The Best Hiking, Biking, Swimming, Trails and More in San Diego
Our go-to guide for where to hike, bike, run, swim, and get outside in San Diego. Plus: gear, clubs, classes, and more.
Top 10 San Diego Bike Paths
Biking to Cabrillo National Monument | Photo by John Trice
1. Bayshore Bikeway
This route offers breathtaking views of downtown, the Silver Strand, and everything in between. Much of it is a dedicated path, but it’s primarily city streets through downtown and National City. Overall, you’ll experience a fun, flat ride, with plenty of opportunity to work on speed.
START HERE: Embarcadero
2. Fiesta Island
Ride about five miles of paved path along the water with a breeze that can help you build wind tolerance. Be careful of walkers, strollers, and pet traffic, especially on weekends.
START HERE:Dirt parking lot just off East Mission Bay Drive
3. La Jolla to Oceanside via PCH
Oh, the views from the Pacific Coast Highway! The out-and-back route includes some challenging hills and plenty of flat, fast surfaces. Watch out for the heavy car and cyclist traffic that shares this route.
START HERE: North Torrey Pines Road
4. Cabrillo National Monument
We suggest the route to Cabrillo National Monument Park beginning at Collier Park north of Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach. Cruise toward Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, turn inland at Ladera Street, and weave your way to Catalina Boulevard. Continue to Cabrillo National Monument Park, where we highly recommend you sacrifice a couple of bucks for the entrance fee.
5. Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
Elfin Forest is definitely not for beginners, as it includes some super-challenging climbs (but great scenery). Starting in Del Mar, go north to Leucadia and take La Costa Avenue east. Follow it to Rancho Santa Fe Road, turn right on San Elijo Road, and right on Elfin Forest Road. For an added challenge, stay on Elfin Forest Road until it changes to Harmony Grove Road. From there, follow West Valley Parkway south to Solana Beach. Watch for areas with thin (or no) bike lanes.
START HERE: Pacific Coast Highway, Del Mar
Biking in Balboa Park | Photo by John Trice
6. Rancho Santa Fe Loop
We hear this route is a popular one for the San Diego Bicycle Club each Saturday, but you can always try it on your own. Start at UC Cyclery in La Jolla, take I-5 north, then go through Sorrento Valley and back to El Camino Real. Weave your way through Rancho Santa Fe, then back to PCH and head south. Be prepared for a few climbs and narrow roads with lots of car traffic.
START HERE: UC Cyclery, La Jolla
7. Noble Canyon
Noble Canyon in Cleveland National Forest is a favorite among advanced mountain bikers. Start the trek at Red Tail Roost (Laguna Mountain Visitor Center) and weave your way through to Noble Canyon Connector before finishing up at Pine Creek Picnic Area. Bring plenty of water and $5 for parking.
START HERE: Laguna Mountain Visitor Center
8. Mt. Soledad
No matter what route you take to the top of Mt. Soledad, you’ll have to work for it. Start at the Cove for a scenic, easy warm-up along the La Jolla coast before turning left on Nautilus Street, which you’ll follow all the way to the top. The views at the top are worth every inch of the climb. Warning: If you go down steep Via Capri, you'll need good brakes.
START HERE: La Jolla Cove
9.Tierrasanta to Scripps to Lakeside Loop
This route offers a few aggressive hills and fun downhills, starting with a gradual climb to warm up on Kearny Villa Road northbound. Once you turn right onto Pomerado Road, the climbing starts. Follow Pomerado to Scripps Poway Parkway, veering slightly onto Kirkham Way, and then all the way to Highway 67. Next, a long, fast downhill takes you into Lakeside, then toward Santee to Highway 52. Finish up by going back over the hill into Tierrasanta.
START HERE: Santo Road and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Tierrasanta
10. Highway 56
A favorite of cyclists and walkers, Highway 56 is a great, protected bike path for beginners or experienced riders who want to work on speed. We suggest parking at the intersection of Clews Ranch Road and Carmel Country Road to the west, giving you a primarily uphill ride to start and downhill on the way back. To avoid the inland heat, try this route in the early morning or during cooler months.
START HERE: Clews Ranch Road and Carmel Country Road
Tiny Goals, Big Rewards
Ironman Julie Moss learns to take it slow (for once)
Julie Moss | Photo by Robert Benson
Where do you go when you’ve climbed your personal Everest? Where does inspiration come from after you have achieved your biggest dreams?
For the past two years, I set my sights on major back-to-back goals. In 2012, former rival Kathleen McCartney invited me to celebrate 30 years in triathlon racing by competing in the Ironman as teammates. Three decades earlier, Kathleen had passed me just feet from the finish to create an iconic “Agony of Defeat” moment that put the Ironman on the map. Our reunion lasted well past the finish line, leading to a business partnership as Iron Icons motivational speakers.
In 2013, I opted for the Half-Ironman World Championships, half the distance but double the intensity.
But now, without a comparable goal for 2014, I have a new challenge—to make the ordinary feel extraordinary. What are the small everyday moments that put a smile on my face? I organize them into three categories: trying something new, mentoring, and testing my comfort zone.
Trying new things helps you grow. So far in 2014, I’ve enjoyed beginning the new year with my brother, doing 108 consecutive sun salutations at Encinitas CorePower Yoga, hiking with my son to the top of Mt. Woodson to see Potato Chip Rock, and taking a stand-up paddle (SUP) yoga class with a group of dynamic women on Mission Bay. It was fun combining a lifetime love for the water with a new passion for yoga.
I’m also trying mentorship. When a good friend got ready to return to running for fitness and weight loss, our early-morning runs felt more like a gift than an obligation. We’ll celebrate her progress by crossing the finish line together at the La Jolla Half Marathon this month.
You can make every day memorable by stretching beyond your comfort zone. I tell people a mental workout can be as simple as not procrastinating on a blog post, or cleaning up your LinkedIn page. Test your physical limits by eating raw foods for a week or committing to 200 sit-ups a day. Push your emotional limits by reaching out to a friend in need. You are always capable of more than you think you are. I’m finding that I am, too.
2014 Specialized Tarmac SL4 Sport, $2,100, bikebling.com
1. KEEP LIMBS WARM
These Pearl Izumi sleeves will be the best $30 you ever spend. They are easy to put on, comfortable, and keep you warm on morning rides. When it warms up, they’re super easy to remove. Pearl Izumi sleeves, $32, shop.pearlizumi.com
2. clock your speed
The CatEye Wireless computer is one of the best tools to measure distance, and current and average speed. It easily mounts to handlebars. If you’re looking for more data—including GPS—try the Garmin Edge, but be prepared to part with more cash. CatEye Wireless, $45-150, cateye.com
3. repair equipment
A good multi-tool has the versatility to repair or maintain your pedals, chains, and everything in between. This one by Spin Doctor is lightweight and even comes with a Neoprene storage pouch. Spin Doctor Rescue 16 Multi-Tool, $20, performancebike.com
4. PUMP THOSE TIRES
Although it’s always good to have a hand pump attached to your bike for emergencies, a CO2 system like Spin Doctor offers much quicker relief from a flat. With one shot, you’ll be back on the road. Spin Doctor Quickshot Pro CO2 Inflation System, $25, performancebike.com
5. STAY DRY
Got rain? Polaris’ lightweight jacket has waterproof zippers and packs up tight. Stuff it into a jersey pocket or fold it into your seat bag when you’re not using it. Polaris Aqualite Extreme Waterproof Jacket, $54, chainreactioncycles.com
6. REFUEL YOUR BOD
Better than a bloc or chew with weirdo ingredients. Go USDA Organic with Mamma Chia, founded in San Diego. Plus, the individual packets lie pretty flat. Our personal fave is Blackberry Bliss! Mamma Chia Organic Squeeze Vitality Snacks, pack of 16 for $28, shopmammachia.com
7. PROTECT THE NOGGIN
Invest in a quality, safe helmet like the Giro Aeon Road Helmet and your head will thank you if you ever take a tumble. Giro Aeon Road Helmet, $250, giro.com
8. FLEX THE HAMSTRINGS
You want pedals you can clip into and easily disengage from, especially if you’re new to cycling. They allow you to utilize more of your hamstring muscle while you’re pedaling, which can make you more efficient (and faster). Shimano Ultegra Road Pedals, $200, bike.shimano.com
9. LIGHT THE WAY
There are cheaper options, but the NiteRider Lumina 700 is bright enough to help you see your surroundings instead of just allowing people to see you, which comes in handy on early-morning or evening rides. NiteRider Lumina 700 front light and mount, $140, bikebling.com
10. PACK IT UP
This bag will fit all of your essentials without weighing you down. Fill it with nutrition, extra inner tubes in case of a flat, a multi-tool, and CO2 kit. Transit Medium Ultra Wedge Seat Bag, $20, performancebike.com
Hike & Run
Top 10 San Diego
Elfin Forest | Photo by John Trice
1. Iron Mountain
Not as popular as the so-called “Disneyland of Hikes” (aka Cowles Mountain), this trail is not as crowded and has even better views. After you reach the top and start heading back, you can extend your hike to 9.5 miles by taking a path that splits off about a mile from the summit. You’ll trek through rock formations, past sweeping views, and into a rolling meadow toward the end.
Start here: Take I-15 north to Poway Road exit. Trailhead is at the intersection of Poway Road and Highway 67.
2. Crestridge Ecological Reserve
Spot wildlife and enjoy beautiful views. Dogs on leashes are welcome, and the hike is good for kids.
Start here: Take I-8 east to El Cajon and exit on Greenfield Drive, then turn left on La Cresta Road. Continue as it turns into Mountain View Road, then turn left onto Horsemill Road, which ends at the reserve’s visitor center.
3. Torrey Pines
Reserve lot on North Torrey Pines Road ($15 on weekends). Work those glutes on the steep path up into the park and then meander through the many trails, all of which have stunning ocean views. Take the beach trail down to the water and, if it’s low tide, run along the sand back to your car.
Start here: Park in the Torrey Pines State Natural
4. Coaster Run
This point-to-point run is great for marathon training because it forces you to finish. The beautiful beaches distract you from your burning calves.
Start here: Park at the Solana Beach Coaster station and take the train north to Oceanside, then run back on PCH. For a 4-mile run, get off at the Encinitas station instead.
5. Balboa Park Trail #5
This trail is right in the middle of the city, but its dirt paths take you up serious climbs and through secluded parts of the park. Then it brings you past the museums and over Cabrillo Bridge, giving you the full Balboa Park tour.
Start here: Sixth Avenue and Upas Street and follow the red diamond #5 trail markers.
Torrey Pines | Photo by Jay reilly
6. Sunset Cliffs
Join the packs of runners and bikers on this path and do some people-watching. The park is away from traffic with a network of trails for further exploring.
Start here: Start at the Dusty Rhodes Dog Park on West Point Loma Boulevard in O.B. and make your way to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, which takes you to the trails in Sunset Cliffs Park.
7. Stonewall Peak
This moderate climb over a short distance has a big payoff: a 360-degree view of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Extend your hike by taking the trail down the back of the mountain and then looping back to the start. This park has tons of linking trails, so be careful not to trek too far or get lost!
Start here: Take I-8 east to 79 north. Follow 79 for about 12 miles to Paso Picacho Campground. Park in the day use lot for $8. The trailhead is across the street.
8. South Fortuna Mountain
This climb is fairly low-key, except for the infamous “Stairway to Heaven,” a set of wooden stairs toward the end. But all that cardio is worth it for the view from the top.
Start here: Take I-15 north to Friars Road, then left on Mission Gorge Road and follow it for 8 miles to a parking lot at Jackson Drive.
9. Lake Miramar
Follow the path around the zigzagging banks of this lake for a flat and easy run. The path also has markers every quarter-mile, which you can use for keeping pace.
Start here: Take the Carroll Canyon Road exit from I-15 north. Turn right on Carroll Canyon, slight left onto Scripps Ranch Boulevard, right on Scripps Lake Drive. Park in the lot at the lake before you pass the water treatment plant.
10. Liberty Station to Harbor Island
This flat path has wide sidewalks and barely any contact with cars, and gets you onto Harbor Island without the parking hassle. Plus, there are so many bakeries and restaurants in Liberty Station, where you can celebrate after your run.
Start here: Start on Historic Decatur Road in Liberty Station and run through the park, over the pedestrian bridge and down Harbor Drive onto Harbor Island.
The Birthday Run
Navy doc and ABC’s Bachelor alum Andy Baldwin runs his age in miles. Happy 37!
Andy Baldwin | Photo by Rich Cruse
Instead of stuffing myself with booze, birthday cake, and self-adulation, this year I decided to celebrate my birthday by running my age in miles for charity. I first heard of the idea two years ago from my friend and endurance sports legend, Mike Rouse, who has done the Birthday Run every single year for the past three decades. His latest run was 62 miles.
On average, I usually run 4 to 7 miles per day, several times a week. After my second birthday run last year, I confirmed that there is no place better to do a run of that length than in San Diego. I also learned, if you run for charity and your group wears matching shirts (“37 dollars for 37 miles”) and tweet while running, it is possible to have a “Forrest Gump moment” running up PCH.
I was running for the Got Your Back Network charity I founded in 2009, after losing several friends in the wars following 9/11. As I ran, more and more people joined the train.
This year I turned 37 on February 5, but ran on February 2, as I would be shipped out to sea the next day. At 7 a.m., I walked to the Starbucks off Villa La Jolla Drive and met up with a small handful of runners and volunteers from the Got Your Back Network. Some of them had done all or parts of the run with me before. The plan was to leave from there and run 18.5 miles up the coast, and then retrace my steps back to total 37. Mike Rouse agreed to join me for the entirety. We would be running for six hours.
I started my Garmin watch and set out with the group at a brisk but conservative pace. By mile 5 and one hour of running, we’d passed the UCSD campus and the Torrey Pines Golf Course, reaching the long and steep descent down North Torrey Pines Road. Mike yelled, “What goes down, must come up,” and I was jolted by the realization that I would be hitting the monstrous hill again on the way back at mile 32. I knew that for the next six hours I would be on a mental roller-coaster ride. I needed to stay focused on the moment, take in the beauty of the scenery, and control my breathing.
Passing through Del Mar, we ran by iconic spots like Jake’s, Dog Beach, and the Brigantine. After that, Solana Beach—the train station, Roberto’s, and then up the picturesque stretch to Cardiff. After two hours of running, we stopped to pay homage to the famous Cardiff Kook. Passing through Encinitas, it took all my willpower not to stop for a cold pint at Union Kitchen and Tap.
Twelve miles in, almost one-third of the way! Passing cars honked, giving us encouragement. We live-tweeted and shared photos on Facebook. Friends joined in along the way. The minimum number of runners at one time was three people, and at max, we were running in a pack of 15. By three hours, we reached South Carlsbad and turned around.
After four hours of running, I had a hot dog in Encinitas. My legs began to wobble as I reached the Del Mar Racetrack and I wondered how on earth was I going to make it up Torrey Pines. It was then that I received a text message from one of the widows who has been helped through the Got Your Back Network after her husband was killed in Afghanistan last year. “Thanks for doing this for us!” she wrote. Instantly I got a second wind. The pain in my legs and the grade of the hill did not matter. I put one foot in front of the other, not for myself, but for those families. And before I knew it, I was at the top of Torrey Pines and almost there.
