It’s hard to give a blanket answer about where you are permitted to enjoy the outdoors with your dog. In general, they tend to be welcome in areas managed by the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local or regional parks or irrigation districts.
They tend to be far less welcome in national or state parks, where they are usually tolerated in campgrounds and paved areas but prohibited elsewhere.
Beaches are the main exception, with dogs accepted at some state beaches. A few city-operated beaches allow dogs to be off leash.
In the Monterey area, leashed dogs are allowed at Monterey State Beach, but only on the portion of the beach located south of the Monterey Beach Resort Hotel. Leashed dogs are also allowed at Del Monte Beach and McAbee Beach.
South of Monterey, leashed dogs are allowed at Asilomar State Beach, Carmel River State Beach, and the beach at Garrapata State Park. Dogs can be off leash at the city beach in Carmel.
Further south in the Big Sur area, the rough coastline makes beaches relatively uncommon, but leashed dogs are allowed at beach areas managed by Los Padres National Forest – the best bets being Pfeiffer Beach and Sand Dollar Beach.
On the northern side of Monterey Bay, leashed dogs are welcome at Manresa, Seacliff and New Brighton state beaches.
You can also bring your dog to Seascape or Rio Del Mar beaches in Aptos.
In Santa Cruz, try the beaches along East Cliff Drive, Lighthouse Field Beach (also known locally as “Its Beach”), Seabright Beach and Twin Lakes State Beach. Dogs are also allowed off-leash at Mitchell Cove Beach before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Ten miles north of Santa Cruz, leashed dogs are welcome at Davenport Beach.
While horses are prohibited at most beaches, you can ride them along the shoreline at the following Monterey Bay beaches: Moss Landing State Beach, Zmudowski State Beach and Salinas River State Beach.
Andrea and I took our 18 month-old German shepherd, Denali, to the beach at Garrapata State Park on Memorial Day weekend. Denali has hiked with us several times, but she hadn’t been to the beach yet. We picked Garrapata because it sees few visitors even with its proximity to Monterey. Despite the busy holiday weekend, we saw few other people at the beach, and it turned out to be the perfect destination for a dog learning to like the surf. In addition to over a mile of beach, the park offers beautiful bluffs that are decorated with flowers throughout the spring. Trails leading away from the coastline explore ridges and redwood-lined canyons.
To find the beach at Garrapata State Park, watch for the park’s boundary sign on Highway 1 – about 61/2 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel. Follow Highway 1 past Soberanes Point where the highway passes through a gap between the point on the coastal side of the road and steep cliffs on the left. About 2 miles farther south, you will see a beach area beneath the bluffs. You’ll probably also see a few cars parked. Pull over and head down to the beach. It’s hard to miss – it’s the only beach in the area.
A wooden staircase provides the main access to the sand, while an additional trail heads out along the bluffs. The bluff trail eventually winds down to the beach, but the descent is rough and lined with poison oak. You’re better off taking the stairs. Although the surf is dangerous at Garrapata and swimming would be unsafe, you can wade a short distance if you’re careful. The only real downside of this beach is its lack of a restroom. For more information about Garrapata State Park go online to bit.ly/1tGi2mV or call (831) 624-4909.
No matter what beach you visit, don’t forget to bring pet waste bags, drinking water and treats to reward good behavior. If your dog doesn’t have a lot of experience off-leash, there’s nothing wrong with staying on-leash at the beach, especially since leashes are required at most beaches. Some dogs take time to get comfortable with the ocean. Don’t rush the learning experience. Denali got comfortable with wading only after we had walked and jogged along the sand quite a bit and after both Andrea and I had waded into the water ourselves.