We recently did a survey at LocalGetaways and one of most requested topics for local travel tips was pet-friendly getaways. Which makes sense, because there’s nothing more sad than saying goodbye to your little buddy as you walk out the front door for weekend getaway. Ergo, this week’s theme covers a few of my top picks for pet-friendly destinations in Northern California. Better yet, add your own tips and advice to our pet-friendly blogs below. We’d love to hear from you.
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
In the early 1940s Lois Mayhew realized there was a need to help wounded servicemen who would return from World War II without their sight. So in May of 1942 she rescued a German Shepherd named Blondie from a Pasadena dog pound and paired her with Sgt. Leonard Foulk, and together they were the first graduates Lois’ revolutionary new school—Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Today, Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael (Marin County) is still breeding and training Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers to act as eyes for the blind. After the dogs go through a rigorous four- to five-month training (you’ll often see them on the streets of San Rafael with their trainers), they’re introduced to their new owners, who then go through another few weeks of training with their canine companions, who are always provided free of charge.
What does this have to do with you? Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization that exists solely on private donations and volunteerism, so I strongly urge you to the set aside a weekend to visit the campus and watch a graduation ceremony (good luck not getting all teary-eyed) and take a guided tour, then look into ways you can join their family of volunteers or make a tax-deductible donation. 800/295-4050
CANINE HEAVEN IN CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA
Roughly 9 miles into Carmel Valley is a little-known yet exceptional dog-friendly destination called Garland Ranch Regional Park with acres of open space. Once you pull in to the parking lot, follow the trail down the steps into the woods, cross a wooden bridge over the murmuring Carmel River, and gaze upon the open valley with the Santa Lucia Mountains rising ahead, you’ll know you’ve found a special place that you and your dog will return to year after year.
Along with hiking with your dog at Garland Ranch amongst the numerous scenic trails, you can also partake in bird-watching (you can pick up a Checklist of Birds brochure at the usually unstaffed visitor center to mark those you’ve seen). The center also provides hiking maps—try the 1-1⁄4 mile Lupine Loop or the 1-1⁄2 mile Rancho Loop. The park has an area set aside for mountain biking as well, plus picnic tables just beyond the Carmel River. 831/372-3196
And, of course, there are the famed beaches of Carmel, most of which are hugely popular destinations for dog owners because of their very tolerant pet policies. For more info check out our Carmel webpage.
DOGGIE GETAWAYS TO SAN FRANCISCO
My sister lives in Sacramento and makes frequent trips to San Francisco because both she and her dogs (Toula, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Buster, a Borderdoodle) have a ball in this pet-friendly city. First she takes them for a stroll to the nearby off-leash area along Crissy Field—with incredible views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge—to play with the other dogs.
Then it’s a short drive to the off-leash area at Ocean Beach for some serious ball-throwing exercise, or to nearby Fort Funston, one of the best and most popular off-leash doggie parks in the Bay Area, with plenty of sand dunes, trails, and wide-open spaces where dozens of happy and sociable dogs play daily.
When it’s time for some serious shopping at Union Square, she drops them off at Wag Hotels near downtown San Francisco for some paw-dicures, dog play sessions, and swim time in the pet pool (well, Toula’s not into the swimming part—it’s a short-leg thing).
DOGGIE PADDLING DOWN THE RUSSIAN RIVER
Spring is just around the corner, so it’s time to plan a trip to Sonoma County and spend the day leisurely paddling down a serene stretch of the scenic Russian River. Yes, dogs are welcome to hop aboard canoes on the Russian River and boy-howdy do they love the experience. I’ve done this canoe trip at least a dozen times with friends and it’s always the dogs that are having the best time, hanging out on the bow sniffing the rivers scents, swimming around the boat, and being the center of attention.
There’s barely a rapid on the river so it’s very safe for both dogs and humans, and Russian River Adventures sells doggie life jackets at the canoe rental shop. The cost is $49 for adults, $24 for kids 2-12, and $10 per dog. 707/433-5599.
SLURPS UP IN SANTA CRUZ
Santa Cruz offers more dog-friendly beaches than any other city or town on the Northern Coast. Many of the beaches in Aptos, Capitola, and Santa Cruz allow dogs on a leash, and one—Mitchell’s Cove Beach off West Cliff Drive at the intersection of Almar Avenue—even allows dogs off-leash from sunrise to 10am and 4pm to sunset.
If you’re planning a trip to Santa Cruz with your pooch, your best bet is to call the Santa Cruz County Visitors Council at 831/425-1234 and ask them to fax or mail you their “Dogs at Play in Santa Cruz County” flyer, which lists all the dog-friendly parks and beaches in the entire county (it’s very handy).
And if you have your own tips and recommendations on your favorite places to travel with your dog in Northern California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below.