Best Marathons in California

California Marathons for Running Races

California, often hailed as the Golden State, is a treasure trove of scenic races. From its pristine beaches to rugged mountains, the scenery never fails to captivate. Add to that, verdant valleys and bustling urban centers, and you’ve got a marathoner’s dream. But it’s not just the landscapes that charm runners. California’s climate, ranging from Mediterranean to alpine, offers a comfortable running environment year-round.

Furthermore, the state’s marathons stand out for their unique routes. Some trace the coastline, offering breathtaking ocean views. Others wind through renowned wine regions, adding an aromatic twist to the marathon experience. And then, there are those that lead runners through iconic landmarks, making history come alive with every stride.

So, as we delve deeper into California’s marathon offerings, buckle up. We’re about to embark on a running journey that celebrates both endurance and the state’s unmatched beauty. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a newbie, California promises an unforgettable experience. Ready to dive in? Let the exploration commence!

Big Sur International Marathon

Location: Big Sur, CA
Date: April

The Big Sur Marathon stands as one of California’s crowning athletic events. Winding its way along the renowned Highway 1, the race offers an unparalleled coastal experience. Every step taken reveals the majesty of the Pacific Ocean, accompanying runners with an endless azure tapestry.

Majestic cliffs stand tall, their peaks contrasting with the deep blue waters below. As miles pass, the rhythmic sound of waves crashing becomes a motivating soundtrack for marathoners. It’s nature’s orchestra, playing a composition crafted for this very journey.

Midway, runners encounter the Bixby Creek Bridge. This iconic structure is more than a checkpoint; it’s a symbol of Big Sur’s charm and architectural prowess. With each mile, the changing landscapes, from oceanfront vistas to dense, whispering redwood forests, ensure there’s never a dull moment.

It’s essential to note the challenges the course presents. Rolling hills, while offering scenic rewards, require determination and grit. The undulations, though strenuous, promise breathtaking panoramic views, making the climb worth every ounce of effort.

Running the Big Sur isn’t just about completion; it’s about immersion. It’s a journey through diverse terrains, each segment offering its unique appeal. Concluding this marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a testament to experiencing and overcoming the natural beauty and challenges of California’s treasured coast.

Los Angeles Marathon

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: March

The Los Angeles Marathon is a cinematic journey on foot. Starting at Dodger Stadium, participants embark on an iconic 26.2-mile trek. Passing through diverse neighborhoods, runners get a taste of L.A.’s rich tapestry.

Historic Chinatown beckons early on, with its vibrant colors and sounds. Subsequently, downtown L.A. offers towering skyscrapers, a testament to the city’s modern spirit. As participants progress, the famous Sunset Strip beckons, echoing tales of legendary nights.

Yet, the city isn’t just about urban marvels. The course then winds by Rodeo Drive, a hub of luxury and fashion. This segment provides a stark contrast to the bohemian vibes of Silverlake, earlier in the race. Eventually, the cool breeze of Santa Monica becomes evident. Runners are reminded that the Pacific Ocean awaits.

Finally, as the finish line draws near, the Santa Monica Pier comes into view. Here, the marathon concludes, but the memories linger. Running L.A. is about understanding its pulse, witnessing its contrasts, and celebrating its ever-evolving story. Truly, it’s a marathon like no other.

Napa Valley Marathon

Location: Napa Valley, CA
Date: March

Nestled in Northern California’s wine country, the Napa Valley Marathon paints a picturesque scene. Participants start in Calistoga, known for its geothermal hot springs. As the race begins, the crisp air invigorates, promising an unforgettable journey.

Vineyards stretch endlessly, with neat rows of grapevines adorning the landscape. Each mile offers panoramic views of the valley’s lush, rolling hills. The scenic Silverado Trail becomes the runner’s companion, guiding them southward with its gentle bends.

The course is predominantly downhill, favoring both seasoned marathoners and newcomers alike. As the miles accumulate, the iconic wineries come into view. Each estate tells a story of tradition, terroir, and tenacity.

