Going The Distance: Running OC
One of my favorite parts of a vacation is starting the day with an invigorating run. Just past dawn, while my family sleeps, I slip into running clothes, tiptoe out the door and head off for five to 10 miles. Vacation runs have taken me through quiet coves, charming riverfront villages and secluded corners of far-away destinations. In Utah, I’ve been first to the rim of Bryce Canyon and second through deer tracks in the glistening snow of Park City.
Happily, I get to come home to Southern California’s Newport Coast, still one of my favorite parcels of paradise. My regular runs feature endless ocean and hill views, and, as a bonus, we run in shorts almost year-round. When it’s unusually cold—say, 50 degrees—we dig to the bottom of the drawer for leggings. Here are a few options for an unforgettable vacation (or staycation) route.
Silver rays of sunshine reflect off the calm waters of Newport Beach’s Back Bay, a serene spot for a fairly flat run. Natural habitats along the way attract more than 200 bird and native plant species; the path is lined with cattail and fragrant coastal sage scrub. Unspoiled bluffs to the east keep the morning road shady and cool.
“Back Bay is like an old friend that is comforting in its constancy,” says Talya, a member of my running posse. “I can choose between a flat, paved path and a dirt trail, and I always look forward to the little surprises, from a sudden waft of jasmine to a raccoon crossing the road.”
The route begins along Back Bay Drive, a one-way thoroughfare frequented more by runners and cyclists than by autos. Opt for a six-mile round trip from Shellmaker Road to Eastbluff Drive, or tackle the entire 10-mile loop by continuing along Eastbluff, taking a left at Jamboree Road, and then turning left again onto the footpath along the Upper Back Bay. Watch for Back Bay Loop Trail signs to return to the starting point.
Tucked inside a canyon, Buck Gully challenges runners with a 2½-mile uphill climb and rewards them with a downhill run back. “It’s a good, steady hill workout without being too steep,” says Ceci, a former elite runner. “And on hot days we’re especially grateful for the shade.”
Restored in 2012 through a partnership between Newport Beach and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, the Buck Gully trail is passable thanks to a series of metal bridges installed by helicopter during the project. Gazing upward, one can see splendid Pelican Hill homes dotting the landscape.
For the least treacherous route, bear right at the first major fork in the trail. You’ll soon pass through a lush area I nicknamed “The Enchanted Forest,” and cross a creek shrouded by low-hanging trees. This unexpected beauty is why my friend Mollie calls Buck Gully “a hidden gem in Newport Beach.”