Hikes that keep it simple.
Start off small with these beginner’s trails and prevent yourself from burning out.
BALBOA PARK: TRAIL #1 Map Information
CENTRAL- Balboa Park Trail #1
If you can dodge the tourists, Balboa park can offer up some decent hikes. Trail #1 stays clear of the tourist magnet areas, giving you an uninterrupted sweat session.
Begin at Sixth and Upas (“Home Base”) and follow the #1 trail markers.
LAKE MIRAMAR HIKING TRAIL Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- Lake Miramar
This is a good path for a strollers and kids if you’d like to make hiking a family endeavor. The lake makes a pretty scene attracting bikers, runners, and general health nuts and sunshine worshippers alike, making for fair people watching.
The path around Lake Miramar is pretty clear cut. Begin at the designated parking lot on Scripps Lake Drive and loop around.
MISSIONS TRAILS GRASSLANDS LOOP Map Information
EAST COUNTY- Grasslands Loop
This trail is pretty tame which could be exactly what you’re looking for when you’re first starting out. With wide, relatively smooth paths, and easy, rolling hills, this run doesn’t pose too much a challenge. Instead of keeping an eye out for treacherous terrain and stray ankle-spraining rocks, take a gander at the impressive flora instead.
In Mission Trails Regional Park on the Father Junipero Serra Trail.
Take in the scenery.
Make sure you bring your camera; these are some of the most spectacular views that San Diego has to offer.
SUNSET CLIFFS Map Information
CENTRAL- Sunset Cliffs
Much of this path lies off the street, passing by Dog Beach and the Ocean Beach Pier. The trail will eventually take you to Sunset Cliffs, high above the wave breaks and tide pools below, giving you one of the most photographed ocean views on the West Coast. From there, there are plenty of dirt running paths for you to explore.
Start at Dog Beach making your way to Pescadero Drive and on to Sunset Cliffs Park.
PACIFIC BEACH BOARDWALK Map Information
CENTRAL- Pacific Beach Boardwalk
This path is a little hit or miss. Though the path itself runs parallel to the ocean and is completely flat, it can get pretty packed with beach goers on a sunny day (which, in San Diego, is nearly every day). The areas around Belmont Park and Crystal Pier can get congested, but offer up some pretty interesting people watching. Go in the morning or early evening to avoid peak times and dodging tourists that don’t have their head on a swivel while still enjoying the sights.
Start at Law Street where Ocean Boulevard ends. Or begin just above that and run Ocean Blvd along Palisades Park. This path will take you all the way to the Jetty in South Mission Beach.
TORREY PINES RESERVE Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- Torrey Pines
Sure, all of these beach trails will offer awesome ocean vistas, but the ones in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are our favorite. The road to the trailhead is a bit steep, but once that’s over, the sights will more than make up for the climb. Once you get to the trailhead, you have a number of routes that are clearly marked for you.
After parking in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve lot, you can either head up the steep path to the trailhead, or walk along the beach and work backwards.
LA JOLLA OCEAN PATH Map Information
CENTRAL- La Jolla Ocean Path
Enjoy the view of the rocky coastline. This path follows the ocean along the shores of La Jolla, past the La Jolla Tide Pools, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Seal Rock. Take a detour long Rocky Point in Scripps Park and see the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of UCSD.
Follow Coast Boulevard. This is entirely paved until it hits Coast Walk Trail by the La Jolla Caves.
Where to find gym rats in their natural environment…
These trails are flat and easily measured for those with specific training regimens in mind.
THE SILVER STRAND Map Information
This path runs by Coronado along the 75, making this completely flat and straight. Ideal for leisurely bike rides and stroller jogging. The mile markers along the side of this path makes it easy to do sprints and tempo runs. The Navy SEAL training center is also en route; maybe if you run across a session, you can see who’s faster.
Highway 75 in Coronado (the 5.5 miles is one way, from the Hotel Del to the end of the Cays).
BANKERS HILL Map Information
CENTRAL- Bankers Hill
Though this stretch isn’t particularly long, it still gets the “Weekend Warrior” rating because, well… it’s a big hill. Bordering Balboa Park– the largest urban park in the Unites States– you can easily extend your run by going in either direction. You’ll find many fellow runners in the park as well as a sizeable crowd of tourists. Head west and you’ve got a series of butt-busting hills.
Sixth Avenue between Elm and Laurel Streets, next to Balboa Park.
POINT LOMA NAZARENE TRACK Map Information
CENTRAL- Point Loma
For those of you who are more into an outdoor workout as opposed to a hike, the track at Point Loma Nazarene is San Diego’s easiest to run. Not that it’s any flatter than the track at SDSU or UCSD, but the chances or your schedule conflicting with the athletic department’s training schedule is less likely. Note that this is a Christian university, so be aware of how much skin your workout clothes expose.
Southeast side of the Point Loma Nazarene campus along Peppertree Lane.
