15 Awesome Dog Friendly Beaches in Northern California

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dog is feeling happy in a dog friendly beach in northern california

The northern section of California covers 48 counties and over 100 cities, 40 of which have more than 55,000 residents. Some of these include San Jose, Oakland, Salinas, Santa Clara, and Berkeley. The largest metro areas include the San Francisco Bay area, Greater Sacramento, and Metropolitan Fresno. With so many cities, you will also find many different beaches, from Pelican State Beach in Smith River to Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco.

While some of them do not allow dogs at all, there are those that welcome fur babies and several that allow pups to play without a leash. Besides the ocean, you can also take your pooch to numerous beaches on lakes like Lake Tahoe, Folsom Lake, and Clear Lake, as well as rivers like Elk River, Eel River, and the American River. 

But wherever you go in northern California, remember that it does not get very warm here. The average high in the summer is only about 70 degrees F, and the water temperature does not get much higher than the 50s. Hypothermia is a real danger when swimming in cold water, so keep that in mind. 

Doran Regional Park Beach

201 Doran Beach Road, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Doran Regional Park, also known as Doran Beach, is located in Bodega Bay. With the bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, your fur baby has his pick of where he wants to play. There are two miles of golden sand to explore with your leashed cuddle buddy. Make sure you bring plenty of doggie poo baggies and pick up after your pupster. Nobody wants to step in doggie doo at the beach. Or anywhere else, for that matter!

The water here is often calm, and it is a popular spot for families. They also have a boat launch so you can take your kayak, canoe, or small boat out to fish or just paddle around. Many people come here for kite surfing as well. You can fish from the jetty at the west end of the park or take a hike along the trail at the northern end. There is even a camping area with over 120 sites. 

Ocean Beach

2801-2879 Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94132

If you like strolling along the beach and watching the surfers, Ocean Beach is one of the best beaches in northern California. Just a few minutes north of Half Moon Bay, the beach has over three miles of white sand with some incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Your view will not be blocked by a bunch of hotels and resorts here. Although the water is always cold and the surf is rough, you can let your pooch enjoy the shallows if he is on a leash. 

The beach stretches from Lands End Lookout to Fort Funston right along the San Francisco Zoo and the Golden Gate Park. Your canine companion is welcome to run free on the northern end of the beach but must be on a leash at the southern end. According to the website, the off-leash area starts at Staircase 21 and goes to the northern end of the beach. Pack poop bags and extra water, and have a blast. 

Jack London Square Beach

472 Water St, Oakland, CA 94607

Jack London Square is more well-known for its shopping and dining than it is for its beach, but there are several places where you can let your fur baby play in the water. In fact, there are two different dog play areas at the landing here, including the Dog Play Area at the Landing and the Estuary Channel Park. Neither are fenced, though, so your dog needs to have excellent recall. If not, he is always welcome on a leash.

What’s more, Jack London Square has a vast array of dog-friendly shops and dining spots. Seabreeze on the Dock has po’boys, chowder, and other seafood, Farmhouse Kitchen has a variety of Thai cuisines, and the Waterfront Cafe and Bar serves seafood, tacos, and burgers. They even have a shuffleboard. Less than a mile from Oakland, the water access and dog parks can be found on the San Francisco Bay Trail at the western end of the square. 

Esplanade Beach

Esplanade Ave and W Manor Dr, Pacifica, CA 94044

You and Fido can enjoy playing at Esplanade Beach in Pacifica, where you can both splash in the surf and check out the tide pools. Similar to Ocean Beach, your pupster is allowed off the leash on the north end of the beach and on the leash everywhere else. Because of the eroding bluffs, the area has become rather empty, and you will need to stay away from the bluffs for safety. However, it is still a fun place to let your pup play off the leash.

It is not an official dog beach and does not have a fence, so your pup will need to be under voice control while you are there. If he does not have good recall, it is best to leave his leash on. The apartments here have been condemned due to the erosion, but the city and the owners are doing their best to fix the problem. For now, it makes a nice peaceful spot for you and your cuddle buddy to play. 

Crissy Field Beaches

1199 E Beach, San Francisco, CA 94129

East of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, you can find Presidio Park, with almost 1,500 acres. In this grand park, there are several beaches, with a few that welcome dogs. For instance, Crissy Field East Beach is a popular spot for kitesurfing and picnicking with the family, including your fur baby. There is a promenade where you and your pup can walk along the water. Just keep him on a leash and bring doggie bags to pick up after him. 

