Dog-Friendly Santa Cruz – Complete Travel Guide

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dog is feeling happy in Santa Cruz

Known for its awesome surfing beaches and warm weather year-round, Santa Cruz is the perfect vacation town for people from all around the globe. In fact, its nickname is Surf City. It also has the oldest surfing museum in the world, and dogs are welcome to visit inside to see all the surfing memorabilia. Just about 60 miles southeast of San Francisco, there are also plenty of other attractions. 

Perhaps the most important attractions for pup parents are the dog-friendly places. In fact, it has more than 100 pup popular rental properties, 30 restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses, several dog beaches, and numerous dog parks. With such beautiful weather, you can take your pooch to the beach or dog park anytime. However, it is typically too cold in the winter to swim. 

In this guide, we list the important dog laws and etiquette, the best hotels, restaurants, dog parks, and places to go hiking, boating, or whatever else you like. There are also some great doggie daycares, boarding services, veterinarians, and animal hospitals for your pooch if needed. We also give you a list of the best communities to visit and when to visit them. 

Things dog parents need to know about Santa Cruz

Because all cities have their own laws and regulations, it is essential that you know the important things before you go. These include leash laws, picking up waste, and other rules you need to be aware of. 

  • First, your fur baby must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times unless he is in an off-leash area or private yard. 
  • In addition, Santa Cruz County has a sterilization law that requires dogs over six months to be spayed or neutered. 
  • All fur babies also have to be licensed before they turn five months of age. 
  • Your pup must also have the essential vaccinations and rabies shots with proof available. 
  • No dogs are allowed inside a building that sells or prepares food. However, your pooch can join you in places like Petco and PetSmart. 
  • Finally, if your pooch is in a carrier that fits on your lap, he can join you on the Santa Cruz public bus and train. 

Dog friendly Hotels in Santa Cruz

All hotels have their own perks and incentives. But you need to find the dog-friendly hotels in Santa Cruz with the best perks and incentives. Some have hot tubs, spas, and pools, others are at the beach, several offer dog welcome baskets, and a few even let your pooch dine with you. Here are a few of the hotels we like best. 

  • Sunny Cove Motel is one of the most pup popular because they are one of the only hotels to allow dogs at the pool. He is not allowed in the water, but he can join you anyway. They also have a dog-friendly beach right outside and a full kitchen. 
  • Chaminade Resort & Spa has about 300 acres for you and Fido to explore when you stay in one of their 156 rooms or 11 villas. There are three miles of hiking trails for you and your pup to enjoy. You may even see some deer!
  • Surf City Inn & Suites has an indoor pool, hot tub, and incredible rooms, as well as an outdoor area where you and your pooch can hang out with the other guests. They have lawn games, a fire pit, and even a small putting green. 

Would you rather stay outdoors to be closer to nature? There are over a dozen campgrounds and RV parks that love dogs as much as we do! Just a few minutes to the north in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, there is a large campground in the woods with over 100 sites. They have showers, restrooms, water, and hiking. For a more civilized RV spot, Santa Cruze Harbor RV Park and Santa Cruz Ranch Campground are two excellent choices for pup parents. 

Santa Cruz Dog parks

The city has a few off-leash dog parks where you can let your cuddly buddy off the leash to play with other fur babies. Some of them have separate areas for small dogs, others have water features, and there are even a couple nearby that have agility equipment. Here are a few of our favorites. 

  • Pacheco Dog Park has about a quarter of an acre with lots of benches for pup parents, a water station, free doggie bags, and lots of room for a game of fetch or frisbee. It is located in Prospect Heights on the southern end of DeLaveaga Park. 
  • Branciforte Dog Park is a small place for pups to get some playtime in before heading onto the Enchanted Trail with their humans. It is perfect for those who enjoy a brisk hike with their fur baby. It is just over five miles long and is moderately easy, depending on what time of year you go. 
  • University Terrace Dog Park is another fun place for your canine companion to play off his leash. Located in the southwestern corner of University Terrace Park, and it has a vast amount of space with a separate area for small and timid dogs. 

