Last Updated on August 29, 2022 by Paroma
Looking for a dog friendly Santa Cruz guide that is simply as awesome as your pup? Then look no more, cause I have curated this guide on the best things to do in Santa Cruz with your dog based on my many, many visits to this beach town on the Central coast with our fur babies. From dog friendly Santa Cruz beaches to hikes and from dog friendly hotels to restaurants, this guide to the best dog friendly places in Santa Cruz covers it all!
Disclaimer: This post may contain some affiliate links. Clicking on them may earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you for the product. Thank you for your support!
Dog friendly Santa Cruz: exploring beyond the boardwalk
Santa Cruz, the beautiful coastal town in Northern California is famous for its boardwalk, much like Coney Island near Manhattan. It is also a perfect overnight stop on a road trip from San Francisco to Carmel (another amazing dog friendly destination on the central coast).
However, there is so much more of this sleepy coastal town to enjoy beyond the noisy and crowded boardwalk that it’s a shame most dog parents do not venture beyond the obvious. Once you’re done reading this post, you will have Santa Cruz at the very top of your list of weekend getaways from San Francisco with your dog, I can guarantee that!
In this dog friendly Santa Cruz guide, I am going to reveal a bunch of dog friendly hikes, parks, beaches, other fun dog friendly activities and restaurants welcoming you pups in Santa Cruz that are way more enjoyable for you and your pup compared to the busy boardwalk. Being only 1.5 hrs south of San Francisco, also makes for a great day trip destination with dogs as well as a fantastic place to visit in California in winter.
For more ideas on what to do in Santa Cruz with your kids, here is an excellent post on what to do in Santa Cruz by my blogger friend Harmony.
Find more dog friendly things to do on the California Central Coast:
- A dog friendly guide to Carmel-by-the-sea
- The best dog friendly hotels in Carmel for all budgets
- 17 amazing things to do in Cambria with your dog
- A dog friendly guide to Pismo Beach
- The complete friendly guide to Santa Barbara
Planning a dog friendly Santa Cruz vacation? Get the FAQs
Where can I take my dog Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz is extremely dog friendly with several dog friendly beaches, tons of dog friendly restaurants, a vibrant downtown, dog friendly Redwood Park, many scenic hiking trails allowing dogs and dog friendly train rides. You and your dog will have a blast in Santa Cruz, especially after reading my guide.
Is Santa Cruz Boardwalk dog-friendly?
Dogs (or any other pets) are not allowed on the Santa Cruz boardwalk or adjoining beach. But the boardwalk is the most crowded and touristy part of this beautiful beach town which has a lot more to offer in terms of dog friendly activities. Ditch the boardwalk, read this guide and find out about the bazillion dog friendly things to do in Santa Cruz that are way more fun than spending a day at the crowded boardwalk.
How to get to Santa Cruz from the Bay Area
It can take anywhere from 40 minutes-1.5 hours to get to Santa Cruz depending on where you live in the Bay Area. I highly recommend driving down the coastal route, i.e. Highway 1 or Cabrillo highway to get a taste of scenic California coastal life with some really cool stops along the way!
Best time to visit Santa Cruz with dogs
Santa Cruz has mild weather year round so visit anytime (except winter since it can get pretty rainy). I recommend visiting in the spring to enjoy wildflowers during your hike and also to catch the tail end of grey whale migration.
Other helpful tips for Santa Cruz beaches
Northern and central California beaches are always cold and windy. Dress in layers or at least carry a jacket! If you are a surfer, bring your surfboard along cause Santa Cruz is our surf capital!
Dog Friendly hotels in downtown Santa Cruz
When visiting Santa Cruz with your pup, I recommend staying in downtown for easy access to restaurants and other amenities. I highly recommend staying in Pacific blue Inn on Pacific Avenue, which is a stone’s throw from downtown. This is a super dog friendly hotel in Santa Cruz and charges only $50/pet for the entire length of the stay!
They also offer free continental breakfast every morning and dogs are allowed to be in the breakfast area with you. Besides free wifi, they have free parking as well. If you’re looking for something reasonable and close to downtown while visiting Santa Cruz with your dog, definitely consider Pacific Blue Inn!
