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Planning a Post-COVID Vacation? These 3 Run Towns are on Our List

And we got the inside scoop from local runners.

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Remember when travel was a treat? When we rewarded ourselves and our family’s dedication to school and work with time away in a new place? And how fun was it to lace up and explore that new place with a carefree run?

So, we still have a little bit longer to wait before we can go back to that. As it stands right now, the CDC still recommends everyone avoid unnecessary travel, even if you have been vaccinated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start dreaming about (and perhaps planning) those post-pandemic vacations. After staying put for over a year, why not dip your home-body toes into the travel pool with a domestic trip to one of these beloved run towns?

We spoke with local runners from Sacramento, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Providence, Rhode Island about how to best soak up time spent in their run town.

Run Town #1: Sacramento

Jenn Kistler-McCoy, a running tour guide and founder of Sac Tour Company, moved to Sacramento with her husband after college with the thought that it would only be temporary. Thirteen years later and she’s enamored with this run-friendly city and has built a business around sharing the Sacramento love. 

Did you know?

Sacramento has over 1,000 art murals—which is just some of what runners want to see when they visit the city. Kistler-McCoy’s running tours (which are on hiatus during the pandemic) also venture on a history-inspired route or visit places where the movie Lady Bird was filmed. As her company’s website states, “It’s her mission to show people that Sacramento is, in fact, very cool.” 

Why Sacramento?

First, the weather. Kistler-McCoy describes it as gorgeous. “Even when it’s raining and cold, it’s not too nasty, which is nice,” she says. 

Second, the terrain. It’s flat and fast in the city. “If somebody is coming from out of the area it’s pretty easy, you don’t have to go up any crazy hills or anything,” she says. It is also home to the California International Marathon, where 29 women qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials all within 59 seconds, when it was last held in 2019

Third, the variety. If you don’t want to run through the city, there are plenty of bike and running trails to check out. “And we’re close enough to the foothills where you can get on some really great trails and do some ultrarunning,” she says. 

Must-try run routes.

The American River Parkway (also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail) is Kistler-McCoy’s pick for a long weekend run. In total it stretches 32 miles. “It’s probably my favorite place to run,” she says. “It’s just packed with runners—although not too crazy—but it’s people you know in the running community, people you’ve seen at races before.” She describes it as lush and wild, with deer, turkey, and the occasional coyote making an appearance. 

Post-run rituals.

Bella Bru, right off the American River Parkway, is a go-to meeting spot for local runners. And with consideration of the COVID-19 outbreak, they offer takeout and patio dining. Kistler-McCoy recommends the “breakfast burrito, all the time.” 

Best time to visit?

Definitely spring and summer. A blooming rose garden might be the absolute epitome of spring, and the McKinley Park rose garden has over 1,000 rose bushes, tree roses, and other blooming annuals. The park is a one-mile loop and also includes a duck pond. “You see a lot of people running through the rose garden as part of their loop.” The best time to see it is in April, she says. 

One last can’t-miss running opportunity: A sunrise run over the Tower Bridge, which links west Sacramento to downtown. “It offers really stunning views of old Sacramento and downtown,” says Kistler-McCoy. Go on a foggy morning for the best pictures of the river.

Run Town #2: Santa Fe

Sheila Van Cuyk, vice president of the Santa Fe Striders, takes us through why she’s loved running these New Mexico trails for the past 15 years. 

Sheila Van Cuyk runs on a snowy trail in Santa Fe with her dog.

Did you know?

Santa Fe, New Mexico rests in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains at an elevation of 7,199 feet. This makes it the highest capital city in the United States and an ideal spot for altitude training and trail running. 

Why Santa Fe?

“It’s a great place to live, but it is definitely also a great place to run,” says Van Cuyk, “I’m a person who prefers trails and there are just an endless amount of trails not very far from town or easily accessible from town.”

And like Sacramento, Van Cuyk loves that it is easy to run outdoors year-round in Santa Fe. “The climate is lovely,” she says. “It can get cold, but it’s sunny most of the time. There’s endless trail and endless beauty in Santa Fe.” 

Must-try run routes.

