If you are a pet parent much like me who swears by “have dog will travel”, then the best way to go about is embarking on a dog friendly road trip in California. In our nearly nine years of traveling with Babu (our Tibetan Spaniel mix) all over Northern California (we live in San Francisco), we have been on several dog friendly road trips, both towards the north and the south of the city, of which two remain our favorite to date. These northern California dog friendly road trips are clear winners because of the several attractions and restaurants on the journey that welcome your best friend. Exploring the California coastal Redwoods in the north and the famous 17 mile loop in the south (between Carmel and Monterey) are two of the best road trips with your dog that you can experience on the west coast. So without further ado, here are the details on all the dog friendly attractions, stops and things to do on these two dog friendly road trips in Northern California.
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Dog friendly road trips along the California coast: What you need to know
1) Road trips with dogs should be all about their comfort! We make sure there is enough room in our back for Babu to rest comfortably on his portable car bed with his food and water close by. Make sure that your dog is OK with car rides and try not to have super long trips (ours are max 3-4 hours). For longer trips, do break them down into shorter 2-3 hr drives and look out for dog friendly parks/hikes/towns and restaurants on the way to stretch your legs or get a bite to eat. For the two road trips that I have mentioned here, I highly recommend using Mendocino or Guerneville/Gualala (depending on where you start from) in the north and Carmel in the south as anchor points. Mendocino and Carmel-by-the-sea are super dog friendly and have lots of hotels and restaurants that welcome dogs (I have detailed posts on both). You can get your copy of the ultimate pet friendly road trip planner right here to prepare for any upcoming road trip with your dog!
2) Northern California summers are foggy along the coast and belies the “it’s always sunny in California” notion. It does get chilly and windy along the coast, so please dress accordingly and maybe even get a jacket for your furry friend as well!
3) Finally, when looking for dog friendly accomodations in small towns along your road trip in northern California, do not ignore Airbnbs. I am well aware of the evils of Airbnb (I live in San Francisco after all) and I am not advocating for them in any way, but if you are a dog parent who loves to travel, then you should be aware that limited hotel options (especially in small towns) plus high pet fees can be severely deterrent to traveling with your furry friend). In all our 8+ years with Babu, we have often found Airbnb to our rescue with last minute bookings and several times minimal to no additional pet fee. From Lodi (the best place for dog friendly wine tasting in California) to an adorable cottage in Guerneville to Murphy’s, another beautiful small town near Stockton (made famous by Mark Twain in his poetry), we’ve always used Airbnb while traveling with Babu and have loved our stay. So in case, you are looking for pet friendly places to stay during your dog friendly road trips, Airbnb can be an excellent resource. To make the deal sweeter, here is an exclusive booking link to get $40 off your booking of &75 or more!
1> The best road trip with your dog: California’s coastal redwoods
Starting off from the north, the coastal highway (Highway 1) stretching from Mendocino county to Sonoma county not only offers spectacular views of the California coast but is also home to the famous coastal redwoods. Although extremely winding, this route has several dog friendly stops along the way, including small towns that you must explore and so please have at least half a day in hand as you trapiase down the road towards San Francisco. We’ve visited Mendocino (extremely dog friendly town with lots of dog friendly hotels, restaurants and attractions) several times in the past and this is one dog friendly road trip along the Pacific coast that remains our favorite. The first stop as you drive south will be Point Arena Lighthouse which is perched precariously on a piece of land jutting out into the ocean that doubles up as a fog breaker for the coast down south. The lighthouse requires an entry fee and dogs are not allowed inside the structure, but you can definitely spend some time on the surrounding grounds for photos of the rugged coastline.
Next, comes the quaint little town of Anchor Bay into Gualala, the last point of Mendocino county along the redwood coast, which then gives way to Sonoma county. Gualala is famous for its inns, has lots of dog friendly rentals and viewing points offering whale-watching from Dec-March and is another dog friendly town. We explored the dog friendly Gualala bluff trail, part of the redwood coast conservancy effort, with the trailhead starting from the Surf motel (you cannot park there and parking has to be done on the street). The trail is a short one and provides amazing estuary and ocean views for a half-mile stretch, parallel to the bluff edge as it runs west of the city’s commercial district. If you want to have even more fun with your pooch, a short drive further down will yield Gualala point regional park and beach, but the intense fog overruled beach exploration for us.
Our final stop along this northern California road trip with our dog was the small town of Guerneville in Sonoma county. We turned east from Gualala into the town of Guerneville for a bite to eat. Guerneville is modestly dog-friendly and we did find a few places with outdoor seating that allowed dogs. We had lunch at Boon Eat + Drink, a nice little eatery with outdoor high chairs and then strolled through main street/downtown to peek into the local stores. After stretching our legs, it was back into the car and the final stretch to home, sweet home.
2> Dog friendly road trips in Northern California: 17 mile drive
Nothing beats the 17-mile drive between Carmel and Monterey when it comes to dog friendly road trips on the Pacific coast. This is because this road trip, starting either from Carmel (an extremely dog friendly town) or Monterey is dotted with many beautiful lookout points, all of which welcome dogs! These include the gorgeous pebble beach, the lone cypress lookout point, white sandy beach of the Fanshell overlook (favorite of the seals), Bird Rock, Spanish Bay with bonus drop-dead gorgeous vistas of the California coast. You can get a helpful map of the different sites along the loop when you enter the 17 mile drive route from the Carmel side (be prepared to shell out $10/vehicle) and here is a helpful interactive map.
Several beaches on the 17-mile drive are dog friendly and thus come highly recommended! Even with plenty of time for stops, the whole drive takes about 2.5 hrs from either town and is definitely one road trip that you and your dog will enjoy in equal measure! There are several pull out points along the drive (near every attraction on the map) where you can get out with your dog for sightseeing. Carmel is the gateway to Big Sur, a rugged stretch of the California coast that has to be seen to be believed for its natural beauty that is beyond compare! This trip, although drop dead gorgeous, is not dog friendly barring a few beaches that allow dogs. If interested, you can read my complete guide to Big Sur that I have linked below. Finally, whenever stopping by a dog friendly beach, please obey leash laws and pick up after your dog!
I hope you liked this informative post on dog friendly road trips in Northern California and will soon embark on one of your own! Thank you so much for reading and do keep on following all our adventures from the past right here!