Few places in the U.S. are as dog-friendly as California. With its comfortable climate, open spaces, and welcoming cities, the Golden State is an earthly pup paradise, and chief among its charms are the 1350 kilometres of Pacific coastline. From San Diego to the North Coast, many Cali beaches are open to dogs ready to fly through the sand and romp in the waves with joyful abandon. If you’re exploring California with a furry companion, don’t miss these eight dog-friendly beaches, listed south to north.
Dog Beach, San Diego
Dog-friendly coastline doesn't come much better than this Ocean Beach landmark, which has been hosting pups and their humans for more than 40 years. Today, the wide swath of sand on the point where the San Diego River meets the Pacific is perpetually packed with pooches sprinting through the shallows and lounging in the sun. Come early to find parking, then make a day of it: From the beach, it’s an easy walk to the OB Pier, Dog Beach Dog Wash, and Newport Avenue breweries like Helm’s, Culture, and Belching Beaver, where the beers are cold and canines are welcome.
Dog Beach, Del Mar
Del Mar’s North Beach has all the characteristics of a pup playground: ample beachfront, shallow sandbars, and prime real estate protected from high winds and heavy waves. The gentle waters serve as a splash zone for kids and dogs, who are permitted year-round but must stay on-leash June 16 to Labor Day. For canines who shred, the Helen Woodward Animal Center hosts the Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon every fall along with surf and stand-up paddle board lessons throughout the summer. Sign up your mutt online, then chase the class with a two-hander sandwich on the dog-friendly patio at Board & Brew.
Dog Beach, Huntington Beach
Most of Huntington Beach’s sunny SoCal coastline is off limits to canines, but this 2.4-kilometre stretch between Goldenwest and Seapoint streets is dedicated to the dogs. With a flat expanse of sand and plenty of room to spread out, pups are able to play as they please and socialise as much, or as little, as they want. Corgi owners should check the calendar for So-Cal Corgi Nation meet-up days, and everyone will enjoy watching dogs ride the waves during the annual Surf City Surf Dog competition.
Rosie’s Dog Beach, Long Beach
Rosie’s, L.A. County’s only true dog beach, is a one-and-a-half hectare romp fest where pups weave through the waves and bask on the sand sans leash. Also popular with families for its calm waters and accessible location, this Long Beach destination fills up on sunny weekends when parking can be at a premium. Bring quarters for the parking meters, a towel for your mutt, and an appetite to satisfy at dog-friendly Plunge, where breakfast burritos await just a quick ride down the beach.
Surfers’ Point at Seaside Park, Ventura
Less about basking in the sun than watching riders glide along the waves, this beach north of the Ventura Pier is a favourite locale for on-leash dog-walkers who cruise along the promenade enjoying the show off-shore. When you’re in need of post-stroll refreshment, 800m away, Barrelhouse 101 takes its name from the 101 brews on tap. Take a seat on the enclosed patio where pups are warmly welcomed, then enjoy a tasting flight or beer shake alongside hefty portions of pub grub.
Arroyo Burro Beach, Santa Barbara
Known locally as Hendry’s Beach, this slice of silica 10 minutes west of downtown Santa Barbara boasts more than the requisite sand, sun, and surf. Rather, bluff-backed Arroyo Burro features on- and off-leash areas for shy types and extrovert animals alike, rocky tide pools ripe for exploring, and a self-serve dog wash, so you don’t have to put a filthy pooch back in your car. If your tail-wagging companion would benefit from a little extra exercise, the Douglas Family Preserve just atop the cliffs offers 28 hectares of dog-friendly open space also popular with hikers, cyclists, and hang gliders.
Carmel Beach, Carmel-By-The Sea
What kind of town welcomes dogs on its premiere coastal real estate? Carmel-By-The-Sea, where canines can sprint and splash under voice command along Carmel Beach. Pups and their people share the turquoise waters with surfers, swimmers, and sunset watchers, who flood the beach at dusk to bid the day adieu with bottles of wine and picnic baskets. When you’re not playing in the Pacific, stroll along the bluffs on the Scenic Path or venture into the village, where dogs strut the quaint streets and are welcome guests at many shops, restaurants and hotels. Hit Cottage of Sweets for some special biscuits. He’s been a very good boy.
Fort Funston, San Francisco
For San Francisco travelers with dogs, Fort Funston is a mecca of off-leash fun. Here, pups sprint across the peninsula’s largest dune field before tearing down steep trails toward a wide Pacific beach backed by 60m bluffs. Dog or no dog, this decommissioned defense installation is an impressive place for a walk (not to mention a stellar hang gliding destination). The waves are too cold and rough for serious swimming, but the shore is usually full of gleeful animals splashing through the water, kicking up sand, and generally preparing for the inevitable bath.
Rodeo Beach, Sausalito
Nestled in a cove across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, this petite pebble beach in Sausalito feels like a gift with its plentiful free parking, picnic spots, off-leash dog policy, and dramatic landscape bounded by a lagoon to the rear and cliffs on either side. Start with a leg-burning uphill hike rewarded by panoramic views of the Marin Headlands and San Francisco Bay, then kick back on the beach while your furry friend splashes in the shallows and wet-suited surfers balance on the waves. Keep a look out for dolphins and also keep an eye on your snacks: The seagulls here are skillful thieves.
Kiva Beach, Lake Tahoe
Located on National Forest land a quick woodsy walk from the visitor’s center, Kiva is an idyllic snapshot of Tahoe’s charms with crystal clear water, abundant sand, and mighty mountains rising in the background. It’s also one of the lake’s few dog-friendly beaches. While the shore and water are on-leash only (and rangers occasionally enforce the rules), you’ll find plenty of pups cooling off in the shallows or lounging on land. When it’s time to call it a day, pay a mandatory visit to the Camp Richardson Ice Cream Parlour, where the scoopers are exceedingly generous.
Moonstone Beach, Trinidad
What California’s North Coast lacks in sun-soaked shores dotted with bikinis, it makes up for in gorgeous terrain built for adventure. Take Humboldt County’s Moonstone Beach, a pocket of sand at the mouth of the Little River where rock climbers scramble up cliffs, kids explore sea caves, surfers dance along steady waves, and dogs gallop the waterline under voice command. Dig for a dinner of razor clams by the river, then watch as the sun sets over the ocean and marvel at California’s unrelenting beauty.
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