With 29 miles of beaches studding its extensive coastline, Santa Cruz County has plenty of room for DogTrekkers. Not all strands are dog-friendly, and all but one of those that are, require four-legged visitors to be leashed. But don’t let that turn you off or away: the scenery is stunning and the county is so dog-friendly in other ways that you and your tail-wagger won’t have trouble finding ways to enjoy a fall getaway.
Santa Cruz city officials, who two years ago lifted a ban on dogs downtown, are now dithering about dog policies at area beaches. Meanwhile, visitors who long to get some sand underfoot can stick to the tried and true. At Mitchell’s Cove, the only legally leash-free beach in the county, canines can run free on a quarter-mile stretch between dawn and 10 a.m. and again from 4 p.m. to sunset. (Alas, the sand disappears in winter.)
Seabright State Beach is a sandy strand centrally situated between the famous Beach Boardwalk amusement park and Santa Cruz Harbor. Leashed dogs are allowed on the north side of the yacht harbor, where dog-friendly Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant serves up succulent seafood. Leashed dogs also are allowed on Manresa State Beach, which has a walk-in, bluff-top campground for those who like to stargaze.
Dogs on tethers also are allowed on New Brighton State Beach, Twin Lakes State Beach, Palm State Beach, Lighthouse Field State Beach and Its Beach (but be forewarned that the latter requires a treacherous descent and on sunny days is frequented by nudists).
One of the more interesting options in the area is Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, a broad, sandy mile at the base of a bluff offering wide-open views, picnic areas, a campground, interpretive center, fishing pier and, curiously, the hull of a concrete freighter built in 1910 for World War I but never launched.
In 1929, the ship was towed to its present location and used as an amusement center. The venture failed, the ship was stripped and has sat there, stirring imaginations, ever since. Adjacent Rio Del Mar State Beach welcomes dogs on leashes.
In addition to sand, Santa Cruz has a half dozen off-leash dog parks, most with ocean views, giving visitors quite a bit of variety when it comes to letting Fido run off steam.
Dog-friendly lodging and places to chow down with your pet are abundant, too. While in town, you both can stop for lunch at the upscale Cafe Limelight for coffee, tea, sandwiches and a special dog menu. Alternatively, enjoy some pizza on the patio at Engfer Pizza Works.