Van Cuyk recommends the Dale Ball trails which are just a short distance from the Santa Fe downtown. The network of trails covers nearly 25 miles. “It’s not a bunch of up or down, but a lot of fun little links,” she says, which is perfect for fall and winter running. “In the summer I like to go up higher to trails closer to the skill hill up in the forest. There’s a bunch of options off of the Winsor Trail, which is very popular also for biking.”  

Post-run rituals.

“For a relatively small town, there are so many options,” says Van Cuyk. “The Second Street Brewery has reasonable food and good beer.” Her husband adds his two cents: Fire & Hops is a cozy joint with good food and great beer selection. For next-level run recovery, she recommends the Ten Thousand Waves Spa, which offers a Japanese inspired hot spring experience. (During the pandemic, the communal tubs are not being used, but private hot tubs can be reserved to soak your sore muscles.)

Best time to visit?

Van Cuyk prefers when Santa Fe transforms into a winter wonderland.“If there’s snow it is pretty magical to hike up some of the trails near the ski hill off the Winsor. You could start on the Winsor Trail near the ski hill and go up towards Santa Fe Baldy.” 

Snowshoeing and skiing are popular winter cross-training activities for runners in Santa Fe, says Van Cuyk. “The ski hill is only about 14 miles from downtown. Personally, I like to ski up and ski down.” The Santa Fe Striders also host an annual Show Shoe Classic 6K every January that takes participants through beautiful national forest trails, and starts at a daunting 9,500 feet in elevation.

Run Town #3: Providence

Although she moved away recently, pro runner Kaitlin Goodman still has the insight on this storied and “underrated” running town. After living in Providence for six years, she moved just a short drive away to Boston.

Providence's Roger Williams Park in autumn.
Providence’s Roger Williams Park in autumn. Photo: Courtesy Providence Tourism Board

Did you know?

Providence has an avid runner running the show: Mayor Jorge Elorza. Not only does he enjoy running, but he proudly supports the running community. He used to host a weekly run meet up on Saturdays in Roger Williams Park. Now, Mayor Elorza often attends and participates in many local races and visits local running clubs.

Why Providence?

“From a training perspective, you can really get a little bit of everything in Providence,” says Goodman. “If you’re preparing for Boston Marathon and you want hills, there are plenty of hills. If you’re doing a Chicago [Marathon] and you want flat, there are three major bike paths that you can access from Providence. If you’re a New Yorker and you want a taste of Central Park, we have Roger Williams Park, a mini-version that technically was modeled after Central Park.”

That variety in terrain also translates to a variety of gorgeous views. “With Providence being small, if you’re going for a long run, you could start your run in an urban area and do a point to point run and finish overlooking the ocean,” she says. 

Must-try run routes.

Without a doubt, Goodman recommends Blackstone Boulevard—a 1.5 mile soft-surface carriage road. “There’s paved road on either side of it so the cars are going one direction on either side and there’s bike lanes. It’s good bike infrastructure that runners obviously take advantage of. And they plow it in the winter so it’s the go-to place in the winter,” she says.

Being among the other runners is also a big draw for Goodman. “The fun part of being in a small place that has such great running history here is that you can watch Molly Huddle doing her tempo on the East side and that’s the same place that the local running clubs are running. So you really have beginners next to Olympians. I always thought it was fun to just see everyone of all stripes and abilities out there. Everyone kind of gives you a wave and acknowledges, we’re all working toward something.”

Post-run rituals. 

Goodman recommends the Seven Stars Bakery on Hope Street. “There’s also a vegan place called Wildflour. It has smoothies and baked goods, really delicious. Good coffee too.”

For something new and trendy, order your coffee to-go and head over the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge. “There’s some seating on the bridge and it has a beautiful view of the skyline.”

Best time to visit?

If you visit in the fall you’ll get to see those famous, picturesque New England fall leaves. If you’re going for a run just to see them: “The Blackstone River Bike Path is really beautiful,” says Goodman. 

One More Stop: “By Providence College, the Ray Treacy Track is open to the public, which I love. It’s such a beautiful facility. PC leaves it open to the community so people can run there, people can walk there. It’s just a gorgeous track so I love that it’s publicly accessible,” says Goodman.