UPDATED MAR 9, 2020
Temperate weather plus easy access to a variety of terrains with awe-inspiring views makes America’s Finest City the perfect year-round runner’s paradise. See for yourself by breaking a sweat on some of San Diego’s most popular running routes.
Known as the nation’s largest urban park, Balboa Park features dozens of museums, performance venues, restaurants, and is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Aside from the cultural attractions, this 1,200-acre park features 65 miles of on- and off-road trails perfect for a leisurely casual stroll or a grueling canyon run. Bonus: the natural and man-made landmarks—from the Spanish-style architecture of the iconic California Tower to the unusual, alien-like desert garden—give runners a feast for the eyes.
You want iconic San Diego? Head to the Embarcadero for scenic coastline feels. Your run starts south of the convention center, which is home to San Diego Comic-Con (as well as several massive sets of stairs if you want to take your run up a notch). Though, be prepared to bob and weave around the throngs of folks wandering through Seaport Village and gaping at the majesty of the USS Midway aircraft carrier. You can also take in some art and culture. Make sure to check out the Embarcadero pathway that features the “Urban Trees,” an installation featuring the work of 30 artists.
If you’re looking for less city and more nature, escape to the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. A paradise for runners and hikers alike, the reserve is situated along the cliffs between La Jolla and Del Mar overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Named for the endangered Torrey Pine, the area includes six primary running paths that range in distance from .4 miles to 1.25 miles. If you’re on your game, link the hilly trails together for a more vigorous workout. Adventurous (cheeky) types may want to head down and cool off at clothing-optional Black’s Beach.
Mission Bay’s man-made Fiesta Island offers a four-mile loop that’s perfect for runners of all abilities. Take on the whole loop for an intense run or cut through the center of the peninsula for a shorter route. Either way, the flat pathway stretches around dirt and dunes and is a respite from traffic — cars are few and far between here. Fiesta Island is also home to a large dog park, so bring your furry friend for some exercise in the sun. Fitt Tip: take care of nature’s business before you head out; there are no restrooms on the island.
San Diego may be home to plenty of paved paths to get your sweat on, but sometimes you need to head to the hills for some fresh air and incredible vistas. Iron Mountain offers all that and more. Grab your pup or favorite running buddy for a trail that has a healthy dose of inclines (it’s a mountain). You can stick to the main path (like everyone else) or explore some of the lesser-trafficked offshoots (we suggest this) that lead to a variety of peaks.
If you’re looking to get in a quick workout with a side of breathtaking ocean views, this out-and-back is your spot. The trail to the cliffs is unmarked but easy enough to navigate at just over two miles. Do yourself a favor and plan your run for when the sun is just starting to set, it’s called Sunset Cliffs for a reason. Want to take on a little extra mileage? Continue on along Ocean Beach, it’ll add about one more mile to your trip.
This one’s for those who subscribe to the “sun’s out, guns out” mantra. Shirts and shoes are optional as you hoof it past beach-goers soaking up rays and sneaking sips of booze. The most popular route: start at the South Mission Jetty and turn back around after hitting Crystal Pier in PB — the whole thing is a little over five miles. Take the hard-packed sand for a fast-paced session or move up to the soft stuff for a little extra booty pump. Warning: Your calf muscles will be sore for days.
If “natural” paths aren’t your jam, nearby Mission Bay Park is completely paved and gives you the option to circle the entire bay. The whole thing is about 8.5 miles, but you can easily chop the run into smaller chunks. This isn’t one of those get-lost-in-your-thoughts kind of runs, though — the paths are crawling with other runners, meandering walkers, strollers, bikes, and curious pups. But for a little cross-training action, the eastern portion of the trail is home to one of San Diego’s several “parcourse trails” complete with pull-up bars, push-up stations, and more.
Head east to La Mesa for a six-mile round trip trail that horseshoes around Lake Murray. A popular spot for leisure-seeking families, the flat, paved stretch can be busy, but (thankfully) it’s still peaceful. And it’s littered with picnic tables and benches, so you’ve got someplace to catch your breath and watch the hordes of ducks scattered across the lake. And when your legs are spent, rent a canoe for quite the adventurous day.
Looking for some serious distance? The Pacific Coast Highway route is great for those who need to pack on some mileage. Start at La Jolla Cove—home of the barking and, um, aromatic, sea lions—and make your way along the scenic coast up to Encinitas. A word of warning: The course is almost 19 miles, so you’ll probably want someone waiting for you with a car at the end. The run also includes the leg- and butt-burning Torrey Pines hill, which boasts a 6% grade (woof). Let’s just say, this one isn’t for the uninitiated.
At just about five miles, this popular paved loop will take you along the perimeter of Lake Miramar and past some spectacular views of La Jolla and Sorrento Valley. Pack a post-run snack and make a day of it, there are plenty of picnic tables where you can cool off and refuel. Fitt Tip: cars are allowed to on this trail most days, so be cautious when you’re pounding the pavement here.
Named for the first European to set foot on the West Coast, the Cabrillo National Monument is a hill-lover’s dream. The trail itself is only about 2.5 miles, but you’ll climb 240 feet along the way. Trust us — the sweat is worth it. The views of Point Loma and San Diego Bay are incredible. Plus, there’s the now defunct Point Loma Lighthouse and Cabrillo Statue up top to check out. Thirsty? Head to the Liberty Public Market nearby for some post-run suds.
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