Looking for something off the beaten path?
These trails involve a journey that’s a little bit farther than the others on the lists, but damn, are they worth it.
THE OCEANSIDE TRAIN RUN Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- The Train Run
If you’re not a fan of running loops or going back and forth and seeing the same thing twice, this is a great way to switch things up. Take the train up, you know the only way back is to keep pressing forward.Are the type of person that wonders if now’s a good time to give up on that climb, this hike will push you. And of course, nothing beats a beach run.
Take the Coaster north from Solana Beach to Oceanside ($4), then run back on the Coast Highway.
CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK Map Information
EAST COUNTY- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
The most popular hike in this compound is the climb up to Cuyamaca Peak via the Lookout Fire Road. On a good day, you can see as far East as the Salton Sea and as far south as Mexico. Though uphill, the trail is short– around 3.5 miles– as opposed to the 9 mile Harvey Moore Trail. This park has trails that cater to all tastes, with mountains, woods, waterfalls, and meadows galore.
Off the 79, north of I-8.
PALOMAR MOUNTAIN & OBSERVATORY Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- Palomar Observatory
Palomar Mountain has gone through a major overhaul over the past few years, transforming it from the played out youth camps it represented yesteryear. For a mere $5 you can park and get yourself a Forest Service Adventure Pass. The trail is well maintained, and the view from the Observatory is hard to beat.
Palomar Mountain, up Canfield Road.
Hikes that get down and dirty:
Maybe these aren’t quite hardcore terrain, but these dirt trails will still give you a challenge.
BALBOA PARK: TRAIL #5 Map Information
CENTRAL- Balboa Park Trail #5
Though much of Balboa park is paved and tame, this particular trail is mostly dirt, so be prepared to look less than pristine when making your way through those manicured gardens. Because yes, this route will take you through all those museums. On the uphand side, the museum area of Balboa park is always great for people watching, as it’s the home of weddings, quinceneras, buskers and photoshoots galore. Enjoy the hidden heart of the park: Florida Canyon and its winding cactus gardens.
Start at Home Base and follow the red #5 trail markers.
LOS PENASQUITOS WATERFALL TRAIL Map Information
EAST COUNTY- Los Peñasquitos Waterfall Trail
You may not know this, but deer can be wonderfully oblivious at times. In the right environment, they can let you watch them eat for hours, or come vaulting over the joggers path at a breakneck pace. There’s no better place to discover that than the waterfall trail. The creek provides enough water in the East County arid climate for trees to grow (SHADE!), for a refreshing change. Creek hopping is half the fun of this trip. Either turn around at the waterfall or simply pass it on the way in. As in any less-than-cultivated preserve, beware of wildlife. There are rattlesnakes in them there hills.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.
Log some training hours and buy a pair of sturdy hiking boots to tackle these steep and rugged trips.
MT. WOODSON Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- Mt. Woodson
Home of the locally famous Potato Chip Rock. Mmmm… potato chips… Alas, this hike is not as fatty-friendly as it sounds. The view along the way to Potato Chip are pretty breathtaking– all steep hills and boulders and lakes. Note that there may be a line to get to the top, as many have stopped on their way for a photo op on this precariously balanced sliver of rock.
Start at Lake Poway and loop around the Mt. Woodson Trail.
IRON MOUNTAIN Map Information
NORTH COUNTY- Iron Mountain
Want those 360-views without your legs turning to jelly? This is your hike. Just on the other side of Mt. Woodson, Iron Mountain isn’t nearly as steep and offers a variety of ecological terrain. You have the option of taking the long trip down for some spectacular views of Ramona and the rocky landscape.
Poway Road and HWY 67, on the other side of Mt. Woodson.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL Map Information
EAST COUNTY- Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail actually stretches from Canada to Mexico, but we wouldn’t suggest that unless you’re on a path to enlightenment that involves leaving your job and kissing the fam goodbye for a good long while. This much smaller segment will still make you feel like you’re far away from home. With sheer cliffs, rocky outcroppings and sweeping mountain vistas, this offers a ton of variety and a pleasant change from the Southern California landscape. This trailhead is around Mt. Laguna, so it has a different climate than the temperate beach areas. Check your local weather report for high winds and snow flurries before heading up.
Go up CA S-1 for a little less than 30 miles to the Penny Pines monument. Follow the Pacific Crest Trail to Garnet Peak.
EL CAPITAN MOUNTAIN Map Information
EAST COUNTY- El Capitan
Known to locals as “El Capitan”, El Cajon Mountain tops our list of difficult hikes in the county. First off, this trail is in East County, which means there won’t be any trees to shield you from the unrelenting heat. This trail in particular is steep, dusty, and will make you feel like you’re on a trek. These roller coaster up-down routes have the unique ability to make you feel like you’re going uphill both ways. But if you make it to the top, you earn an awesome view of San Diego and serious bragging rights.
El Capitan Preserve. Start at Wildcat Canyon Road.