Best Places to Run Stairs in San Diego

Are you training for your first 5K? Or perhaps you’re trying to lose weight, or increase your cardio stamina? Whatever your fitness goal is, San Diego has some of the best FREE resources for staying active. We all know that famous scene where Rocky Balboa races up the infamous 72 stone steps at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and does a little triumphant dance at the top. He knew what he was doing! Running up and down stairs is one of the best overall conditioning exercises because it strengthens your muscles, heart, and lungs. Luckily, San Diego has plenty of free and beautiful locations to run stairs while getting fresh air and enjoying some fabulous scenery!


Here is a list of seven of the best places to get a stairs workout right here in San Diego County:

1. San Diego Convention Center

111 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101 – Get Directions

Convention Center Steps, Photo by Maggie Not Margaret San Diego Convention Center | Photo by: Maggie Not Margaret

The San Diego Convention Center has a wide set of stairs, making it a great option to work out with a friend. After you have finished your stair workout, you can walk over to the Embarcadero Marina Park South and use the public pull-up bars, hanging rings, and sit-up stations.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL:  Somewhat difficult – approximately 100 steps total.

REVIEWS: 4 stars; 144 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS:  According to one Yelp reviewer, “It’s beautiful, you get fresh air, and you get a good workout in. There will usually be people there so don’t get too worried about safety. But bring a friend just in case :)”

CONS: Avoid trying to use these stairs during large conventions, especially during Comic Con.

PARKING: Quick trolley access, street metered parking, paid lot ($15), surrounding private lots.


2. La Mesa “Hidden Stairs”

7994 Windsor Dr, La Mesa, CA 91941 – Get Directions

La Mesa Secret Stairs, by Susan Williams, Flickr Creative Commons Photo La Mesa Secret Steps | Photo by: Susan Williams

The La Mesa Public Stairs have been nicknamed the “Hidden Stairs” for a reason—they’re tucked away in the middle of a residential area in La Mesa and are notoriously difficult to find. When you do find this spot, though, you will find that it was very worth the search for your stair training workout!

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Difficult – approximately 245 steps total.

REVIEWS: 4 ½ stars; 28 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS: If you are looking for a strenuous workout, these are just the stairs for you! Some Yelpers go as far as to call them the most difficult stairs in San Diego.

CONS: Make sure to be respectful of neighboring houses, as noise complaints have been an issue in the past.

PARKING: Because these stairs are located in a residential area, parking is plentiful and completely free!


3. The “Catwalks” at Rolando Village

Multiple Locations in Rolando Village, San Diego CA 92115 – Get Directions

P1010007 One of Rolando’s 8 catwalks | Photo by: David Foltz

Rolando Village is one of San Diego’s oldest residential communities, located in Mid-City right off of El Cajon Blvd. There are a total of 8 “catwalks” located throughout Rolando Village, which provide pedestrian friendly access to the long and windy streets. It’s a beautiful place for a stair climbing workout!

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate – there are several sets of stairs at varying lengths.

REVIEWS: San Diegans love the quaint feel of this neighborhood.

PROS: If you’re looking for variety in your stair workout, these are the stairs for you. Each of the eight catwalks are charming and very unique in their own way.

CONS: These stairs may not be the best option for nighttime workouts as they can be a bit tricky in the dark. Make sure to bring a flashlight if you’re feeling adventurous.

PARKING: Parking is free and plentiful along the residential streets.


4. Amphitheater Steps at Mt. Helix

4905 Mt Helix Dr, La Mesa, CA 91941 – Get Directions

Amphitheater – Mt. Helix Park | Photo by: Bob Perry

The Mt. Helix Park Foundation is located in San Diego County between La Mesa and El Cajon and is open to the public unless there is a wedding or other special event going on, and a great place for running up stairs. Make sure to check their events calendar for a list of all upcoming closures.


REVIEWS:  4 ½ stars; 28 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS: Mt. Helix is a beautiful option — it has outstanding panoramic views, natural landscapes, and historical intrigue. It also happens to be quite a popular place to pop the question!

CONS: There seems to be an issue with people leaving trash and empty bottles after shows.

PARKING: Parking is limited, but many visitors park in the fields at the corner of Mt. Helix Drive and Vivera and then walk up. (You’re there for the exercise anyway, right?)


5. Cabrillo National Monument

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., San Diego CA 92106 – Get Directions

Cabrillo Point | Photo by: Lionel & Heidi

The Cabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of Point Loma and commemorates the 1542 landing of the first European expedition to step foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States. The highest point in the park offers outstanding views of San Diego’s skyline and harbor, and Coronado.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate; some areas can get fairly steep.

REVIEWS: 4 ½ stars; 338 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS: Once you are finished with your workout, there are many fun things to do. Admission includes access to the Cabrillo Monument museum and visitor’s center, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, tide pools, and hiking trails.

CONS: If you prefer running concrete stairs, these may not be the best option for you. The area can also get somewhat crowded on weekends depending on the time of year.

PARKING: Cost for admission is $5 per car (admission is good for a week).  


6. Swami’s State Beach

1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024 – Get Directions

Swami's Beach, Encinitas. January 1, 2014, by Tim Buss, Flickr Creative Commons Photo Swami’s Beach, Encinitas. January 1, 2014 | Photo by: Tim Buss

The stairs leading down to Swami’s State Beach in Encinitas, CA is one of the most popular locations for North County stair runners. You will find moderate traffic year-round as Swami’s Beach is one of San Diego County’s most popular surfing spots.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Difficult; 145 steps total.

REVIEWS: 4 ½ stars; 36 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS: Who doesn’t enjoy a constant cool breeze and the soothing sound of crashing waves?

CONS: Depending on the day and time, these steps can be quite busy with beach visitors.

PARKING: There is a very small public parking lot at Swami’s Park itself, but if you’re not lucky enough to find a spot there are many other curbside spots within walking distance. Try K Street first, and then travel north on K, E, D, and C Streets.  


7. Torrey Pines State Reserve

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037 – Get Directions

Stairs leading up from the beach at Torrey Pines State Reserve, by slworking, Flickr Creative Commons Photo Stairs leading up from the beach at Torrey Pines State Reserve | Photo by: slworking2

The Torrey Pines State Reserve is one of the most beautiful spots in San Diego County. With several hiking trails at different intensities, this is also one of the best destinations for hikers of all levels.

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Easy to moderate; there are several sets of stairs and steps at varying difficulties.

REVIEWS: 5 stars; 517 reviews (view on Yelp)

PROS: The views at Torrey Pines State Reserve are absolutely gorgeous. There is a visitor center with volunteer guides that are happy to answer any questions you may have.

CONS: Parking is expensive. If you plan on visiting regularly, annual passes are available.

PARKING: There is a $15 fee to park in the lot. Yelp reviewers recommend arriving early for a better chance at snagging a spot on the street.

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