San Francisco's numerous hills make for great city views - and strong calves. Sure, there are some flat areas, but you often need to battle steep climbs to get to them, as racers in the annual ING Bay to Breakers 12K well know. First run almost a century ago, it's now one of the most popular in the world with more than 65,000 participants. The city has also spawned legends such as ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days straight. Although he has legged it across all seven continents, Karnazes ranks San Francisco as one of the best running cities worldwide. The following route is his favourite: Head out from the Marina District along the waterfront of Crissy Field, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, run the Coastal Trails of the Marin Headlands up and over to Tennessee Valley, exit to the east, and then hoof it back across the Golden Gate Bridge to the city.
El Sur Grande -The Big South. That's what the early Spanish called the miles of unexplored wilderness along the coast south of Carmel. It wasn't until the 1860s that hardy settlers put down roots along the 145 kilometres of rugged and breathtaking coastline flanked by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the rocky Pacific coast, from Carmel to San Simeon. By the turn of the century, this 1,000-person community was making a living farming, logging and mining. The completion of Highway 1 in 1937 brought tourism to the area, which, in addition to commercial ranching, is what sustains it today. One of the major recreational draws is hiking, says Stephen Copeland, a 38-year resident and owner of Big Sur Guides and Hiking. Copeland, also a runner, favours the Old Coast Road - originally the sole link between homesteads. Enter off Highway 1, across the street from Andrew Molera State Park. Drive up 1½ km to get to level road then take off north. The full distance to Bixby Bridge is 27 km, which, Copeland says, makes it a great marathon training run.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
Halfway between L.A. and San Francisco is San Luis Obispo, or SLO as it's known. The city is part of San Luis Obispo County - named after the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772, and one of the original 27 California counties created by the Act of the State Legislature in 1850. Surrounded by surf and turf, the area hosts many races and triathlons - some of the most noted being the 10-km San Luis Mountain Run in March, San Luis Obispo Triathlon in July and City to Sea Half Marathon and five-km Walk/Run in October. Enjoy a scenic eight-km run along the coastal trail from Spyglass Point in SLO through Shell Beach to Pirate's Cove in Pismo Beach. Or join coach Roger Warnes and the San Luis Obispo Roadrunners. The club meets biweekly on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at the San Luis Obispo High School track.
Anchoring the western edge of L.A. between Malibu and Venice, Santa Monica borrows from each of its neighbours to create its own cool vibe. Upscale galleries mingle with eclectic boutiques in what was once a celebrated seaside resort. While there are plenty of good routes throughout the city, runners sprint to the 42 kilometres of coastline that stretch along Santa Monica Bay - three of which are located in Santa Monica proper. For a fast, flat, surfside run, start at the Santa Monica Pier and head south along "the strand" bike path. Pass by cafés and hotels and the beautiful bodies on famed Muscle Beach as you make your way into Venice. It's almost five kilometres from the pier to Washington Boulevard. Double back for double the view and workout.
For 22 years, the LA Marathon has been held the first Sunday of March. But diehards were panting when they heard this year the race was switched to May 25, Memorial Day weekend, as part of the licence transfer to a new owner. Organizers knew this and soothed the 17,000 marathoners and 9,500 other racers with better amenities, a charity outreach to help at-risk kids train and run the marathon, and the return to a favoured route that started and finished downtown, passing landmarks such as L.A. Live and Staples Centre, the University of South California, Exposition Park and the Los Angeles County Art Museum.
WHERE TO STAY
Los Angeles SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills: 866-716-8149; slshotels.com. From $404.
Santa Monica Le Merigot - A JW Marriott Hotel and Spa: 888-539-7899; lemerigothotel.com. From $270.
Ojai Ojai Valley Inn and Spa: 888-697-8780; ojairesort.com. From $357.
San Luis Obispo Madonna Inn: 805-543-3000; madonnainn.com. From $182.
Big Sur Post Ranch Inn: 800-527-2200; postranchinn.com. From $550.
San Francisco Orchard Garden: 888-717-2881; theorchardgardenhotel.com. From $183.
LA Marathon 310-271-7200; lamarathon.com.
San Luis Mountain Run 805-541-0401; slomountainrun.com.
30th Annual San Luis Obispo Triathlon 805-781-7305; slocity.org/parksandrecreation.
City to the Sea Half Marathon & 5K Run/Walk 805-546-3100, ext. 2716; citytothesea.org.
ING Bay to Breakers 12K 415-359-2800; baytobreakers.com.
SLO Roadrunners Running and Triathlon Club 805-544-2385; trislo.com.
San Francisco Road Runners Club sfrrc.org.