We are publishing our first-ever list of our 10 favorite destination races in the U.S. To be considered a destination race on our list, it must offer either an Olympic or Sprint distance, have stood the test of time, and be in a special venue. All of these races fill up quickly, so if you are intrigued, definitely consider registering early. With no further wait, our ten destination races that you should consider in your race plan are:
St. Anthony’s Triathlon (FL). St. Petersburg, FL, situated on the gulf-side of Florida, hosts a long-running early season race each year. The Olympic and Sprint both feature swims from Spa Beach in Tampa Bay, with a bike and run course throughout Tampa and St. Petersburg. The course if flat and fast, and the average high this time of year is around 82 degrees, making it a great way to race in some warm weather before summer officially sets in across much of the country. The race will be in its 32nd year, rivalling many of the iconic West Coast races as one of the oldest established, continuous races in the country. Because it is such an early season race, it is known for having a strong field year-in and year-out. You will see a mix of notable pros, top age-groupers, and recreational racers as every gets the lead out and starts the new race season.
Wildflower Triathlon (CA). Not many races have been around since 1983, but the Wildflower Triathlon has stood the test of time. Set in the beautiful Central California, the race takes places around Lake San Antonio just outside of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. It is held the first weekend of May each year. The Wildflower triathlon attracts about 7,000 races to its three races – Sprint, Olympic, and Half-Ironman. The big party that surrounds the race is the Wildflower Festival, which possibly gives this race the distinction of having the biggest party weekend to go along with a race. While the California droughts have affected the course in recent years, the race is committed to pushing forward as it has for the past 30 plus years, centered around Lake San Antonio.
Escape from Alcatraz (CA) – San Francisco’s Escape from Alcatraz just might be the USA’s most common aspirational triathlon outside of the Ironman. Triathletes across the country train for months for the Escape’s unique swim and transitions in this hybrid Olympic-distance race that has been going for a whopping 36 years. The race start begins from Alcatraz Island, where swimmers navigate a current and 55 degree water temps (due to the temps, using a wetsuit is mandatory at this race). From there, the bike ride takes racers through the Presidio, with an 8-mile run that routes under the Golden Gate Bridge. Along with the New York City Tri, this is the iconic race to do if you want to be in one of the world’s great cities. The race is capped at 2,000 racers, and it is a competitive draw process to get in, so you might need to keep trying a few times and then be ready to race the year your name is called.
Pigman Triathlon (IA) – Our list of destination races puts lots of attention on the coasts, but no list would be complete without a defining Midwestern race. After all, the sport of triathlon is every bit as big and the caliber of triathletes is just as good in the middle of the country as it is on the coasts. The Pigman in Cedar Rapids, IA, has been running strong for 25 years and usually attracts a large majority of the top triathletes in the Midwest. The race features a time trial swim start in Pleasant Creek Lake and a bike course with some deceiving “rollers”, which will provide enough hills to zap you. Pigman does a sprint in June followed by a HIM in August.
Mountain Man (AZ). Flagstaff is a gorgeous Arizona town, set at an elevation that boasts much more comfortable summer temperatures than nearby Phoenix. Nearly as old as the Wildflower, the Mountain Man has been going strong for 31 years. While racing at 7,000 feet is never easy, it helps to have the scenery that the Flagstaff area affords. Mountain Man typically splits its race dates, doing the Sprint in July with the Olympic and Half Ironman about a month later in August. The course is what you would expect for the Flagstaff area – some good hills, and great scenery. While it is a fast course, both the bike and the run throw a signature hill at you that you will not forget.
Door County Triathlon (WI) – Each July, athletes flock to Door County, near Sturgeon Bay, WI, to take part in the long-running Door County Tri. We love the northwoods races for their scenery, clean air, and ample natural water. The Door County race actually occurs in Egg Harbor, up on the coast of Lake Michigan, The swim taking place in Horseshoe Bay (which is part of the larger Green Bay within Lake Michigan). The bike and run take you through the rolling combination of lakeshore bluffs, woods, and farmland. Door County is a serene place, but summers in Door County get enough big-city weekend traffic to create a very energetic vibe for this event. After the race, enjoy the local villages of Door County, a fish boil, or a state park.
New York City Triathlon (NY) – New York City is America’s most iconic metropolis, and the New York City Triathlon boasts a coarse that is mainly in Manhattan with a brief venture into the Bronx. There are many great urban triathlons – Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Alcatraz – but this one is special because it is the Big Apple. Swim in the Hudson River (ok, maybe not the cleanest swim you will ever do, but it is the historic Hudson), bike along the Hudson up and down the Manhattan riverfront and into the Bronx, and go for a run in Central Park. This is also on Olympic-distance race, but getting in is difficult. The race is typically full well in advance and uses a drawing to determine the slots.
Brewhouse Triathlon (MN). In early August, the Brewhouse Triathlon provides a one-of-a-kind venue for a triathlon: The beautiful port city of Duluth, the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior, and the Minnesota Northwoods. While there are other great races in this part of the country (such as the Northwoods Tri in Nevis), we went with the one that has been around for the longest time. The Brewhouse starts in pristine Island Lake Park, takes cyclists through some nicely paved and low-traffic northwoods roads, and ends with a fast run course. After the race, use your race credentials for beer tasting, from local breweries in this town where good local brewing has been around since before it was cool.
Nautica Malibu Triathlon (CA) – There is nothing like doing a race – running, biking, or multi – on the Pacific Coast of Southern California. While there are many great, established races to choose from in Southern California, we singled out the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Within the Los Angeles metro area, the race is close to good airports, plenty of attractions, and lots of hotels. The race boasts and Olympic and Sprint (called the “classic) distance, both having an ocean swim, followed by a bike on the iconic PCH highway and a run with views of the Pacific. A sunny Southern California vibe caps off this landmark race which has a decidedly “beachy” feel to it. The course is not particularly hilly – it doesn’t take you into the nearby mountains – but the views are outstanding and the vibe is very fun.
Lobsterman Triathlon (ME) — Some people know Freeport, ME only as the home of LL Bean. Freeport is a beautiful city of 8,000 perched on the coast of Central Maine, between Portland and Brunswick. If you want a true Northeastern Atlantic Coast experience, this is it. This September race is the only one on our list that boasts a full lobsterbake after the race. The Olympic-distance race is a standard international length, with the swim in Casco Bay, the bike along the Atlantic Ocean, and a run through the village of South Seaport. Because of the water temps, wetsuits are required in this race. Expect highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s, for a nice, crisp race.
There you have it — our 10 favorite triathlons around the country. Of course, for many serious triathletes, their list would be full of Ironman-distance races which are no doubt great as well. However, we think there is value in recognizing those races that are both well-run, iconic, and accessible for someone who simply wants to train for a Sprint or Olympic race.
If you liked this, don’t be afraid to take a look at our other content. A couple of the more popular pieces include are article on what to wear in a triathlon, and our new piece on the best entry level triathlon bikes. We hope you enjoyed this, and we update our list every January 1, so be sure to check back!