15 Awesome Dog Friendly Beaches in Central California

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dog is feeling happy in a dog friendly beach in central ca

The central section of California has over 100 miles of coastline with a blend of beaches and vineyards, as well as some incredible valleys and mountains. Some of the most well-known cities in the area include Salinas, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Modesto, Bakersfield, Fresno, Cambria, Avila Beach, and Monterey. There are also quite a few parks in the central region, like Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, and San Luis Reservoir. 

Being right in the middle of the state, central California also gets the best of both climates with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The further south you go, the warmer it gets. Some areas can reach over 100 in July, while others stay in the 80s. Winter highs range from 77 to 52 degrees. Either way, the temperatures make this a popular area for outdoor activities. 

The region has numerous beaches, from sandy beaches on the ocean to wooded lakes with swimming spots. Many of the beaches allow dogs, but most of them require your fur buddy to be on a leash. Also, you should always bring lots of doggie bags to pick up after your pup. 

Olde Port Beach

443 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424

In western Avila Beach, less than a mile from the city center, Olde Port Beach can be found between the Cal Poly Pier and Fisherman’s Beach on San Luis Obispo Bay. This is one of the most pooch popular spots to swim in the area because your dog can be off the leash any time of the year. With calm water and fewer people, this beach is perfect for those with dogs that do not like crowds. 

You will not find any fancy beach bars or eateries, but there is often a food truck nearby during the summer. There is also a lifeguard nearby during the summer months, but only until sundown. One problem is that you have to park on the road and walk down the stairway to get to the cove. It is not a long hike or anything, but during high tide, there may not be much sand. Remember to bring cleanup bags and water. 

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve Beach

2799, Bluff Trail, Cambria, CA 93428

Located along the coast of western Cambria, the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve has more than 425 acres of forests, bluffs, and a nice sandy beach for you and your pup to enjoy. Just keep your cuddle buddy on a leash no longer than six feet, and he can join you anywhere in the park except for inside buildings. The cozy patch of sand is in the northern area at the end of Murray Place between homes.  

Although your pup is okay to get his paws wet, this is not a good spot for swimming because of the rocks and the surf. But all dogs love to dig in the sand, and you can play a game of fetch as long as you do not throw it too far. He has to stay leashed. The preserve has more than 15 trails to explore as well. Pack up some extra water for you both and plenty of doggie bags before heading out. 

New Brighton State Beach

1500 Park Ave, Capitola, CA 95010

Most state parks do not allow dogs on the beach, but at New Brighton State Beach, they are welcome as long as they are leashed. It is located in eastern Capitola, just up the beach from downtown, and offers picnic areas, hiking, and, of course, the beach. One thing to note, this is a very popular place during the summer with so much to do, like kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming.

This beach is perfect for those who want to stay for more than a day because it has a large campground with more than 100 campsites. You should reserve your spot way in advance, though. What’s more, the park has a play area at the northern end of the park by the entrance where pups can play off the leash. Ozzi’s Dog Park is right next to the skate park and has a special section for small dogs as well as doggie bags, seating, and water. 

Carmel City Beach

6006 San Antonio Ave, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93921

Also known as Carmel Beach, you can find this pup paradise in downtown Carmel. Because of its location and dog-friendliness, it is the most popular beach in town, so do not expect to be alone. As long as your pooch is voice-controlled, he is welcome to enjoy the water and sand without a leash. It is a beautiful beach with soft white sand and cool blue water and has been named one of the top 21 beaches in the world. 

The city provides doggie bags in dispensers at the top of the staircases that lead down to the water, but being so pup popular, it is best to bring your own in case they run out. You will also see a lot of surfers here as the surf is perfect for all skill levels. There is also a trail that takes you along the outer perimeter of the beach from Santa Lucia Avenue to 6th Avenue, which welcomes leashed dogs. 

Cayucos State Beach

99 5th St, Cayucos, CA 93430

For those who love swimming, surfing, or sunning themselves, Cayucos State Beach has six miles of white sand, where your leashed pup is welcome. In the seaside city of Cayucos, the charming spot is picture-perfect, with lots of parking, eating places, and tons of space to play in the waves. It also has one of the only dog-friendly piers in central California. The little town also has dozens of boutiques, antique stores, and souvenir shops along the boardwalk. However, you should ask before bringing in your pooch.

