Free workouts: Top circuit training parks in LA

Forget your trainer—get in shape with free workouts at the best circuit training parks across the city.

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Swings, rings and ropes south of Santa Monica Pier

Looking for a free workout? Angelenos know where to go for their free events and attractions—even places for their free music fix and cheap eats. Rev up your workout and head outdoors to the best free circuit training parks, located across the city—from beaches to mountain tops—and get fit without having to open your wallet.

Santa Monica Stairs

The workout: Two sets of stairs: wooden = 170 steps; concrete = 199 steps. The wider wooden stairs allow more room to share with (or pass) your fellow climbers. Water is sometimes available at the top for $1 on a grab-and-pay honor system. The concrete steps offer more stability with metal banisters that you’ll need to hoist yourself to the finish at the top where it gets super-steep.

The scene: Always packed. The twin Santa Monica stairs are mecca for hard bodied and weekend fitness warriors who also jump rope, stretch, jog and power through pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups in between climbing. Be sure to bring whatever you need as there are no facilities. To relieve yourself, you can make a dash (literally) for the restroom along the running path on Ocean Avenue until you hit the boxed, concrete facilities at Idaho.

How’s the parking? A ticket trap. Adelaide Drive is for residents only. Park on nearby San Vicente or the meters along Ocean Avenue. Park along Entrada, West Channel or Mesa.

Bonus: Too crowded? Jog over to the secret La Mesa stairs around the bend. Blink and you’ll miss the narrow entryway wedged between 404 and 410. The 201 narrow steps are just as tough—minus the crowd. No railing makes it not for the faint of heart, or breath. The top takes you to Amalfi and Upper Entrada.

Live on the Eastside? Work up a sweat at the Silver Lake Stair Climb (located on Redcliff St near Landa St) with three different sets of stairs in the same vicinity.

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Santa Monica

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

The workout: 282 steep, concrete stairs with various hiking trails at the top of the climb and a windy, paved driveway to walk or jog down.

The scene: On weekends and weekdays after work, the wide stairs are jam-packed with young locals, couples and groups of friends working out together. It’s best to go during the week or midday to avoid the crowds, but be sure to wear a hat since there isn’t too much shade under the blazing sun.

How’s the parking? Locals park on Jefferson Blvd in the many meterless spots. Be careful when crossing the street with traffic on both sides. Thanks to a $700,000 grant from the Baldwin Hills Conservancy Project, the construction of street dividers for safety and metered parking spots at the bottom of the hill is underway.

Having a lazy day? Take a shortcut and drive up to the top of the hill and park in the many empty spaces ($6). Still get in that workout by walking the trails throughout the area and enjoy the panoramic views.

Bonus: Once you reach the summit, sit at the long park bench and take in the 360-degree city views. Check out the rarely opened visitor’s center to learn a thing or two about the local plants and wildlife. Reward yourself with plenty of shaded areas, drinking fountains and sparkling clean restrooms. What’s more? This state park can be rented out for weddings and private events.

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Culver City

Pan Pacific Park

The workout: With a slew of outdoor facilities, your workout routine will never tire or hit a plateau. Runners can hit the paved, ¾ mile path that has enough inclines, declines, and stairs to keep your run interesting. Those looking to keep their feet on flat ground can spread out among one of the many grassy baseball and soccer fields, which are lighted for an evening pick-up game. For aspiring Phelps-in-training, the outdoor— it’s unheated, so the cold-blooded beware—lap pool is open weekends from 1-5pm, weekdays from 11am-2pm and 3-6pm, with a designated hour for adult lap swim from 6-7pm. Children and seniors get in for free and adults pay $2.50.

The scene: Located in the hub of the city, nestled next to the The Grove, the 28-acre park is where families come to barbecue, runners and dog owners come for a slice of the great outdoors, sunbathers and lovers lie on the grassy knolls. Runners looking for an intense run might look elsewhere. But if you don’t mind dodging dogs, strollers and kids on bicycles (and the occasional bum) There are bathrooms and water fountains on-site with the Grove and a 7-11 store across the street on either sides of the park.

