So you are the proud mom or dad of a cuddly canine (or two), and you would love to travel – but you want to bring Fido with you. Well, you might not get to take your fur-baby to faraway locations like Hawaii (unless you are one of the happy few with access to a private jet). That said, there are plenty of pet-friendly places to choose from right here in California. You wouldn’t believe how many hotels, restaurants, shops, parks and trails welcome dogs.
Let’s start with the iconic city of San Francisco. Famous for being quirky, artsy and offbeat (remember the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, Janis Joplin and her friends?!), San Francisco also has a big heart when it comes to canines. I’ll take you on a little tour around the heart of the city, Union Square. Pet lovers have two prestigious hotels to choose from. At the Westin St. Francis Hotel and the SF Drake both you and your VIP (Very Important Puppy) will receive the Red Carpet Treatment. The Westin boasts exterior glass elevators up to the 32nd floor with the most breathtaking views of downtown, and at the Sir Francis Drake you are greeted by bellmen in historic Beefeater uniforms. And the Cable Car line goes right past the hotel. It doesn’t get more “San Francisco” than that.
Right outside these hotels, the recently remodeled Union Square offers grassy areas for your pet and nice benches and an Italian coffeeshop for you. It’s a great start to exploring the city. Plus, many department and specialty stores around Union Square offer dog-friendly shopping: Macys, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Saks and Williams-Sonoma, to name a few. Need a break from retail? Lunch at Zuni Cafe, another San Francisco institution, on Market Street.
And if Fido absolutely needs to let off steam, what about taking him or her on a dog-friendly hiking trail? Land’s End Trail fits the bill and offers both exciting scents for canines and spectacular views for humans. Plus there is dog-friendly Baker Beach just a bit to the north. A little further south of Land’s End Trail is the western end of world-famous Golden Gate Park. It is actually larger than New York’s Central Park, and full of things to discover: from windmills to bisons, from a historic merry-go-round to the Victorian Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden. Also, don't forget the deYoung Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Treat your furry friend to a romp at the fenced-in dog park near Fulton and 38th Streets, and then sit down for lunch at Park Chow, where a covered and heated front patio welcomes humans and pets, even in inclement weather.
Another accommodation option is the Argonaut Hotel at historic Ghirardelli Square (where pet-friendliness extends even to pet monkeys). If you stay here, your dog may want to explore the nearby park overlooking the Bay or head right to Crissy Field, a grassy and sandy strip along the Bay with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy has miles and miles of running and swimming terrain.
One more destination that your dog wouldn’t want to miss is Fort Funston at the south-western end of San Francisco. A well-kept secret among dog-loving San Franciscans, here you can let your dog walk, swim, and sniff, and you can watch the hang gliders take off the cliffs into the sunset. Magical!
Once you are in San Francisco, there are two more wonderful, dog-friendly destinations just a few hours’ drive away: Lake Tahoe and Carmel.
Lake Tahoe is where San Franciscans spend long summers with their school-age kids and go skiing in winter. If you know your way around, you can even take your doggie with you to Tahoe. My personal favorite is the area around Tahoe City at the north end of the Lake and down the west shore to Tahoma. Where to stay? The quaint Tahoma Meadows B&B Cottages, run by dog-loving husband-and-wife team Nick and Ulli White, is the place to be. You can walk you doggie (on a long leash…) in the nearby National Forest or let her swim in the Lake at Chambers Landing, five minutes away from the cottages. Going to Tahoe City? Stop at Tahoe House Bakery and Deli, which has the best pastries and sandwiches on the lake. You can sit down in front of the shop with your doggie for a leisurely picnic.
Or perhaps you would prefer the beach? Head south from San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a former fishing village turned artist colony that features amazing architecture. These days, it’s a tourist destination with art galleries, fashion boutiques and restaurants lining the streets. AND it’s the dog-friendliest place on earth, period! Actress and dog-lover Doris Day founded the Cypress Inn, where stylish dogs are pampered even more than their human escorts. Or you could opt to stay at Carmel Valley Ranch in nearby Carmel Valley, where you can enjoy, together with your canine companion, a beautiful pool, a world-class golf course and elegant cuisine.
All stores in Carmel, without any exception I know of, are dog-friendly. They have water bowls at the front door. There are two favorite restaurants for dog parents that beat everything else: the Forge in the Forest, where a large, shaded patio with an open fireplace welcomes you and your doggie to lunch or dinner with a combined menu for humans and dogs, and Portabella’s on Ocean Avenue, where a covered and heated back patio (nicknamed the “dog pound”) is the gathering place for doggies and their parents. And while humans get to enjoy top-notch Mediterranean cuisine, doggies are served ice water in silver champagne coolers and bones from the kitchen. What a life!
Carmel is a gem – and its crescent-shaped white sand beach is one of its high points. Go with doggie early in the morning when all the locals are out and all dogs run free. And when you’re done, stop by Diggidy Dog, the most heavenly dog store on the planet. My dog can find this store from miles away… See you there!!
Have any pet-friendly spots to add to our guide? Use the comments section to let us know.