Whether you’re visiting for work or on vacation, or just live there, here are outdoor exercise options for eight major U.S. cities.
When we were kids, summer was vacation time—meaning we had the freedom to play, explore and live a life unencumbered by the confined structure of school. As adults, the freedom of an extended summer vacation gives way to the responsibilities of daily life. But when temperatures rise and the sun stays out later we can still feel the innate desire to play and explore.
Summer also represents a time when we are more likely to travel. In our youth, summer travel meant the obligatory road trip to the family vacation spot. But now as adults we are almost as likely to travel for a meeting, conference or training as we are for a little personal rest and relaxation.
As someone who travels frequently for both work and play, one of the things I enjoy about summer is having the extra daylight to get outside and explore a new area when work is done. One of the things I love to do in a new city is find outdoor workout areas. The opportunity to explore the fitness offerings in new environment triggers the nostalgia of when summer represented an extended opportunity to play outdoors.
In my opinion, the hardest part of being an adult is spending a large chunk of the day indoors when the weather outside is warm and inviting. That’s why after a day of meetings when I’m in a new city, I make every effort to get out and combine workout time with sight-seeing time. Sometimes it can be fun to get a little lost, because that’s when you get to see parts of a city that most visitors might overlook. I want to share a few of my favorite places that allow you to exercise while exploring the sights of a new city, or just simply enjoy the comforts of the season outdoors. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will highlight some of my favorite places to catch an outdoor workout when I’m traveling in the eight cities listed below.
Right after college I spent some time in Redondo Beach, south of LA proper but still in the general area. When work takes me to LA-LA land, I enjoy the opportunity to sweat at one of a few outdoors spots frequented by some of the area’s famous residents.
If you like hiking, the trails at Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills provide a great workout as well as a place to do some awesome people watching.
If you’re in the west part of the city then going to Santa Monica is a MUST. The best thing to do is to park at end of Wilshire, which will put you on the bluff above the beaches. You can then head down the stairs and jog south to a fitness area where there are a number of options for body-weight strength training, including pull-up bars and gymnastics rings, before running back to where you parked. Before returning to the rental car, do a few sprints up the stairs for a killer cardio workout.
If you’re into serious weightlifting then you definitely should take the opportunity to train where numerous bodybuilding legends have hoisted iron and visit the outdoor gym of Muscle Beach located along the boardwalk in Venice Beach.
This has been my residence for the better part of the past decade and there are a number of options for doing an outdoor workout in some of the best weather our country has to offer.
If staying downtown, you will want to run the stairs at the convention center. Once you get to the top, the west side has an amazing view of Coronado and the Pacific Ocean, which is a great way to recover between sets.
If your stay keeps you in mid or north San Diego County, then hiking the trails at Torrey Pines are an excellent option for a fun outdoor workout; the steep climbs are great for the legs and the amazing ocean views are a feast for the eyes.
If staying inland, then consider hiking, trail running or mountain biking at Mission Trails. It’s technically still in the city of San Diego, easy to get to and the variety of terrain from easy to really challenging will make sure you get your sweat on.
This is my FAVORITE place for urban hiking. While I love getting away from city life, sometimes walking through a city is a great way to explore, see new things and get an amazing workout. Nowhere does this come together better than in the city by the bay.
San Francisco was built on hilly terrain situated on a narrow peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and eponymous bay, which means the city offers both amazing views and sweat-inducing walks. My personal favorite is to start in the east part of the city at the Embarcadero, climb the stairs from Sansome to Telegraph Hill, then head west to hit parks like Alta Plaza or Alamo Square before heading to Pacific Heights and the Lyon Street Stairs. Confession: My wife plotted our course here on our most recent trip and it is absolutely worth making the effort.
No matter where you go in the city you will find that climbing the hills provides a killer leg workout, while the views from the tops are absolutely stunning. Recommendation: Take an Uber or Lyft back to where you’re staying because your legs will feel like jelly at the end of your adventure.