The sand is soft and golden, with easy access to the water, but it is usually not warm enough to swim. The surfers wear wetsuits to go out into the water because it can be dangerously cold even in the summer. On South Crissy Beach, there is more of the same, with more grassy areas as well. You can let your canine compadre splash in the shallows if he is brave enough, but keep him close. 

Tallac Shoreline Beach

1 Heritage Way, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

If you are looking for a freshwater beach instead of saltwater, take your fur puppy to Kiva Beach on South Lake Tahoe. Since it is a lake, it is warm enough to swim during the summer, which is why you will find more beaches here for swimming. In Eldorado National Forest in South Lake Tahoe, you and your pooch can play all day as long as he is on a leash and you clean up after him. 

Although it is not a huge beach, the crowds typically do not hang out here as much as the other more popular beaches. In fact, on weekdays, you may even have the place to yourselves. You will find it between Baldwin Beach and Pope Beach, neither of which are dog-friendly so keep that in mind. Also, you will need to keep your dog out of the marsh area because it is a special preserve for seabirds. 

Stinson County Beach

3 Walla Vista, Stinson Beach, CA 94970

Stinson Beach is a pup popular neighborhood with a variety of fun things to enjoy with your little ball of fur. The main reason most people come here is to swim and sunbathe on Stinson County Beach. It is right between Upton Beach and Stinson State Beach. The sparkling white sand is soft and silky on the paws, and the water is a clear turquoise you only get in certain areas of the Pacific Ocean. The dog-friendly section starts just past the state park parking lot. 

Dogs do have to remain on a leash, but you can still play in the water, dig in the sand, and even play a game of frisbee or fetch. With almost a whole mile of sand, there is plenty of room to spread out a blanket and have a picnic in the sand. But you will need to bring your own food and beverages because there are no beach concessions on this section of the beach. Be sure to pack doggie bags, too.

Seal Point Harbor Beach

1775-1847 J Hart Clinton Dr, San Mateo, CA 94401

Your fur buddy will love being able to run amok without a leash at Seal Point Harbor Dog Park, just 30 minutes from downtown Berkeley to the west. Located in Seal Point Park, which is also dog-friendly for leashed dogs, the dog park area does not reach all the way to the beach but you can take your pup there on a leash before or after visiting the dog park. Just take a walk along the Bay Trail, and you can find several spots to enter the water safely. 

Back at the dog park, there are two sections. One for small and another for large dogs. There are also several water fountains for pups and their humans, waste stations with doggie bags and trash receptacles, and lots of benches and other seating. When you leave the dog park, make sure you have enough doggie bags to pick up anything your dog drops outside the fenced area. 

Bannon Creek Park Dog Park

2780 Azevedo Dr, Sacramento, CA 95833

You do not have to have an ocean or even a big lake to enjoy a beach atmosphere with your cuddly buddy. In fact, in Sacramento, about 20 miles from Woodland, you can find a fun dog park at the Bannon Creek Park & Parkway off West El Camino on Azevedo Drive. Even though the whole park is under 20 acres, there is so much to do, including a 1.2-mile bike trail, horseshoe courts, a playground, and picnic areas. 

There are several nice spots along the creek where you and Fido can play, and the dog park, in the southwestern corner, is also along the creek. The good thing about the creek is that it is almost always warm enough to play in and has no current or surf to worry about. That means your pooch can play without you having to worry. The dog park section has about a half acre with lots of space to run and play fetch. Bring your own doggie bags, though, because it is a popular spot.

Montara State Beach

8150 Cabrillo Hwy, Montara, CA 94037

Just south of McNee Ranch State Beach, Montara State Beach is located south of Pacifica and north of Half Moon Bay. Your fur baby is welcome on the beach and in the park as long as he is leashed at all times. Also, bring along lots of puppy poo bags to make cleanup easier. You will likely see a lot of local anglers here because it is a popular fishing spot, as well as for picnicking, swimming, and sunbathing. 

As part of McNee Ranch’s 690 acres on Montara Mountain, you can climb to one of the trails to get some great views of the water. Certain times of the year, it is perfect for whale watching. Do check the tide schedules if you plan to swim, and you may want to check the water temperature as well. These can be what makes or breaks a fun day at the beach. 

