What it’s not, however, is readily accessible—at least not in San Francisco, where there are far more interested players than there are available courts.
Despite a growing number of pickleball courts popping up across the city in response to spiking demand, it can feel impossible for newcomers to navigate the pickleball scene. On a weekend, it’s not an uncommon experience to show up at a local park, like Presidio Wall Playground, only to encounter hordes of players circling a court like vultures eyeing a still-warm carcass. Translation: It can get nasty out there … and not only during gameplay.
To ease your transition into the pickleballing lifestyle, we checked out courts across the city to find the most welcoming spots for newbies, learned the etiquette for grabbing a spot in the queue and looked for ways to maximize playtime and minimize annoyance.
Pay-to-Play or Pickup Style
You have two choices: Pay to play at a private court or take your chances at a free city facility.
If you choose the pay route, there are several new dedicated pickleball clubs to choose from throughout the city. The advantages include having a wide range of hours, little to no wait time and the opportunity to play in an interesting or state-of-the-art setting. The only disadvantage is the cost.
The colorful courts at Rec in Japantown rent for $6 for every 30 minutes of play, up to two hours. You can also catch the ferry to Bay Padel on Treasure Island, a brand new pickleball and padel club inside a spacious hangar with sky-high ceilings, an art gallery, a Wi-Fi equipped co-working space and swanky lounge areas. The club charges nonmembers $8-$10 per person for an hour of play, depending on peak times—and even offers game times as early as 7 a.m. Early birds can expect gorgeous Bay Bridge sunrise views if they hit the courts at that hour.
You can play pickleball from morning till night at The Hub in Alameda, a new gym and sports club inside a decommissioned U.S. Navy air station. The eight courts sit where military planes were assembled and repaired for decades and are available for open play all day with a $25 pass. The Hub’s San Jose location also offers unlimited open play: “$30 for as much pickleball as you can,” said associate Reid Rolfes.
If you prefer not to pay for your pickle, the city offers a wide range of pickleball options, including 63 outdoor courts, eight indoor courts and 22 courts specifically dedicated to pickleball that don’t split time with tennis.
Each court has its own rules, so be sure to read up on the requirements for reservations or walk-on play—and whether you need to bring a net or can find one stored nearby. You can look over court specs at a glance on this handy Rec & Parks chart, and several city courts can be reserved via Spotery for free.
The most popular of the city’s courts—at Presidio Wall—has turned into a zoo, according to many players, so we recommend the city’s newest pickleball complex at Carl Larsen Park for its plethora of courts (eight!). The Crossing at East Cut is known for its friendly, first-come, first-served courts open daily from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., and Upper Noe Recreation Center is very beginner-friendly.
Upper Noe’s four indoor courts are divided by player level, but advanced players are also willing to play with beginners, said Castro resident Michael Borden, who moved to San Francisco in 1979 and took up pickleball at age 72. The pickleball vets “will come over and play because they want to. But you don't feel like you're going to get slapped,” Borden said.
Know the Basic Etiquette
For any court that is not reserved or paid, you need to follow proper pickleball propriety and wait your turn in line. For the Crossing at East Cut, that means simply placing your paddle at the base of the net post “to designate your desire to play,” said Lisa Cheng, a regular at the Crossing’s pickleball courts. It’s essentially the polite pickleball way of queuing up.
But don’t think you can game the system by putting down more than one paddle, said Veronica Cai, a leader of the East Cut pickleball community. “No-no's are, like, don't try to put multiple paddles on multiple courts, and then try to save space for friends who are not here yet,” she said.
When you’re up, don’t be shy. It’s common courtesy to introduce yourself while you’re warming up with your teammate or opponents. “When four players are just starting [and] they don't know one another, it's almost always expected that everyone introduces themselves,” said Nina Del Prado, a Crossing regular.
Another pro tip for those playing at the Crossing: Paddles can be checked out for free from the Greyhound bar, located in the center of the Crossing. Players get buy-one-get-one-half-off on drinks. It’s not uncommon to clink glasses after clinking paddles—the pickleball equivalent of shaking hands—at the end of a match.
Lastly, be careful of the court you choose. The Crossing features two side courts for single-game use only, while the middle court is the “challenger court,” where the winner(s) get to keep on playing. It tends to draw more experienced pickleball players who like to show off their thwacking skills, so you may want to stick to one of the side courts if you’re just starting out.
Find a Pickup Game
If you don’t have anyone to play with, you can still turn up for open play slots—designated times when the courts are available to players of all skill levels, no court reservations required. You may get pulled into a game as a fourth or randomly teamed up with someone—but that’s part of the fun.
One good option for single players: Try out DinkSF’s open-play Sundays for $15. Unlike other drop-in or open play sessions (often chaotic free-for-alls), DinkSF’s instructors oversee the two three-hour sessions and will help match you with players at your skill level and give you friendly pointers from the sidelines about how to hold the paddle or finesse your footwork. They’ll rotate you through a series of seven-minute games so you can mix things up, meet other players and challenge yourself at an appropriate level.
“It’s going to be fun yet competitive,” said Jonathan Padilla, a co-founder of DinkSF and an instructor.
The organization’s $20 “Pizza and Pickle” nights on Thursdays are also a low-key and casual way of getting into the game with the added benefit of a slice or two.
Commit to a Clinic
If the idea of approaching total strangers to play sounds a bit intimidating, you can always get your toes wet with a class or clinic instead.
Bay Padel offers four-person clinics for $60 in its posh facilities. You can feel like you’re becoming a pro as the coach teaches you how to grip the paddle properly, continental-style, and you practice lobbing the Swiss-cheese-like ball with dexterity and accuracy. Several of the coaches have intensive tennis backgrounds, so expect to be put through the paces and work up a sweat.
DinkSF’s “Taste of Pickleball” clinic ($45) is an easy and fun way to test the waters and cover the basics in 75 minutes. If you want to become a more serious student, DinkSF also offers a $200 beginner course that goes over stroke mechanics, serving, game rules and how to position yourself on the court over the course of four lessons. Classes are capped at 12 students, and the student-to-coach ratio is 6 to 1.
Stay in the Loop
While competition for a court in San Francisco can be cutthroat, the game itself breeds good vibes. It’s not uncommon for players to swap Instagram handles or phone numbers after a friendly game.
Keep in touch with the folks you meet, get updates on court conditions and see who’s down to play again by joining a WhatsApp group chat such as Bay Padel’s beginner group or the East Cut Pickleball Social Club. Ask around after a game to see if someone has a QR Code to help break the ice and gain access.