Completing even a single full marathon in your life is an admirable bucket list goal. Strongly recommended.
And if you are going to put yourself through all the training to get to that point, why not run a fun marathon?! Pick one that will bring you extra memories, or plan it around a vacation destination with your friends or family.
With that in mind, we put this list together of not-to-miss marathons throughout the United States. So here they are: the 10 best marathons for your bucket list!
1. Big Sur International Marathon
Location: Carmel, California
Big Sur International Marathon is a beautiful, scenic, point-to-point race along CA Highway 1. It starts at Big Sur and finishes in Carmel. The views along this route just can’t be beat. You will take in the ocean waves, mountains and rolling fields, huge redwood trees. An iconic moment is when you cross the legendary Bixby Bridge about halfway.
Due to the fact that this is along a highway, there are only about 6 hours given to complete the course, and then it is open to traffic again. This is a USATF certified course and a Boston qualifier. The course is mostly level with a few smaller hills. One larger hill gains about 600 feet in elevation.
You will find Big Sur International Marathon to be in a great location to plan around a fun trip of vacation. Carmel, California is just two hours south of San Francisco, which has so much to see and do! Check out Golden Gate Bridge, take a ferry to Alcatraz Island, taste fine chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, or explore the famous Fisherman’s Warf and shopping center.
More Information: Big Sur International Marathon
2. Go! St. Louis Marathon
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Held every year in March, the Go! St. Louis Marathon is a very fun and lively marathon you don’t want to miss. The race weekend draws a big family crowd, as they host not only a full marathon, but a half marathon, 10k, 5k, and children’s fun run all on the same weekend. An event for everyone in the family!
After the Go! St. Louis Marathon, there’s a variety of food and drink available to the finishers, made in the local St. Louis theme. Plus, there will be photo opportunities, available massages, and all runners get entrance into the Go! St. Louis Health and Fitness Expo that weekend. The course is USATF certified and a Boston qualifier.
Do not forget to enjoy your local attractions, especially the Gateway Arch, which is one of the most unique monuments built in the nation. You can ride inside the arch to the top and check out the view for miles. Many family attractions await, including the zoo, Six Flags amusement park, and maybe even a St. Louis Cardinal game.
More Information: Go! St. Louis Marathon
3. Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon
Location: Rehoboth, Delaware
Along the Atlantic coast, you’ll get to enjoy the beach and the boardwalk on this very pretty marathon route. Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon runs annually in December, so you can expect winter temperatures in the 30s and 40s. The race is relatively flat the entire way, which is also great for first-time runners or those seeking a new personal record.
The scenery along the way of this Boston qualifying marathon is quite beautiful, with periodic ocean views, wetlands, forests, and some sections through neighborhoods. The biggest thing the Rehoboth Marathon is known for is their huge post-race party. Music and dancing, unlimited food, and 3 beers are all included with registration.
When you take your trip to Rehoboth, plan on a few activities in town. You’ll be able to enjoy the seaside and boardwalk before or after the race without the huge summer crowds. There are unique restaurants, eclectic shops, and fun site seeing in the area.
More Information: Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon
4. Flying Pig Marathon
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
If you are looking for a really fun and energetic marathon, you will definitely want to enter the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. The party lasts all weekend long. This early May marathon is a pig-themed race, from the starting racers in a “pig pen” coral to the finish line “finish swine”, and pig theme finishers medal and swag.
In case you wonder where the theme came from, it’s because in the 1800s Cincinnati was referred to as “Porkopolis” due to all the stockyards and meat factories in the area. The race honors their history. This course is USATC certified and a Boston qualifier. If you know Cincinnati, you know to expect some hills, so prepare for them.
Cincinnati is a huge metropolitan city, with all kinds of things to do and see. They have a great zoo and botanical garden, plus some nice museums and historical sites, including the National Underground Railroad. You and your family will find plenty to do in this city.
More Information: Flying Pig Marathon
5. Honolulu Marathon
Location: Honolulu, HI
Of all the marathons, the Honolulu Marathon probably takes top of the list as far as the scenery, which is absolutely breathtaking. Although it is held in December each year, you will never have to worry about the weather because it averages 82 degrees that month. As with most marathons on this list, Honolulu is certified and a Boston qualifier.
The Honolulu Marathon is the 4th largest marathon in the U.S., and one nice perk is there is no time limit to finish, so everyone 7 years old and older can enter this race. The race is mostly flat but includes a couple hills that don’t go much higher than 100 feet in elevation.
The course goes through downtown Honolulu and Waikiki while heading towards Kahala and Hawaii Kai, then back again to Honolulu, passing Diamond Head twice. You will see so many amazing features in and around the Honolulu area. The marathon itself is like a mini-vacation in packed into just a few hours.
Besides the fact that the race is beautiful, Honolulu is an amazing destination. Don’t forget to check out Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor, and the Dole Plantation for some fresh pineapple. This marathon destination will leave you with memories for many years to come.
