When I travel, I like to check local event calendars for running races. Typically, running and walking races give you a quick tour of the most scenic parts of town. You get to mingle with the locals. You get an early start to the day before sightseeing with your family. You fit in a workout before stuffing yourself with delicious local food, wine and craft beer. You get a souvenir from your trip in the form of a shirt and/or medal.

Monterey County is a great place to plan a vacation AROUND a race! As a local runner, here are my favorite races to tour the beauty of Monterey County:

Monterey Bay Half Marathon

When: November 12, 2017

The Course: The Monterey Bay Half Marathon has to be one of the most beautiful courses in the country. You’ll pass the top attractions in Monterey and Pacific Grove, including the most scenic stretches of the two cities’ coastlines. The course begins in historic Downtown Monterey, with buildings dating to the 19th century, and makes its way past the iconic Cannery Row and Monterey Bay Aquarium, before going along the rocky and wild coast of Pacific Grove.

Monterey Bay Half Marathon

Race weekend includes: a 5K and 3K the day before, starting from scenic Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. The races run to Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast!  This year, for the first time ever, they’re offering the Ocean View Challenge, a combo run of for the Saturday 5K and the Sunday Half Marathon!

Monterey Bay Half Marathon

After the Race: The race ends at Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can enjoy our famous local seafood with harbor views, like clam chowder in a bread bowl and calamari. Sit back and relax on a whale watching cruise. Monterey is known as the “Whale Watching Capital of the World.” Historic downtown Monterey is also just steps away, with craft beer gardens, coffee shops, historic gardens and museums, and international restaurants.

Big Sur International Marathon

When: April 29, 2018

The Course: It doesn’t get more epic than this. Considered a “bucket list” marathon and one of the most beautiful in the world, the marathon covers iconic Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea. You’ll have towering mountains to your right, and an expansive sea to your left the whole time. The views are breathtaking- and may be the perfect distraction for this challenging course.

Big Sur Marathon

Race weekend includes: marathon relay, 21 miler, 11 miler, 12K, 5K, 3K

After the Race: Check out the charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, with white sand beaches, cottage-lined streets and intimate restaurants. Escape the crowds in rural Carmel Valley, 11 miles to the east, home to vineyards and over 20 wine tasting rooms.

Salinas Valley Half Marathon

When: August 4, 2018

The Course: Speaking of wine, the Salinas Valley Half Marathon is a tour of Monterey Wine Country. Runners start at the historic Soledad Mission and take a rolling course along the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The race ends at Pessagno Winery, where you are treated to wine tasting and a fun after-party. I love the awards at this race: finisher medals act as wine stoppers and age group winners get engraved local wine bottles.

Salinas Valley Half Marathon

After the Race: Salinas Valley wineries lack the crowds of Napa and Sonoma, and there are over two dozen along the River Road wine trail. Monterey County specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and many offer sweeping views of the valley. If you came with your family, cool off and take a dip in the Arroyo Seco River. The US Forest Service operates a campground and park in Soledad. You’ll find delicious lunch and dinner options in Salinas before you head home.

Salinas Valley Half Marathon