POV: You’re running barefoot on firm flat sand as the soothing sound of waves breaking around you. The landscape is awash in glistening gold, the water reflecting the setting sun. You breathe in the salty air as a gentle sea breeze hits just right.
The perfect beach run is the runner’s equivalent of a powder day. It requires an alignment of the beach running stars: setting, surface, tides, weather, light, lack of crowds.
More than any other ‘type’ of run, the beach run can be a highly variable experience. Some days and some beaches are nearly un-runnable. E.g., a crowded, soft-sand beach on a hot, windy summer day might drive you to doing loops around the beach parking lot.
But then there’s the opposite: when several essential factors come together.
So, what makes for a perfect beach run? More than any one factor, it’s the surface. Now, some hard core runners might seek out soft sand conditions for the sheer challenge and to build those calf muscles. But beach running nirvana is smooth, firm, hard-packed sand — the type you can bounce a ball off of, with maybe a little give near the water — on a wide, flat, uncrowded beach. Sometimes it takes some research and planning to find that firm sand surface, since at some beaches this occurs only near low tide. And it can be situational, depending on season, wind, and many other factors. Another key element is having no “obstructions,” as in no rocks/pebbles, shells, sea gunk, jellyfish, etc. So you can almost run with your eyes closed. Those are the prerequisites for a great beach run. Then there are other elements that move the needle from “great” to “perfection”: setting (as in, a scenic beach), weather (not too hot, cold, or windy), breaking waves that add to the soothing vibe, that ideal sunrise or sunset light, and not too many people (but not alarmingly desolate either).
I was fortunate enough to experience a near-perfect beach run recently. I was on Tybee Island, near Savannah. The place itself is a bit honky-tonk to be entirely honest, but the beach is gorgeous. It was an early spring evening, but warm. An hour from sunset, so the light was exquisite. Flat, firm, smooth sand, and an unobstructed surface. And only a few folks dotting the beach’s 3-mile length!
What Are Some of the Best Beaches for Running?
Since Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, conjuring up images of beaches and sunshine for many, we thought it might be fun to share our (admittedly subjective) list of some favorite beaches for running, organized by region. This list is culled from our 500+ worldwide routes that are classified as ‘by the beach’, of which about 160 are in a category called “Great Beach Runs.” What are the minimum qualifications? At least two miles in length, publicly accessible, scenic, and reliably firm sand. (Note: it’s always good to check a tide chart.) And remember that the sun will rise on east coast beaches, and set on west coast beaches.
Maine: Ogunquit Beach is one of our favorites for running. It’s wide, 2.5 miles long, and has reliably firm sand.
New Hampshire: Yes, there are beaches in New Hampshire. Combine Seabrook Beach with Hampton Beach for a sunrise run. It’s a scene in summer, with crowds, bikers, and waves.
Massachusetts: We love running on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich on Boston’s north shore. It’s a beautiful beach with firm sand near low tide. On Boston’s south shore, the 3.5 mile long Nantasket Beach has firm sand, waves, and lively crowds.
Cape Cod is another favorite summer destination. The National Seashore beaches, while beautiful, are rugged and not ideal for running. The best bet for beach running on the Cape is the series of beaches on the Bay side. Skaket Beach in Orleans is a favorite, though beware that the sand can get ‘ridgy’ due to wind.
Rhode Island: The best for a longer beach run in the Ocean State is Misquamicut State Beach, near the Rhode Island/Connecticut border. It’s a classic summer beach, best for running at low tide. Over on Block Island, Crescent Beach can also be lovely for running.
New York/New Jersey
The main issue you need to watch out for in this area will be crowds. In season, it’s best to go early or late, if conditions and tides permit.
New York: On Long Island, we love Jones Beach. There’s the 6.5 mile of beach itself, plus good variety with a boardwalk and multi-use trails in the area.
New Jersey. The Jersey Shore is nearly one long, continuous beach. These beaches are generally runnable, but some are better than others. Among our favorite Jersey Shore beaches for running are Sandy Hook, Ocean Grove, and Seven Mile Beach in Avalon/Stone Harbor. The Shore is also famous for its beach boardwalks, which are festive and can be enjoyably twinned with a beach run.
Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City in Maryland are nearly one long, continuous beach. Both are excellent running beaches featuring boardwalks. But be warned that they can be very crowded in summer. Virginia Beach is also similar in quality and character to Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City.
Additionally, the protected beaches at Assateague National Seashore and Chincoteague Island are also wonderful for running.
Georgia and South Carolina: The beaches in Georgia and South Carolina are hands down the most consistently excellent beaches for running in the United States in terms of predictably firm sand. In fact, biking on these beaches is a popular activity. Among our favorites: the beaches on Hilton Head Island and Kiawah Island, as well as Sullivan’s Island/Isle of Palms near Charleston. Tybee Beach, near Savannah, is terrific for running as well.
Florida: There’s no shortage of beaches in Florida. But some are better for running than others. The beaches in south Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, aren’t typically ideal for running. Among some of the best for running:
- Cocoa Beach. The beaches along Florida’s Space Coast have excellent firm sand for running. Cocoa Beach, near Cape Canaveral, is a favorite.
- Fort Myers Beach. Seven miles of wide, flat beach, and can be combined with the 5 miles of trails at Lovers Key State Park.
- Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota consistently makes ‘Best Beaches in the United States’ lists. It’s also 8 miles of beach running heaven.
- St. Pete Beach, located on the west shore of St. Petersburg, is a great beach run with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and gorgeous sunsets.
- Fernandina Beach. The coast of Amelia Island is lined by 13 miles of perfect running sand — firm, flat, and wide, with plenty of access points.
- Daytona Beach. One of the best beaches for running in the United States. This wide beach features 23 miles of packed sand. There are boardwalks/nature trails in several beachfront parks.
Cali has 840 miles of coastline, so there’s no shortage of beach running. Great Runs has categorized more than 25 distinct beaches in California as ‘great beach runs.’ Here’s a sampling of one favorite in each major California coastal area, from south to north.
San Diego: The beach run from La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines is one of the ultimate scenic beach runs, with firm sand, towering cliffs, and golden light.
Los Angeles: Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach is the classic southern California Beach run. The beach is runnable, and also fun to combine with the 22-mile Strand Beach Path.
California’s Central Coast: In the area between Santa Barbara and Big Sur, Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, and Morro Bay feature miles of rugged, undeveloped beach, with reliably compact sand near low tide. A favorite section starts out at the scenic “volcanic plug” known as Morro Rock, continuing north on a beautiful stretch of wide, flat beach until arriving at the pier in the village of Cayucos.
Santa Cruz: Seacliff State Beach is a gem, featuring 2 miles of beachside path, 12 miles of continuous beach with great firm sand, and 150 stairs opposite the pier if you’re aiming to get that heart rate up.
Bay Area: Ocean Beach on the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge is wonderful for running. North of San Francisco, Stinson Beach is another one of the best in the state for running.
Category: Great Beach Runs (organized by region)
About the Author
Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer of Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in destinations worldwide.