If you plan on doing some fishing, be sure to get a California fishing license unless you are fishing on the pier. The beach is equipped with restrooms and water fountains, as well as outside showers. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the many picnic tables along the sand. There is even a playground for those who have some little humans with them. 

Dr. James W. Thornton Dog Park

3934 N Hayston Ave, Fresno, CA 93726

Also known as Elaine’s Pet Resorts, this dog park has its own beach, even if there is no sand. With over 2,000 gallons of fresh water pumped in constantly, you can be certain that your pup is playing in clean water. It can be found in northeastern Fresno just off Highway 168. This is not your typical dog park. It is more of a water park and pool for canine companions to splash around in and play off the leash. 

It also has a dog park area with agility equipment, including professional-grade tunnels, jumps, and hoops as well as ramps, A-frames, pedestals, and more. There are several different areas for different-sized dogs and different types of play. It costs $5 per day, or you can get a membership. The dog park is in the same parking lot as the pet resort, but Elaine’s is also a dog and cat boarding center in case you need someone to watch your fur puppy for a while. 

Millerton Lake State Recreation Area

CA-145, Friant, CA 93626

Millerton Lake is a 5,000-acre reservoir with several parks and campgrounds surrounding it, including Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, which is in Friant just minutes north of Fresno. There are over a dozen campgrounds, including Mono, Rocky Point, Meadow, Dumna Strand, and Valley Oak. Most of them allow dogs as long as they are leashed, but it is best to ask when reserving a spot if you plan to stay. There are 40 miles of shore with all sorts of water fun. 

The park itself also has a variety of activities like picnicking, playgrounds, hiking, biking, and fishing. However, you will need a California state fishing license. If you are quiet, you may see some of the local wildlife, including deer, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. Around the lake is a common spot to spot turtles, shorebirds, lizards, and even snakes. If you plan to camp, be sure to call in advance because this is a popular spot. 

Del Monte Beach

653 Del Monte Ave, Monterey, CA 93940

Del Monte Beach is a puppy playground of sand and water in the heart of Monterey, where fur babies are welcome all year as long as they are kept on a leash. It is not a very well-known beach, so it is typically not as crowded as the others in Monterey. You will find it between Fisherman’s Wharf and Monterey State Beach, which gives you and your pup almost three miles of sand to enjoy. 

In the middle of the beach is Monterey Bay Park, which is also dog-friendly and has volleyball courts and a playground, as well as a large open patch of grass and a path that takes you through some stunning gardens. The trail here is part of the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail, so if you really want a workout, you can keep on walking as far as you like. Just remember to pack lots of puppy poo baggies. 

Arroyo Burro Beach

2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93109

Also known as Hendry’s Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach is about five miles west of downtown Santa Barbara. It is at the western end of the Douglas Family Preserve, which is also a fun place to take your pup. The beach also includes the county park right next to the Arroyo Burro and the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, which is a great place to get some seafood. The best part? Your cuddly canine compadre can play without a leash!

The beach and park area has a total of 14 acres with almost a full mile of golden sand and turquoise blue water to enjoy. You can play fetch or frisbee, take a swim, or just soak up the sun for a while. They also have picnic tables with barbecue grills if you want to bring along something to grill. Or bring a pole and tackle and catch your own seafood. Just make sure you have a fishing license.

Butterfly Beach

Fairway Rd and Channel Dr, Montecito, CA 93108

Butterfly Beach is a hidden gem only known to locals, so it is hardly ever crowded. It is just past East and West Beaches and the zoo in Montecito. Although your fur baby will have to be on a leash of six feet or shorter, there is still plenty of room to play a game of catch or to join him in the water and play. One of the favorite local sports here is kayaking and paddleboarding, so bring one if you have it. If not, you can rent one nearby.

There are no restrooms or concessions here, but that is part of the reason for such seclusion, making it the perfect beach for dogs (and people) who do not like crowds. Another fun thing that is really neat is that it is right across from the Biltmore Hotel, where the rich and famous stay, so you may get to see some celebrities. 

Morro Bay Dog Beach

Toro Creek Rd and Cabrillo Hwy, Cayucos, CA 93430

Morro Bay Dog Beach is also known as Toro Creek Beach because it is on Toro Creek Road. It is just south of Cayucos and welcomes your canine companion on or off the leash. However, you want to make sure he has good recall because the beach has no fences to keep him from running off. There are three miles of white sand for you to dig your toes into, so bring some lunch and stay for the whole day.

