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On the Run: L.A.'s Best Running Trails

Whether you need two hands to count the number of marathons you've completed, or just purchased your first pair of running shoes, L.A. has some terrific trails that will make you sweat while showing off some of the more beautiful parts of our city. Take a lap along the California Coastal Trail, or if you've run yourself thin, switch up your routine at the Santa Monica Stairs. No matter what your preference, as long as you're not intent on flocking to a claustrophobic, air-conditioned gym, we've got you covered.

For the runner seeking a quickie: Bluff Trail at One Westbluff
Although this trail may not be long, at only about 1/2 of a mile, it’s short and sweet and rewards its runners with the ambience of the Ballona Wetlands Freshwater Marsh. As you make your way through this peaceful park, the bluffs that border the trail, and the fact that it’s never too crowded will make you feel even better about your brief workout. The park is open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., and the entrances at both ends make it easy for parking (although parking along Coastal View Drive is probably your best bet). If a run through Bluff Trail Park doesn’t fulfill your aerobic needs, extend your workout by taking the trail east toward Lincoln Boulevard. Cross there to access Westchester Fire Trail, which forks into two additional trails, both extending another two miles along the Loyola Marymount bluffs. 1 Westbluff, Playa del Rey.

For the adventurous: Circle X Ranch
If you’re prepped for ten miles of canyon trail, rock formations and ocean views, you should give this trail a go. Starting point? The Circle X Ranch parking lot on Yerba Buena Road in Malibu. Begin your adventure by taking Canyon View Trail, one of four trails you’ll canvass on this run. Stay straight on Canyon View Trail until you reach Sandstone Peak, and then take a right to continue on Mishe Mokwa Trail. Mishe Mokwa Trail will pass by Spilt Rock and Tri Peaks before circling back around to Backbone Trail. When you reach the fork, take the left onto Backbone Trail and follow that until you find yourself back at Sandstone Peak. Don’t feel guilty about stopping to enjoy the view. After all, Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. From Sandstone you will head back to your starting point via Canyon View Trail. The gratification should outweigh the exhaustion once you return to the Circle X Ranch parking lot. 12896 Yerba Buena Rd., Malibu. 

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For the “people watcher”: California Coastal Trail
The California Coastal Trail is an open opportunity for runners of all kinds. With a 22-mile stretch throughout the southern part of Los Angeles, you can hop on this trail at Will Rogers State Beach, Torrance Beach or just about anywhere in between. Whether you prefer long distance or scenic running, this ocean-front trail is just downright entertaining. Plus, constantly dodging skateboarders and slow-moving pedestrians is an added workout. If your iPod’s playlist isn’t enough to keep you occupied during a run, take the trail from Venice Beach up past Santa Monica and let the ocean, piers and the general public distract you. One thing to remember: The California Coastal Trail gets increasingly crowded as the day progresses, so if you don’t make it there before 10 a.m. on the weekends, you’re probably better off choosing a different spot. We suggest entering the trail near the pier in Santa Monica or in Venice Beach — but take note; south of Venice, the trail ends at Washington; you'll need to head east on the actual street for a mile to get around the Marina and back onto the trail. See map for details.

Runyon Canyon
Runyon Canyon

For the hybrid workout: Runyon Canyon
If you prefer running, walking, hiking, sight-seeing or some combination, Runyon Canyon Trail should be at the top of your list. Not far from the Hollywood strip, the hilly trail creates a three to five mile total loop great for high-intensity runners, power walkers or leisurely hikers. Conquer the trip to the top for an incredible view of the city and Hollywood sign. If you're truly a hybrid athlete, or just a workout junkie in general, take advantage of the free yoga offered in the park at the foot of the trail as a warm up or cool down from your heated workout. Runyon is also a major tourist attraction, so try your best to avoid weekends and peak hours of the day. 2000 N. Fuller Ave., Los Angeles.

For the runner craving a scenic view: West Loop, Elysian Park
Assuming the air is clear, this trail in Elysian Park – one of Los Angeles’ largest parks, and one of the nation’s largest parks within a city’s limit – offers picturesque views of the valley and downtown Los Angeles. This path, known as the Western Loop, begins on the western corner of Elysian Park Drive and Stadium Way. At 2.4 miles total, it isn’t long enough for a grueling workout, but the elevations and additional trails that branch off allow you to make of it what you will. 

Parking can be scarce, so you may have better luck ditching your car in the lot on Chavez Ravine Road. Once you’ve arrived to the corner of Elysian Park Dive and Stadium Way, you’ll enter the trail from a gate on the north side of the road. The forest may seem thick at first, but don’t be discouraged: The views are striking as promised. About a half-mile along you’ll reach a clearing that reveals the Golden State Freeway. Once you’ve gotten over the fact that we’re suggesting you admire a freeway, you can look beyond the flooded lanes to the L.A. River and San Gabriel Mountains. Ignore the additional trail about one mile in that leads to Vista Gordo Drive, and continue along the main path to the mile marker that signifies the highest point of the trail. As you continue past the first mile marker, you will begin to make out views of downtown L.A. through the brush. Shortly you will arrive at a break in the trail. Stay left to head toward your car, or extend your run by continuing straight for another half mile until you reach Academy Road. Once you’ve arrived at Academy Road take a sharp left onto Elysian Park Drive and you will find yourself back at the trailhead. Hikers primarily use this trail, but runners would be foolish not to take advantage of it. The trailhead is on the corner of Elysian Park Drive and Stadium Way, but we suggest parking at the lot on Chavez Ravine Road, Los Angeles.

