For water-loving canines, nothing beats fetching a bright yellow tennis ball from the surf and romping full speed ahead on a sandy beach. But while there’s plenty of sand to share with your leashed pup along California’s 840 miles of coastline, you should know before you go where dogs are and aren’t allowed to get their ya-yas out. Here are a few of our favorite off-leash strands:
North Coast: For leash-free fun in Mendocino County, visit Noyo Harbor and Seaside beaches, the former a small strand at a working harbor, the other a strip of sand backed by tall cliffs. In Humboldt County, Centerville Beach County Park is open to off-leash dogs from October through February, while Samoa Dunes Recreation Area and Mad River County Park are year-round options.
Bay Area: The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area offers quite a few off-leash choices, among them Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach, both part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. About an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Dillon Beach is a private strand that welcomes well behaved dogs, while Bolinas Beach (if you can find it) is another option. In San Francisco, your pup can run off steam along parts of the Crissy Field shoreline and the beach at Fort Funston.
Central Coast: Blue-ribbon honors go to leash-free Carmel Beach, a powdery, mile-long Monterey County strand that is perhaps the best known dog-friendly beach in the country. An hour or so south, on the Big Sur Coast, dogs under reliable voice control can chase balls to their hearts’ content on the portion of Pfeiffer Beach managed by the US Forest Service. Nearby Santa Cruz County boasts 29 curvy miles of beaches, 15 of which are open to leash dogs and one, Mitchell’s Cove, that is dog-friendly all the time and legally leash-free before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
South Coast: San Diego County is the South State’s star when it comes to off-leash stretches of sand. Among the standouts: Coronado Dog Beach, Del Mar Dog Beach, Fiesta Island and Ocean Beach Dog Beach.