More Information: Honolulu Marathon
6. Louisiana Marathon
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Held in January each year, with temperatures averaging 50-60 degrees, the Louisiana Marathon is a great race to check out. The flat, fast course is great for breaking personal records or for first-timers. If you’re not up for a full marathon, there are several different race distances to choose from that weekend.
The course runs through various neighborhoods and you’ll see some nice parks and cool historical architecture. After the race, the FinishFest is open to runners and the public. It’s a huge street party full of music, activities, and mouth-watering Louisiana style food – think of it as a Cajun fest.
There is a ton of history, landmarks and culture to see in Baton Rouge. Plus, New Orleans is only about an hour away. You could explore two great Louisiana cities on one trip for your marathon. And yes, this is a USATF certified and Boston qualifying course.
More Information: Louisiana Marathon
7. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Date: Late November/Early December
One of the oldest marathons in the United States, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon started in 1967 and is still going as a fabulous destination race. Typically held in November or December, this is the only event in town that can actually shut down the famous Las Vegas Strip.
Another unique feature of the race is its start time. Due to the temperatures in Las Vegas, this race starts around sunset, just as all the city lights up for its famous nightlife. (I mean, what’s Vegas without neon?) The course is fast and flat, but with so much to see along the way, the miles will fly by even faster. There are pre- and post-parties as well for registrants. Of course, this race is USATF certified and a Boston qualifier.
In the city that never sleeps, you know there’s an unlimited number of things to see and do. You’ll never get bored in this city, from all the entertaining shows, music, casinos, and so many other unique attractions. A fun trip for your marathon for sure.
More Information: Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
8. Marine Corps Marathon
Location: Washington D.C.
There is not a better place to go to see the most American historical sites than in Washington D.C., where you can also participate in the Marine Corps Marathon. Also known as the “People’s Marathon” and “Marathon of the Monuments”, this October race takes you around all the major monuments through the D.C. area.
A unique thing about this marathon is that there are no monetary prizes for the fastest runners. The focus is on recognizing the strength and energy of all those who finish the race. U.S. Marines run in the race and cheer from the sidelines as well, which adds to the patriotic feel. There’s also a health and fitness expo that weekend.
You will have about 8 hours to finish this race, and it is certified and a Boston qualifying course. Last but not least, along the run you will see our nation’s most iconic memorials. But make sure you take some extra time to visit and explore these great monuments that pay tribute to our nation.
More Information: Marine Corps Marathon
9. Myrtle Beach Marathon
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Held annually on the first Saturday of March, the Myrtle Beach Marathon is a great vacation destination. The marathon was listed in the top ten winter marathons by USA Today. This is a fun family opportunity as they have the full marathon, half marathon, 5K and kids runs, plus two post-race celebrations.
This race is very flat. If you are interested in opening the spring season with a new PR, Myrtle Beach is your race. The course is a loop, running one direction along the beach with beautiful ocean views and the other direction through scenic downtown. This course is also certified and a Boston marathon qualifier.
After or before the race, take in all the South Carolina ocean scenery you can. Walk the boardwalk, which always has activities going on. Temperatures are in the comfortable 60s and 70s. Enjoy beautiful golf courses, beachside restaurants and shops, and even deep-sea fishing. You won’t be disappointed to make this a family trip for all, in combination with your marathon.
More Information: Myrtle Beach Marathon
10. Pikes Peak Marathon
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Pikes Peak Marathon is not for the casual runner. In fact, this course is one of the most challenging events on the calendar. Because of that, you have to first complete a qualifying race before you can even register. There are a few race options that can be used for qualifying though, so if you are a runner you should not have a problem.
Unlike the other nine options here, Pike’s Peak is a trail race. Because it’s on a trail that vehicles can’t easily access along the way, there is no way to help someone in an emergency situation. You are also going to be dealing with high altitudes, which can make things a lot more difficult if you haven’t trained for it. Even if you do train properly, it’s still a grueling race. If you do not live at altitude, plan to add 30 min to your finish time. And that’s your trail marathon finish time. Add even more to your usual road race result.
The elevation gain on this course is about 7,800 feet, which is very difficult without training. By way of comparison, the recent Atlanta marathon trials course, described by runners as hilly, gained about 1,80 feet. You do have the descent to look forward to, but it is not as easy going downhill as it sounds. Downhill can be very challenging, especially on the quads. And the trail in both directions can be gravely, narrow, and technical, which is a challenge.
Accomplishing this marathon would add something unique to your bucket list. However, on top of that, this area of Colorado is absolutely gorgeous, with stunning mountain views. This race is held in August, which makes the temperatures very warm. You will be able to enjoy many outdoor activities here, like hiking, camping, and some amazing white-water rafting.
More Information: Pikes Peak Marathon