San Diego is to world-famous runners what Hollywood is to movie stars. Locals are accustomed to seeing the fastest males and females in the world pop in at the local 5k, just for a workout. Or, more famously, watch them tear through the streets of Solana Beach and Del Mar during the legendary Tuesday Morning Run, a 14-mile routine that began as a two-man affair between triathletes Mark Allen and Greg Welch. Now, two or three dozen athletes show up each Tuesday at nine a.m., cruising at five minutes per mile - and better.
So if you are jonesing for speed, head to Solana Beach or Del Mar. But San Diego is also ideal for a solitary jog along the shore, or a leisurely run with a friend through a canopy of mountain oaks. Few places have more running territory than San Diego. Most towns in America might offer a single great bike path or regional park, but every city in San Diego County has a network of runner-friendly domains.
For instance, runners in Rancho Santa Fe like to meet at San Dieguito Park, then head out onto the 30 miles of wood chip covered trails. In Coronado, runners like to start at the legendary - and haunted - Hotel del Coronado, then amble down the sand to watch Navy SEAL commandos suffer through a typical dawn to dusk to dawn training cycle. (The SEALS go without sleep throughout their infamous Hell Week.) And in Solana Beach, the place to run is the San Elijo Lagoon, just north of town and a quick jog across Pacific Coast Highway from the beachfront parking lot. It's 3.5 miles from San Elijo to San Dieguito Park, meaning you can continue on into Rancho Santa Fe or turn back for a nice 7-miler.
And don't be surprised, no matter where you run, to see plenty of athletes along the way. San Diego is that rare region where athletes make up the majority of the populace.
Balboa Park: Located in downtown San Diego, this mammoth public space is home to the San Diego Zoo and the finish area for the America's Finest City Half Marathon (which starts, appropriately enough for the city's defining running event, at the Cabrillo Monument on Point Loma). The park features 1,200 acres of grass, three miles of paved footpaths, and 4.5 miles of dirt trails, all shaded by pine and eucalyptus trees.
Mission Trails: Located in La Mesa, this rugged offering offers more than 30 miles of 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 (the city, not the county - that honor belongs to Mount Palomar, home of the world famous Palomar Observatory).
Black's Beach: For an offbeat running adventure, start at La Jolla Shores and run along the beach to Torrey Pines State Park. Not only are the beachfront cliffs inspiring, but many will say the same of Black's Beach, the well-known nude sunbather's playground halfway along the route.
Torrey Pines State Park: The 8 miles of looping dirt trails skirting the coast are stunning for their scenery. But don't gawk too long: the narrow paths wind over and around oceanfront cliffs. Of special note are the Torrey Pines growing along those cliffs, which are found there and only one other place on earth.
Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve: Located at 1966 Olivenham Road in Encinitas, this 800-acre park features 17 miles of dirt trails. The trails interweave, so you can run short or long, depending upon your mood, and still stay close to where you parked your car.
Los Pensaquitos Canyon: This forest preserve is a popular haven for runners and bikers alike. Located in Mira Mesa, just 12 miles north of downtown San Diego, this combination of narrow single track and fire roads can offer from 5 to 20 miles of quality running. Look for the waterfall 3 miles inland from the trailhead, and watch out for the mountain bikers on the fire roads.
Befitting an area with such a large running community, the running stores around the county are top notch, designed to meet the needs of runners of all levels. Movin Shoes offers a wide assortment of shoes, and prides itself on knowledgeable staffers with a passion for running. The Movin Shoes Running Club offers a group run every day of the week, with themes ranging from adventure runs to a social midweek run then dine.
Road Runner Sports is another full-service running store, offering a wide array of running-related products and a crack sales team. Also, try the many Sports Authority locations throughout the county.
For upscale dining at its finest, no visit to San Diego County is complete without a visit to the Sky Room at the top of La Valencia Hotel, overlooking the La Jolla Cove. The 180-degree Pacific view and the "California Fresh" cuisine in this intimate restaurant (it holds just 12 booths and tables) are legendary among locals. For something a little more casual, but no less scrumptious, check out Sammy's Woodfired Pizza, voted the best pizza in San Diego year after year.