Being one of the only dog beaches in the area, you will almost certainly see other pup parents at Morro Bay, so do not expect to be alone here. Your pooch will have plenty of other pups to play with. But bring a ball or frisbee for a game of fetch just in case he gets bored. Also, they offer doggie bags, but it is best to pack your own just in case. 

Mitchell’s Cove Beach

W Cliff Dr and David Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Mitchell’s Cove Beach is the only beach in Santa Cruz that allows fur babies to play off the leash. It is one of the only beaches in Santa Cruz that allows pups to play at the beach off-leash. Yes, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, your fur baby can run and play without the leash holding him back. This is perfect for playing fetch or frisbee! Dogs are still allowed between 10 and 4, but they have to be on a leash.

If you come when the -tide is out, there are several caves and lots of tide pools. However, please keep your canine compadre from getting too close to any of the wildlife you see. The water at Mitchell’s Cove is calm and clear, so it is a great place to let your dog dive in. Just keep him close because there may be marine creatures out there if he goes too far.

Moran Lake Beach

22775 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

It may not look big, but Moran Lake Beach has a long stretch of gorgeous sand stretching from Two Six Beach to Rockview Drive County Park in Pleasure Point. If you do not want to swim in the ocean, you and your pooch can enjoy the rest of the 9.2 acres of Moran Lake Park and the lake itself. You will need to keep your pup on a leash that is six feet or shorter and bring baggies to pick up anything he drops. 

Besides the sand, waves, and lake, the park also has a parking lot with more than 40 spaces, restrooms, trails, a kids’ playground, and picnic areas. Many people with small children and dogs swim in the lake instead of the beach because of the rough current and high waves. They do not have a concession stand, though, so bring extra water for your pooch as well.

Avocado Lake Park

3625 N Piedra Rd, Sanger, CA 93657

Avocado Lake Park is located in Sanger, just 15 minutes northeast of Fresno. It is a popular spot with the locals, but it also has a strange urban legend about a mysterious giant fish that has allegedly caused a number of drownings. They even made a movie about it called the Lake of Shadows, but it is fictional, so you do not have to worry. The park itself has over 200 acres of hiking trails, picnic areas with barbecue grills, a boat launch, playgrounds for the kiddos, and lots of waterfront for swimming and fishing. 

Some of the fish you can catch here include huge catfish and good-sized bluegill, crappie, bass, and even some rainbow trout. You will need to make sure you have a California fishing license on you so you do not get a ticket. Pack extra water and lots of doggie bags for picking up after your pooch. 

Hearst Memorial Beach 

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452

Also known as William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, this is a large dog-friendly beach in San Simeon. During the summer, you will find a lot of locals here fishing from the pier, hanging out on the beach, and barbecuing in the picnic areas. In the winter, it is also popular for the elephant seals that take refuge here. Be sure to keep your pup on a short leash and do not let him bother any wildlife because they enforce wildlife harassment laws. 

The beach is part of William Hearst State Park, with more than 200 acres of recreational space that includes a campground, trails, playgrounds, and the Hearst Castle. You can visit the castle museum, but they do not allow dogs inside. If you want to stay the night, be sure to book your site in advance because the 191 spots fill up fast. Also, bring along a good supply of puppy poo baggies for easy cleanup. 

The Final Woof

With so many different beaches and parks in central California, you will certainly be able to find a perfect place for you and your fur puppy to enjoy the excellent weather. It is almost always sunny, and it never really gets cold, so you can play outside all year long. Whether you are looking for a nice secluded beach without a bunch of tourists or a popular beach with restaurants, concessions, and all the amenities, you will be able to find all that and more here. There are also several lakes where you and your pooch can play in the water if you are not a fan of saltwater. Just remember the doggie bags!

Photo of author
Patty Oelze is a freelance writer who is also in the process of getting her PhD in Psychology. She has been writing about dogs and other critters for about 10 years and has a plethora of animals at her home including several cats, some chipmunks, a dozen raccoons, two foxes, one coyote, and herds of deer. She and her husband have been living in the Missouri Ozarks for years where she enjoys taking care of wildlife, fishing, photography, boating, and of course, writing.

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