Top 5 Must-Do Runs in San Diego
With perfect weather year round, varying terrain from mountains to beaches and miles of roads to train on, San Diego is a runner’s paradise. You can find endless courses to consider for this list of “Must Do Runs in San Diego.”
That said, it didn’t take long to come up with the top five that every runner in San Diego should check out.
To narrow it down, I used a criteria of variables that both locals and travelers would find meaningful.
First, they had to be accessible and have some kind of parking in close proximity; and second, they had to have take-your-breath-away scenery.
Of course, each route had to feature a San Diego landmark—with one exception. Each of these also had to have a balance of foot and bike traffic, and be protected from car traffic as much as possible.
Elevation was not used as a variable, but I did aim for diversity in elevation between the routes that I chose. Safety of each course was a final priority and I would consider each of these safe—although I always recommend running with a buddy, being aware of your surroundings, carrying your phone and listening to your instincts.
With that, here are the top top 5 must do runs in San Diego.
#1 Balboa Park
Nothing shows off the history and diversity of San Diego more than the Spanish-style buildings along the Prado in Balboa Park. The route is mostly shared by foot traffic, cyclist and the occasional tourist-filled car making this route great for a casual run.
It is a relatively flat course with a couple of inclines that will allow you to enjoy the views of the architecture, a view of downtown as you cross over the bridge and cool breezes under the shade of the trees on the 6th Avenue side of the park. It’s the perfect “San Diego in a nutshell” run without the beach.
With tons of spaces available in Balboa Park, it’s easy to find parking and get started. A great 3-mile loop begins in front of the Hall of Champions, heads up to the Prado and across the Laurel St.
Bridge and turns north running up Balboa Park Drive before turning around and completing the loop by returning on 6th Avenue back to the bridge where you follow your path back to the Hall of Champions.
To add on a hilly mile, add the “Fruit Loop” on the south side of the 6th and Balboa loop. For even more miles, cross over the bridge and run around the Morley Field portion of the park to bring your total to 8 miles.
#2 Pacific Beach: Crystal Pier to the Mission Jetty
The PB boardwalk is the run that everyone who comes to San Diego dreams of. Whether you imagined girls in bikinis on rollerblades or surfer dudes making their way to the waves as you run by, this run delivers.
The only traffic that you’ll have to deal with on this flat run are the casual walkers and college kids on beach cruisers. This is the perfect route to have a friend join in on as the people watching will keep you both entertained. With this classic beach town backdrop as the feature of this course, it is the epitome of SoCal cool.
Whether it’s an early morning jog before the volleyball courts get busy or an evening run with the sun going down, any time of day is perfect for this out-and-back 5.8-mile run from PB’s Crystal Pier to the Mission Beach Jetty.
There is plenty of parking around the Crystal Pier making it not only a gorgeous location to start but also convenient. The route is simple: Start at the Crystal Pier and follow the boardwalk down to the jetty and back.
#3 Lake Miramar
Despite not having a major “attraction” on this route, there are plenty of reasons that both casual and serious runners gravitate to Lake Miramar. This route is a flat, car-free loop around the lake. Much of the loop is lined with trees providing a varying degree of shade throughout the day (morning and late-day tend to be the shadiest).
Of the San Diego courses that are measured and marked, it is the most accurate making your GPS almost unnecessary. The lake itself provides beautiful scenery along with picturesque views of La Jolla and beyond. If you cross the dam at the right time of evening, you’ll be treated to the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets into the Pacific.
The only route on this list without a San Diego landmark, the main parking lot sports a well-maintained restroom and an official start and finish.
The loop follows the path around the lake and has markers every 1/4 mile (measured going counter clockwise) so you can run the loop or do an out-and-back of a shorter distance.
At just under 5 miles, this run is one of the most popular places to run on the I-15 corridor.
#4 Fletcher Cove to the Bottom of Torrey Pines
All you have to do is run the middle portion of this run to know why the Fletcher Cove to Torrey Pines run is on this list. As you come down the 101 from Del Mar, Torrey Pines is framed front and center like you’re on a run in a postcard; and for a couple of miles, you’re treated to one of the most beautiful stretches that SoCal has to offer.
Making this run even better: As you run through Del Mar, you’ll find cool ocean breezes and enjoy the smiles of runners as they pass in the other direction.
For training purposes, any one of the runners in the Seaside Striders Running Club will tell you that this course is one of the favorite long runs for any distance. It’s the perfect combination of terrain with some steady and longer hills, some drawn out flat sections and some gradual downhills that are perfect to work on speed.
Rounding out at 9 miles, this is the Long Run entry to this list. Although you could turn around at any point on the course—as well as add on—this run’s payoff is the stretch near Torrey Pines.
Fletcher Cove is the perfect place to start not only running but also just about any activity from with several parking lots, restrooms and beach access.
After leaving Fletcher Cove, this out-and-back course takes you south on the 101 and eventually right onto Coast Avenue past Powerhouse Park. You wind your way along Stratford Court, meander through the village of Del Mar and then pop out on the 101 where it intersects with Carmel Valley Road.
Head down the hill to the turnaround at the bottom of Torrey Pines, where there’s a fountain and restrooms. Getting lost is never an issue on this course: If you’re heading south, keep the ocean on your right; if you’re on the return trip heading north, keep the ocean on your left.
#5 Seaport Village to Harbor Island
Photo: Donnie Eggleston
Running from Seaport Village to Harbor Island and back is like going on a one-day sightseeing tour of downtown San Diego. Between the Midway, Sailor Statue, Coast Guard Station and other standout points on this run, you get a reminder of the city’s deep-rooted bond with our men and women of the armed services.
You won’t realize how gorgeous the downtown skyline truly is until you take in the view at the turnaround of this run. In fact, you should bring your camera as there are more than a few views along the way that you’ll recognize from postcards and television. To put it simply, this is a run that reminds you why you live in San Diego.
Starting at Seaport Village (you’ll find parking in the surrounding areas and some in the park itself), this is a flat course on a pedestrian path free of car traffic and full of sights. From Seaport Village, the path takes you north past the Midway and along San Diego harbor where you enjoy views of Coronado as you run past the famous Star of India.
From there, the path goes left onto Harbor Island where a left turn—towards the south point of the island— gives you one of the best views of San Diego’s skyline accompanied by ships in the harbor and the engineering wonder that is the Coronado Bridge.
You can follow your course back to the start here for 5 miles or, if you’re interested in adding a couple of miles, run the north portion of Harbor Island to make the trip 7.5 miles.
The Strand/Coronado – This easily could have made the list (it came down to this and PB/Crystal Pier). It is a gorgeous run from the Hotel Del Coronado to Imperial Beach and back.
Lake Murray – Similar to Lake Miramar, this La Mesa route is a wonderful traffic-free gem that many San Diegans have yet to find.
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