Great Runs in San Diego
San Diego is a runner’s paradise. The combination of great weather, beautifully laid out harbor, beaches, and lovely running trails — all fairly accessible — makes San Diego one of my top running cities. What’s especially nice is that travelers staying near downtown/airport/convention center have access to some great routes. Running highlights in San Diego include numerous options around the harbor, Mission Beach, Balboa Park, and Sunset Cliffs. There are also some areas worth a special trip, such as La Jolla and Torrey Pines. There are also great opportunities for challenging trail running in the mountains to the east.
The Iconic Routes
- Convention Center/Embarcadero
- Balboa Park
- Mission Bay
- A Beach Run: Mission Beach-Pacific Beach or La Jolla Shores-Torrey Pines
- Sunset Cliffs
- Cabrillo National Monument
Short version: 4.75 miles RT. Start: Convention Center
OK, business travelers. This is one of the best convention center/airport runs in the world. The San Diego Airport is only a couple of miles from the Convention Center, which borders on downtown, the baseball stadium, and the Gaslight area (tons of shops & restaurants). And it’s all on the waterfront, affording wonderful running opportunities. This run starts at the Convention Center, exploring the Embarcadero North & South, Seaport Village, Seaport Village, and waterfront park. It’s an off-road path with great views of the water and the city for most of the run.
Seaport Village-Harbor Island
8.3 miles. Start: Harbor Island Dr. MAP
This is another good option near the airport/convention center. Harbor Island is about 3.3 miles RT if you start at Harbor Island Dr. right near the airport. To and from Harbor Island from Seaport Village adds another 2.5 miles each way. Lots of options to make it shorter, such as just going to Waterfront Park. From Seaport Village you can also head south toward the Embarcaderos and the Convention Ctr.Balboa Park
Balboa Park is gorgeous, featuring 65 miles of trails through beautiful gardens, groves, and some important San Diego sights such as the Zoo, and several museums. There are many options for running, such as more developed trails by the sites to more wooded routes. This large map has lots of details on all the trails. Highlights are the the #2 trail (4.1 miles) which leads you through the park’s exquisite museums and gardens, or the #33 trail loop (3.7 miles) that runs through Florida Canyon’s Native Plant Preserve. There are multiple access points, including one on 6th Ave. The park is about 1.5 miles from downtown.
Located just minutes from downtown San Diego, Mission Bay Park is the largest park of its kind in the world. The 4,600-acre aquatic playground is surrounded by 27 miles of meandering shoreline, with a variety of waterways, inlets and islets to explore. There is a 12-mile loop all around Mission Bay, almost all of it on well-marked off-road paths, with water views, lovely parks, beaches, bridges, and an island. There are many options for running here: the entire loop, a 4-mile loop around Fiesta Island, a section along Mission Beach, and lovely paths through Mission Bay Park and Playa Pacific Park. We also recommend the easy and flat 4-mile loop around Fiesta Island.
Mission Beach-Pacific Beach
3.1 miles ONE-WAY. Start: Any point along the boardwalk MAP
San Diego’s fabulous beaches are part of the city’s fabric. There are numerous options for running on the beach. The signature run is the Oceanfront Boardwalk, a 3.5 mile paved path from North Pacific Beach to South Mission Beach. Attractions include parks, shopping on the side streets, lots of bars & restaurants along the beach, and Belmont Park amusement park. There are options to continue running on the beach past the end of the boardwalk
Cabrillo National Monument - Bayside Trail
Various Options. Parking area is at Point Loma.
Cabrillo National Monument is dedicated to Juan Rodriguez Cabrill, “discoverer” of California in 1542. It is at the tip of Point Loma, where there are fantastic views of the water, San Diego downtown & harbor, and Coronado Island. There is a 2.2-mile RT Bayside Trail, part paved and part dirt, starting at 400 feet and going down to 40 feet. It is also possible to combine this with some of the other roads around — it’s a mile from the Cabrillo Statue to the Light Station. You can also head further north on Cabrillo Rd. into the Point Loma Ecological Preserve, or run along Gatchell Rd. to Woodward Rd., paralleling Cabrillo Rd. to the West. Ambitious runners can go all the way from the Cabrillo Monument to Sunset Cliffs (~5 miles one-way) or 6 miles one-way to Ocean Beach.
Ocean beach/Sunset Cliffs
6.7 miles RT. Start: Ocean Beach. MAP
Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach is a great place to run in San Diego. You stay high on the windy cliffs with great views. A real treat at sunset. At the end of the road you can hike down the cliffs onto the beach. The route we’ve put together starts at Ocean Beach and follows Sunset Cliffs Blvd., out and back. The most spectacular section is the 1.5 miles along the cliff. You can add a mile along Ocean Beach, or cross the river and add on some of Mission Bay.
Coronado Island has become a destination in San Diego since the Hotel Del Coronado was built in 1900. It is a great place for running, with numerous options. There’s a 7-mile bike path along the Silver Strand. Great ocean view and very open. Parking at numerous points. It’s 9.7 miles one-way from Sunset Park to Imperial Beach.
