WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
As communities across the world and in California mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are shifting our content focus and will not encourage any travel or social activities during this time. We will, however, continue to shine a light on and celebrate the many beautiful aspects of our State with the intention of being a source of inspiration and joy during this difficult period. We will also be providing tips and resources specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic safety measures in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
The chilly winter temperatures are finally starting to subside, so it’s time to make the most of the warmer weather by taking your canine sidekick to one of California’s best dog-friendly beaches. You can relax and work on that tan while Fido plays in the water and runs along the shore. Both you and your pup are bound to enjoy the mini excursion, so pack up the ice chest with beverages and snacks, grab the beach umbrella and towels, throw some dog treats and a water bowl in your bag, and hit the beach with your furry best friend.
Enjoy spectacular views of the famed Golden Gate Bridge while you and your pooch explore the coast at Baker Beach, a one-mile-long ribbon of sand tucked below the rugged cliffs along the Presidio’s western shoreline. While the views here are hard to beat, it’s also difficult to escape the crowds, so if you’re craving solitude, this popular beach may not be the spot for you. But Baker Beach is certainly a top choice for San Francisco visitors and residents in need of some refreshing ocean air on a warm summer afternoon; just make sure to arrive early in the day to snag a parking spot. Pups are permitted off-leash if you’re north of Lobos Creek, but they must be on a leash south of Lobos Creek.
To take in more vistas of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and Marin, Crissy Field is a scenic perch with a dog-friendly beach that attracts crowds on the weekends. Find a spot on the sand, then let your water-loving pooch splash and frolic in the surf while you lay out on a beach blanket with a good book. After Fido’s had his fun, rinse him off in the convenient doggy shower area located next to the restrooms before loading him in the car. The hardest part will be convincing him to get in there to go home!
Widely considered San Francisco’s mini Big Sur, this former military fortress boasts breathtaking ocean vistas, rolling sand dunes, and fragrant eucalyptus groves—serving as a scenic escape for city slickers, particularly those with four-legged roommates. Walk through ruins and along the shore with Fido, who is free to wander off-leash, as you watch the waves crash against the golden sands. Spend the afternoon by the water, then venture up to the bluffs to meander along the various coastal trails overlooking the beach. Linger until the sun starts to sink into the horizon—and watch the hang-gliders and parasailers soaring overhead—to end the day with your dog on a beautiful note.
For some off-leash fun, look no further than this stretch of sand along the Pacifica coastline. The picturesque hideaway is merely a 20-minute drive from San Francisco but boasts a relaxed, peaceful vibe that makes you feel worlds away from the big city. Esplanade is also the only dog-friendly beach that is “officially” leash-free, which means you don’t have to worry about passersby giving you the stink eye when they see your pooch freely running and roaming around. Revel in the peace and quiet (and maybe even spot a whale or two) as you soak up the gorgeous views and watch Fido romp in the sand. Make sure to pack a jacket, though, especially if you plan on staying late to watch the sunset.
Buchanan Dog Beach
Located in Albany, this small beach is perfect for water dogs. Let Fido swim in the cool waters with you, explore the shores off-leash, and have fun with the other pups. If your four-legged best friend still has some energy left after your active beach day, follow the waterfront trail over to the Albany Bulb—an artsy, dog-friendly area that used to be a former landfill—and admire the vibrant graffiti art, creative installations, and unique sculptures dotting this hidden spot in the Bay Area with your canine companion.
Rosie’s Dog Beach
This four-acre stretch of sand is arguably the most popular off-leash dog beach in Los Angeles County, serving as a paradise for canines and owners alike. Fido can splash around in the waves and run along the shore while you throw a Frisbee, build sand castles, and sunbathe. Located off of Ocean Boulevard in the charming town of Long Beach, Rosie’s is typically full of dogs but never too packed that you’ll feel cramped for space. Plus, the beach has all the essential amenities such as trash cans, poop scoops, bags, and restrooms. There’s also a large parking lot for beachgoers, but it costs 25 cents every 15 minutes, so try coming after 5 p.m. when parking is free.
Huntington Dog Beach
A little further south, in Orange County, is another hot spot for canines: Huntington Dog Beach, where pups are free to roam and swim between Seapoint Street and 21st Street. Although there are signs indicating the city ordinance of a six-foot leash requirement, this rule is generally not enforced for dogs that are socialized and well-behaved. So if your dog plays well with others, you won’t have anything to worry about—just make sure your pup stays within sight and under control at all times. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the expansive lawn, where you can soak up the gorgeous coastline while savoring your snacks. And when you’re ready to head home, you can wash off the sand from your feet (and Fido’s paws) in the beachside showers.
Leo Carrillo State Park
Nestled along the Malibu coast, this scenic park stretches into the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and features 1.5 miles of beach, making it a top destination for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, and beachcombing. Pooches are also welcome to join their owners in the parkland, though they must remain on-leash in the three separate beach areas. North Beach is tucked away in the picturesque parkland and offers an ideal place to take a leisurely stroll with Fido. Further down in the park lies South Beach, where you’ll find a cavernous, rocky area with tide pools and caves to explore. But if seclusion is what you seek, head to Staircase Beach, a less well-known area of Leo Carillo that welcomes furry friends. No matter which spot you visit, you and your dog are bound to enjoy the iconic Malibu scenery and sun-soaked sands.
