Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Running in San Diego: Hills and Coasts

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to San Diego for a week to attend a medical conference. Although the meeting itself for the most part was educational and intellectually stimulating, the highlight of the trip for me occurred mostly outside the seminar rooms and lecture halls. That's because out of the 6 days that I was in town, I got in 5 runs for a total of 50.5 miles! To say I ran all over town, everywhere I could would be somewhat of an understatement. So in order to help out those of you whose travels might land you in town for a day or two, just like a fellow friend did for me when I needed similar help (Thanks Greg), I will recap a few of my running adventures for you and share a slideshow of some of the sights you may find if you happen to be running in San Diego.

Run #1 - A Loop Through Balboa Park (7.37 miles)

If you're a runner passing by SD and in town for just one day, I'd argue that this run should be at the top of your to-do list. Not only does Balboa Park contain natural trails through luscious forests and offers some of the most breathtaking views of the San Diego Valley that you will ever see, it is also home to many of the city's most popular historical and cultural landmarks, including the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Art Institute, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Zoo. I was so enchanted and enlightened just running through the central plaza that connects all of these fine institutions that I had to come back for a second run through these parts later that same week!

The best way to approach Balboa Park (if you're staying downtown) is northward via 6th Ave and entering the park via El Prado. There is a bridge here overlooking the valley down below that is both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing (at least for those like me who get a little whimsical with heights). After touring the museums, you can take a side path to visit the San Diego Zoo, which has a cute entrance flanked by a couple of plant elephants. After this, you can either run back the same way you came or take Park Blvd back into town. (I wouldn't recommend taking the "scenic route" through Upas Street and running south via Pershing Drive. Most of the streets here are short, narrow, and steep. It wasn't until I was too far along did I realize that no one was else was running here except me!)

In general, this was a very peaceful, scenic, and fun place to run, particularly in the early morning before the tourists arrive. One thing to beware though is that this is lots of steep hills and sharp inclines. On my first run there, I remembered thinking that I must have landed in San Francisco instead of San Diego with the steep hill I had to climb just to get into the park! Other than that, Balboa Park was the perfect place to visit for my inaugural run in San Diego.

Run # 2 - Mission Bay, Sea World, and the North Harbor (18.2 miles)

The next day, after witnessing the splendor of Balboa Park the day prior, I went for a long run in search of the esteemed Mission Bay Park that I had heard so much about. Apparently, Mission Bay Park is the runners' haven for all of the local runners in much the same way that Central Park is the mecca for all things running for us New Yorkers. So although the park was a bit far to get to from where I was staying in downtown San Diego, I thought it was worth the visit to see what the hoopla was all about.

Unfortunately, I did not choose an ideal running route on my way to this esteemed place. I ran northward along the Pacific Highway (which had me running on the shoulder of a five lane highway literally), through the entire length of Midway Drive, and across the San Diego River, to get into close proximity of the park. By this time, I had already run about 6 miles, it was close to getting dark, and the destination was still about a mile or two away. So I decided to cut my loses and run a bit around Sea World instead. (Did you know this was the original Sea World and the one in Florida came a bit after? Yeah see, I didn't know that, and was taken to town by my friends over not knowing a day later!) There is an actual running trail around Sea World that was quite scenic and I encountered a few locals who were running there as well.

After a couple miles here, I made my way back downtown by crossing over to Ocean Beach, down Nimitz Blvd and along North Harbor Drive. The return trip home had way more to see and was way more fun than the first half of the trip. It was way hillier too which for some reason didn't bother me much (maybe the mountains of Balboa Park trained me well?). I got lost a little bit in the middle, which is always fun when dusk is settling and you've still got four miles to go, but once I hit the airport and North Harbor Drive, I knew that downtown wasn't too much further away. I enjoyed this part of the run the most because I got to see the night skyline unfold before my eyes. There were planes taking off and landing on my left and sailboats and ships on my right. I dare say I hit a state of nirvana never previously experienced in the later miles of a long run running through the promenade. Only the occasional night runner and stray homeless guy kept me awake from my dreamlike trance.