Another great option is a 6-mile island loop starting Tidelands Park, incorporating the golf course, Ferry Landing, Sunset Park, Hotel Del Coronado, and ending by going under the Coronado Bridge. Of course you can add to the run by continuing on to the back.
Goldfish Point to Bird Rock 4 miles ONE-WAY with shorter options MAP
Thirteen miles north of San Diego, La Jolla is a beautiful and affluent seaside community. There is a wonderful town right on the water, oceanside roads and trails for walking and running, and, heading east from the beach, a hilly residential community with gorgeous homes and views. La Jolla could be a whole running section in itself. Here, we have designed a very pleasant run near and along the water, combining some ocean trails, Coast Blvd., and some residential sections south of town toward Bird Rock. Especially pretty at sunset! The ‘heart’ of the run is the ~2 miles between La Jolla Cove and the end of Coast Blvd. at Ravina St.
Park Road Loop. 4 miles RT. HILLY! Start: Lower Beach Parking Lot. MAP
Other options: trails are very runnable, also along the beach
Torrey Pines, five miles north of La Jolla, is a beautiful State Preserve of 2,000 acres, incorporating a maritime chaparral, the rare Torrey pine, miles of unspoiled beaches, and a lagoon that is vital to migrating seabirds. It’s a paradise for runners. The hiking trails are ‘runnable”. It’s also great to run on the beach, accessible from the lower parking lot or one of the trails. Also, there’s a fun park road, off limits to cars, that climbs 500 feet from the lower parking lot to the intersection of North Fork Trail. One can also continue north along the beach to Solana Beach and Del Mar.
Ultimate Beach Run: La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines
5 miles, with shorter options. Start: La Jolla Shores Beach or Torrey Pines State Beach. MAP
One of the ultimate beach runs is from La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines. Big wide beach, towering cliffs over head, crashing waves, seamless firm sand, sunsets….it doesn’t get better than this. It’s 5 miles one way from La Jolla shores to Torrey Pines State Beach. Shorter options are possible using the path to La Jolla Farms Rd. or Gilder Port. It’s also possible to extend the run north to Del Mar. Plan on doing this run during low tide, where the sand is more firmly packed. At Scripps Pier there are beautiful tide pools but it’s a bit rocky. Black’s Beach, closer to Torrey Pines, is ‘clothing optional’. Running on a beach is, if course, situational. At Flat Rock, a narrow trail allows you to negotiate the area.
San Diego Adventure: The ‘Coaster’
A unique running opportunity in San Diego is the ‘coaster”, which involves taking the Coaster train north from Solana Beach and then running back on the Coast Highway. One can go as far as Oceanside, which is 16 miles. There is a shoulder/bike lane along the road, and ocean views the whole way. Bring money…and water! Here’s the Coaster schedule.
Lake Murray. 12 miles east of SD, and near Mission Trails State Park.
Mission Trails Regional Park: Located in La Mesa, 12 miles northeast of San Diego. <ore than 30 miles of trail running, all within the confines of a 5,800-acre regional park. Of special note is 1,591-foot Cowles Mountain, the highest point in San Diego (city). Options include the mostly flat 1.2-mile Grassland Loop to the moderately challenging 4-mile North Fortuna Trail to the challenging Fortuna Saddle Trail. It’s about 3 miles to the top of Cowles Mountain. Trail info here.
Central San Diego is quite compact. Stay near the airport, convention center, and downtown/gaslamp area provides good access to waterfront running. Balboa Park is 1–2 miles west of downtown/Gaslamp district. Mission Bay is 5–6 miles from downtown and there is a good selection of hotels there, and also near Pacific Beach. There aren’t many hotels right near or in Balboa Park. There are also a few hotels in La Jolla & Torrey Pines.
Stores & Group Runs
There don’t seem to be as many local running stores as some other cities, but there are several that have a great reputation.
Movin Shoes: Also in Encinitas and La Mesa. This longtime local favorite was recently purchased by Olympians Bob Kennedy and Meb Keflezighi. Super helpful folks. Group runs Mondays 6pm. Other store runs here.
Balboa Park area
Milestone Running Club. Group Runs Wednesday 6pm.
Scripps Ranch (near Mission Hills area)
Laces Running Company Group runs twice a week.
Road Runner Sports
San Diego Track Club. Group runs: Tuesday 6pm track workouts Balboa Park. Free for visitors.
San Diego Track Club keeps calendar of running events.
San Diego Marathon - January. Well, how many North American cities can have a marathon in January?
Electric Run: (November) A run that celebrates the night life, this race happens from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and has neon lights, glowing tunnels and club music as you run. Sign up: electricrun.com
San Diego Half Marathon. March
Silver Strand Half Marathon & 5K: (Nov. 17) A race from Coronado to Imperial Beach that welcomes runners, walkers, wheelchair athletes and even in-line skaters. New this year is a 10-mile race for those not quite ready to conquer the half’s 13.1 route. Sign up: kozevents.com
Father Joe’s Thanksgiving 5K: One of the city’s most popular 5Ks attracts thousands of people each Thanksgiving in a race that benefits San Diego’s homeless population. Sign up: thanksgivingrun.org.
America’s Finest City Half Marathon. August. Starts at the Cabrillo Monument on Point Loma