you’ll be a better host for it, and you may even discover a new passion. And if you’re inspired to create experiences for guests, propose an idea to our Experiences team. Nothing to lose, lots to gain. Go for it!