Destination: Los Angeles
Runyon Canyon Park is a popular place to run in Los Angeles. It offers about 2.5 miles of dirt trails (with steep climbs and descents plus the ability to add more loops) and scenic views of the city's skyline. Photo: LivingPix/iStockphoto.com

Los Angeles: Running gems within the bright lights and big city

For many, LA might conjure images of bustling Hollywood streets and a lot of concrete. But the City of Angels is actually home to many running-gem pockets, including famous Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon and the shiny streets of Santa Monica, where one might even spot a movie star in disguise.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the most mystical place in Southern California, uncovering the many runner secrets of La La Land only adds to its allure of being a major destination city—and home once again to the Olympic Games in 2028. There’s a reason so many come to the New York City of the West Coast to make things happen—it’s full of opportunity, both as an entertainment mecca and a spot to get in your best runner shape. And there’s a reason the LA Marathon has been rejuvenated in recent years—the 26.2-mile journey from Dodger Stadium, through all of the city’s neighborhoods and down to the beaches of Santa Monica is an idyllic experience and a great way to tour the city.

Highlighted Runs

Griffith Park
One of the top urban parks in the country, Griffith Park is a 4,300-acre slice of runner heaven. The grounds include famous sites like the Los Angeles Zoo, the Observatory and the old-school Greek Theatre that still hosts regular outdoor concerts. There’s more than 30 trails totaling around 50 miles for runners in peak marathon training. One can enjoy the trek from Fern Dell Drive trailhead to the top of Mount Hollywood, boasting views of all of the basin and that famous Hollywood sign. The 1,600-foot climb up is just over 4 miles round trip. But really, runners can DIY their training by combining loops for shorter or longer options. A basic 6-miler can start at the pony rides and follow Crystal Springs Road to Griffith Park Drive, turning into Zoo Drive once you crest the hill and head back to the start.

Runyon Canyon Park
No matter which access point you choose—most start from Fuller Avenue—expect to move up toward Inspiration Point, either by trail or by stairs. The trail isn’t terribly long, about 2.5 miles if you do the entire loop, but the park is host to more than 130 acres, so tack on a few extra if you still want to sweat. On a clear day, the point boasts views of Catalina Island in the distance.

The Strand on Santa Monica Boulevard
If you’re in the midst of marathon training, opt for this 22-mile stretch of paved road, shared by cyclists and tourists alike. Along the way you’ll pass by some of the most movie-famous beaches like Muscle and Venice.

Elysian Park
Covering 600 acres, this park was home to the shooting portion of the modern pentathlon at the 1932 Olympics (fun fact!). The 2.4-mile West Loop proves to be most popular, offering views of glamorous downtown LA and welcomes four-legged running buddies. Park at Chavez Ravine and tack on any extra miles throughout the park for a longer option.

Lake Balboa in Anthony C. Beilenson Park
Yes, there are cherry blossoms to be spotted around this park during spring blooming season. Ditch city noises and embrace the tranquil waterside walking path—1.3 miles to be exact—for a relaxing recovery day.

San Vicente Boulevard
Yes it’s a grassy median, but it’s also one of the most popular spots in the Westside. Make it an 8-mile round trip end to end and tour some of the larger homes of LA and the Brentwood area along the way. The “stadium to sea” LA Marathon course also enters its finish area via the Boulevard.

Natalie Mitchell, the personality behind the “Running Is My Recess” social media community, runs along the ocean several days a week.

Local Flavor

Natalie Mitchell moved to Los Angeles as a high school student and never left. She lives with her husband and three kids in Pacific Palisades, a suburb of Los Angeles that sits right near the final miles of the LA marathon course—her very first marathon actually! After having her collegiate career at UC Santa Barbara cut short due to injury, Mitchell picked up running for fun, taking breaks along the way to get married and become a mom. Since spring 2014, she’s reinvigorated her competitive streak by getting a coach and tackling big 26.2 goals, including the past two Boston Marathons. With a 3:23 PR, she’s qualified five total times, and she even won the Shoreline Half Marathon in Ventura, Calif., earlier this summer. She’s the brains behind the “Running Is My Recess” Instagram page and social community.

