It’s early Sunday evening and the sun’s already setting over the glimmering sprawl of Los Angeles. Across to the other side of my Airbus 380 lies the vast Pacific Ocean, as we begin the smooth descent to LAX - and a week of back-to-back meetings, starting 8am sharp Monday. It’s my fourth work trip to LA, but it’s not going to be the fourth time I look wistfully out of the top floor of the Intercontinental Century City towards Santa Monica, before catching the lift to its windowless conference centre.
Famously no-one ever walks in LA. People get in their cars to go jogging or walk their dog. But looking at the map it looks pretty straightforward to get to the beach. Turn right out of the hotel, then right again – and it’s a 10km straight run down West Pico Boulevard all the way to Shutters On The Beach. I’m wide awake with jet lag at 4am, and ready to go out by 5am.
Los Angeles is eerily quiet, and aside from one creepy underpass under a major 10 lane freeway there’s pavement (sorry, sidewalk) all the way to Santa Monica. Thanks to the gradual slope towards the ocean it’s one of my fastest 10km runs ever, at around 36 minutes. I have to wait for the sun to rise over the ocean, as I dip my toes in the cool Pacific Ocean. It was worth the 14 hour flight for this moment alone.
Thanks to the gradual slope towards the ocean it’s one of my fastest 10km runs ever, at around 36 minutes.
Fresh and ready for the day
I had planned to catch a taxi back, but with time (and energy) to spare I managed to run all the way back to the hotel, freshen up, have an enormous American breakfast – and I’d never been better prepared for a day of back-to-back meetings. It’s an approach I take whenever I go away on business – it’s simply a great way to set yourself up for the day (mentally and physically), and a much better way of exploring the local area and seeing the sights than the dreary hotel gym. The last time I was in LA I ran all the way to the Griffith Park Observatory and then on to the Hollywood Reservoir and back – a very ambitious 41km run with 800m of hill ascent – thanks to having a free morning on my last day.
The same goes for being on holiday. People often ask why I’m going running – “Aren’t you meant to be on your holidays?” – as though running’s something you want a holiday from, like work. Not only is it exciting and stimulating to explore your destination rapidly on foot, when no-one else is around; not only does the sunrise never, ever get old, wherever you are… there’s simply no better way to set you up for the most productive or relaxing day that you could hope for.
All you need is a little bit of planning so you have a vague mental map, a fully charged mobile with data roaming, a credit card and cash in case of getting lost and needing to get an emergency taxi home, and maybe some water in a backpack. Put on your running shoes and go explore!
The Run routes:
Not only is Beverly Hills one of America’s most iconic shopping, fashion and healthy eating destinations, it’s also perfectly located for some great LA runs. Depending on where you’re staying, it’s around 10km to the beach at Santa Monica or a more stretching 10 miles to the Griffith Park Observatory made famous in the La La Land movie. It’s worth noting that LA is often affected by early morning sea fogs which can make a trip to the coast a rather gloomy affair, whilst Beverly and the Hollywood Hills bask in sunlight.
1) 10km run – Beverly Hills to Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles (21km round trip)
There are a number of very straight boulevards running from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. The most pedestrian friendly is West Pico Boulevard (which becomes simply Pico Boulevard), which knits together a series of little communities all the way to the sea. Take in Avenue of the Stars along the way to pass the 20th Century Fox Studio lot.
The run from the Intercontinental Century City to Santa Monica really was as simple as turning right out of the hotel down the Avenue of the Stars, then right again down West Pico Boulevard, which runs in a straight line all the way to the ocean.
Despite its reputation for being a place no-one walks around, LA is surprisingly pedestrian friendly as there’s pavement the whole way along joining the little village strip mall with the next strip mall. You have to stop start quite a lot which can be frustrating, especially as jay walking is a crime in the US.
The good thing with LA is that no-one really gets out of bed until 7.30/8am so the roads are much quieter until then. Thanks to Uber it’s also really quick and easy to get a taxi these days, for when you want to do a point-to-point – for example from Santa Monica you can run along the ocean in either direction, grab an awesome healthy (or not so healthy) Californian breakfast and then a taxi back when the roads are busier and the heat starts building up.
2) 10 mile run – Beverly Hills to the Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles (with optional return via Hollywood Reservoir)
From Beverly Hills it’s an iconic run down Santa Monica Boulevard, the Sunset Strip and along Hollywood Boulevard past the Chinese Theatre, then heading left past the Capital Records Building and onto Franklin Avenue and up Fern Dell Drive. You’re then into a proper National Park with a tough little ascent up to the Griffith Park Observatory with some of the finest views the city has to offer.
I’d seen some photos on Instagram of the Hollywood Reservoir so for my return route I retraced my steps back to Fern Dell Drive, headed up Red Oak Drive then used Google maps to twist and turn down across the Hollywood Hills. There’s no way of doing this without a map, but it’s a great way to explore the real life of communities in LA with barely a car on the twisty turny roads - and feels more like little Switzerland than urban, downtown Los Angeles. The Hollywood reservoir is a great discovery with stunning views across to the Hollywood Sign, although the circuit around it is spoilt by high fences keeping you well away from the water.
For my route to the Hollywood sign it was a case of turning left down Avenue of the Stars, right down Santa Monica Boulevard, then cutting across the grid to Hollywood Boulevard.
Then, it was a case of running in the direction of the sign and hoping for the best.
The most frustrating thing around there is all the street signs that say “no access to the Hollywood sign” which are there to discourage drivers, but are perfectly OK for pedestrians. That’s when you need to pause for a second and consult Google maps as the grid system ends in the hills and it’s all little twisty roads and dead ends like some sort of maze.
Top Tips for Running in the City
- Whilst LA is surprisingly pedestrian friendly, it’s worth being cautious at the pedestrian crossings as traffic is allowed to turn right on a red, which means you can find cars heading towards when you’re crossing on a green man. With far fewer pedestrians than the UK drivers aren’t always expecting to see someone crossing, particularly if it’s early in the morning. I tend to run without music in LA for that reason.
- For early morning runs it’s worth checking the weather reports for sea fog, or finding a tall hotel and going up in the lift to have a look before setting off to the ocean. It can be a bit disappointing to run 10km to the ocean to be greeted with a white out. If it’s foggy then go inland or uphill as the sea fogs rarely extend as far as Beverly Hills.
- LA is surprisingly hilly – great for hill training, not so great if like me you’re used to running along the River Thames every day!
- There are lots of national parks and canyons all around LA, which can be worth jumping in an Uber to get to. I’m constantly told by locals that there are rattlers, mountain lions and other wildlife in the canyons and parks – and that it’s best to run with a running buddy, or at times when there’ll be other people around. It’s worth remembering that whilst it’s LA it’s also very close to proper desert wildlife.
- Be sure to take in a beach run at some point – great for people watching and there are amazing places to get fresh and healthy food in Venice and Marina del Ray at the end of your run (less so towards Pacific Palisades).
I guess the final thing to note is that LA is a big sprawling city. As a Studio Chairman told me over lunch on my last day, it’s 30 miles wide, 10 miles long and 1 inch deep. It’s easy enough to scratch the surface but feels like it could take a lifetime to fully explore. I can’t wait to go back and see more of what LA has to offer.
Photo Credits: Cameron Saunders.