After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it’s no surprise why La Petite Baleen’s four San Francisco–area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo–Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace—earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location’s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
At Maloney's Horses and Ponies, majestic steeds graze and buck in open pastures backed by a landscape of picturesque rolling hills and whispering ocean waves. Standing in the sea breeze is Cheryl Maloney, the proprietor and head riding instructor. Before opening her school, Cheryl taught throughout the United States and England, most recently directing the Stanford Riding School for 12 years. She is joined by fellow instructors Sara Williams, Sarah Platshon, and Jack Gosse-Fuchs; together, the team leads lessons in English-style riding for students of all ages and skill levels.
During lessons, students learn the fundamentals of riding—from sitting in a basic balancing position to standing while singing the horse anthem—along with necessary horsemanship skills such as grooming and tacking. The lessons take place in Maloney's all-weather back sand arena, where picturesque ocean views frame a colorful jumping course, and a front arena dedicated to dressage and flat exercises. The school also has access to more than 7 miles of beach trails that lead riders on explorations of the bluffs or trots down to the surf. The school also boards horses, sells and leases new mounts, and holds summer camps for riders up to 15 years old.
Tucked into the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra lies Ocean View Farms, where sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean combine with the expertise of Agnes Sadeghi, an instructor accredited by the Certified Horsemanship Association, to attract equine enthusiasts for lessons and trail rides. Agnes brings a lifetime of experience to the farm, as she began to ride at the age of 6 and went on to master British horsemanship exams as a teen—earlier than most riders and just after most centaurs. Her goal for students is to turn them into independent riders through dressage and jumping lessons conducted atop palomino paint horses and arabian thoroughbreds. Beginning riders can show off advancing skills on Two for Trail rides through the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra and McNee Ranch State Park, whereas more advanced riders can take on longer, more difficult routes.
Members at Curves, a fitness center designed for women, rotate around a circuit of hydraulic resistance machines that have been designed to work with female bodies and promote weight loss, strengthen bones, and increase metabolism. An experienced trainer is always nearby to help manage participants’ machine maneuvering and muscle making. Instead of fiddling with weight stacks and losing momentum, the hydraulic machines use your own body weight, fitness level, and aerodynamic water bottles to create resistance that matches abilities, decreasing the risk of soreness or injury. Because traditional lift-and-lower motions can create bulky muscles, each machine uses push-and-pull motions to help create toned, lean muscles perfect for crushing a grapefruit without looking like you can.
A round of putting ($5 per person) at Kings and Knights' always-seasonable indoor course sends golf balls through 18 labyrinthine holes of props, traps, and vibrant décor. After braving nine holes of train crossings and piratical perils, golfers arrive at the black-light room, where ghosts and cobwebs glow amid a neon loop-the-loop and fluorescent barriers that illuminate the putting path. Open seven days a week, Kings and Knights allows the busiest of friends and familiars to navigate miniature fairways, keep score with miniature pencils, and high-five with regular-size hands.
Like the sea turtles she swims with daily, Vanessa Floyd feels as comfortable in the ocean as she does on land. For nearly a decade, she has taught people how to surf the waves of the Pacific beside the chilly California coast and the warm sands of Hawaiian shores at her pair of Jetty Betty Surf School locations. She focuses on helping beginners overcome their fear of the water and enjoy the rush of riding the surf beneath the open sun. She and her fellow instructors begin their group and private lessons by meeting students at the beach, where they familiarize them with the equipment and the basics of safe surfing. Afterwards, students take to the waves, which instructors monitor to make sure they are suitably small for novice surfers—if not, they’ll either postpone the lesson or unplug Mother Nature's wave machine.