If you're planning to run here, I'd definitely recommend running along North Harbor Drive and even taking a swing by Harbor Island if you have time. There's a running and bike path that runs along the entirety of the promenade and every section of the harbor is distinctive and unique. You'll see a lot of runners here if you come in the morning and because it's all flat by the water, it's a nice place to hit for a sunrise run.

Run #3 - San Diego Bay Promenade, Embarcadero Marina Park (6.38 miles)

For someone who's never been to a city, hitting the touristy spots is a must. If this applies to you when you're visiting San Diego, than this run along the boardwalk is surely not to be missed. There's the USS Midway, the Bob Hope statue, the statue of the Sailor and his Lady, and lots of sailboats, restaurants and markets to keep you fascinated and entertained on your run. Just don't expect to run very fast when you're around here, especially during the daylight hours, because the crowds are thick and there's often little room to walk, much less run, so be prepared to stop often.

One of the highlights I'd like to point out though is Embarcadero Marina Park which lies at the southwestern tip of the peninsula. It's not very large, but it has a good perimeter running trail that offers a good unobstructed view of the bay and of Coronado Island on the opposite side. If you're so inclined, you can also run inland and visit the Gaslamp District and the accompanying Petco Park, Just again be mindful of the crowds depending on what time of day you're running here.

I hope you enjoyed this running tour through the hills and coasts of San Diego. These runs were definitely some of the most memorable and most fun I've had away from NYC. Especially now with all the hot and sticky weather we've had in the Northeast, (did I mention the weather was sunny and perfect the whole time I was there!) I'm searching long and hard for an excuse to go back!

For now, until my pipe dream becomes a reality, here's a slideshow of some of the places and things (as mentioned above) I found while running through the hills and coast of San Diego: [Make sure you click the white box - second button on left lower border - to see the captions]


Greg said...

Thanks for the mention and link Lam and it looks like you got more adventurous in your own San Diego runs than I did. I love the loop you did to Mission Bay, will definitely have to check it out if I get back there again. And I agree completely that Balboa Park is a must-run destination.

runner26 said...

i did the promenade run when i was there last spring. i went early and didn't have any issues w/ the tourists. it was beautiful!! thanks for sharing all these routes.

Julie said...

Hi Lam,
Yea, look at all of those fantastic pictures:) You did good Lam! It has been several years since I was in San Diego last and at that time I was not a runner. I would love to go there and visit some of the same places that you mentioned in your post. I am a sucker for history and loved the historic part of town:) I can't believe that you got in over 50 miles of running! Nice job Lam! Way to tackle those hills!

aron said...

now its time to come back to SF and spend a week there running :) glad you had a great trip to cali!! i loooove going to a new city and getting to see it by running all over.

The Laminator said...

Greg - Thank you for helping me plan my runs even before I left for San Diego. Your post inspired me to find my own routes.

runner26 - Yeah, the promenade run is good in the early morning too. I did intervals there on the last morning I was in town.

Julie - I'm glad you liked my pictures! I posted them with you in mind =) I'm sure you'd love Balboa Park. I hope you get to go soon!

NY Wolve - Yes, I can imagine all of California to be a beautiful place to run. I have actually done many many runs in San Francisco, include the San Fran marathon in 2008. It is indeed one of my favorite places to run!

aron - Yes, the next time I'm up in San Fran, you're taking me to do some trail running. I'd love to hit some of the wonderful trails over there in Marin county!

Adam said...

MAN - you hit all of the great spots!! SD is such a great town to run in - even the residential areas are really fun to look at.

The Happy Runner said...

Great pics.
I walked around Balboa Park the one and only time I was in SD but did run the promenade. It was packed.

sRod said...

Both times I've been to California I never made it down to SD. Always sunny? Always 60s? Always a casual breeze that whispers "oh hey, how's it going? mind if I give you a hug?" I would never come back.

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