14 California Half Marathons You'll Love Running
From Agoura Hills to Napa to Malibu to Pasadena to San Francisco to San Rafael, and (much) more
Pasadena, Calif. | Sunday, January 21, 2024
Run along a combination of paved roads and natural trails, this race takes runners past many of Pasadena’s most famous landmarks, including the Rose Bowl stadium as well as the Devils Gate Dam, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Colorado Street Bridge. The last few miles include some of the race’s hilliest terrain, as well as ample views of the San Rafael Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance — and, when you make your way back to the Rose Bowl, you’ll enter the stadium to finish on the field, where UCLA’s Bruins play.
San Francisco, Calif. | Sunday, February 4, 2024
If you’ve ever driven through or just walked past the gorgeous landscape that is Golden Gate Park, then you know why Runner’s World named this one of the country’s most scenic half marathons a few years ago. From the long, expansive meadows on its eastern end to the beachfront areas along its coastline, the park is home to some of the city’s most magnificent views — and you’ll take them in as you run through the interior of the park in the first half of the race. The second half features a long stretch along San Francisco’s Great Highway, combining breathtaking oceanfront views with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
San Rafael, Calif. | February 24-25, 2024
A jaw-droppingly gorgeous run through Northern California’s Marinwood Community Park, whose 800-plus acres of open space offer up “seemingly endless vistas that stretch across the entire San Francisco Bay Area,” organizers say. You’ll start and finish the race in Marinwood Park, and from there head out onto the trails that criss-cross its hills and valleys, along the way passing by course landmarks like Loma Alta and Big Rock Ridge, two of the highest points in Marin County. “With every step, these thoughtfully crafted single-loop courses provide an unforgettably scenic trail race experience,” they add.
Agoura Hills, Calif. | Saturday, April 13, 2024
Part of a six-distance running event that takes place each spring here in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the Conejo Valley, the Dole Great Race’s Chesebro Half Marathon unfolds through the part of the city known as “Old Agoura,” and into the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail, which winds through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It’s run on both roads and trails through this historic park, and organizers say “it's one of the largest trail races in the U.S.A. — and insanely gorgeous.”
Los Olivos, Calif. | May 15-19, 2024
A multi-day running festival in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is the setting for the Born to Run Ultra Marathons, which last from Wednesday through Sunday in mid-April and feature a 10-miler, 30-miler, 50-miler and 100-miler, in a place where you can expect “mild springtime, coastal climate, gentle rolling hills, single and double track trail, wildflowers, red-tailed hawks, dark blue skies and pristine clean air.”
San Francisco, Calif. | Sunday, July 28, 2024
You’ll have a choice here that you won’t find at most other races — there are actually two half marathons in this event, as runners may run either the first or the second 13.1 miles of the full marathon course. Both races show off different parts of what makes the city what it is, from the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf in the first half to the scenery of the second half, including gorgeous Golden Gate Park, Haight Ashbury district and AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Along the way, runners are treated to sights such as the sea lions barking on the shore along Fisherman’s Wharf, and past the gorgeous homes and yachts in the Marina, as well as past the wetlands areas of the Presidio.
Fort Ord, Calif. | July
A challenging and beautifully scenic run through Fort Ord National Monument, a former U.S. Army base along Monterey Bay, roughly a two-hour drive south from San Francisco. You’ll run along hilly trails that wind through “maritime chaparral to grasslands, marshes and gorgeous fields of flowers,” organizers say, adding that you’ll likely run past plants and wildlife that live only here in the protected areas of Fort Ord. The race offers a 50K, 35K, 10K and half marathon, all along its smooth single-track trails, sandy hills, and exposed fire roads.
Cloverdale, Calif. | Sunday, October 20, 2024
A gorgeous run along the dirt roads that wind through Sonoma County’s Asti Winery, when the fall leaves are turning ablaze with color. The race takes places in a small town that lies about 90 miles from San Francisco and just outside Healdsburg, one of the most popular destination towns in the Northern California wine country. Throughout the course, you’ll run on packed, groomed dirt roads past hillsides filled with row after row of wine grapes (as well as a few paved roads, as you’ll be running through a working vineyard) taking in the scenery along the banks of the Russian River and the Alexander Valley all around.
St. Helena, Calif. | Saturday, October 26, 2024
Challenging, hilly and beautifully scenic, this race takes runners on a tour of the hills, babbling streams and trails of Northern California’s Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, located near Calistoga’s restaurants and wineries. “Babbling streams will be your soundtrack as you challenge yourself on the lush singletrack within the park,” organizers say, adding that it’s open to just 300 entrants, who will make their way along its sometimes rocky hiking trails, all while surrounded by majestic redwood, oak, madrone and bay forests.
McNears Beach, Calif. | Sunday, October 27, 2024
Run along a course that’s breathtakingly beautiful and filled with challenging uphill and downhill stretches, through the hills and among the mountains overlooking California’s San Pablo Bay. You’ll start and finish at McNear’s Beach County Park, just outside China Camp State Park, and from there wind your way along the hillside and the beach overlooking the bay. The race is part of a weekend full of endurance events in Marin, with a triathlon on Saturday followed by the half marathon, 10K and 5K on Sunday.
Malibu, Calif. | November
A dazzlingly beautiful route along Southern California’s Pacific Coast Highway, with a 5K on Saturday followed by the 13.1-mile race on Sunday. You’ll follow an out-and-back course that starts and finishes at Zuma Beach, a famous spot along the PCH that has appeared in many movies and television shows, where the race starts near sea level and climbs nearly 200 feet over the first few miles (which you’ll descend on the way back to the finish). You’ll have views of the waves crashing along the shore for the entire route, with most likely cloudless skies and temperatures between the mid-50s and the mid-60s.
Santa Barbara, Calif. | Sunday, November 3, 2024
A stunningly beautiful run along the coastline of this gorgeous central California city, with palm trees and the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains over your shoulder for much of the race. You’ll take in spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean for the first nine miles or so of the course, and run stretches along the city’s famed Cabrillo Boulevard and through downtown as well as past local landmarks like Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. The beaches and Santa Barbara’s signature architectural style will be on display throughout, and it will be run at a time of year with temperatures perfect for running.
Monterey, Calif. | Sunday, November 10, 2024
For sheer natural beauty and dramatic coastal scenery, it’s tough to top this race. From the course, runners get to take in the deep blues and greens of the Pacific Ocean crashing the rocky coastline, kelp beds swaying back and forth with the waves, sea gulls floating along the breeze and sometimes even seals and sea lions out on the large rocks in the water. On the way out and back, you’ll run past the Monterey Bay Aquarium, while the last few miles unfold along the scenic Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, in to the finish past Cannery Row (made famous by novelist John Steinbeck) along Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Rafael, Calif. | December
Nestled along the shore of the San Pablo Bay, less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, China Camp State Park was once a village of some 500 immigrants from Canton, China, who fished for shrimp in its intertidal salt marshes back in the late 1800s. Today, it’s a popular state park for boaters, hikers and mountain bikers, thanks to its extensive trail system that wind through the woods, where you’ll see wild turkeys, deer, coyote, foxes and plentiful birds — and take in panoramic views of nearby Mount Tamalpais and San Francisco Bay. This race, which is open to just 350 runners, unfolds along the trails within the park and features 1,800 feet of elevation change for the half marathon.
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