Northern California is one of the most beautiful locations in the country, providing runners, cyclists, and triathletes with the best natural playgrounds available. Many people visit the area and either compete in organized races, or pick a spot and decide to explore on their own. A growing collection of park trails, running and riding routes, and athletes sharing routes via social media, makes it even easier to plan your own outdoors vacation.
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe doesn’t get the type of attention that riding in Colorado receives, and I understand why, but it’s still our Northern California cycling and running mecca. Ideally, endurance sports athletes want to visit anytime from mid-spring to the fall, as Lake Tahoe turns into a ski heaven from Thanksgiving until the early springtime months.
There are numerous trails spread throughout North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, welcoming cyclist, mountain bikers, trail runners, triathletes, canoeing and kayaking, and campers to the California-Nevada state-line region. Locals are overwhelmingly polite to courteous visitors, and you should be able to go cycling on the road and feel safe with the amount of clearance drivers give you.
I had a lot of fun riding the Tour de Tahoe 74-mile route around the lake, and also enjoyed exploring local mountain bike trails. Mountain bikers can visit any of the numerous ski resorts and ride trails in a controlled, well-maintained environment.
San Francisco-Marin Headlands
There is something special about running across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco into the Marin Headlands – a unique location that draws visitors from across the world. It’s such a drastic climate change to run from the sometimes cold, foggy weather in San Francisco into Marin, where it can be noticeably warmer and sunny.
If you have your climbing legs, you can run across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands, with beautiful views of San Francisco, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge itself. There are overlooks on the Golden Gate Bridge for tourists to stop and capture a photo – but make sure you are safely out of the way of foot traffic.
Cyclists must yield to pedestrians and be careful around any towers, where blind spots and narrowing pathways can sometimes lead to accidents. Please read signs informing visitors of which lane is open to pedestrians and cyclists – don’t ignore these signs.
American River Trai
The American River Trail is one of the best features of the Sacramento area for athletes and active folks, featuring about 32 miles of paved trails from downtown Sacramento to Folsom. Head out on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you’ll run across everyone from weekend warriors and families to runners and cyclists training for serious endurance events. Just remember to be courteous to the folks around you and pick up your litter!
I lived in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin, California, and the ability to run, ride, and skate around the American River Trail was a major highlight of being in the area. The trail is open to jogging, cycling, walking, roller blading, and horseback riding – with water, bike shops, and local eateries available along the way. Northern California has dozens of other locations that I could include in future updates of this type of story – and it should only inspire you to get out and explore your neighborhoods.
East Bay Regional Park District – San Francisco Bay Area
I’ve explored a lot of parks both on bike, trail running, and simply wandering around – and the parks maintained by the EBRPD tend to be top notch. Whether coming out and racing an event in EBRPD park, or just moving out and about, the Bay Area micro-climates make park exploration a real adventure.
Head to the Coyote Hills in Fremont, where it’s cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon, and see if you can spot a mountain lion! If not, explore Black Diamond, Wildcat, or Tilden and see what the well-maintained trails, bathrooms, and amenities available to visitors. You can spend your time playing in the woods or exploring what looks like a desert – and you will always be remotely close to a major metropolitan area!
Bonus: Wine Country
Can’t forget about stopping by any of the countless wineries spread throughout Northern California, where you can play with the tourists in Healdsburg – or head up to Mendocino County and find a more remote region to ride. Please remember: Don’t drink and drive – or RIDE!
If you don’t want to take my word for it, there are thousands of visiting athletes that will vouch for the beauty and greatness of Northern California. You can run, ride and explore year-round, though you may have to be prepared for a slight drop in temperature and some rain during the winter months. Well, except for Tahoe, where you can enjoy a winter blizzard!
Hope to see you out on the roads and trails!
Unless otherwise stated, images sourced from Thinkstock Images.