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.
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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.