Clam Beach County Park

1100 Clam Beach Rd, McKinleyville, CA 95519

All the way up the beach past the California Redwood Coast Airport in McKinleyville, Clam Beach County Park offers both on and off-leash fun for dogs. Not only is there plenty of soft sand and clear blue water to enjoy, but you can also find an abundance of Pacific razor clams. In addition, there are campsites on the beach with fire pits where you can pitch a tent and cook up some clams for dinner. However, there are only 13 sites, and they are first come, first served. 

Your fur baby is welcome to run off the leash on the wave slope or high tide line and on the leash everywhere else. This means he can swim and play in the surf but be careful of the waves at high tide. There are no restrooms or water, so bring your own water for you and the pup, as well as doggie bags to pick up anything your dog drops. 

Caspar Headlands State Beach

Co Rd 409, Caspar, CA 95420

Just two miles north of Russian Gulch on Point Cabrillo Drive, you will find a beach perfect for pup parents and families. Since it is in a cove with shallow water and light surf, it is pup popular for dogs and little humans. However, most people do not swim at Caspar Headlands State Beach because it gets pretty chilly no matter what time of year it is. In fact, the highs barely make it into the 70s in August, and the nights are downright cold. 

What you will see are people scuba diving and surfing. Those who have wetsuits do not mind the chill, and with the clear water, it is a wonderful spot for diving as well as snorkeling. Although your pooch will have to stay leashed, he can still have plenty of fun digging in the sand, splashing in the water, and hanging out with you soaking up the sun. Be sure to bring doggie bags and pick up after him. 

Stillwater Cove Regional Park

22455 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

A short drive down the coast, almost to Bodega Bay, you will find Stillwater Cove Regional Park. If you and your pooch enjoy hiking and exploring as well as playing at the beach, Stillwater Cove Regional Park has over 200 acres of space to explore between Salt Point State Park and Fort Ross State Historic Park. There are over three miles of trails, including the 1.6-mile Canyon Trail Loop that runs along Stockhoff Creek. 

You and your pooch will likely see some coho salmon and trout in the water, but make sure you have all the correct and updated fishing licenses and tags before you try catching anything. The creek is also a fun place to let your cuddly buddy play if the beach is too crowded. You will need to pack in your own water for you and your pup as well as cleanup bags to pick up after your pup. 

Limantour Beach

128 Limantour Rd, Inverness, CA 94937

Located on Point Reyes Peninsula, Limantour Beach is between the Limantour Estuary and Drake’s Bay. It is perfect for those who want to swim, but it does not get much warmer than 70 degrees F here, even in July and August. Your fur baby will not care, especially if he is a water dog. Your pooch is allowed from the main parking area to the left of Drakes Bay (southeast). He must be on a leash no longer than six feet, and you will need to bring your own doggie bags and water. 

The water here is calm, so it attracts families with children as well as pup parents. But don’t worry. There are over four miles of beach to share. During the spring, you can often see some mama gray whales with their babies and some harbor seals as well. You can also do some hiking here and fishing if you have a fishing license. 

Bayfront Park

498 Sycamore Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Just off the San Francisco Bay at the Pickleweed Inlet, Bayfront Park not only has a beach perfect for swimming with your pooch, but it also has an off-leash dog park. It is located just north of San Francisco in Mill Valley, where Highway 1 and Highway 101 meet, and your pup has access to the calm waters of the bay. However, it is typically very muddy, so expect your pooch to have dirty paws. Bringing a towel is recommended, as well as doggie bags to pick up after him. 

The dog park section is huge, and your fur puppy is welcome to romp and play without a leash. However, there is no fence, so it is important that he be voice-controlled. There are lots of benches for seating and even a hiking trail to explore. If you bring some food, you and your cuddly canine companion can even have a picnic. 

The Final Woof

Because northern California is so widespread, you will likely be able to find the perfect beach spot for you and your fur puppy. Whether you want to play in the waves, swim in a lake, or splash around in the river or creek, you can find all that and then some in the area. San Francisco is the largest area in northern California, and you can find over two dozen dog-friendly beaches just in that city. While you are at it, you can also find over 200 dog-friendly eateries, parks, and shopping centers. Just remember to pack lots of doggie bags and always pick up after your pup. 

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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