This southern California county boasts outdoor sport-friendly weather nearly every day of the year.
Sunny San Diego County offers all the highlights for a stellar endurance vacation: endless run options, outstanding weather and excellent food and craft beer for post-run fueling. With a sun-kissed reputation of being outdoor-friendly and active nearly year-round, America’s Finest City holds true to its label when it comes to the picture-perfect scene of runners, cyclists and surfers dotting every coastline, from small-town Oceanside down to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“San Diego is really America’s Finest City for running and training,” says Paul Greer, head coach of the San Diego Track Club and San Diego City College cross-country team, as well as a 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier in the 1,500-meter event. “Recreational enthusiasts of all ages and abilities have easy access to beaches down the coastline and the beautiful mountains from the east county. The city is truly a paradise, offering runners this great opportunity to train and race year-round.”
With 360 days of sunshine per year (an overzealous estimate, but pretty darn accurate), it’s unnecessary to ever step onto a treadmill. Follow the coastline for miles, win a quick uphill battle along the beachside cliffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve and satisfy those runner munchies at the best Mexican joint in town—because they are all arguably unbeatable. If you’re thirsting for a post-run brew, take advantage of San Diego’s thriving craft beer scene, which, with nearly 75 locally brewed brands, consistently gives every other hub a run for its money.
Where to Run
Running routes are plentiful; it simply depends on what kind of run you want. Duck into the rolling trails in and around Balboa Park, which offers 65 miles of exploring. There are five main entries, including Morley Field, which hosts the national high school cross-country championships every year. For some elevation and killer seaside views, tackle the Torrey Pines State Reserve from the north side. Park on 4th Street in Del Mar and chase the water to the beach lot, continuing up the curvy access road. Continue down any of the winding trails toward the ocean before heading back to your car. If you’re itching for an authentic So Cal experience, get a one-way ticket on the Coaster commuter train from Solana Beach to Oceanside on a Saturday morning—your on-foot return trip is 15 miles through six chill surf communities. On a sunny morning, Mission Bay is a perfect spot to park, run for miles and indulge in a waterside picnic. To mix trails with mountain climbs, head east to Mount Laguna and tackle the Big Laguna Trail, a 6-miler that hovers around 5,500 feet of elevation for the whole run.
Where to Race
Locals get kudos for completing the Triple Crown Half Marathon Series, comprised of the Carlsbad Marathon & Half (Jan. 8), La Jolla Half Marathon (April 26) and America’s Finest City Half Marathon (Aug. 16). The Xterra Trail Run Socal Series offers two San Diego installments for their trail series: the Mission Gorge Trail Run (Feb. 1) and the Black Mountain Trail Run (April 12). Of course, you can always run a mile with your dog or by yourself at The Encinitas Mile (March 15, encinitasmile.com)—see how fast you can complete the 1,609m distance. For more off-road options, complete the Dirt Devils Progressive Series next year, including the Foxy 5K (April), Wildhorse 10K (June), Stairway to Heaven 15K (August) and the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon (October). Don’t miss the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon (May 31), the original race for the popular series, starting at Balboa Park and finishing at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
Where to Shop
With three shops located across the county in Pacific Beach, Encinitas and La Mesa, Movin’ Shoes (movinshoes.com) is the go-to local shop for runners. Olympians Bob Kennedy and Meb Keflezighi, a San Diego resident, purchased the chain in 2013, and it continues to provide top-notch service with shoe fittings, clinics for local charity teams and group runs weekly. A newer addition to the running community is Milestone Running Company (2545 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite D, milestonerunning.com), which dubs itself as the most conveniently located store in the city and offers customers assistance in all areas of running. Road Runner Sports (roadrunnersports.com), with two locations in Carlsbad and Claremont Mesa, is another great option for a larger variety of apparel, including the store’s own performance line. Be sure to check out Road Runner’s once-a-month Adventure Run.
RELATED: Destination North Conway, N.H.
Where to Eat & Drink
Bull Taco (bulltaco.com) is the place to go for great tacos, and it has four locations along the coastline north of San Diego. If sushi strikes your fancy, Sushi Ota (4529 Mission Bay Drive) is the unanimous favorite on the outskirts of Pacific Beach. For a caffeine boost, Zumbar Coffee (zumbarcoffee.com) is a local favorite for its artisanal approach to brewing. It has two locations in Cardiff by the Sea and Sorrento Valley behind the train station. Fuel up at Claire’s on Cedros (246 N. Cedros Ave., clairesoncedros.com) in Solana Beach—the Clairecakes, along with the quaint atmosphere, are to die for. The Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego has plenty of restaurants and nightlife options. If it’s the third Thursday of the month, head to 30th Street (30thstreet.org) in North Park, where a plethora of brew spots and restaurants offer deals. And of course, there’s San Diego’s beer scene—and visiting Stone Brewing Company (stonebrewing.com) is a must. Head to Escondido, northeast of San Diego, to tour the brewery gardens; for just beer and food, Liberty Station near the airport hosts a huge spot for sipping.
San Diego is pretty much perfect year-round. The harshest element is an occasional heavy rainfall, and temps rarely dip below 45 degrees in the dead of winter. Be wary of the “May gray” and “June gloom” months, when San Diego is notoriously overcast (but still great for running); the best months to escape to the beaches are August and September, when the water is warmest. Summer highs may hover around the high 80s and low 90s, but for the majority of the season, temperatures only reach the high 70s.
Did You Know?
The 1,400-acre Balboa Park hosts 15 major museums and the San Diego Zoo, making it the largest urban cultural park in the nation.
The Comic-Con International trade show takes over San Diego’s downtown every July, with attendance topping 130,000 enthusiasts—most in costume.
Built in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island is the oldest wooden structure in the country and is a popular tourist destination.