When most people think of Los Angeles, they think of gridlocked traffic on eight-lane mega freeways. Sure, if you’re trying to head from the San Fernando Valley into Santa Monica on a Monday morning or anywhere from downtown on a Friday afternoon, you’ll get just that. But there’s another side of Los Angeles—one that makes it an ideal training ground for triathletes. Use our guide to make the most of your SoCal trip.
While L.A. has its share of 50-meter outdoor swimming pools (look in Santa Monica, Culver City, and the Pacific Palisades, for example), if you’re a triathlete you should be in your native habitat: the open water. Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach all have dedicated open-water swimming groups, but if ocean swimming (with the waves and the marine life) isn’t for you, then you need to head to “The Aquatic Capital of America”—Long Beach.
Not only did Long Beach play host to the Olympic Trials in the pool back in 2004, but more importantly for triathletes, the perfectly calm and quiet waters of Alamitos Bay were the site of the 2010 National Open Water Championships. Today, the hidden gem of Alamitos Bay boasts very slow and quiet boat traffic most days, multiple beach access points, and a measured and marked buoy line along the shoreline off Bay Shore Avenue. Tired of swimming back and forth? Alamitos Bay also has a unique loop in a canal around the inside of man-made Naples Island, or try the “big-kid version” that takes a 3-mile loop around the entire island with views of beautiful boats and marinas the whole way.
Post Alamitos Bay swim, you may need a little something to warm you up, and while there are a surplus of breakfast spots on the popular 2nd Street in Long Beach, take a short walk over to Vibes Café—a spot that some Long Beach locals might not even know about. Tucked away in the tiny, off-the-beaten Peninsula neighborhood, you might mistake Vibes for a house (and it kind of is). Order the Honey Bun as a caffeinated heater after your swim and get the chilaquiles or breakfast burrito if you need calories, ASAP.
Though Los Angeles is most commonly defined by its automobiles, you can still find plenty of roads to ride on two wheels too. Cyclists often head west to L.A.’s oceanfront bike paths to escape traffic, but in recent years “the strand” has become nearly as congested as the freeways. If you’re on the southern side of L.A. County and are hoping to avoid the notorious traffic, then keep heading south to Orange County’s slightly quieter ocean-front roads. Or ride way north to the hills of the Santa Monica mountains.
Better known for its surfing, beach culture, and celebrity abodes, Malibu is also the spot for cycling Angelenos. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH to locals) provides the main artery out of Santa Monica for, well, everyone—and is home to small shoulders, busy weekend traffic, and distracted drivers. That’s why it’s the roads and climbs to the east of PCH that lure cyclists past those dangerous stretches of road. The smartest cyclists will drive down PCH to park anywhere north of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and find fantastic climbs like 7-mile Latigo Canyon, 5-mile Encinal Canyon, 8-mile Yerba Buena Canyon, and more that are easily connected via roads like Mulholland Highway to the north. If you’re not looking for elevation, PCH eventually opens up past Pepperdine University to rolling oceanfront roads that you’ll recognize from nearly half of the car commercials on TV.
Here, veteran Angelenos will typically steer clear of beachfront bike paths on weekends and head north to the dusty hills of Malibu and the Pacific Palisades for some excellent trail running. Will Rogers State Park has been the epicenter of L.A. trail running for years, though parking is expensive and weekends can be busy. Elsewhere on the north side, you’ll find open fire roads with ocean views off Mandeville Canyon Road to the south, Mulholland Drive to the north, or any number of other trailheads leading into the expansive Santa Monica Mountains.
But if you want to dig into some deep cuts in L.A., head way south to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. This big patch of green in the otherwise paved South Bay area boasts rolling oceanfront trails near the National Golf Course and Palos Verdes Estates area. “PV,” as locals call it, also has some of the most severe and breathtaking ocean-view trails slightly inland at the Portuguese Bend Preserve at the end of Crenshaw Boulevard and at Filiorum Reserve off Palos Verdes Drive South. For more gentle dirt, check out the land side of “the hill,” on the soft and shaded horse trails of Rolling Hills Estates (park at City Hall off Palos Verdes Drive North to get started).
Sure, there are fantastic places to eat in L.A., but what are the hidden gems off the well-worn thoroughfares? Ask any local Angeleno what cools you down after a good summer workout, and they’ll tell you: It’s the fruit carts. Scattered throughout L.A.’s paved cityscape, you’ll find these little hot-dog-carts-turned-healthy-oases. Depending on where you go and how good your negotiating skills are, $5 will get you a plastic bag of freshly chopped watermelon, mango, cucumber, coconut, pineapple, and the always-inscrutable jicama—or any combination thereof. The seller will ask if you want salted chile powder and/or squeezed lime (say yes to both), they’ll give you a plastic fork for your bag, and you’ll be on your way to your next workout.
Obviously a city this big has any number of accommodations, but it’s all about location, location, location. If you’re really looking to maximize your training time and minimize your driving time, be sure to look near the ocean—either north Santa Monica Bay (think Santa Monica or Malibu) or in the South Bay (think Redondo Beach or near the Palos Verdes Peninsula). Want the secret spot that has a lap pool, ocean swimming, miles of open roads, and killer trails all right out the lobby door? Head to Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.
You could take the family to Disneyland, or even go to slightly-under-the-radar local favorite Knott’s Berry Farms, but for a real family gem for those with young kids head to the unique Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena. This huge 3.5-acre campus near the heart of L.A. is more than just a theme park, it encourages kids to be active and piques their interest with exhibits and activities like the “physics forest,” a stream adventure, rope bridges, musical features, and more. You won’t find Mickey and Minnie, but your kids will get to have their own mini active vacation.