Dog Friendly Restaurants and Dining

There is no reason why your cuddly canine companion has to miss all the fun of going out to eat or grabbing a beer at the pub. He can even enjoy the stunning vineyards where you can try some local wine. He is also welcome at over two dozen coffeehouses. The Walnut Ave Cafe has its own special menu for dogs with bacon, chicken, and organic dog biscuits. And you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or brunch. 

Seabright Social on Seabright Avenue is a fantastic pup, a popular brewpub with lots of dog-friendly outdoor tables. Besides the full bar and local brews, you can also get calamari, sandwiches, and fish. To see how it is done, take Fido to Gilman Brewing Company on Soquel Avenue. Their taproom is pup-friendly, and they have a beer garden with appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and pizza. 

Just down the street, Soquel Vineyards is an award-winning winery and vineyard with tasting flights, wine by the glass, and some water for your pup. Being so popular, you may want to reserve a spot and let them know you are bringing your little buddy. For a quick pick-me-up, Java Junction serves freshly brewed coffee and espresso roasted in small batches for the best flavor. They also have food that you and Fido can enjoy on the patio.

Things to do in Santa Cruz with a dog

There are plenty of other fun things to do with your dog in Santa Cruz. Take him on a kayak adventure with Venture Quest in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, where you can see whales, dolphins, pelicans, seals, otters, and sea lions. Just north of the city in Vasona Lake County Park, Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad is also dog-friendly to leashed dogs, so you can both take a ride. 

There are several beaches where pups are allowed but they have to be on a leash at all times. Lighthouse Field State Beach (Its Beach) is a gorgeous stretch of sand in southwestern Santa Cruz. Seabright Beach is also pup popular located between the San Lorenzo River and Santa Cruz Harbor. And right across the harbor, Twin Lakes State Beach has two beaches, one on the ocean and the other on Twin Lakes. 

Many of the parks in Santa Cruz have dog-friendly trails. West Cliff Drive is a three-mile path along the ocean between the wharf and Natural Bridges State Beach, where Fido is also welcome. Pogonip Open Space has several popular pup trails totaling over 11 miles. If you happen to be in town on October 7th, take your pooch to Doga at Pup Plaza. From 10 AM to 11 AM, you and your cuddle buddy can practice yoga together. 

Daycare and Boarding

Looking for someone to keep an eye on your pooch while you get out and about? Bed & Biscuits Groomingdales is the city’s favorite grooming and boarding facility. They have boarding, doggie daycare, grooming, and training. Springdale Kennels is another fantastic place where your canine compadre can hang out. They also have grooming, boarding, and daycare. And PetSmart has several locations in the area with PetsHotel services for day and overnight care. You can book a private suite or standard room, but they are both comfy and secure. 

Dog Care and safety

If your pooch needs any kind of medical care, whether it is urgent or ongoing, Animal Health Center in Santa Clara has been caring for pets for over 40 years. The city also has several Banfield Pet Hospital locations inside PetSmart. They cover everything from illnesses to medicine refills. Also, Willow Glen Pet Hospital has been voted the best pet hospital in Silicon Valley, taking care of all your needs, from dental work to nail clipping. 

One of the main hazards to watch out for in Santa Cruz is wildlife. There have been numerous coyotes spotted in the area with several dog/coyote encounters. Keep your pooch on a short leash when out and about. Although not as common, mountain lions, bobcats, and pumas also pose a danger to dogs and pup parents. Always keep an eye out for wild creatures and keep your pup close. 

PetSmart and Petco both have animal pharmacies at several locations in the Santa Cruz area. The Animal hospitals also offer pet refills, as do many of the veterinarians.  

Best time to visit Santa Cruz with your dog.

With mild weather all year long, anytime is a good time to visit Santa Cruz. However, the most popular time to visit is during the summer months because that is when the water is warm enough to swim and surf. However, if you would rather go when crowds are mostly gone, the best time is during the winter. Shoulder season is the months between the high and low season and are often the best time for dog people. 