How’s the parking? There’s plenty of free parking in the park’s lot - enter from Beverly - and along Third Street and Gardner. If you’re wary of street parking (or need shade), you can always park at enclosed garage at the nearby Grove.

Bonus: Seniors and children can meet moving too—for cheap—at the park’s senior facility, public library, and seasonal flag football and basketball.

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Fairfax/Beverly/La Brea/Third St.

Swings, Rings, Ropes

The workout: Parallel bars, uneven bars, rings swings—it’s a playground for grown-ups (and a smaller version for kids) with an unbeatable ocean view.

The scene:
The original Muscle Beach (located on Ocean Front Walk, off Appian Way between Pacific Terrace and Arcadia Terrace) has plenty of regulars, gawking tourists and a healthy crowd of amateurs. On weekends, you’ll see some amazing beach gymnasts and the vibe is friendly—be courteous and don’t hog the ropes, and they’ll offer tips or share handfuls of chalk (you can also usually find chalk left in the sand near the ropes swings).

How’s the parking? Credit cards are convenient for the two-hour metered parking near the beach. It’s easy to get to the rings from the Santa Monica Pier parking lot or any of the downtown structures (first 90 minutes are free).

Bonus: If the rings are too crowded—or you’re intimidated by the talent, opt for a beach jog on the sand or pavement.

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Santa Monica

Clover Park

The workout: A 15-station par fitness Miracle Recreation Equipment course, with a rope climb, balance beam, vault bar, horizontal ladder, push up, dip, chin up, stretching stations and more.

The scene: The equipment here is in great shape and this park is ginormous! There are softball, baseball, Frisbee and soccer fields; tennis and volleyball courts; BBQ pits; several playgrounds; lots of shady pine and eucalyptus trees; and one giant kick-ass rocket tower.

How’s the parking? Plenty of it. If the main lot is full, turn down 28th Street and make a right into the hairpin-shaped parking lot that puts you smack in front of the rope climb.

Bonus: A paved and lit jogging path around the perimeter of the park takes you past each station.

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Santa Monica

Balboa Park

The workout: Start off your routine with a run or walk along the flat trail stretching about two miles around Encino Golf Course (16821 Burbank Blvd)— the wide dirt path halfway through has some sweet views (for the middle of the suburbs) of mountains and a stream. When you reach the east end of the path, there are ten mechanical fitness machines in stellar condition, including a rowing machine, seated chest and leg presses and a cardio walker.

The scene: Balboa is a large family-friendly park known for its beautiful lake. Yet the section we are focusing on is more removed and fitness-centered, avoiding the crowds entirely. People who frequent this area of the park are varied, but decidedly less worried about dressing in their finest workout threads compared to many comparable LA spots. SFV locals come to take a break from a busy day for their daily walk or run, not to check out hotties— so come as you are, sweat and flush be damned. Beware of coyotes, who have been known to pop up once in awhile, although typically closer to the brush by the dirt path rather than the street-adjacent circuit training section.

How is the parking? Parking spots are always plentiful and free (it’s the Valley after all). Just drive up Burbank Blvd to the Encino Golf Course entrance and head to the parking lot on its right (east), which will settle you right next to both the circuit training area and east end of the path.

Bonus: The equipment is so new that it hasn’t been discovered by the masses yet, so you’ll rarely need to twiddle your thumbs waiting for your turn. Different machines are also comfortably spread out to allow some sense of privacy. If that’s the last of your worries, some of the equipment is also shareable.

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Van Nuys

North Hollywood Recreation Center

The workout: A one-stop outside fitness center looks like a playground at first glance. With machines for dips, chin-up, push-ups, sit-ups and body curls as well as simplistic bikes, ellipticals, twisters and more, you can complete an entire regimen here without getting bored. Then get your fill of cardio by running around the large surrounding track a few times.

