Last Updated on July 31, 2021 by Paroma
Dog friendly Santa Cruz: things to do beyond the boardwalk
Santa Cruz, the beautiful coastal town in Northern California is famous for its boardwalk, much like Coney Island near Manhattan. 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. 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.
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Logistics of visiting Santa Cruz
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!
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.
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 Santa Cruz: the best places to stay with your dog
a) Dog friendly B&B in Bonny Doon
Santa Cruz has several dog friendly hotels to choose from, but if you really want a restful place to stay to relax and unwind, I highly recommend staying at the Redwood Croft, a dog friendly B&B in the nearby town of Bonny Doon (30 min from downtown Santa Cruz) and nestled right in the heart of the Redwood forest of Santa Cruz mountains.
If you are wondering where to stay in Santa cruz with your dog, I cannot recommend this place enough. Sure, it is pricier than your regular B&Bs but that is a small price to pay for the delicious breakfast, kind hospitality and the tranquility of the redwoods surrounding you.
This dog friendly B&B comprises of several lodges equipped with modern amenities nested amidst a lush redwood grove, thick with dense vegetation, greenery and acres of redwood trees standing tall and silent all around. You also get home-cooked morning breakfast served in a lawn amidst the redwoods (the owners are thoughtful enough to accommodate your dietary restrictions upon prior notice).
There are several rooms on the property and ours was a beautiful one with skylights to get a slice of the redwoods peeking from above. The room was beautifully decorated and there were thoughtful touches strewn all around, such as wine glasses with a bottle opener, in case one gets a bottle from one of the local wineries (Santa Cruz mountains are famous for their vineyards) to enjoy.
The toiletries in the bathroom (the bath has a charming stone bathing tub and is separated from the toilet) are from a local farm, and the closet has a microwave and mini-fridge. All these amenities (they also have wifi), an old-world wood-burning furnace (you can get a room heater if that seems too daunting) and the amazing greenery all around comes at a price which is way too reasonable for what this place offers. Best of all, there is no extra charge for pets.
b) Dog friendly hotel in Downtown Santa Cruz
During our second visit to Santa Cruz, we opted to stay at the Pacific Blue Inn on Pacific Avenue, which is a stone’s throw from downtown. Pacific blue Inn 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!
Things to do with your dog in Santa Cruz: A secret dog friendly beach
When in a beach town like Santa Cruz, simply find a beach close by and bum out on the sand. Unlike other parts of California, Santa Cruz has ample dog friendly beaches which welcome dogs on a leash. Beaches are either along Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1) or to the south of the Boardwalk.
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.
Greyhound beach turned out to be fantastic gem of a stretch with almost no human in sight (barring another man and his water loving pooch and two sunbathers) and thus it felt as if the beach belonged to us. We walked along the periphery of the waves, marveled at some of the extremely polished, flat stones and then settled down on one of the dry spots on the sand.
Babu ran around, frantically dug up several bunkers to rest in at several times and then finally plopped himself right between us. We rested for some time and then made our way back up to our next destination, a dog-friendly Redwood State Park.
Dog friendly beaches in Santa Cruz: 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.
Dog friendly hikes in Santa Cruz
a) Hiking in Redwood state 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.
If you are not traveling with pets, then there are several other options to explore such as the observation deck and ranch and the cable car beach. Plus we also spotted a heritage train chugging along with the Roaring Camp Railroad nearby which should be a fun activity for kids.
b) Hiking along the 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.
c) 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.
Dog friendly things to do in downtown Santa Cruz
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 wine tasting 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 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!
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!
Bonus dog friendly activity in Santa Cruz county: Exploring 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.