  • Shoulder Season: (March – May and October – November): This is when the crowds have mostly gone home, but the weather is still warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities like walking on the beach and playing at the park. This is also the time when you can get some great deals on motels. 
  • High Season (June – September): From June through September, the high temps hover around the middle and upper 70s, which is perfect for surfing and swimming. You will likely run into a lot of tourists at this time, though, so visit the attractions during the mornings and evenings. 
  • Low Season (December – February): Although it is not as warm here during the winter, it stays in the 60s for the high, so it is definitely not cold. Nights can get chilly, though, so pack a jacket for you both. But this is the time when you get the best vacation deals, too. 

Monthly highlights

  • January: January is the perfect time to take your fur baby shopping to hit the after-Christmas sales. Capital Mall is a great place to go because it is inside, and there are over 50 dog-friendly stores like Claire’s, Eddie Bauer, and Hollister.
  • February: Although the nights are still chilly, daytime temps reach into the middle 60s, so you and Fido can enjoy one of the many popular pup parks in Santa Cruz.
  • March: The beginning of shoulder season, the temps are rising enough to be able to go for a walk on the beach. But you probably will not want to let your pooch get in the water yet. 
  • April: Take your cuddle buddy to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park for a picnic and a walk through the woods. They have four dog-friendly trails to explore here. 
  • May: This may be the best time to visit Santa Cruz if you want to swim without the crowds. The highs reach into the 70s, so it is not hot, but it is warm enough to let Fido splash around. 
  • June: The high season starts this month as temperatures reach the upper 70s and people head for the beach, locals and tourists alike. If you do not mind the crowds, Seabright State Beach is a fun place for fur babies. 
  • July: An evening stroll through the park or a hike into the mountains would be terrific now while everyone else is at the beach. 
  • August: One of the warmest months in Santa Cruz, you and your canine companion can have dinner on the patio at Betty Burgers or get some ice cream at Foster’s Freeze.
  • September: This is the perfect month for wine tasting. Bargetto Winery on North Main Street in Soquel is dog-friendly and has some of the best wines in the state. 
  • October: Take Fido to Dig Gardens to check out the pumpkins and other fall flora. You can even find some great souvenirs to take home with you. 
  • November: It is getting chilly again, but it is still in the mid to upper 60s during the day, so you can enjoy a trip to one of the dog parks or do some holiday shopping at one of the dog-friendly malls.  
  • December: Put a warm sweater on your pooch and go out and see the holiday lights. Santa Cruz has a stunning display downtown. 

Santa Cruz Neighborhoods

From the Boardwalk to Seabright, Santa Cruz has a variety of nice communities. However, some are more dog-friendly than others. For instance, dogs are not allowed on the boardwalk at all. But most of the other communities welcome dogs to their shops, restaurants, and parks. Here are some that we like. 

  • Soquel: With a variety of vineyards and wineries, the laid-back community of Soquel is located in northeastern Santa Cruz between Live Oak and Capitola. It is also the home of the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, which is also dog-friendly. 
  • Seabright: Just two blocks from the beach Seabright is a quaint place to spend the day with your fur baby. With antique and souvenir shops, cafes, and bars, the small-town feel is everywhere. Also, Seabright Beach is dog-friendly and has a large sandy space for fun in the sun. 
  • Live Oak: Just east of Seabright, Live Oak is a section of unincorporated area where you will find some cool coffeehouses, surf shops, thrift stores, and sushi bars. Most of these are pup popular, and it is also home to the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter.
  • Capitola: Home of the pooch-friendly Capitola Mall, this large community is right next to Live Oak to the east. It runs all the way to Soquel Cove, Hooper Beach, and Capitola Wharf and is perfect for a nice walk along the water. 
  • Twin Lakes: Below Live Oak, running all the way to the coast, Twin Lakes is a water-lovers paradise between Schwan Lagoon, Corcoran Lagoon, and the Pacific Ocean. