By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 11/06/2020, edited: 10/18/2021
Home to pristine beaches, verdant redwood forests, and postcard-worthy mountain ranges, California has terrific places to go with your dog on a road trip. Packed with more bucket-list destinations than you can shake Fido’s favorite stick at, the Golden State welcomes millions of holidaymakers from around the world each year.
San Diego and San Francisco both rank among the top 10 dog-friendliest cities in America. It’s no wonder why — both cities boast dozens of dog-friendly dining and shopping options. Not to mention some of the country’s best off-leash parks, trails, and beaches. San Francisco also has the unique distinction of being one of few American cities where dogs outnumber children.
Daydreaming of a West Coast adventure with your best four-legged friend? We’ve dug up some of the best dog-friendly road trip destinations in California. Read on to discover where to play, where to stay, where to eat, and so much more.
You’ll find some of the world’s most famous natural attractions in California. Mountains, beaches, forests — no matter what type of terrain you’re looking to see, your dog is welcome to experience it by your side. We’ve rounded up 5 quintessential national parks, beaches, and dog parks worth visiting on your dog-friendly California road trip.
Vacationing with dogs? Start your California road trip on the right paw with an amble among the redwoods. Dogs are welcome to explore Redwood National Park’s developed campgrounds, select beaches, parking areas, and gravel roads. Steer clear of marked trails.
Gold Bluffs Beach is one pup-friendly point of interest you won’t want to miss. Leashed dogs are welcome to sniff along this 8-mile stretch of sand dunes, soaking up gorgeous vistas of steep cliffs along the way. If you time your visit just right, you just might spot resident elk and migrating whales!
This only scratches the surface of pet-friendly things to do and see in this vast park. The list of rules and dog-friendly areas is pretty long, so do your homework before visiting. To help protect the park’s flora and fauna, pets and their parents must follow the park’s BARK rules:
As long as you can play by the rules, you and your pal will make precious memories in one of the most beautiful natural areas on Earth!
Although California is home to some of the best dog-friendly attractions in the country, its national parks don’t always welcome woofers with open paws. Fortunately, Yosemite National Park is an exception.
Yosemite permits dogs to explore paved hiking and biking trails and some fire roads. Pets are also welcome to admire stunning panoramas with you at the Glacier Point overlook — an attraction we’ll cover in the “Where to Roam” section of this article.
The Wawona area is one of the dog-friendliest spots in Yosemite, with 4 routes that welcome hound-dog hikers. The 12-mile, out-and-back Chowchilla Mountain Road Trail is a must with your mutt, especially if you’re keen to avoid crowds. But beware — this path is a little “ruff”!
A former stagecoach route from Mariposa to Yosemite, this trail is as backcountry as they come. Prepare for tricky, potentially slippery terrain, and you’ll be well-rewarded with jaw-dropping vistas of the Chowchilla Mountain Range.
Retrace your steps to re-enter civilization at the developed Wawona area. Nearby, you’ll find a hotel, store, and gas station in case you need to top up your snack stash or gas tank.
No matter where you roam in Yosemite, respect this protected area and follow all pet rules. Keep your dog on a 6-foot leash and clean up their waste.
No California dog-friendly road trip is complete without a beach day. Rated one of the best off-leash dog beaches in the country, this pristine stretch of sand is hound-dog heaven! Even though locals and travelers alike love Huntington Dog Beach, you’ll rarely find a crowd here. (Unless you visit during a summer event.)
Online reviews rave that visitors are courteous, friendly, and well-trained. And so are the humans! Drinking water and doggy waste bags are available, but bring some extra just in case.
If you and your woofer need room to roam leash-free, you’ll find “pawlenty” of it at Runyon Canyon Dog Park! The city park encompasses 160 acres, 90 of which welcome dogs off-leash. Just look for the signs indicating off-leash areas.
This is one of the most popular dog-friendly parks in LA, so expect to find plenty of other pups to play with. Work up a sweat on the hike to the top of the hill for a bird’s-eye view of the City of Angels. Or let Spike follow their nose along one of the many off-leash trails criss-crossing through the park.
Whether you’d prefer to “ruff” it under the stars or glamp in a fully kitted campervan, you’ll find hundreds of dog-friendly campgrounds in California. Here are a few of our favorites.
Planning an adventure in Yosemite? Spend the night among the dunes at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. This primitive spot comes complete with solar showers, bathrooms, food lockers, and more. Tents and motorhomes shorter than 24 feet are welcome. If your Afghan is feeling antsy, leash up and stroll down to Gold Bluffs Beach for a leisurely amble and a bit of wildlife watching.
This West Sacramento campground comes equipped with everything you and Lucky need for a cozy stay. Pull-through tent and RV sites with full hookups and Wi-Fi? Check. Pet-friendly lakeside cabins and cottages? Check. Rec room and off-leash dog park? Check! You and Bella are sure to have a ball here. When you want to venture outside camp, you’re just a bone’s throw from shopping, parks, and cultural attractions in historic Sacramento.
