As climbing becomes more mainstream than ever, climbing gyms are popping up all over the landscape, their multi-story walls soaring above padded floors in empty warehouses, office spaces, and even in the corners of commercial globo-gyms. With so many gyms to visit, routes to climb, and options to choose from, where do you find the gym to set down your chalk bag?
Thankfully, we can help you get started. As a company full of climbers, the GearCoopers have topped out in every gym in southern California, and we remain active in all their communities: you'll often find Gear Coop as a sponsor of local comps, or as a vendor at gyms' events. But when asked to narrow down the list to just five, we definitely had to think long and hard.
So, here you go: arranged in order from north to south, LA to OC to SD, here are Gear Coop's must-visit climbing gyms for anyone looking to crush the fantastic plastic in SoCal. The top requirement? All of these gyms feature vibrant, friendly communities of climbers who are stoked to welcome you into the fold (or is that hold?). Climb on!
Los Angeles, CA
There's always something cooking in the LA.B, which sports 18-foot-high Walltopia walls snaking around 12,000 square feet of space. They serve as a massive canvas upon which award-winning routesetters scatter hundreds of problems at a time, switched out every 12 weeks or less. (Staff setter Noah Peller took top honors at the inaugural Setter Showdown routesetting comp.) Need to up your strength as well as your climbing skills? A variety of fitness classes--including bootcamps, core focus, and four types of yoga--are available every day. Touchstone Climbing, the masterminds behind LA.B (and its NorCal brother Dogpatch Boulders, plus several Bay Area gyms) will soon rock LA even further with Cliffs of Id (Culver City) and Hollywood Boulders (LA) opening in late 2015.
Rock City Climbing
Rock City is OC's OG climbing gym, and new owners Maurice and Tasha have elevated and updated this old-school staple for a new generation of crushers. The gym's extensive makeover includes repainted walls, new holds and volumes, plush crash pads, and challenging routes for bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing. Among all the new accoutrement, Rock City's uniquely endearing features remain: "hallway" bouldering routes, the cave room, and the obstacle-course tunnel sneaking up, around, and behind the climbing walls are here to stay. Rock City may be smaller than its glossier corporate counterparts, but it's packed full of fun, heart, and soul for any and all climbers.
The Factory Bouldering
The Factory's slogan is "Building Better Climbers," and--judging by how many strong climbing Coopers have trained on its walls--it's an accurate one. The 13,000-square-foot space is rimmed by tall walls undulating at angles from an 85° slab to a gnarly near-horizontal roof, with 300+ problems beckoning ambitious boulderers of all skill levels. A well-equipped fitness center helps climbers train beyond the walls. The entire atmosphere is airy, open, and free-flowing, making The Factory a natural hub for bouldering comps, events, and all-day hangouts with your friends.
If you need any more proof that The Factory's legit, look no further than its owners: Louie and Valarie, close friends of the Coop, are experienced climbers who are extremely involved in the California climbing scene. They also started the Setter Showdown series to acknowledge and award the creative talent inherent in routesetting.
Santa Ana, CA
Call it Chris Sharma's signature gym. When Sender One hit the scene, the pro climber's pet project brought European climbing gym culture to the US, from its vibrant Walltopia walls to its innovative shock-absorbing padded floors. At 50 feet tall with a pumpy roof section, the lead-ready "Ice Cream Cone," the site of the 2014 SCS Nationals, induces sweaty palms in even experienced plastic pullers. Add in dozens of boulder problems, several cracks, and lengthy top rope and lead routes of every style--from heady exposed overhangs to face-smashing slab--and you've got enough to satisfy all climbing styles.
Want to polish your skills? Sender has classes for all age ranges and all ability levels, including multi-session clinics with experienced outdoor climbers. They also boast butt-kicking yoga that'll turn your mat into a slip-and-slide and a compact but complete fitness center, plus stationary bikes and ellipticals atop the topout boulder. Based further north than OC? Sender One LAX is set to open in late 2015.
Mesa Rim Climbing & Fitness Center
San Diego, CA
It's the climbing gym so large, the street it's on bears its name. Mesa Rim has the kind of expansive, neck-craning walls that have you itching to tie in and ask "On belay?" But it also maintains a welcome whiff of the classic climbing gym, with earth-toned textured walls that mimic natural rock formations in their angles and curves. Their team of routesetters regularly maintains 350 routes and problems, stripped and switching them as often as every six weeks, so there are always new challenges awaiting you on both ropes and boulders.
And they believe in working out for your workout. Along with offering as many as four yoga classes a day--they clearly believe in yoga as the best ground-based exercise for climbers--Mesa Rim recently opened a separate Climbing Training Facility next door, allowing you to get your hangboard and traverse on without having to fight for space or dodge other climbers.
And they're not stopping there: a second Mesa Rim is opening in San Diego in fall 2015, followed by an ultramodern gym in Reno, Nevada.