Beach Buds

Soak up the sun with your fur babies at these dog friendly beaches

By Tracy Wilson

There’s nothing that beats the joyful exuberance of running down an open beach, splashing in the cool water, and stretching out in the warm sand with your best buddy at 
your side.

At least that’s how our dog sees it.

A cheerful Aussie-shepherd-heeler mix, Joey has explored beaches from Ventura to Fort Bragg. He’s the perfect size to jump in the kayak, cruise in the back seat of the car, or crawl under a restaurant table as we travel to our favorite haunts along the California coast.

Run out that puppy energy at Arroyo Burro Beach. (Photo by Tracy Wilson)

Travel experiences seem more joyful with a dog at your side. Yet it can be difficult to find beaches that welcome dogs, even on a leash. And it’s even rarer to find those that allow him to run leash-free.

Luckily, there are several dog-friendly beaches in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties that allow canines to enjoy this pristine stretch of coastline — both on and off leash.

Your furry friends can roam leash-free at Arroyo Burro east of the slough. (Photo by Tracy Wilson)

Some of these destinations even offer pet amenities such as waste bags and sudsy wash stations so your car remains (relatively) sand free, and your pup’s skin doesn’t become irritated by saltwater or the occasional tar seep.

There are also numerous restaurants that now provide pet-friendly outdoor dining areas (some with dog biscuits) where you can enjoy a morning brunch or evening sunset with stunning views of the Channel Islands in the distance across the Santa Barbara Channel.

It should come as no surprise that coastal communities are catering to pet owners like me. Last year, Americans spent a record $72 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. About 68 percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, now own a pet, and about 35 percent of those families travel with their pets annually.

Hotels, airlines, restaurants, and vacation rentals are increasingly trying to fetch pet owners, especially Millennials who are delaying parenthood but tend to treat their pampered pets like children.

So, where to take those “fur babies”? Here are a few of the best dog-friendly destinations, from south to north, along the Highway 101 corridor. Be sure to pack the important beach essentials: sunscreen, water and dog bowl, towel, waste pick-up bags (although most beaches have these available), and a shade umbrella if you plan to lounge a while.

Soak up some sun in Summerland. (Photo by Tracy Wilson)

Be mindful of your dog etiquette: Pick up after your pooch; keep your dog leashed and even at leash-free beaches be careful not to let him or her disturb migrating or nesting shorebirds. These steps will ensure that the privilege of enjoying these dog-friendly beaches continues for all of us.

Hollywood Beach, Oxnard, Ventura County

Hollywood Beach offers a wide expanse of open beach, and in the off-season it’s gloriously empty except for local dog owners. This is an ideal venue for a brisk morning walk or a sunset stroll. Leashed dogs are welcome before 9 am and after 5 pm. Nearby Silver Strand Beach is another popular spot that allows leashed dogs. Keep an eye out for roped-off areas protecting nesting shorebirds. Oxnard advertises itself as “one of California’s most dog-friendly cities,” and many hotels and restaurants roll out the welcome mat for canines. Check out for details.

To access Hollywood Beach from Highway 101, take S. Victoria Avenue to W. Channel Islands Boulevard to Harbor Boulevard. Turn onto Ocean Drive and park near the Rudder Room (an unpretentious local dive bar) and walk south to Hollywood Beach.

 Surfer’s Point at Promenade Park, Ventura, Ventura County

The one-acre oceanfront park extends from the west at Surfer’s Point and east to the historic Ventura Pier. Leashed dogs are allowed on city beaches, which can be rocky at high tide. The paved boardwalk next to the beach is a popular spot for walkers, runners, and skateboarders, and it offers a great vantage point to watch surfers riding waves at Surfer’s Point. Be advised that dogs are not allowed on the nearby state beaches, and the estuary at the mouth of the Ventura River is a sensitive habitat area for birds. There are several restaurants along the boardwalk. Stop at Beach House Tacos to enjoy a sunset, yummy tacos, and a cold beverage. 
Promenade Park is located on Harbor Boulevard at Figueroa Street.

Enjoy the sunset on Pierpont Beach in Ventura. (Photo by Kaine Miranda)

 Lookout Park, Summerland, Santa Barbara County

Lookout Park on the bluff above Summerland Beach provides free parking, restrooms, grassy areas, and a dog-cleaning station. This destination is popular for locals and tourists alike for its easy access, mild surf, and wide, smooth sandy beaches. It’s also a relatively uncrowded beach — especially 
in winter and spring, which are ideal times to visit Santa Barbara County. On the negative side, there can be occasional strong odors at Summerland Beach from the oil seeps off the coast. On the positive side, there are often opportunities to take your well-behaved dog off-leash if 
there aren’t many people around.

After walking the beach, head to the pet-friendly Summerland Beach Café, which provides water bowls and dog biscuits to canine guests on the outdoor patio.

From Highway 101, exit at Summerland and follow the signage to town. To access Lookout Park, turn onto Evans Drive and cross the railroad tracks.

 Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, Santa Barbara County

Arroyo Burro Beach (known by the locals as Hendry’s Beach) allows dogs to run off-leash, openly and legally. Maintained by Santa Barbara County, the off-leash section begins east of the slough and stretches along a wide beach below the Douglas Family Preserve. This friendly beach with spectacular views is hugely popular with pet owners. Dogs of all sizes often outnumber people during peak times of the day, running with glee and playing in the surf. Steer clear of this spot if your dog is ill behaved off-leash or is anxious around other rambunctious dogs.

Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is located on Cliff Drive in Santa Barbara. From the parking area, follow the small wooden boardwalk to the beach. Turn left at the lifeguard station and cross the slough to access the off-leash area, or turn right to access the on-leash area directly below The Boathouse restaurant. Although dogs are not allowed at this outstanding waterfront restaurant, there is a tie-up area outside the patio (or put your Tesla on dog mode for dinner).

 Olde Port Beach, Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County

Olde Port Beach is located just off Avila Beach Drive, about a mile west of downtown Avila Beach. This long, skinny beach is another destination where you can let your dog run off-leash as long as it is well behaved. The beach is great for a walk along the shoreline, which is usually uncrowded on this stretch between the town and the pier. Continue west and you’ll find Fisherman’s Beach, another small beach where dogs are allowed. Just past the RV campground you’ll see the pier, which is a great spot to watch sea otters playing in the bay. Back in Avila Beach, head to the waterfront bistro Blue Moon Over Avila to enjoy a glass of wine on the outdoor patio with your pup at your side.