The Original Dog Beach
Located at the northern end of the laid-back Ocean Beach neighborhood, this internationally famous stretch of sand was one of the first in the nation to allow dogs off-leash, hence the name. The Original Dog Beach continues to be a popular spot where pet owners can enjoy the gorgeous environs alongside fellow beach lovers and surfers. Throw the ball for Fido, swim in the waves alongside him, and soak up the beachy vibes. End the day by exploring the shores of Ocean Beach, where you can walk with your pup on-leash before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. April through October and after 4 p.m. November through March.
Fiesta Island Dog Park
Treat your four-legged friend to more off-leash fun at Fiesta Island Dog Park, a sprawling expanse settled on an isle in Mission Bay. The perimeter of the island is covered with continuous coastline and plenty of sand dunes for Fido to traverse. The water here is fairly shallow and calm, too, making it ideal for dogs who are less experienced swimmers. Fiesta Island also offers verdant meadows and wild open spaces where your pup can freely roam and play catch to her heart’s content. Continue the beach-day adventures by exploring the other 17 beaches located along Mission Bay Drive in Mission Bay Park.
La Jolla Shores Beach
This stunning beach has long been a beloved San Diego surfing destination and a prime spot for watching marine life. But the mile-long, crescent-shaped swath of sand is now a local favorite for dog owners, too. La Jolla Shores Beach welcomes dogs year-round after 6 p.m. (and after 4 p.m. in the winter), making it an ideal place for enjoying a sunset stroll with Fido. Bring a ball or Frisbee to throw, and stay until the sky transforms into cotton-candy hues.
Coronado Beach and Dog Park
Along with being one of the best California beach towns, Coronado is also one of the most beautiful beaches in the San Diego region. Coronado Beach and Dog Park draws droves of dog lovers and beach bums alike. Situated on the western side of the shore, this leash-free playground is a paradise for active pups. Expect to see dogs surfing, chasing Frisbees, and playing in the sand as their humans take in the views of the Pacific Ocean and the famous Hotel del Coronado. Just be sure to keep your dog leashed until your toes touch the sand—or you may face a hefty $500 fine.
Lighthouse Field State Beach
Also known as Its Beach, this secluded strip of coastline on West Cliff Drive is considered to be the dog beach in Santa Cruz. On any given day, you can spot pooches sauntering along the sparkling shores, which form the northern boundary of Monterey Bay. Lighthouse Field State Beach also draws droves of Central Coast surfers, sea lions, and birds, including the rare Black Swift. (In the winter months, you can also get a glimpse of migrating Monarch butterflies.) As you walk your pup along the coastal bluffs, you can both enjoy the views and the invigorating marine breeze.
Seabright State Beach
Spanning half a mile, this sandy beach is nestled between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz Harbor, serving as a popular destination for sunbathers, local surfers, fishermen, and of course, dog owners. Seabright State Beach welcomes on-leash pooches, who are bound to enjoy their afternoon of fun in the sun. Despite its close location to the boardwalk, the beach still feels spacious, even on the warmest of days. While you’re there, you can also stop by Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant to enjoy some grub and the ocean views on the dog-friendly patio.
Cayucos State Beach
Situated just off of the famed Highway 1, Cayucos is a small coastal town known for its old wooden fishing pier, rich history, and beautiful beaches—the best of which is Cayucos State Beach. The pristine ribbon of sand welcomes dogs on-leash and offers the perfect combination of mild weather, tide pools, and small-town charm. When you’re done admiring the breathtaking views of the coast and Morro Rock in the distance, take a stroll through downtown Cayucos to see the antique shops, specialty stores, and Old Western buildings.
Olde Port Beach
Tucked along the San Luis Obispo coastline, this wide sandy cove has a leash-optional policy, so your dog can run wild and romp in the waves. Olde Port Beach is a local gem in the Central Coast, so it’s not uncommon to see groups of friends and families gathered around the fire pits with their pups. Bring your beach chair, some snacks, mineral sunscreen, and a Frisbee for Fido to make the most of your perfect beach day.
Arroyo Burro Beach
The stunning oceanside town of Santa Barbara is ideal for dog owners, thanks to its numerous wide-open spaces, pet-friendly restaurants, dog-friendly hotels, and dog beaches—but Fido’s favorite spot is likely to be Arroyo Burro Beach. Also called Hendry’s Beach, this is the only beach in Santa Barbara that allows dogs off-leash in marked locations, making it popular among locals and tourists alike. Let your four-legged friend play in the sand, splash among the crashing waves, enjoy a scenic stroll along the bluffs, and get a warm bath in one of the self-serve dog wash stations. Before you go, stop by the acclaimed Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach to grab a bite while your canine companion soaks up some sun on the patio.
What are your favorite dog beaches in California? Let us know where you take your pup in the comments below.
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