In The Zone: A Watcher’s Guide To The La Marathon

As the sun rises over Los Angeles on a crisp spring morning each year, athletes from all over the world converge on the streets to take part in the city’s most celebrated annual running event: the LA Marathon.

It’s one of the top-attended races of its kind in the country, and we’re not just talking about its 25,000 participants. The event also draws hundreds of thousands of spectators each year, cheering on the runners they know (and the ones they don’t) as they stride along the now-iconic Stadium to Sea route. Thoughtfully designed as a running tour of the city’s most treasured landmarks, it spans 26.2 miles from the Dodgers’ home field in the heart of downtown to the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica (just steps from the Fairmont Miramar).

As the LA Marathon returns for its 35th edition on Sunday, March 8th, 2020, here’s where to take in the event’s electric energy throughout LA’s diverse patchwork of neighborhoods.

Miles 1-3

 

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By design, the downtown portion where the race kicks off offers the route’s most condensed cluster of landmarks, beginning with the golden serpents of the Chinatown Dragon Gate. A few blocks ahead, on the corner of Broadway and Alpine streets, the East Wind Foundation for Youth Lion Dance Troupe will be putting on a bonus performance from 7:30 to 8:30am.

The route then skirts historic Olvera Street, a vibrant Mexican marketplace referred to as “the birthplace of Los Angeles.” This storied district is also home to La Noche Buena Restaurant, which opens for business every day at 6am and serves raved-about huevos rancheros — it’s the perfect place to post up early in the race.

In the shadow of the iconic Los Angeles City Hall, Grand Park offers another prime viewing opportunity as the race cuts through the area. And just ahead on 1st Street, the Koshin Taiko ensemble is slated to welcome visitors near Walt Disney Concert Hall from 7:00 to 8:30am with their signature rope-tightened drum beats.

Miles 4-10

 

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After mile marker number four, the wide-open plaza of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion offers room to cheer on marathoners while you sip a pick-me-up from nearby Go Get Em Tiger, a coffee shop known for its house-made macadamia nut milk. From here, the itinerary continues past the exterior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels toward Echo Park Lake.

When the course moves northwest alongside the water, a sprawling grassy sideline affords viewers excellent views of the race’s most creative (and eccentric) participants. Similar to marathons past, the running crowd is expected to be sprinkled with costumed characters vying for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest time dressed as a lifeguard, movie character, or emoji.

For the next two miles, Sunset Boulevard provides a number of sidewalk cafés and coffee shops, perfect for taking in the runner’s parade over breakfast. With its diner-style atmosphere and street-facing outdoor seating, Millie’s Cafe is a go-to spot for hearty American classics, and up the street, Intelligentsia Coffee’s alluring patio is primed for people watching with a churro croissant in hand.

Ahead, Earle’s Restaurant will continue its long-standing tradition of featuring a live band between 7 and 9am to put a spring in the step of runners passing the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue, just before the race’s one-third mark. And after the course rounds into Hollywood near Barnsdall Park, more entertainment awaits as the Salvadoran Community performs traditional song and dance routines (also from 7 to 9am).

Miles 10-20

As runners reach the 10-mile marker and spot the storied Capitol Records Building towering over the northern horizon, Hollywood Boulevard begins to unfurl. At the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, RemJ Experience will electrify the airwaves from 7:15 to 10am as he gives an in-character performance of Michael Jackson’s most popular tracks. The next stage lies just four blocks west as beloved local band Pushing Veronica plays their punk rock-style “pacing set” during the same time slot.

From this point, the route passes the legendary Musso & Frank Grill. Outside the restaurant, DJ Jay Almay will be spinning tracks late into the morning as the race threads westward toward Hollywood’s most iconic cinema venues, the TCL Chinese Theatre and El Capitan Theatre, before veering south to rejoin Sunset Boulevard.

Lined with eye-popping street murals, miles 12 through 14 will feature live music from more LA-area groups, such as Gregg Young & the 2nd Street Band, OpenKanvas, the CSUN Matador Band, and DJ Tay. As the course heads south from West Hollywood, it weaves past famed music clubs Whiskey a Go Go and The Troubadour and then pours out onto Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Miles 20-26.2

 

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After trotting past Beverly Hills City Hall, runners will filter through the UCLA/USC “Rivalry Row” cheer station at the race’s 20-mile marker, as supporters of both colleges cheer from their respective sides of the course. Racers will then make their way down the three fashion-forward blocks of Rodeo Drive.

Veering west toward the coast, the course continues along the final miles of Historic Route 66, now known as the tranquil, suburbia-lined sprawl of San Vincente Boulevard, which provides plenty of spectating opportunities on both sides as racers complete their last fifth of the marathon. (About halfway down the boulevard, you can stop in the Mediterranean-inspired A Votre Santé to refuel with its Ultimate Breakfast Wrap and an espresso.)

As San Vicente approaches its end, the glimmering Pacific can be seen rising into view. Here, expect the crowd to pick up as the course curves its way onto Ocean Avenue for its culminating stretch. The densest concentration of spectators will pack into the 26 acres of Palisades Park along Santa Monica’s scenic coastal bluff, and while crowded, the excited energy is palpable here.

Because the LA Marathon provides a Runner Secured Finish Zone to ensure participant safety, race watchers will be gated off on Ocean Avenue between Washington Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Those looking to catch the race’s dramatic finale, then, should station themselves just north of the finish line on California and Ocean avenues in the foreground of the Santa Monica Pier.

From this point, spectators can meander over to the nearby Finish Festival on Santa Monica Boulevard to mingle with runners for a spirited celebration complete with live music, entertainment, and a beer garden. At 2pm, The Bungalow’s breezy, Baja-inspired bar and lounge areas near the Fairmont Miramar will open for visitors to relax with a drink as the day’s excitement unfolds around them.

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