Ocean Views and Forested Trails: The Most Beautiful Running Routes in San Diego

running in San Diego
Balboa Park | Emily Wright/Thrillist
Balboa Park | Emily Wright/Thrillist

Running on a treadmill in San Diego is basically a sacrilege thanks to all of the scenic places to work out. The weather is temperate nearly all year, and with miles of sidewalks, paths, and trails, you basically never have an excuse to be running indoors. But when the whole city is practically asking for you to run all over it, how can you possibly find the best-looking routes giving you the aesthetic encouragement to endure all the logged miles? We found the eight most beautiful running routes in the area to help you along.

Pacific Coast Highway

The PCH stretches throughout the city, so there are many different ways to tackle this run. For a flat four-ish mile run with sweeping views of the shoreline, start at Swami’s Reef and head south. The pedestrian path passes the San Elijo State Beach campgrounds, with smoky campfire smells wafting through. Another flat route is in Carlsbad: the protected seawall and beach-side trail overlook the ocean, and it runs the length of the city. Start anywhere in Carlsbad Village and go out-and-back; then treat yourself to a meal in the village.

Mission Bay San Diego

Mission Bay

A flat sidewalk snakes around Mission Bay for a full 11-mile loop, with plenty of different starting points and oft-changing views, and the boats sailing on the water serve as a welcome distraction from the monotony of a long run. The mile-markers on the sidewalk here are handy reminders, letting you know just how much (or little, no judging) you’ve run. The park is almost always full of dog-walkers, stroller gangs, and families on bikes, so stay on your toes to avoid running into people. However, the pedestrian path is wide enough that there's rarely a traffic jam.

Balboa Park San Diego
Flickr/Mark Weston

Balboa Park

Sure, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, but it’s also possible to find some solitude on the multitude of trails to get your sweat on in peace. For a flat, well-paved run, start at Sixth Ave and Upas St and follow the sidewalk. The run goes through the heart of Balboa Park, so dodging tourists becomes a game. For a more secluded jaunt, take the marked trail at the same starting point and follow the red diamonds for a tough six-miler that finishes on the remote Bridle Trail.

Cabrillo National Monument San Diego
Flickr/Bill Gracey

Cabrillo National Monument

San Diego’s only national monument has a short trail with sweeping views of Point Loma and the bay. Out and back, the Bayside Trail is 2.5 miles, and starts at the old lighthouse. It may be short, but there's a 240ft climb in elevation, so you'll definitely be sweating by the end of it, distance be damned. There are also lots of scenic lookout points to stop and do bodyweight exercises in case the incline wasn't enough. Afterwards, Liberty Public Market isn’t far away, so you can refuel with a good beer and some good food.

Sunset Cliffs San Diego
Flickr/Tours Departing Daily

Sunset Cliffs

The expansive ocean, the shoreline, the arresting cliffsides -- Sunset Cliffs has all the quintessential San Diego views. The trail is situated directly above the ocean, separated from traffic. When the tide is low, the reefs provide a tranquil backdrop; the ocean breeze isn't a terrible motivator either. The trail is about a mile, and has two starting points. Park at either the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park or in one of the few lots near Sunset Cliffs Blvd and Osprey St. For a longer run, continue on Sunset Blvd into Ocean Beach and head to the pier.

Torrey Pines San Diego
Ellen Wright/Thrillist

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines is one of the most popular nature preserves in the city, and with good reason. More than 2,000 acres of natural land were set aside to provide San Diegans a respite from development. Running through the winding trails, it’s easy to get a sense of what California was like before all the freeways came along. Build your own run here, as there are many trails and distances, from half-mile to 5+ mile loops. Start at the beach and work your way up the bluff-side trails, or head up the super-steep paved road and take one of the many trails heading downward. There is free parking, but to save you the hassle of finding a spot that might not be where you want to start your run, there's a paid lot that costs anywhere between $10-$15, depending on the day and season.

Cowles Mountain sunset San Diego
Flickr/David Foltz

Cowles Mountain

At nearly 1,600ft high, Cowles Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in San Diego. On a clear day, you can see Mexico, the ocean, and most of our fair city. At only three miles, this trail may not be great for hardcore athletes, but the view at the top is unlike any other in the city -- there may not be an "urban" run more stunning. The trail can be rocky, so by focusing on not slipping, you’ll conquer three miles before you know it.

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve San Diego
Ellen Wright/Thrillist

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve

Nearby Mount Woodson with Potato Chip Rock tends to get all the love in Poway, but Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is an overlooked runner’s paradise. There are shade canopies, trail traffic tends to be light, and there's a watershed all the way at the top. No swimming is technically "allowed" in the watershed, so we would never recommend bringing a floatie to enjoy a brief swim after a long run. But leashed dogs are allowed, so you can bring a running partner that won’t mock you (hopefully). The run to Lake Ramona is about two miles from the trailhead, making a full loop right around four.

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Ellen Wright is a freelance writer at Thrillist who loves a trail run as much as a burrito run. Follow her on Twitter: @PacificPolished.