Dog Friendly Things to do in Santa Cruz: dog friendly beaches in Santa Cruz
Greyhound Rock Beach (secluded dog beach in Santa Cruz county)
Some of the most beautiful dog friendly beaches in California central coast are in Santa Cruz, including off-leash beaches. Beaches are either along Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1) or to the south of the Boardwalk. However, most of them can get very crowded over the weekend.
If you are looking for a quiet beach minus the crowds, head straight to Greyhound Rock beach, a mere 17 min drive north of Bonny Doon. Walk down the paved path adjacent to the parking lot, towards the blue water.
The parking lot has an overlook might get pretty crowded, but we found the trail leading to the beach to be oddly empty during our visit many years ago. That turned out to be a great thing since we got glimpses of an empty beach and fantastic views of the foamy waves hurling against the rocks as we descended to the clear white sand below.
Lighthouse Field State Beach/Its Beach
The other locals favorite beach in Santa Cruz is Its beach or Lighthouse Field State beach where locals and their pups frolic in the sand and water. Despite what it might look like, the beach is a state beach and dogs are supposed to be on-leash all the time.
This beach can get pretty crowded during the day, so arrive early for some quiet time. If the beach is too crazy for you and your pup, take a stroll along the railed and paved walkaway skirting the lighthouse overlooking the beach or sit and relax on the park spread out in front of the lighthouse. This lighthouse is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing museum. There is also a nice little cafe nearby selling yummy fish tacos
Santa Cruz is one of the surfing capitals of California and you will catch several surfers riding the waves as you walk along the pathway overlooking the ocean. There is a small shrine on the railing dedicated to the surfers who lost their lives riding the last big wave.
Seabright State Beach
Located on East Cliff Dr. at Seabright Avenue, Seabright State Beach is a dog friendly beach in Santa Cruz can be easily accessed from the Santa Cruz Harbor along a paved path starting from Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant .
It is also home to the Walton Lighthouse located at the very end of the beach! This beach is very popular with dog parents but dogs must be on leash at all times since this is a state beach. On a clear day, you can get a terrific view of the Santa Cruz boardwalk on the other end of the beach.
Dog friendly Redwood State Park in Santa Cruz: Henry Cowell Redwoods Park
Unlike Redwood country up north in Mendocino, where nary a Redwood reserve can be found in sight that lets dogs in, Santa Cruz springs in a lovely surprise with several of them, the nearest to us being the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. There is an entry fee of $ 10 for vehicles (for the park’s maintenance) and you get a map at the entrance which has all dog friendly hiking trails clearly marked.
Since this is also an ecological reserve for wild animals calling the redwoods their habitat and many trails are shared by horses/horse-riders, dogs do not have access to those as they are considered natural predators. The most popular dog friendly trail is a paved pathway (Pipeline Road) that goes right through the Redwoods and leads to the nearest Redwood grove, with trees as tall as 277 feet and about 1500 years old!
This state park preserves a 40-acre grove of the tallest tree species on earth, i.e. the coastal Redwoods and the trees here are taller than the ones at the Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco. We were fascinated to know that the tallest Redwood tree (379 feet) surpasses the Statue of Liberty in height (305 ft) and that they have a very unique growth pattern, i.e. they are self-regenerating.
On our way along this Santa Cruz dog friendly hiking trail, we saw several trees that had fallen to the ground, with branches growing vertically upwards towards the sun from the prostate trunk. Our dog friendly hike in Santa Cruz lasted for a mere 40 min, but if you have more time then do explore further inwards with other plant ecosystems. Do visit this dog friendly Redwood near San Francisco if you’re on the central coast!
Looking for more dog friendly Redwood hikes in the Bay Area? Read my dog friendly Redwood parks list for inspiration!
Dog friendly train ride in Santa Cruz: Redwood Forest Steam Train
The most fun and unique dog friendly activity that Santa Cruz has to offer is undoubtedly its steam train rides welcoming dogs on leash. There are two rides to choose from and both of them depart from the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton. Dogs ride for free on both routes.
