Hang tight to the steering wheel and make sure Rover is well secured when you head down Highway 1 from the Bay Area to the Central Coast. You’ll need all the attention you can muster to negotiate 122 miles of vertigo-inducing curves, each framing a view to make you gasp.
Highway 1 in Big Sur skirts one of the state’s most hauntingly beautiful beaches, which just happens to be dog-friendly. Pfeiffer Beach, managed by the paw-tolerant U.S. Forest Service, has been featured in so many movies, photo books and calendars that you’ll have an instant “aha!” moment upon seeing it for the first time. Rover may not appreciate the rugged rock formations and crashing surf that define this iconic strand, but the person on the other end of the leash certainly will.
Canine-friendly lodging in Big Sur is limited, but Fernwood Resort and Riverside Campground & Cabins are two places to check out. Looking for a restaurant meal? On sunny days, breakfast is served outdoors at Deetjen’s, a classic Big Sur establishment where well behaved dogs are allowed to lounge by their owners' sides.
A caveat: Construction work continues on a segment of Highway 1 just south of Carmel that was damaged in a mid-March mud slide. Check progress with Caltrans and expect traffic delay at least through the end of May.
Photo: "Pfeiffer Beach at Big Sur" - Janet Fullwood
If the destination rather than the journey is your focus on a trip from the Bay Area to the Central Coast, skip coastal Highway 1 and take Highway 101 to Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and beyond. Along the way, you and yours can soak up some history at two of the 21 Franciscan missions established in California between 1768 and 1853 on orders of the Spanish Crown. Missions San Miguel Arcangel and Nuestra Senora de la Soledad are serene places great for photography, contemplation and picnics. Well behaved leashed dogs are allowed on the grounds; ask at the counter if your pet can accompany you in areas where admission is required.
Photo: "Mission San Miguel Arcangel"- Janet Fullwood
Ever since Oprah aired her “Are You Happy?” segment featuring San Luis Obispo, “SLO” has been rejoicing in its reputation as “The Happiest Town In the Whole USA.”
This quintessential college town, nestled in a sea of green hills just 10 miles from the coast, has just about everything going for it so far as DogTrekkers are concerned. Laguna Lake Park, with its off-leash dog-play area and trails leading into the hills, is a “don’t miss” attraction, and the Best Western Royal Oak Hotel across the street makes an ideal base for DogTrekkers. Downtown SLO is home to a Spanish mission and plenty of dog-friendly restaurants to explore, but stay away on Thursday evenings in summer, when the streets are blocked off for a wonderful farmer’s market at which, unfortunately, canines are not allowed.
SLO is at the center of a wine region boasting many dog-friendly tasting rooms, but if you want to visit Hearst Castle or other attractions where four-legged guests arenít allowed, youíll need doggie day care. Well socialized pets can romp under skilled supervision at Thousand Hills Pet Resort, where grooming and boarding also are available. Reserve early, as this is one tail-waggingly popular place.
"Sidwalk Art Festival in San Luis Obispo" - Janet Fullwood
Beautiful buildings, beautiful people, beautiful landscapes, beautiful dogs...just about everything about Santa Barbara and the “American Riviera” is a treat for the eyes and the senses. Santa Barbara is the kind of place where you can ditch your car, leash up your dog and wanderófinding yourself, perhaps, tasting a selection of pinot noirs along the Urban Wine Trail, admiring Spanish colonial architecture on the podcast-guided Red Roof Walking Tour, or enjoying the plantings at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The Santa Barbara pier and the multi-use path paralleling the beach offer lively perspectives, and at Arroyo Burro Beach you can unclip and let Rover run free.
The non-profit Santa Barbara Dog PAC has played a leading role in securing leash-free recreation rights in several county parks, helping to make Santa Barbara one of the most dog-friendly places on the Central Coast. Other good news: the county health department in April reversed a rule prohibiting dogs in outdoor dining areas. Canines are now allowed at restaurant owners’ discretion, with dozens of eateries expected to roll out the welcome mat soon.
On the drive down from the Bay Area to the Central Coast, make it a point to treat Daisy and her people to a pause-that-refreshes in Carmel-by-the-Sea, an affluent seaside village boasting dozens of hotels, restaurants and shops that welcome four-legged visitors. Carmel's mile-long, leash-free beach is perhaps the most treasured resource on the West Coast for dog lovers. Carmel is on Highway 1 and just a hop away from Highway 101, either of which will get you to Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.