This is where I worked as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in the first part of the 21st century. One of my favorite outdoor workouts in the Nation’s Capitol include running in Rock Creek Park where Teddy Roosevelt used to hike when he was president. It’s hard to believe that such a gorgeous wilderness exists in the middle of the city and it’s worth your time to go explore.
If you’re staying in the west end then you will want to run or walk along the Potomac River to the Watergate stairs. A bit of history: This is where foreign leaders used to disembark after traveling by boat. It’s a set of stairs from the river up to the Memorial Bridge, and provides a great workout with unrivaled views of the city.
For horror movie fans you can find the Exorcist stairs in the Georgetown section of D.C. If the film didn’t get your heart pumping then running up and down the stairs certainly will. The city is laid out with the National Mall in the center which is a great place for a run while catching numerous sights along the way. When I played rugby in D.C. we used to practice at the mall and would run sprints up the hill to the Washington Monument for conditioning.
New York City
When I lived in D.C. I used to travel up and down the East Coast to Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and after being in meetings all day I always enjoyed the chance to get out and do some urban exploring.
One my favorite things in the city is walking or running through Central Park. There are numerous paths. Personally I’ve only run parts of the south loop before doing numerous sprints near the ball fields, but this park provides so many outdoor workout options that you’ll find what suits your needs.
If you’re staying near the southern end of Manhattan then my suggestion is to walk or run the path through Battery Park City. Because you’re at the south end of the island near the water you will be infused with fresh air and views that can include Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.
Most of the times I was in this city for work it was during the winter, so exercising outdoors was simply not an option. (I don’t mind a little rain, but freezing cold is where I draw the line.)
However, there was one time I was there in late spring. It was a gorgeous day and when I was done with work I did what many visitors to the City of Brotherly Love do: I went out to find my inner Rocky Balboa by running the east steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum is located at the far southern end of Fairmount Park which itself offers a number of trails and outdoor workout options. So once I ran the steps for a few sets, I did a little running and exploring along the Schuylkill River. This was back in the days before smartphones, so I didn’t have a map and got lost. I ended up taking a cab back to the hotel, but I had so much fun exploring a beautiful park in a new city that it didn’t matter.
Work took me to Boston for a couple of years and in order to make things easy commute-wise, we got a small apartment in the Back Bay so my wife and I could each walk to work. I worked at the east end of Boston Common and lived at the far west end of Back Bay, and when the weather was nice I would run to work along the park-like setting of Commonwealth Ave. (The benefit of working for health club companies is easy access to showers.)
While in Boston I played rugby with the Boston Irish Wolfhounds and we would train in Moakley Park in Southie, which offered a number of fields for speed and agility drills along with a track for sprint work.
Finally, the bike path of the Esplanade along the Charles River provided great options for running, cycling and walking, as well as being a great place to lay out and catch some rays on the rare occasion when the sun makes an appearance.
A number of years ago I was in Chicago for a conference, and after being in a sterile convention center all day I really enjoyed my evenings working out in Millennium Park. Again, I’m more of a trail runner and when running in an urban environment I prefer finding places to do sprints, or, obviously, stair runs. Whether walking, running or simply looking for a place to sit outside for a spell, Millennium Park is a must-do when in the Windy City.
When doing an urban run along a bike path I like to break it up by adding strength training intervals, such as step-ups or jumps on to benches or small walls. And if I find an empty playground, I’ll alternate between pull-ups on the monkey bars and push-ups on the ground to get a little extra work in.
As much as I love working out at 24 Hour Fitness when I travel, if I can’t find a location convenient to where I’m staying, I make do by taking my workout outside. The suggestions above should give you some great ideas for how to combine working out with sight-seeing if you should find yourself in one of these cities in the not-too-distant future.
I consider myself more of a strength and power athlete so my preference is for shorter, high intensity intervals as opposed to lengthy distance runs, hence my propensity for stair and sprint workouts. What I have found in many cities is that, besides the health benefits of using an outdoor Stairmaster, the top usually provides a killer view making the trip up more than worthwhile.
Photo credit: warrengoldswain, Thinkstock