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Get Outside: 15 Outdoor Challenges

Take your workouts to new heights and lengths with our list of San Diego’s best hikes, bike paths, and swims. Plus, a triathlon for beginners, beach yoga, and more. Get set to sweat!


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1. Run or Walk the Interior of Mission Bay

You may already use part of the Mission Bay path for a run, but have you challenged yourself to complete the full loop? It’s 11 miles of a wide path that hugs the water and is usually separate from traffic. You’ll get to take in all of San Diego’s beach activity—from boating to volleyball to rental house partying—as you run by.

Good to know: There’s usually ample parking in the lots on the eastern side of the bay.

East Mission Bay Drive and Clairemont Drive, Mission Bay

Level: Moderate

 

2. Hike a Portion of the Pacific Crest Trail

The 2,650-mile trail stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian and was recently in the spotlight thanks to the New York Times best-seller and film Wild. You can share in a small part of the trail’s glory by hiking a segment that runs east of San Diego. The trail starts in Campo and winds its way by Lake Morena and over Mount Laguna.

Good to know: Check out the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s website for day hikes or shorter backpacking trips.

Level: Moderate

 

3. Compete in a Triathlon or Half Ironman

When the first-ever modern triathlon was held in Mission Bay in 1974, its organizers thought it would be a fun one-time event. Now it’s an Olympic sport that attracts more than 2 million participants a year. If you’ve never competed in one before, San Diego is the perfect place to try it out, because of our mild summer temperatures, relatively warm ocean water, and calm, protected bays. Start with a sprint-distance tri (swim 0.5 mile, bike 12.4 miles, run 3.1 miles). If you already run and swim, challenge yourself to go a half-Ironman distance this month (April 2) at Oceanside’s Ironman 70.3 (swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, run 13.1 miles).

Good to know: San Diego has several beginner-friendly triathlons, including the Mission Bay Triathlon in October. Check out the Triathlon Club of San Diego for group workouts and practice races.

Level: Difficult

 

4. Swim from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores

This challenge for local swimmers and triathletes covers just over a mile one way. On a clear day, see fish (and maybe some friendly sharks!) swimming beneath you. Buoys at a quarter- and half-mile out provide shorter options if you want to work up to the full distance.

Good to know: Don’t swim alone if it’s your first time. Search online for groups like Triathlon Club of San Diego that organize pack swims every week.

Coast Boulevard and Prospect Street, La Jolla

Level: Difficult

 

5. Bike to Work

Get your exercise while cutting carbon emissions and easing traffic. The county is slowly getting more bikeable, thanks to SANDAG’s Regional Bike Plan, and there are a few good routes already, such as the Ocean Beach and Highway 56 bike paths. Riding to work will make you feel good and allows you to see the city in a whole new way. Bike to Work Week is May 16–20, but, of course, you don’t have to wait until then to give it a whirl.

Good to know: Use bikesd.org to map out the most two-wheel-friendly route.

Level: Easy

 

6. Do the Train Run

This picturesque path down the Coast Highway really shows what living in San Diego is all about. Take the Coaster from Solana Beach to Oceanside and log 16 miles while breathing in the ocean air. Stop at Swami’s Cafe along the way if you need to refuel (1163 South Coast Highway 101) or celebrate at the end with a big meal from Claire’s on Cedros (246 North Cedros Avenue).

Good to know: Park at the Solana Beach station and pay $4 to travel just one way north.

105 North Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach

Level: Difficult

 


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7. Try a Trail Race

Break out of a running rut or challenge yourself to do something new by taking advantage of the region’s many offroad races. Runs through Lake Hodges and Mission Trails will take you to new places in the county and bring the exhilaration of trying something away from the pavement and sidewalks.

Good to know: San Diego Dirt Devils puts on a progressive trail run series each summer, so you can start with a 5K and end with a half marathon.