Passing St. Helena and Oakville, the rich scent of aging wine might just tease the senses. The route continues, unfurling the best of Napa’s countryside. By the time runners approach the city of Napa for the finish, they’ve not only covered 26.2 miles but have also traversed a viticultural wonderland.

Concluding amidst cheering crowds, the Napa Valley Marathon offers more than a physical challenge. It’s a sensory experience, a blend of athletic endeavor and the rich bouquet of Napa’s culture. A race to remember, indeed.

California International Marathon

Location: Sacramento, CA
Date: December

Starting in Folsom, the California International Marathon (CIM) promises a unique Californian running experience. The route showcases the Golden State’s beauty, with a point-to-point layout. Initially, runners are greeted by the Sierra Nevada foothills, painting a majestic backdrop.

Transitioning into the suburbs, tree-lined streets offer shade and scenic beauty. The course, renowned for its net downhill profile, aids both first-timers and seasoned athletes. As miles unfold, participants pass through historic neighborhoods, each radiating charm.

Sacramento’s cityscape gradually appears on the horizon. The Tower Bridge, an iconic symbol, signifies the race’s climax. Drawing closer to the Capitol Mall finish, energy intensifies. Crowds cheer, music blares, and Sacramento’s heart beats in unison.

CIM isn’t just another marathon. It’s a journey through California’s essence, culminating in a state capital celebration. A must-run for those chasing personal records or unforgettable experiences.

San Francisco Marathon

Location: San Francisco, CA
Date: July

San Francisco: a city known for iconic landmarks and hills. The San Francisco Marathon captures its essence impeccably. Starting at the Embarcadero, early miles offer Bay Bridge views. Transitioning into Fisherman’s Wharf, sights and sounds stimulate the senses.

Alcatraz emerges on the horizon, a historic presence. Ghirardelli Square’s sweetness wafts through the air next. The course then challenges with the city’s infamous hills. Yet, atop each climb, breathtaking vistas await, rewarding every stride.

The Golden Gate Bridge looms large, a runner’s rite of passage. Crossing it, participants feel its grandeur beneath their feet. On return, they journey through Presidio, enveloped by its lush greenery.

Golden Gate Park’s beauty comes next. Serenity abounds as nature and city converge. Haight-Ashbury offers vibrant hues and eclectic vibes. The marathon finishes at the Embarcadero, completing a full city circle. This race isn’t merely miles. It’s San Francisco’s heartbeat, encapsulated in one transformative run.

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon

Location: Ojai, CA
Date: April

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon: A showcase of California’s unparalleled beauty. From Ojai’s tranquil, rolling hills, this race offers nature at its best. Breathe in the pine-infused mountain air, each inhalation propelling you forward. As you descend, anticipate the landscape’s transformation.

Next, you’re swept into the Ventura River Valley. Here, nature flaunts its verdant tapestry. Orchards burst with fruit, farmlands stretch endlessly, a testament to California’s agricultural richness. Birds overhead sing their encouragement, harmonizing with your steady pace.

Ahead, the first glimpses of the Pacific Ocean beckon. As you draw nearer, the air becomes tangibly saltier, a gentle reminder of the approaching coastline. Palms rise, their silhouettes dancing against the sky, guiding you towards the marathon’s conclusion.

Reaching the historic Ventura Pier, the journey culminates. Waves applaud in rhythmic roars, saluting every runner’s achievement. From mountain serenity to oceanic grandeur, this marathon captures the heart and spirit of California.

Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Location: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
Date: May

The Avenue of the Giants Marathon is an experience like no other. Amidst Northern California, this race promises breathtaking scenes. Towering redwoods flank the course, ancient guardians standing tall. Their majestic beauty is unmatched, some dating back millennia.

As you weave through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the world seems to hush. Fern-filled undergrowth carpets the forest floor, softening each footfall. Sunlight trickles through the canopy, casting dappled patterns on the trail. Each step is steeped in history, feeling the energy of ages past.

Birdsong punctuates the air, nature’s own cheer squad. The Eel River runs alongside, its waters cool and inviting. Occasionally, you’ll cross wooden bridges, each one offering expansive views. Mist might envelope the giants, adding a layer of mystique.