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For the athlete seeking a challenge: Santa Monica Stairs or Culver City Stairs
If you find basic running trails, well, just basic, then boost your workout at the Santa Monica Steps, also known as the Santa Monica Stairs. The two sets of stairs can be found on Adelaide Drive, one near 4th Street and another near 7th. Use the 170 wooden steps near 4th, or 199 concrete steps at 7th, to challenge yourself to a high intensity workout. Since the steps have become somewhat of a hot spot, we suggest getting there early (by or before 8 a.m.) to avoid the crowds. The Culver City Stairs are also a great alternative. Slightly less crowded, these 280 stone steps are steep — some are over a foot high, perfectly equipped to challenge the most enduring runners. But don't fret, several side trails branch off the steps if you tap out early. The concrete stairs are located at 4th St. and Adelaide Dr., and the wooden are at 7th St. and Adelaide Dr. in Santa Monica. Culver City Stairs can be found at 6300 Hetzler Rd., Culver City. 

For the dog walker: Silver Lake Reservoir or The Rose Bowl Loop
Or dog runner, rather. The Silver Lake Reservoir is open to all "walkers" of life, which includes dogs. The 2.2-mile loop may seem short, but if your first priority is your pup, then this is the place. Circle the 2.2-mile trail as many times as you see fit and let the serene environment and surrounding neighborhood make you forget that you’re in a big city. Most importantly, the dog park at the reservoir is perfect for treating your dog after a workout and meeting other people and their pups.

If you're looking for a similar experience on the other side of town, then the Rose Bowl Loop is another great find. Part of the Arroyo Secco in Pasadena, this paved loop measures about 3 miles and is also canine friendly. There tends to be events going on during the weekends, so stick to reasonable hours on weekdays. Plus there is plenty of free parking at the Rose Bowl, so working out here should never be a hassle. For the Silver Lake Reservoir, parking can be found along W. Silver Lake Drive or Silver Lake Boulevard. The Rose Bowl Loop is at 1001 Rose Bowl Dr., Pasadena.

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For marathon training: Griffith Park 
Home to past half and full marathon runs, Griffith Park is the obvious choice for long-distance runners. The park offers 35 different trails, branching one off the other, which gives runners a DIY mentality to create their own course. Since the park is filled with different hiking trails, you’ll want to be particular in choosing which ones to run along to avoid injury.

Lawrence Blaylock, otherwise known as Coach Larry, leads runs through Griffith Park for marathon-training runners. He suggests a six-mile loop for trainees. The trail starts where the Griffith Park pony rides are located at 4400 Crystal Springs Rd., and goes up Crystal Springs Road until you reach Griffith Park Drive. Continue on that road, always bearing to the right, until you get over the hill and Griffith Park Drive becomes Zoo Drive. If you continue from here you will eventually make it back to the start. Marathon trainees can run this loop as many times as necessary to reach their mileage for the day. Baylock also recommends that trainees use the free mobile app Map My Run. He creates a new course each week on the app, and logs old ones, so that users can follow his routes throughout their training period. Lawrence Blaylock's Map My Run account is called MyCoachLarry29170224, which can be accessed on the app or on the website, to follow his running routines throughout Los Angeles.  4400 Crystal Springs Rd., Los Angeles.

For the hiker: Portuguese Bend Nature Reserve
This is a great hiking/running hybrid trail if you’re up for a challenge and want to avoid pavement. Part of the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, the Portuguese Bend is a gateway to views of unique canyons, coastal landscape and the good ol' Pacific (including Catalina Island). A multitude of trails can be accessed, but one of the most popular is Burma Road Trail at the end of Crenshaw Boulevard. If you struggle finding street parking, we recommend parking at the nearby Del Cerro Park. Once entering this trailhead, runners can weave in and out of connecting trails as they please. Depending on the route you take, runners can complete a decent loop (about seven miles) without ever abandoning the rugged trail. Keep in mind that the Portuguese Bend is a hiking trail so some areas of it are overgrown; however, it is in more suitable condition for running than the other reserves. And remember, a run throughout the rolling hills of this hike is not for the faint of heart. Parking is best at the Del Cerro Park lot at 2 Park Place, Ranchos Palos Verdes. 

For the hill runner: The Perimeter of UCLA
Don’t let the hills surrounding UCLA’s campus intimidate you. Instead use them as a resource to boost your four-mile run throughout Westwood. Running the perimeter at UCLA provides the satisfaction of running both sidewalk and trail paths. Although the distance is somewhat short, the steep hills along Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue make for an exhilarating workout. Depending where you hop on the trail, it will lead you through downtown Westwood by way of Le Conte Avenue and Gayley Avenue, up a dirt path on Veteran Avenue and then onto Sunset Boulevard, passing Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Turn right onto Hilgard and head down the outer edge of campus to finish the run. Use those five streets and the paw prints marking half-mile points to complete this quick, challenging trail. You can begin the perimeter on any of the five streets, so parking is best on nearby residential roads in Westwood. This map by UCLA's running club has more info.


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