Pleasant Hill has gone to the dogs!

By: DogTrekker Staff
A dog stands on top of a hill at Sunol Regional Wilderness in Pleasant Hill, gazing out over the valley below. - Dogtrekker
Sunol Regional Wilderness. Photo by Kevin Noble on Unsplash.

A fresh take on this dog-friendly destination by travel journalist John Flinn

Pleasant Hill, California is one of the most centrally located and pet-friendly destinations in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it a great home base for pet parents who are eager to explore all of Northern California’s many attractions, including some mountainous parks where dogs can roam off-leash. To begin, Pleasant Hill has its own canine global travel critic, Tshaka Zulu, who recently shared his unique perspectives on a journey to this Bay Area pet destination.

But wait, here’s the cool thing! Tshaka’s influence and love of this verdant Bay Area, pet-friendly destination is making waves and his best “paw-friend,” Jesse, recently paid a visit to see what all the barking was about. Here’s the “tail” of his “best friend’s” journey, as told by travel journalist John Flinn.

My golden retriever’s second favorite moment of the day comes when I grab her leash from the hook by the door. Walk! And once our walk is underway, Jesse occasionally gets her favorite thing in the entire world: The leash comes off. Freedom!

That’s why her new favorite destination is Pleasant Hill. A few minutes’ drive from its handsome downtown are hills studded with oak trees, where dogs are free to roam unleashed on dozens of miles of scenic trails. Add to that a selection of hotels and restaurants that don’t just grudgingly tolerate your pets but actively welcome them, and you have all the makings of the perfect getaway for footloose pups and their owners.

Perched between Concord and Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill sits on the doorstep of Briones Regional Park, a “secret wilderness” of 6,250 acres amid the sprawling suburbs of Contra Costa County. The East Bay Regional Parks, including Briones, are, as they proclaim on their website, “proud to be one of the most dog-friendly organizations in the nation.” With some notable exceptions – for example near trailheads and picnic areas, and when grazing cattle are present – dogs pretty much have their run of the place. They must, however, be under good voice control.

On a recent visit, we drove from downtown Pleasant Hill to the Reliez Valley Staging Area, one of the prime gateways to the Briones wilderness. A sprawling, hilly island of nature set aside as a Mexican land grant before California gained statehood, the park surrounds 1,483-foot Briones Peak. It’s lovely year-round but is most splendid in the spring when the hills are green and the oaks are in blossom.

Two hundred yards up the Blue Oak Trail, Jesse’s leash came off and she bounded away to sniff every prominent rock and stump — checking her Facebook feed, as I liked to think of it.

Under a thick canopy of oak and bay trees, we ambled along a path that climbed gently out of a suburban neighborhood into a world of red-tailed hawks and sweeping vistas. The trail – a slightly overgrown old ranch road – was wide enough that Jesse and I could walk side-by-side when she wasn’t investigating trailside scents.

After a few miles of uphill walking, her companion was getting tired, but Jesse was game for more. So, on our way back to town we stopped at Dinosaur Hill Park. (The name was inspired by a tree trunk that looks like a dinosaur. Well, sort of.)

Leashes are required, but a short, pleasant stroll brought us to a bench with a contemplative view out over Pleasant Hill to Mount Diablo, which always seems to be looming over your shoulder in this corner of the Bay Area.

Our next stop was Paso Nogal Dog Park. After the unfettered freedom of Briones, a fenced-in neighborhood dog park might seem like a letdown. But this one is exceedingly well done. It boasts 2.5 acres of grass and dirt, divided into sections for big and little dogs. Even the most rifle-armed Chuck-It launcher has plenty of room to let it fly.

When we checked in to the Hyatt House, the staff came out from behind the counter to make a fuss over Jesse – and pretended not to notice that I hadn’t quite managed to get all the trail dirt off her paws. There were water bowls and snacks in the lobby, a spacious, grassy outdoor area for canine constitutionals and a nice sample of dog treats to bring back to the room. This hotel, like others in Pleasant Hill I’m familiar with, really rolls out the red carpet for its four-legged guests.

Likewise, the three restaurants we tried – Jack’s, Crescent Bistro and Wence’s – have enclosed patios (with heat lamps in winter) where dogs are welcome to dine with their companions. The waiters bring water bowls without being asked and genuinely seem to enjoy the furry company.

Even the local cupcake shop goes out of its way to welcome pooches. For dessert we stopped at Batter ‘n Icing for a decadent Caramel Crunch cupcake for yours truly and a “Pup Cake” – carrot cake with peanut butter, cream cheese, frosting, and no chocolate – for Jesse.

What will tomorrow bring? A massage, bath, blow-dry, and pedicure at Noni’s Pet Boutique and Grooming? A new Briones trail to explore? It’ll be Jesse’s call. I suspect she might choose both.

Last updated on July 3, 2024.


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