Doggy Destination: Santa Cruz, Calif.

We're taking a couple of days off and going on a pleasant road trip to Monterey and Santa Cruz, Calif., just down the coast a...


Jake bemoaning the fact that he and his ilk are banned from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the beach in front of it. (I like how he looks like part of the Giant Dipper Rollercoaster.) Fotunately there are many dog-friendly places in Santa Cruz.

We’re taking a couple of days off and going on a pleasant road trip to Monterey and Santa Cruz, Calif., just down the coast a bit from our San Francisco home. They’re both scenic, dog-friendly destinations. I’m in the midst of updating one of my books, The Dog Lover’s Companion to California, for its 7th edition, and research beckons!

I wrote a story recently about dog-friendly Santa Cruz for a fun publication called Bay Woof. So since we’ll be sniffing around there today, I’ll re-run it here.

Hey, Dude!
Hanging 10 in Santa Cruz County!

For a dog, Jake is the ultimate Santa Cruz “dude.”

Jake and some surfer dudes he befriended

On a recent visit to Santa Cruz beach at sunset, Jake sat on the warm sand, riveted by the spectacle of all the surfers. As the sun’s rim dipped beneath the horizon, the surfers rode the last waves of the day and, one by one, became land creatures again.

And who was there to greet them as they splashed to shore? A sunny yellow Lab who seemed to remember each surfer as a lifelong friend he hadn’t seen for years. They responded to Jake’s enthusiasm in equal measure.

“Dude, look at you! You’re gonna fly away with that tail going so fast!” one salty surfer said to his one-dog greeting committee.

“You like me? You like me? I like you!” said another as he complied with Jake’s suggestion that a belly rub was in order. “Such a happy dog!”

It’s easy for dogs to be happy in Santa Cruz County even if they’re not surfer wannabes. This coastal mecca has everything your canine companion could want, from fun surf to gorgeous turf, and all breeds of dog-friendly businesses in between.

“Where else can you go from sandy beach to old growth redwoods in the blink of an eye?” says Whitney Wilde, head of Woofers & Walkers, a fun-loving group of dog lovers who enjoy lots of outings together.

Jake “Dude” has had the pleasure of sniffing out loads of the county’s spectacular doggy destinations for my book, The Dog Lover’s Companion to California. He always gets a tremendous amount of loving attention from both locals and tourists.

Jake made fast friends with Britta, a food server at the very dog-friendly restaurant, The Crepe Place. She made him feel much better about not being allowed at the Boardwalk.

“It’s just that kind of place,” says Sandi Pensinger, who runs Living with Dogs canine coaching service in Capitola. “If you know where to go, you’ll feel very welcome here with your dog.”

If you don’t know where to go and just head to the most popular areas of the city of Santa Cruz, however, you may be greatly disappointed. Dogs are banned from Pacific Avenue (the lively, colorful, al fresco restaurant-lined main street downtown), and from such hangouts as Santa Cruz Beach, the Boardwalk, and the Municipal Wharf. And there’s only one legal leash-free beach in the whole county.

There is a growing movement to get more off-leash beach access, however, and at press time a vote was in the offing to make Pacific Avenue dog-friendly once again. “I’ve been living for this,” says Wilde, the pack leader behind the Pacific Avenue efforts. Jake’s paws are crossed for a positive outcome from her efforts.

Meanwhile, here are some of his favorite places in Santa Cruz County. Dogs of every stripe and spot will love them – be they surfer dudes or not.

Parks and Beaches

Unless otherwise noted, leashes are the law.

Aptos Polo Grounds Dog Park, 2255 Huntington Ave., Aptos

This lovely, fenced, one-acre dog park seems bigger than it is. It’s a quick trip from Highway 1, should your dog feel the need for some legal off-leash exercise. Info: (831) 454-7900.

Jake at beach in Santa CruzBonnie Doon Beach, at Highway 1 and Bonnie Doon Rd., Bonnie Doon

Few people know this exists because it’s hidden from Highway 1 by bluffs. It can be a good place to get away from it all, especially if it’s not a sunny weekend.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, 101 Big Trees Park Rd., Felton

Leashed dogs are actually allowed on three trails here, despite the fact that it’s a state park! The main section of the park spans 1,750 acres, filled with those things that dogs adore: trees. Big trees. Redwoods, especially. Camping starts in early May. Info: (831) 335-4598.

