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Dog-friendly Road Trip Ideas in San Diego
By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 09/10/2020, edited: 08/10/2021
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With its warm climate, beautiful beaches, and host of world-class attractions, San Diego, CA, is made for road trips. Tucked away in the southwestern corner of California, right next to the Mexican border, San Diego is the ideal place to indulge in some SoCal socializing, exploring, and relaxing.
Even better, with a long list of dog-friendly walks, hotels, and experiences on offer, San Diego is the “ultimutt” destination for a road trip with your fur-baby. Keep reading to find out what to do, where to visit, and where to stay when you and your pup hit the road to check out “America’s Finest City”.
Where to play
It doesn’t matter what time of year you and your pup visit San Diego — thanks to its coastal location and that beautiful year-round climate, it’s always a good time to head to the beach. Happily, there’s no shortage of dog-friendly beaches in San Diego that you and your fur-baby can explore together.
Original Dog Beach
One of the best is the 24-hour off-leash area at Ocean Beach. Also known as the Original Dog Beach, this “pawpular” stretch of sand is open for pups who want to run, dig, swim, splash, and play. Find it at the northern tip of Ocean Beach and get prepared for one of the best dog beach experiences anywhere in the United States.
Elsewhere, if you’re looking to take your dog for a swim in calmer waters, head to Fiesta Island, located in Mission Bay Park. The sheltered waters here are perfect for swimming, and there’s acres of sand for your pupper to explore — just be sure to steer clear of the youth campground and least tern nesting areas.
When you’ve had your fill of beach fun, maybe your pup would like to do some more socializing at some of the best dog-friendly parks in San Diego. And there’s no better place to do that than at the city’s famous Balboa Park.
Leashed dogs can stroll through the park, but there are also two 24-hour off-leash areas within the park boundaries — Nate’s Point and Morley Field Dog Park. Both parks are easily accessible, spacious, and very popular, so expect to find a crowd of pups and their people whenever you visit.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail
Finally, if you’d like to raise your heart rate too, maybe it’s time to take a walk. There are stacks of great dog-friendly trails in San Diego, but the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail is one of our favorites. This 6.8-mile loop runs alongside a burbling creek, beneath giant California oaks, and through a landscape home to a diverse range of native animals. Just remember to keep your pup on a leash and you’re sure to have a “woofderful” time.
Where to stay
When you and your pup are ready to put your feet up, you’ll find plenty of dog-friendly campgrounds in San Diego. Camping with a dog is a whole lot of fun, but it’s important to compare a few options before deciding where to stay.
Campland on the Bay
One option well worth a look is Campland on the Bay, a 500-plus-site campground that sits on the shores of Mission Bay. While you’ll need to pay a small nightly fee to stay here with your pup, there are plenty of “pawsome” features for pooches to enjoy. The highlight is a fenced off-leash park where pups can run and play, but they’ll need to be kept leashed in other areas of the resort. Human guests will also love the swimming pools, hot tubs, and sporting facilities on offer here.
La Pacifica RV Park
La Pacifica RV Park is another popular option for dog-friendly road trippers. Found in a central location just off I-5, it offers easy access to many of San Diego’s best dog-friendly attractions. One highlight will be taking your pup to explore the trails in the nearby Tijuana River Open Space Preserve.
Silver Strand State Beach
If you’d prefer to stay close to the ocean, you might want to consider RV camping with dogs in San Diego at Silver Strand State Beach. This beautiful spot is ideal if you like beachcombing, swimming, and a host of other watersports. However, please note that dogs are not allowed on the beach or on the bayside, and will need to be kept leashed at all times.
Where to eat
Once you and your pooch have worked up an appetite, it’s time to sniff out some dinner. With its proximity to the Mexican border, San Diego is well-known for its fresh and unique Mexican cuisine — from fish tacos to California burritos, there are plenty of great dishes that’ll have you licking your lips.
But there’s much more to food in San Diego than just Mexican. You’ll find mouthwatering dishes from all over the world here, including everything from Italian, Korean, and Thai to good old-fashioned burger joints. Throw in a handful of excellent local craft breweries and it’s pretty clear that your taste buds are in for a treat.
Best of all, there’s no shortage of dog-friendly restaurants in San Diego. Many of them even boast special menus of delicious doggy dishes, from grilled chicken or homemade biscuits to mouthwatering burger patties. A host of breweries, wineries, and bars also welcome four-legged guests, which is sure to make yappy hour an important part of your vacation itinerary!
Where to roam
When you and your pup are ready to hit the road and do a little exploring, jump in the car and tackle the city’s 59-mile scenic drive. Designed to take in all the history, natural beauty, and attractions the city has to offer, it’s the “pawfect” way to explore San Diego.
The route starts in the downtown area, passing the impressive bay, Harbor Island, and Mission Beach. La Jolla Cove, San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park are all on the itinerary, with the latter the ideal spot to let your pup stretch their legs and maybe grab a selfie or two.
Alternatively, if you’re keen to head inland, you can always take a drive along the Sunrise National Scenic Byway. Located a little over an hour to the east of San Diego, this 24-mile route leads you through the pretty surrounds of the Cleveland National Forest before arriving at the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. You and your pooch can then set out to explore the 3.2-mile Sunset Trail — dogs under voice control are even allowed off-leash, making this a great destination to check out with your fur-baby.
Where to learn
Of course, there are some must-visit attractions in San Diego where dogs unfortunately aren’t welcome. If you’re planning a visit to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, for example, your pup won’t be allowed to join you. So why not book a dog walker in San Diego to take your dog on an adventure? That way, you can be sure your pup is in safe hands while you admire everything from koalas and penguins to polar bears and hippos.
The USS Midway Museum is another iconic attraction in San Diego, but only service dogs are permitted onboard. This old naval aircraft carrier is home to over 30 restored aircraft and gives you a chance to explore everything from the flight deck to the engine room. From a restored F4U Corsair to the Battle of Midway exhibits and a glimpse into life below decks, the museum is full of memorable experiences.
Finally, no visit to the city is complete without a visit to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. While your dog is welcome to join you as you wander around the park’s outdoor areas, they’re not allowed in any museums or buildings. So you might want to leave them with a pet caregiver while you enjoy a journey back in time to San Diego’s colonial period. From restored buildings and a working blacksmith shop to restaurants and boutique shopping, you’ll find much to enjoy here.
No matter what sort of vacation you desire for your pup, a visit to San Diego is one of the best road trips for dogs anywhere in the United States. Start planning your dog-friendly road trip to San Diego today.