The Roaring Camp + Big Trees ride (also known as Redwood Forest Steam Train) is the most popular one, which takes you right through the Redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods Park and back, with a 10 min stop in between at Bear Mountain campsite to stretch your legs.
This is one of the steepest and narrowest trestle trains in the world and you will be going up a winding narrow-gauge grade all the way up to Bear Mountain with a narrated tour telling you all about the history of the steam train, Roaring Camp and the Redwoods. The ride time is 75 minutes.
I strongly recommend purchasing tickets online since the $10 parking fee is included in the fare. Plan to have your meal before the ride or after (although you can purchase food from the station as well) for a hasslefree experience.
The second route is a much longer one for 3 hours (includes a one hour stop) from Roaring Camp to Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk. Although dogs are allowed on this route, I recommend the Redwood forest steam train ride since dogs are not allowed on the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
We recently got back from our Redwood forest steam train ride with Gunda and loved our experience! He had previously been on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine railroad in his Kurgo Backpack and is becoming quite a pro in riding trains in California.
Dog friendly hiking trails in Santa Cruz
a) Enchanted Trail
This trail in Santa Cruz DeLaveaga Park is very popular with dog walkers and is a mostly flat road with minimal elevation. The trail is also pretty well shaded and is good for hiking in summer as well, but I highly recommend a springtime hike when the air is cool and wet and everything is lush green due to the winter rain.
There is a small parking lot next to the trailhead which is pretty easy to find on Google Maps. Dogs can stay unleashed on a portion of the trail in the beginning but please be mindful of the sign asking you to obey leash laws. The enchanted trail is about 1 mile long and is very pleasant to hike on with your dog. The park itself is open from sunrise-sunset.
b) Dog friendly hiking in Pogonip, Santa Cruz
Pogonip is the vast, open reserve of land in Santa Cruz which has ample dog friendly hiking trails and many hidden treasures waiting to be found. Loved by jogger and dog parents, this open reserve, just 11 minutes away by car from downtown Santa Cruz, has 11.5 miles of trail system and best of all, 9 out of the 12 trails are dog friendly! Dogs must be on leash all the time while hiking in Pogonip.
Of all the dog friendly hiking trails in Pogonip, the Spring trail (trailhead starting from Spring street) is the longest and is an easy, paved service road, but without much foliage cover. Hiking 0.8 miles on this trail will take you to a beautiful vista point from where you can see a spectacular panoramic view of the Santa Cruz valley and UC Santa Cruz campus.
Hiking further ahead will take you to the Koi Pond, historic lime kilns and a rock garden, all in close proximity. Since Babu is a very old dog, we simply parked near Spring street and hiked up to the Pogonip vista point and back. I highly recommend coming in as early for this dog friendly hike in Santa Cruz as possible since the trail is pretty open and it might get hot with the sun beating down later in the day.
c) Dog friendly walk along Santa Cruz Harbor
Santa Cruz harbor is not only only home to rows of white yachts and boats but also a wide paved path right along the edge where you can walk your leashed dog. The harborside views are excellent and you can always get a bite to eat outdoors at the famous Aldo’s restaurant (790 Mariner Parkway).
Exploring dog friendly Santa Cruz downtown
Besides going on dog friendly hikes in Santa Cruz, you might also want to explore its cute as button downtown that is very welcoming to pets. Downtown Santa Cruz is a nice few blocks of stores and restaurants, all buzzing with activity.
Pacific avenue forms the main artery but the streets around have many local favorites like Penny ice creamery (Santa Cruz’s only ice-cream parlor where the icy desserts are made from scratch) and many charming boutiques selling local, artisanal jewelry and clothes which also welcome dogs.
There are also some incredibly beautiful murals to be seen as you scroll down Pacific Avenue so do take your time to explore downtown street art. In addition, there are many street food kiosks selling a variety of cuisines with benches nearby for a quick bite or a heavy lunch.
