The bumper stickers read “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” but DogTrekkers visiting this diverse coastal county might prefer to just keep it tail-waggingly wonderful. And with 29 miles of beaches studding its crenelated shoreline, Santa Cruz County has plenty of room for dogs and people to spread out. Fifteen coastal beaches are dog-friendly, and one, Mitchell’s Cove, is legally leash-free before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Seabright State Beach, a sandy strand centrally situated between the famous Beach Boardwalk amusement park and Santa Cruz Harbor, is a visitor favorite. 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 are also allowed on Manresa State Beach, which has a walk-in, bluff-top campground for those who like to stargaze. Dogs on tethers are allowed on New Brighton State Beach, Twin Lakes State Beach, Palm State Beach, Lighthouse Field State Beach and Its Beach.
One of the more interesting options in the area is Seacliff State Beach in Aptos. It’s a broad, mile-long stretch of sand 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 and towed to its present location in 1929 for use as an amusement center. The venture failed and the hull 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.
If hugging the coast, plan on at least four hours to traverse Santa Cruz County from north to south.