Californians are known for favoring canine companions. In fact, around 40% of The Golden State’s residents are parents to at least one dog. Pair this with the state’s abundant and diverse natural landscapes and you have a recipe for success–a near endless list of dog-friendly trails and beaches.
Here, we’re sharing twelve of the best trails and beaches for you and your pal to explore, whether you’re a CA local or a visitor. All of the trails feature beautiful views for you and unfamiliar terrain for your pup to sniff. We’ve included a wide variety of hikes to suit any human-canine duo, from a moderate 1.5-hour walk to a fitness-building 8.5-hour challenge. For all six trails, there are certain areas where dogs can accompany you sans leash.
When it comes to beaches, California allows leashed dogs to stroll with owners on many beaches. In the interest of providing the most engaging experience for your pet, however, all six of the beaches we’re sharing below allow dogs to frolic off-leash.
Ready to introduce your canine best friend to the natural wonders of California? Read on for our top picks, starting with the northernmost locations and heading south.
Dog-Friendly Trails in CA
Lands End Trail
The peaceful, pristine wilderness of the Golden Gate Recreation Area is the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. You and your furry pal alike can enjoy this moderately-difficult 1.5-hour hike. Fill up their water bowl while you take in the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Ocean, and rugged windswept coast.
Seaview and Big Springs Trails Loop
Catch a different–more distant–view of the Golden Gate Bridge on one side of this trail near Berkeley. On the other side, you’ll survey the blue and green vista of the San Pablo Reservoir. This moderately difficult, roughly two-hour loop is popular with families and dog owners.
Big Pine Lakes Trail
If your dog is the type of hiking partner that doesn’t tire easily and carries their own supplies, you two might be up for this hard 8.5-hour hike in the John Muir Wilderness. You’ll be rewarded with a magical landscape of wildflowers, waterfalls, and a series of seven turquoise glacial lakes. The best part? You can tent camp overnight at the lakes and spread your visit out over multiple days.
Looking for something physically challenging but not quite as long as the Big Pine Lakes Trail? Check out this roughly four-hour scenic hike near Colfax, CA. This trail is on the National Register of Historic Places. It can get very hot during the summer, so opt for a visit in the cooler months or plan to avoid middle-of-the-day heat. There’s a river swimming hole and an old mining cave that both you and Fido can enjoy.
Runyon Canyon Trail
Whether you’re a local or a visitor to Los Angeles, Runyon Canyon Park is a must-visit for dog owners. This popular hike is moderately-difficult and only 1.5 hours long. You’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city along with plenty of people and dog watching. Runyon Canyon is officially a dog park and there are tons of areas for your pup to run free.
Black Star Canyon Falls Trail
In the Cleveland National Forest near San Diego, you’ll find a fun challenge–the roughly three-hour out and back Black Star Canyon Falls Trail. Pro tip: because the hike features some boulders and scrambling, your dog needs to be small enough to be carried for certain stretches or proficient at climbing and jumping.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in CA
Ten minutes from the seaside town of Trinidad, you’ll find Moonstone beach. This Northern California beach lives up to its enchanting name with bluffs, fog, tide pools, dark green foliage, a shallow freshwater river, and an elevated boardwalk. Let your pup romp around the intriguing landscape to their heart’s content. This spot earns bonus points for the plethora of driftwood pieces available for playing fetch.
If you’re hiking Lands End Trail, head to Baker Beach afterward. Like the trail, this dog-friendly swath of sand offers postcard-worthy views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The area north of Lobos Creek is the designated area to let dogs run free. Just be aware that the sense of freedom here extends to humans as well–it is a clothing-optional beach and you may see the occasional nude sunbather.
Looking to help your fur baby make some friends? Carmel Beach is the place to do it. This large beach in the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is made of fluffy, sugary sand that is super gentle on dogs’ paws. The beach has dog park-level socializing opportunities for off-leash pups and provides poop bags to keep the beach clean.
Arroyo Burro Beach
Another popular option for pet parents is Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara. Canine companions are such a central part of the area that the tagline of this location on Google Maps is a “beach for humans and their off-leash dogs.” The area for dogs to frolic freely is naturally enclosed by a hill. Plus, there is a dog wash station so your beloved pal won’t track as much sand into your ride.
Get a taste of Southern California living when you chill out and soak up the sun at Huntington Dog Beach, which is a designated part of Huntington Beach. Go for an energizing walk down the long beach, or have a picnic while watching your puppy play with the tons of other well-behaved dogs that hail from all over to enjoy this destination.
Fiesta Island Park
If you thought that the tempting options on this list couldn’t be topped, think again. Fiesta Island is a large peninsula in San Diego’s Mission Bay that is entirely dog-friendly–meaning pups can be off leash everywhere. Fido will be in adventure heaven as you explore wildflower-filled fields, sand dunes, and, of course, beautiful beaches.
Nothing brings a smile to a pet owner’s face faster than seeing their companion animal having the absolute time of their life. With this list of dog-approved hiking trails and beaches, you can create an epic California road trip itinerary that looks out for your whole crew.
Looking for more information for your trip? BringFido is a helpful pet-friendly travel directory. For hiking with man’s best friend, the AllTrails website and app allow you to filter search results with a dog-friendly option.
Van dwellers are able to spend more time experiencing the simple pleasures of travel and nature with their loved ones, both animal and human. Curious about joining this revolutionary lifestyle? Visit Rec Van today to browse a wide variety of new and used camper vans. Narrow down your search with “The Best Class B Vans for Pet Owners.”
For more dog-friendly destinations, check out “Man’s Best Friend Can Venture to These National Parks” and “Top 10 Pet-Friendly Campgrounds Across America.”