We love a good gym session as much as anyone, but there are those times when it’s necessary to break free from the box and hit the great outdoors. The good news is that San Diego’s got a boatload of spots that can offer a killer, al fresco workout. What’s even better? You don’t have to drop a single dime to use them.
Cue up your best playlist because it’s time to hit San Diego’s best outdoor workout spots.
Imagine life-sized Lincoln Logs arranged as a big obstacle course. That’s The Patch. Athletes often train at this Torrey Pines HS fixture to learn to move better. But mostly, people use it to crawl on, lunge under, and hop over for a fun and unique workout. Creative types can use their imagination to get through the course. But there’s also a handy poster hung nearby with tips and exercises if you need some direction.
About a mile or two up the road from Tecolote Shores is the De Anza Cove Parcourse, which is great for the running-averse type (though you can totally run nearby—it’s just not built into the course). It’s got about a dozen stretch and strength stations, plus signage nearby that explain what you can do with them.
There are some serious love/hate vibes happening here. On one hand, this behemoth 100-step staircase that bisects the convention center gives a grueling strength, cardio, and power workout. On the other hand, you’ve got to be careful or you’ll lose your lunch in one of the nearby planters. The staircase is so popular, it has even got its own Facebook page. Parking here is a pain, though. You may have to shell out some cash to one of the nearby structures or lots because street parking is extremely rare.
If you’ve got any juice left in your legs after all those stair repeats, head over the top of the convention center to Embarcadero Marina Park South. There, you’ll find an upper-body-centric parcourse with stations for push-ups, dips, and pull-ups. Don’t worry — ou can still train leg day (your favorite). Nearby benches and picnic tables are perfect for step-ups and box jumps.
UCSD Ecological Park, just east of the school’s North Campus, features a short trail and a parcourse-type workout spot. It has fewer stations than many of the other SD courses, but the eucalyptus trees and windy dirt paths will make you feel like you’re nowhere near the big city. Warning: Turn the iPod volume to low and keep an eye out—speed-junkie mountain bikers frequent these parts.
For a more intimate, gymnast-inspired workout, head to the Chula Vista Bayside Park at the south end of the bay. The park has a small, very old-school set-up that features pull-up bars, gymnastics rings, and a balance beam. But make sure you’ve got that iron cross locked down before showing off your skills to the park’s visitors.
A parcourse is basically circuit training at its best as it includes a mix of strength, calisthenics, stretching, and good old fashioned running. This particular route, which is about 2.5 miles long, starts on a grassy patch between the Morley Field Sports Complex and Upas Drive. There are 18 stations along the way, including pull-up bars, log hops, sit-ups, and a balance beam. As an added bonus, you can go full-on Katniss along the way; there’s an archery range toward the end of the course.
Another small (yet more updated) workout area is located in nearby Bonita’s Rohr Park. This one’s got 10 stations, featuring parcourse-favorite pull-up bars, parallel bars for dips, monkey bars, a vault station, and sit-up plank. Also, a 3.5-mile paved path weaves through the park should you want to get in some post-swole sesh cardio.
San Diego’s East County houses probably the most modern and varied parcourse of the bunch. Situated at Lindo Lake County Park in Lakeside, this recently built, 17-station fitness area has options like seated pull-down, seated chest-press, and cross-country ski machines. Fitt Tip: skate-or-die enthusiasts should bring skateboards — there’s also a skate park at Lindo Lake.
This mile-long course sits next to East Mission Bay Drive and is similar to the one at Morley Field, except you’ll tread along the bay instead of through the woods (less tree coverage, lots more sun). There are stations for box jumps, push-ups, decline sit-ups, and vaults. Plus, smack dab in the middle of the park is a super-cool, old-school playground with tall climbing poles, monkey bars, rings to swing on, and parallel bars. You’ll need to compete with kindergartners and CrossFitters for turns, though.
When Cowles Mountain is packed, head to another peak in Mission Trails: South Fortuna. You can get there from the visitor’s center with a simple one–two-mile warm-up trail run (or hike). From there, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the famed “Thousand Steps” — which is really only a few hundred wooden, rock, and dirt stairs that take you to the peak. The view is well worth the effort!
Highway 101 is the coastal route that runs through North County San Diego and traverses through the quintessential beach towns of Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. The best way to ride the 101? The train ride: Take the Pacific Surfliner train to Oceanside and then pedal the 20-plus miles back down to San Diego. Plan to make this a fun ride and stop at some classic coffee joints (Pannikin), snack spots (Swami’s), and bike shops (Nytro) along the way.
The secret is out! Found at the corner of Windsor and Canterbury in La Mesa, the secret stairway has 245 steps, and ends at the top of Summit Drive. Continue on Summit Drive to find a second stairway, descending east, and then another, and another. The series of public staircases was originally installed to facilitate foot traffic through the neighborhood. But it has now become a great spot for workout junkies to get in an early morning cross-training session.
Hiking isn’t working out? Please. Cowles Mountain is a pretty aggressive three-mile vertical climb to the highest point in San Diego. At 1,592 feet, the view from the top makes the trek worth it. Grab your dog and your pals for a heart-pumping walk on this trail near San Diego State.