Downtown also has many restaurants, cafes and bakeries welcoming dogs on their patios or in outdoor seating and I have detailed all of the delicious ones that we visited during our trips to Santa Cruz in this one handy dog friendly restaurants post.
Dog friendly wineries in Santa Cruz
Did you know that Santa Cruz county is home to some of the best wineries in California? Not only are there over 70 wineries and tasting rooms in this region, but also the wine from the Santa Cruz mountains appellation, one of the best wine regions in California, consistently ranks amongst the best in the state! In addition, there are several dog friendly wineries in Santa Cruz county so that your pup is not left behind as you taste some of these lovely California wines!
During our trip to Santa Cruz, we explored two such wine tasting rooms in Soquel for some dog friendly wine tasting. Soquel is another charming town in Santa Cruz county and a mere 12-13 min drive from downtown Santa Cruz. We tasted a flight of four wines for $15 (way cheaper than Napa) at Wargin wines in their beautiful dog friendly patio. I tried a very unusual white wine here which looked like a honey wine (mead) but is made from white grapes!
Read my other dog friendly wine tasting guides here:
- Dog friendly guide to Napa valley wineries
- The best dog friendly wineries in Carmel Valley
- The best dog friendly wineries in Sonoma
- Dog friendly guide to Paso Robles Wineries
- The best dog friendly wineries in Lodi
Our second tasting was at Bargetto Winery, the oldest winery in Santa Cruz county. A pretty cool vintage car greets you as you enter the tasting room and the gift shop has a lot of nice items to check out. At Bargetto, you get a choice of tasting either a standard/regular flight of 5 wines for $15/person or a reserve flight for $20/person. You can also get a cheese platter to go along with your wine.
The dog friendly tasting patio overlooks the Soquel creek and provides a really tranquil experience of winding down and tasting some amazing wine. I highly recommend paying them a visit for some dog friendly wine tasting in Santa Cruz county!
Dog friendly restaurants in Santa Cruz
Many Santa Cruz restaurants in downtown as well as those in neighboring Soquel, Aptos and Capitol have outdoor patios and are dog friendly. You can read my complete dog friendly Santa Cruz restaurant guide for details on where to go dining in Santa Cruz with your dog.
Bonus dog friendly day trips from Santa Cruz: Visiting Capitola
Capitola is the tiniest town imaginable that is only 4.3 miles away from Santa Cruz but is well worth a visit for a few hours if you have some time on your hands. Capitola is famous for its row of colorful homes, aptly titled “The Venetians” that line one end of Monterey Bay and form a pretty sight when viewed from the Capitola State Beach or the boardwalk.
However, dogs are not allowed on either, but you can creative and take photos with this colorful home front as your furbaby’s backdrop from one of the narrow lanes between restaurants lining the wharf, just like we did.
Although your pup cannot get sand on his/her paws, there is a very nice elevated viewing area on one side of the Wharf (make a left from the parking lot) from where you can enjoy the intense surfing action below and watch the surfers in all their glory riding the waves on their colorful surfboards.
The Capitola wharf also has several dog friendly restaurants with Margaritaville welcoming you with their tasty margaritas (well of course!) and a dog friendly heated patio to enjoy them with your pup.
Finally, don’t forget to stroll down Capitola avenue to check out some of the coolest local shops and art galleries around. We loved the Lumen art gallery featuring eclectic, local California art and home decor as well the Zero Shop dedicated to helping people move towards a zero waste lifestyle and less plastic usage.
The Zero shop has lots of sustainable products for the home and kitchen, plastic-free packaged toiletries and personal use items that are good to last for a long time and not single-use. Both these stores are dog friendly.
I hope you enjoyed this dog friendly Santa Cruz and beyond guide filled with lots of dog friendly activities! Santa Cruz is well worth a day trip from San Francisco and should definitely be on your list if you are looking for that perfect California beach town for some precious R&R.
There is a lot more to Santa Cruz than the overcrowded boardwalk and I hope this post has helped you discover its many hidden gems that are perfect for a dog friendly getaway! Thanks so much for stopping by and do check out my other dog friendly California travel posts if you are looking for more inspiration.
Like the post? Pin it here