The scene: The sprawling park never seems to feel overcrowded. A few fitness buffs will be at the workout stations while couples, schoolchildren and dogwalkers are dispersed throughout the fields. The now family-oriented park has improved its reputation but some say the spot can feel a bit shady at times so it’s probably best to bring a friend.

How's the parking? Curbside parking is available on Magnolia or down Tujunga but the heavy traffic can be a hindrance. If you plan on staying a while, park on the calmer Chandler Boulevard where there’s a small parking lot and ample street spaces.

Bonus: The huge spot is a hub for all things local. Located in the next block (although you’ll have to cross a busy Magnolia Boulevard), find the main section of the park, complete with basketball, tennis and handball courts, a baseball diamond and even a skatepark. Little ones can enjoy the playground and the seasonal outdoor pool. All worn out? Cool off in the cute little 1930s library on the street corner.

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Mar Vista Recreation Center

The workout: Warm up with a jog on the dirt path that loops around the large park and then hit the (sparkling clean) nine circuit training stations—located in the shade on the outskirts of the park—for a total body workout. The scene: Expect many families on the weekends cheering on the kids playing rec league sports or gathering together for a birthday picnic. During school hours, the park—which is located in a tree-lined residential neighborhood—remains quiet except for the occasional retired folk who can be found flaunting their skills on the circuit training stations. How’s the parking? There’s plenty of it—the park has different lots along its many entrances and there is prime street parking readily available near the fitness stations. Bonus: The rec center is fully equipped with a public pool (with lifeguard), basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball diamond, volleyball courts, fields for soccer and other sports as well as indoor facilities (including a gym—without weights).

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Mar Vista

Sand Dune Park

The workout: Climb a 100-foot-tall sand dune hill, alongside locals of all ages from bodybuilders to children having fun in the sand, for a truly unique workout. Walk or jog up the warm sand to the top of the hill for vast views and killer calves. The scene: When approaching the sand dune—located across a playground—it looks like a mirage that appears out of nowhere in the middle of a neighborhood park that has its typical swings, slide and grassy fields. Post-work happy hour is prime time here when locals hitting the sand. On weekends, expect more of a family-friendly atmosphere. How's the parking?: From either side, the park is located at the end of different residential streets filled with empty parking spots. Just be ready to get some sand in your car, post-workout. Bonus: Sand too hot to walk on? The park has an adjacent stair climb to the dune—a steep one, similar to the Santa Monica Stairs, except with a lot more greenery.

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Elysian Park

The workout: What was once a pretty snazzy workout circuit is now a sad and decrepit tour of fitness ruins. Elysian Park is big and beautiful, with great hiking and running trails and lots of grassy knolls for soccer, frisbee and picnics. But certain things (like the circuit training equipment, or the water fountains that were mysteriously turned off and never came back on) have fallen by the wayside. Luckily, said equipment (what remains of it) has a new life, as blank canvases for taggers and a place for the weary homeless to rest their heads. The scene: The equipment here is defunct, but the park itself is huge, offering packed dirt trails running up into the hills (with great views of the valley, downtown, Dodger Stadium, and the Hollywood hills, depending where you stop to catch your breath), along with plenty of lawn space. Picnic tables and surprisingly decent public restrooms make this an ideal spot for daytime parties, and during the weekend the grounds are crowded with Latino families grilling out and dancing or playing soccer, sometimes with a mini horse or bouncy castle for the kids. There’s also “dog hill,” a spot where locals convene to throw balls, sticks, and compliments for each other’s canine companions. if you’re here in the early AM, you may hear volleys of gunshots—don’t worry, it’s not gang warfare—the Police Academy is next door, and you can hear officers practicing at the firing range. It’s actually a comfort, as it means patrols are aplenty here. How’

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Echo Park

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