The Coolest Dog-Friendly Beaches in Northern California

The Coolest Dog-Friendly Beaches in Northern California

Have you ever seen anything as happy as a dog playing on the beach? Me neither. Sometimes I borrow my neighbor’s dog just to take him to the beach and watch him go nuts chasing after his tennis ball into the roiling surf, completely oblivious of the chilly water and crashing waves.

It’s not only fantastic exercise for the dog, it’s cathartic for humans as well, being able to bring so much joy to a dog’s day. So check your calendar right now, find a free weekend, then call your dog over and let him know that he’s about to have the best beach getaway a pooch could ever hope for.

Slurps Up for Dogs in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz offers more dog-friendly beaches than any other city or town on the Northern Coast. Many of the beaches in Aptos, Capitola, and Santa Cruz allow dogs on a leash, and one — Mitchell’s Cove Beach off West Cliff Drive at the intersection of Almar Avenue — even allows dogs off-leash from sunrise to 10am and 4pm to sunset.

If you’re planning a trip to Santa Cruz with your pooch, your best bet is to download the Santa Cruz County Visitors Council’s Santa Cruz all Things Pet Friendly which lists all the dog-friendly parks and beaches in the entire county (it’s very handy).

A brown dog lies on a sandy California beach as a wave splashes over its body, creating white foam. The dog tilts its head slightly and squints into the spray, appearing relaxed and content. This scene is one of the many serene moments you'll find at the coolest dog-friendly beaches in Northern California.
Photo: Ameya Sawant via Unsplash

Four-Legged Fun in Dog-Friendly San Francisco

My sister lives in Sacramento and makes frequent trips to San Francisco because both she and her dogs (Toula, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Buster, a Borderdoodle) have a ball in this pet-friendly city. First she takes them for a stroll to the off-leash area along Crissy Field — with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge — to play with the other dogs.

Then it’s a short drive to the off-leash area at Ocean Beach for some serious ball-throwing exercise, or to nearby Fort Funston, one of the best and most popular doggie parks in the Bay Area, with plenty of sand dunes, trails, and wide-open spaces where dozens of happy and sociable dogs play daily.

A tan dog with a black collar joyfully runs through shallow ocean waves at a picturesque California beach. The dog's fur is wet and its tongue is out, showing an expression of excitement. The background features gentle waves under a partly cloudy sky, making it one of the coolest dog-friendly beaches in Northern California.
Photo: An Nguyen via Unsplash

Secret Tahoe Dog Beach

Just about all the beaches in Lake Tahoe are off limits to dogs, but here’s a little secret: Near the Zephyr Cove Resort in South Lake Tahoe there’s a place called North Beach that’s part of Tahoe National Forest and allows dogs (and boy-howdy do dogs love this beach). You can park at the Zephyr Cove parking lot, then walk about 100 yards north to the beach.

A shaggy dog stands on a sandy California beach looking to the right. In the background, a group of people are gathered under a canopy near a parked car. The sun is low, casting a warm glow over one of the coolest dog-friendly beaches in Northern California.
Photo: Mick Haupt via Unsplash

Canine Bliss in Carmel

In Carmel-by-the-Sea, we ate dinner one evening at Forge in the Forest. They have an outdoor area, laughingly referred to as the “dog pound,” which is where we ate beside a roaring fire in the fireplace. The waiter brought Pogo a water bowl, and there were even menu items for dogs.

Carmel Beach is a beautiful off-leash dog run. There were many dogs there, and Pogo loved the beach (the water, not so much). That evening we enjoyed a nice dinner at Flaherty’s. We were welcome inside with Pogo. Overall, it was a very enjoyable vacation for the three of us.

A dog with a golden coat joyfully runs along a tranquil California beach at sunrise, holding a piece of driftwood in its mouth. The background features gentle waves, scattered rocks, and a misty hillside. The scene is calm and serene with warm, golden light—truly one of the coolest dog-friendly beaches in Northern California.
Photo: Paul Buffington via Unsplash

Mendocino Loves its Mutts

If you really want to spoil your pooch (and yourself to boot), head over to Mendocino for a luxurious getaway to the Stanford Inn by the Sea. Longtime owners Joan and Jeff Stanford, who love to travel with their dogs Murphy and Gypsy, always make sure that animals of every ilk get the royal treatment here.

At check-in dogs get a welcome treat, stainless steel food and water dishes, pick-up bags, and even “dog sheets” to protect the furniture. There are three nearby beaches that are dog-friendly, and Joan and Jeff will tell you everything you need to know about where to play with your pet in and around Mendocino. It’s a wonderful place to go for a relaxing seaside getaway with your pet.

The dog-friendly beaches and hotels mentioned above are just a fraction of the places in Northern California that allow pets. For an excellent resource on “paw-tested” pet-friendly getaways in California I highly recommend, run by Roxanne and Dave Kendrick.

Looking for more things to do in Northern California?

Visit our Bay AreaTahoe, Wine Country and Central Coast pages for more travel inspiration!

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