Lighthouse Field, 701 W. Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz

The ocean view from this spot is definitely drool-worthy. There is lots of shade, courtesy of massive groves of trees.

Mitchell’s Cove Beach, W. Cliff Dr. & Almar Ave., Santa Cruz

This is the only beach in the county that allows unleashed dogs, and only at certain hours of the day. The beach is only about a quarter mile long but is quite popular with the locals. Dogs may run off-leash from sunrise to 10 AM and from 4 PM to sunset.

New Brighton State Beach, 1500 Park Ave., Capitola

Dogs on leash are allowed at this wide, arching beach and the little trails above the beach, one of which leads up to big pine and eucalyptus trees. You can camp on the bluffs here. Info: (831) 464-6329.


Plenty of restaurants offer dog-friendly outdoor dining. Here are Jake’s favorites.

Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant 616 Atlantic Ave., Santa Cruz

Aldo’s is widely hailed for their great fresh fish dishes. Dogs love the super-friendly staff. “They know my dog’s name, not mine,” says Whitney Wilde.

Caf Limelight, 1016 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

The caf cuisine is a delight, but what dogs really dig here is that they get free dog treats, and their very own menu.

Jake and Luccio, who adores dogs and fed an ecstatic Jake chicken -- sometimes dangling from his (Luccio's) own mouth

Caffe Lucio, 381 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

The Italian food here is fantastic, and if owner Lucio Fanni is around when you dine, you and your canine companion are in luck. “I LOVE dogs. They are numero uno!” the Milan native proclaims. Jake got extra special attention because Lucio has a yellow Lab of his own, named Romeo.

Cowboy Bar and Grill, 6155 Hwy. 9, Felton; 831-335-2330

Enjoy gourmet cowboy cuisine on a large, shaded patio.

The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

Enjoy killer crepes in midtown Santa Cruz.

The Harbor Caf, 535 Seventh Ave., Santa Cruz

Beloved for breakfast, this caf also offers its very own dog menu. There is free Wi-fi here, in case your dog needs to check his email.

Kelly’s French Bakery, 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz

This super popular French provincial bakery and organic farmers market caf welcomes dogs at its front patio … “As long as the owners are leashed up,” says a manager.


You can camp at a few terrific spots, including Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and New Brighton State Beach, mentioned earlier. Or, if you don’t like “ruffing” it, try these lodgings.

Beach House Rentals, Capitola

Enjoy a variety of fully furnished vacation rentals located in Capitol

a, Santa Cruz, and Aptos. Some are truly delightful.

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz

Jake enjoying a quiet moment on a walking path at the Chaminade Resort & Spa

This is a swanky yet casual place. If your pooch is more than 40 pounds, you’ll have to get special permission to stay here. Be prepared to part with some Ben Franklins; no matter the size of your dog, he’ll cost $75 extra – nightly. Jake can’t afford this, but I think he goes there in his dreams.

Edgewater Beach Motel, Santa Cruz

No two rooms are alike at this charming motel across the street from the Wharf (where dogs are banned, alas). Four of the rooms were built in 1886, the rest in 1955. Some rooms and suites are quite basic, others fancier. Dogs don’t care.

Redwood Croft Bed & Breakfast, Bonnie Doon

Stay in this beautiful country home with your dog and you’ll feel as if you’ve gone to Grandma’s house – only this Grandma is very hip, has a good eye for art and antiques, and makes a killer breakfast every morning. The inn manages to be sunny, despite surrounding stands of redwoods.

Fun Diversions

Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton

When’s the last time you treated yourself to a train ride? How about with your dog? While in Santa Cruz County, you can have a fabulous adventure together on a Roaring Camp Railroads trip. The folks here welcome leashed, well-behaved dogs on excursions to the redwoods or the coast. The coast trip takes you to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk – a decidedly dog-unfriendly destination – so Jake recommends the Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad excursion to the mighty redwoods.

Santa Cruz Harbor Water Taxi, Santa Cruz

Want a seafaring experience without the rolling waves or the expense? Climb aboard a free water taxi run by the port district. It motors around the harbor, making several stops to pick up and drop off passengers. Jake’s favorite spot to catch the taxi is at Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant (see page 11).

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