By the marathon’s end, it’s clear. This isn’t just a race; it’s a journey through time, nature, and unparalleled wonder. A testament to California’s diverse, captivating beauty.

Surf City USA Marathon

Location: Huntington Beach, CA
Date: February

The Surf City USA Marathon is one of California’s coastal gems. Located in Huntington Beach, it’s where the surf meets endurance. Waves crash consistently, offering a rhythmic backdrop. The expansive Pacific Ocean graces your side, its horizon endless and inspiring.

Golden sands stretch beneath your feet. Palm trees line the route, swaying gently, casting fleeting shadows. Runners soak in ocean breezes, invigorating and refreshing. Beachfront homes pepper the landscape, each with its charm.

Piers jut into the ocean, iconic landmarks in their own right. Surfers carve waves, providing moving spectacles. The sun casts a golden hue, especially during dawn. As you press forward, seagulls serenade overhead.

The finale? A vibrant finish line on Main Street. Crowds cheer, but the ocean’s call remains. Another successful chapter in Surf City’s rich legacy.

Humboldt Bay Marathon

Location: Humboldt Bay, CA
Date: August

Humboldt Bay Marathon is Northern California’s premier race. Nestled between redwoods and the Pacific, this race presents unique allure. It starts in Eureka, a historic town. Victorian architecture surrounds, echoing tales of old.

Runners advance, tracing the bay’s serene edge. Tidal marshes greet you, teeming with diverse birdlife. Occasionally, distant sea lions bark, joining the ambiance. The bay waters shimmer, reflecting the clear skies.

As you progress, Arcata’s charm unfolds. A vibrant community with eco-conscious roots. But beyond the urban, nature’s splendors dominate. Towering redwoods loom, their ancient whispers barely audible.

Tall grasses sway with the coastal wind. Local farms punctuate the landscape, verdant and thriving. Wooden bridges occasionally surface, rustic gateways across waterways. They offer momentary respite and unparalleled views.

To finish, Eureka’s Waterfront beckons, completing the loop. Participants, awash with pride, reflect on the beauty traversed. Humboldt Bay Marathon remains unmatched, a celebration of nature and endurance.

Catalina Island Marathon

Location: Catalina Island, CA
Date: March

A race where sea meets sky just off California’s coast, this island offers a marathon like no other. The ferry ride alone sets the tone: waves crash, dolphins leap, anticipation builds.

Upon arrival, Avalon’s quaint streets greet you. Their charm is palpable. Yet, it’s the rugged interior that captivates runners. Terrain here is undulating, challenging. Elevation changes constantly, demanding grit and perseverance.

Gravel trails snake through, framed by wildflowers. There’s a raw beauty, untouched by modern life. Overhead, the sky’s expanse stretches endlessly. Occasionally, bison silhouette against the horizon, remnants of a movie shoot long past.

As you climb, the Pacific panorama unfolds. Azure waters stretch, melding with the sky. Descents offer respite, coupled with breathtaking vistas. The salt-laden breeze, always present, refreshes weary souls.

Finishing in Avalon, the journey comes full circle. The sense of accomplishment is immeasurable. Catalina Island Marathon is not just a race. It’s an immersion into nature’s heart, an island adventure unforgettable.


As we wrap up our expedition through California’s marathon offerings, there’s no denying the state’s magnetic pull for runners worldwide. Each marathon, with its distinctive route and backdrop, promises not just a test of endurance, but also a sensory delight. From crashing of waves along coastal paths, to the serene beauty of vineyards, every mile has a story to tell.

Moreover, beyond the physical journey, these races capture the spirit of California. The vibrant communities, passionate organizers, and the camaraderie among participants add layers of richness to the experience. Indeed, the Golden State’s marathons exemplify how sport, nature, and community can intertwine beautifully.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting the diverse challenges and terrains California offers. Whether it’s the allure of a PR, a scenic route, or local festivities, there’s a marathon here for every runner.

In reflection, while the finish line might signal the end of a race, the memories and emotions linger on. So, as the California sun sets, we hope you’re left inspired and energized for your next running adventure. Until we lace up for another journey, keep the spirit of the Golden State alive in your strides. Happy running!

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