5 New Things to Try Outside
If right now you’re thinking running, schmunning, read this
1. Jetpack Experience
The future has come to San Diego with the world’s first water-propelled jetpack. Choose from a short 15-minute flight, or go all out with the 60-minute James Bond Flight Experience and zoom up to 25 feet above Mission Bay. If you just can’t get enough of this futuristic thrill, jetpacks are also available to purchase for a mere $9,979. jetpackamerica.com
2. Nite Ops Paddle Tour
Now paddleboard addicts don’t have to stop when the sun goes down. San Diego Bay Adventures has a new nighttime experience—a one-hour LED-lit paddleboard tour around the Sheraton Marina. Check out the nocturnal wildlife in San Diego Bay, and finish off the night with a fireside gathering complete with Hawaiian music and folklore. sdbayadventures.com
3. Ride in the Surf
San Diego Beach Rides offers private guided beach and trail rides near Imperial Beach, next to the Tijuana River Valley Nature Preserve. Ride through the Tijuana River Valley, along the beach, or take your horse into the surf with the Swim Adventure experience. happytrailssandiego.com
4. Outdoor Painting
Being outside doesn’t have to mean breaking a sweat. The Salon of Art offers fine oil painting instruction that takes advantage of San Diego’s world famous vistas. The En Plein Air outdoor painting programs for advanced painters take place in different locations each week. Learn about color mixing, composition, and supplies needed to create a painting in one session. thesalonofart.com
Beauty's Balcony Balboa Park
5. Bike and Brew
What better way to sample some of the region’s finest brews than on a bicycle? Mira Mesa Bike & Brew, offered by REI San Diego, is a new tour for spring that includes an inside look at local breweries, plus a support van to carry your purchases (or you) safely back to base camp. Save money with the BYOBike version of the tour. rei.com
WHERE TO PERFECT YOUR STROKE
La Jolla Cove | Photo by Corey Jenkins
Ocean Swimming Spots
1. La Jolla Cove
This sheltered cove has lifeguards and two buoys marking a quarter- and half-mile. When the water is clear, you can see fish and plant life below. On April 12, take a break from the tax-filing crunch at the La Jolla Cove's Tax Relief Swim. lajollacoveswimclub.com
2. Ventura Cove
Ventura Cove in Mission Bay is boat-free and has lifeguards and a small beach. Swim laps around the six buoys, which are about one-tenth of a mile from one end to the other.
3. Fletcher Cove
Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach is often crowd-free and is a good place to practice swimming in waves. Bonus: Parking is free in the lot at 111 South Sierra Avenue.
4. Spanish Landing Park
Across from the airport off North Harbor Drive, you'll find a wave-free swim. From the beach to the Harbor Drive bridge covers about a quarter-mile.
5. Glorietta Bay
Coronado's Glorietta Bay has sheltered swimming, views of the Coronado bridge and golf course, and a small beach where you can dry off—plus free and easy parking.
Swim Clubs, Coaches, & Lessons
Adult swim lessons at San Diego State University’s Aquaplex are for beginners through intermediates. Lessons are offered in groups or alone, ranging from $8 to $20 per lesson. aztecaquaplex.sdsu.edu/lessons
San Diego Tri Club
San Diego Tri Club’s group swims are held at the JCC in La Jolla and in open water at Fletcher Cove and La Jolla Cove. The first session is free, after that it’s $5 a session. triclubsandiego.org
Find swim coaches at websites like happyswimmers.com or through groups like San Diego Tri Club.
Tri Swim Coach
Try a swim clinic that uses underwater video to help you see and improve your stroke. Find details on websites like triswimcoach.com.
Coronado Masters Association
Coronado Masters Association offers coached swims Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 p.m. in Coronado’s beautiful municipal pool. eteamz.com/cmaswimmers
Coronado’s Municipal Pool | Photo by Corey Jenkins
Coronado’s Municipal Pool
Coronado’s Municipal Pool is just feet from the bay—go at sunset, trust us. Nonresidents can buy a monthly pass for $120 and swim 50-meter or 25-meter laps in the competition pool. 1845 Strand Way, Coronado
Bay Club Carmel Valley
Formerly the Pacific Athletic Club, Bay Club has three heated pools and a soothing atmosphere. Instructors teach the Michael Phelps Swim Method. Membership grants access to the spa, gym, and pools. 12000 Carmel Country Road, Carmel Valley
Bud Kearns Memorial Pool
San Diego’s Bud Kearns Memorial Pool in Balboa Park is clean, big, and at $4 a visit, easy on the wallet. 2229 Morley Field Drive, San Diego
San Diego State University’s Aquaplex is open to the public and costs $5 to get in. It has a 50-meter pool just for lap swims and a recreation pool for kiddies to play in. 5375 Remington Road, College Area