LA Buzz

This major city is full of things to do—mega bucket-list items for many visiting from out of state. Hollywood antics and Beverly Hills celebrity maps aside, take a stroll around the Getty Center. A popular day trip for people living in Southern California, the museum is free to the public (save for a manageable parking fee) and sits in the Westside of Los Angeles in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. The exhibits offer a plethora of impressive art—sculptures, photography and paintings, to name a few—as well as a restaurant to make it a full trip of art and eats with a view from the terrace. Once you tire from the musings inside, enjoy the views of the entire city on the clear day from the patio, or meander through the gardens on the property to enjoy sites and sounds of the area.

Local Eats and Sips

Mitchell says after taking a drive down Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu—“it’s as dreamy as it is on TV”—grab drinks and appetizers at Nobu Malibu for an upscale view of the glitzy coast near Pepperdine University. Most visiting runners will want to hit the ocean area, so Santa Monica down Interstate 10 West is inevitable. Father’s Office is located on trendy Montana Avenue in the area, and the burgers and brews are exceptional. For healthier fare, Huckleberry on busy Wilshire Boulevard is about 11 blocks from the water, offering the freshest organic options. And for those itching for that celebrity sighting, look no further than Farmshop in the Brentwood area.

Community Knowledge

The Top to Top running store group in Santa Monica meets every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. It’s a lesser-known collection of runners than the larger groups around LA, so expect a more intimate feel. The LA Leggers, who meet in Santa Monica as well, will be the ‘official’ training group for the Malibu Half Marathon. The LA Roadrunners is another popular stop, meeting Saturday mornings and focusing on getting people ready for the LA Marathon. You can check the race’s website later in the fall for updated information on times and locations.

A scene from the 2017 Surf City Marathon: Photo: Libero Di Zinno

Go Fast

The JetBlue Long Beach Marathon & Half Marathon (Oct. 7–8, 2017; motivrunning.com/run-longbeach) serve up one of Southern California’s most scenic race venues. Starting in Downtown Long Beach, runners head toward the historic Queen Mary and then through Shoreline Village. After running next to the Pacific Ocean on the flat beach path, half marathoners will continue down Ocean Boulevard while full marathoners veer right and head through Belmont Shore toward Marine Stadium.

Looking for a mid-distance race? The Surf City 10 (Oct. 14–15, 2017; motivrunning.com/surf-city-10miler) serves up idyllic oceanside 10K and 10-mile courses that are flat, fast and fun!

Surf, sun, run! That’s what the Surf City Marathon & Half Marathon (Feb. 3–4, 2018; motivrunning.com/run-surf-city) offers runners who venture to SoCal in early February. Plus mild weather and miles of wide, sandy California beaches as far as the eyes can see—10 miles, to be exact, the longest stretch of uninterrupted beachfront anywhere on the West Coast.

Training for the Holiday Half Marathon & 5K (Dec. 9–10, 2017; motivrunning.com/holiday-halfmarathon) is the perfect way to tune up your fitness before the holidays or just a reason to wear an ugly holiday sweater while out for a jog! There is snow at the starting line every year, and runners get a unique snowflake medal when they finish.

With a course that travels “from the stadium to the sea,” runners at the LA Marathon (March 18, 2018, lamarathon.com) get to start inside Dodger Stadium and finish down by Santa Monica Pier. The 26.2 miles passes through many different LA communities, including bustling downtown, glitzy Hollywood and posh Beverly Hills.

Students Run LA 5K (Sept. 24, 2017, srla.org) at Dockweiler Beach at Playa Del Rey is a kickoff event for the organization, which aims to better the lives of at-risk youth in the Los Angeles area. Plus, registration is only $30!

Casey Martin
Casey Martin is a freelance writer and runner from the Bay Area who loves road running and is starting a love affair with trails.