El Chorro Regional Park is about halfway between SF and LA, making it a “grrreat” place to rest your paws after a long drive. The perfect blend of tranquil nature and modern conveniences, the park’s campground features full hookups, restrooms, showers, and everything else you need to stay comfy. When you’re all settled in, let Fifi splash in the doggy pools at El Chorro Regional Dog Park. Other pet-friendly attractions in El Chorro Regional Park include picnic areas and the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.
When it comes to places to chow down with your Chow Chow in Cali, you’re spoiled for choice! California cuisine is a melting pot of cultural influences from all around the world. California-style pizza is a mouthwatering fusion of New York, Italian, and uniquely Californian flavors.
Most eateries throughout the Golden State source fresh ingredients from local, sustainable farms. If you’re just looking for a quick snack, grab an enchilada from one of the taco trucks that are practically synonymous with California cuisine.
Napa Valley is a must-visit for wine lovers. Many of the area’s wineries allow leashed four-legged visitors to tour their vineyards. Why not pack a picnic and make a day of it? Don’t forget to grab some fresh California strawberries for your alfresco meal! Strawberries are packed with health benefits for humans and dogs, like fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins.
If you’re planning a dog-friendly road trip in California, you’ll be doing a lot of driving. Why not take the scenic route? We’ve covered 2 scenic drives in California that should be on every pet parent’s bucket list. Choose your adventure, pack up the car, turn up the tunes, and get ready to bay along with Buddy!
This scenic drive is the “ultimutt” dog-friendly California road trip experience. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks and supplies for this 10-hour drive. Along this 450+ mile stretch, you’ll traverse hairpin curves offering sweeping vistas of turquoise beaches and craggy cliffs.
Located “ruffly” 80 miles into the journey is New Brighton State Beach, a great spot for a pit stop and a romantic beach stroll with Rufus. Paso Robles is about the halfway point. With lush hills stretching as far as the eye can see, this quaint town is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts. You’ll find several dog-friendly wineries here where you and Princess can share a picnic after a tour. Before you pile into the car again, let your pooch burn some energy at Sherwood Dog Park.
Don’t expect to tackle this behemoth drive in one day. Snag a spot at Morro Bay State Park Campground and rest up with your canine camper. After a long day of driving, you’ll jump at the chance to kick back and enjoy some fishing, boating, and birdwatching. Leashed, well-behaved woofers are welcome to hike and camp out with you in designated areas.
Before you kick off your excursion along California’s Coastal Highway, plan ahead for meals, potty breaks, and filling up the tank. Add a couple of hours to your journey to account for sightseeing and traffic. Some stretches of this route don’t have a gas station for 30+ miles, so plan to refuel at one of the main towns in Marin County.
Looking for a shorter adventure? From Wawona Road, the Glacier Point scenic drive stretches for just over 15 miles through Yosemite National Park. Worthwhile detours along the way include verdant meadows and challenging hiking and ski trails. But the real treasure is the Glacier Point overlook. Make sure your smartphone or camera is fully charged to capture majestic views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Cloud’s Rest.
A word to the wise: this adventure isn’t for anyone scared of heights. You’ll be admiring these views from a dizzying elevation of 7,000+ feet! Note this road is only open to cars from late May or early June through November. Leashed dogs are welcome to explore the overlook and nearby paved trails. Before you set off, double-check where pets are allowed in the Wawona area.
While exploring California’s recreation areas, you’re sure to add plenty of miles to your trusty hiking boots. But no California vacation is complete without slowing down to explore the state’s world-class cultural attractions.
Museums, art galleries, historic landmarks — culture vultures have virtually unlimited options to choose from. Unfortunately, these activities often prohibit pups. But that’s no reason to leave Lassie lonely! Book a California dog walker to keep your Cavapoo company while you’re out soaking up some culture. Now let’s dig in to a couple of California’s many must-see sites.
Learn about the state’s indigenous history and culture at this Miwok village. A museum-slash-park, The Museum of the American Indian showcases an extensive collection containing 2,000+ indigenous artifacts. Check the events schedule to catch a poetry reading, drumming session, or informative lecture. While the museum’s exhibits focus on the Coast Miwok peoples indigenous to Marin and Sonoma Counties, all native cultures are represented.
Located within beautiful Balboa Park, the SDMA is a must for art aficionados. Plan a few hours to explore the museum’s collection of 20,000+ iconic pieces from around the world. If you’re short on time, be sure to see works by world-famous artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dalí, and Claude Monet. When you’re done perusing the masterpieces on display, treat your pup to some off-leash playtime at Nate’s Point Dog Park in Balboa Park. (Only service dogs are allowed inside the museum.)
That’s a wrap on our guide to the ultimate dog-friendly California road trip! There’s no way we could “pawssibly” cover every spot worth seeing in the Golden State. So we encourage you to take your time planning your itinerary. If you include the points of interest we’ve included here, we guarantee you and your pup will make lasting memories you’ll cherish for years to come.
Need a helping paw preparing for your trip? Check out these useful travel guides:
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