Level: Moderate

 

8. Run or Hike Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

This lush canyon boasts its own waterfall and miles of trails that make you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. While the dirt paths offer good options for shorter trail runs, try challenging yourself to do the full loop from one side to the other—about 12 miles total.

Good to know: In the summer months, bring plenty of water and start early. It can be hot, dry, and dusty.

12115 Black Mountain Road, Rancho Peñasquitos

Level: Easy

 

9. Hike Torrey Pines

This quintessential San Diego spot has the most gorgeous views of ocean bluffs that you can find. Make yourself earn that reward by parking at Torrey Pines State Beach and hoofing it up the road—a 500-foot climb over about 1.5 miles. Go past the state park on North Torrey Pines Road, and turn right at the Salk Institute at Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, which takes you to another iconic view at the Gliderport.

Good to know: Be prepared for pricey parking at the beach—$15 on the weekends, $12 on weekdays—or get lucky with street parking.

North Torrey Pines Road and Carmel Valley Road, La Jolla

Level: Easy

 

10. Bike the Bayshore Bikeway

This 24-mile loop brings you across the bay on a ferry, down the beautiful Silver Strand, and back up through Chula Vista and downtown San Diego. Finishing it means passing through five cities and experiencing a big chunk of the local coastline.

Good to know: You have to take the Coronado Ferry to do the loop, so check departure schedules and bring $4.75 (bikes are free).

900 North Harbor Drive, Downtown

Level: Moderate

 

11. Complete Mission Trails’ Five Peak Challenge

Launched late last year, this is San Diego’s mini version of the Colorado fourteeners (the challenge to hike all 53 mountains above 14,000 feet). Hike the five peaks in Mission Trails above 1,000 feet and snap a selfie at each summit to get an official certificate and pin.

Good to know: Follow #5peakchallenge on Twitter to get tips and connect with hiking buddies. For maps: mtrp.org

Level: Moderate

 

12. Run or Bike up to Cabrillo National Monument

Climbing to the top of one of San Diego’s most iconic spots either by foot or by wheel is an achievement—and one that won’t take all day. The 12-mile out-and-back route from Spanish Landing Park to the top has rewarding views along its path, topped off with sweeping sights all the way to Mexico if you make it to the end.

Good to know: You can turn around at the park’s entrance, or pay $5 and go to the lighthouse or down to the tide pools on the western edge.

3900 North Harbor Drive, Point Loma

Level: Moderate

 

13. Cross Mission Bay on a Stand-up Paddleboard

This is something every San Diegan should try at least once. Being close to the water and paddling on the glassy bay can put you in a Zen-like state. Challenging yourself to make it from Santa Clara Point to the eastern side makes it a workout.

Good to know: Be mindful of the wind, which can make paddling east feel like a breeze but coming back a lot harder.

1008 Santa Clara Place, Mission Bay

Level: Easy

 

14. Hike El Capitan

Inarguably San Diego’s hardest hike, the trail to the peak goes up and up, then down, then up again. Plan to spend most of the day on the 11.2-mile round trip that will reward you with a deep sense of accomplishment and incredible views.

Good to know: Bring lots of water and start early in the morning. The trail is closed in August because of the heat.

Wildcat Canyon Road and Shenma Road, Lakeside

Level: Difficult

 

15. Run or Bike over the Coronado Bridge

There are only two opportunities each year to cross the Coronado Bridge outside of a car, an experience everyone should have at least once. From the top, you’ll get views into the Navy base, Coronado, the harbor, and the ocean that you can’t fully take in when you’re driving.

Good to know: Run the bridge at the Navy’s Bay Bridge Run/Walk May 15, or bike it as part of the Bike the Bay ride August 28, 2016.

Level: Easy

 


More in Get Outside:

Try a Mindful Triathlon

Finally, an event for us noncompetitive types

Things to Do Outside for Free 

Organized outings that cost zippo

Nature Calls!

Get outside and appreciate your Mother Earth with these local programs for kids and adults

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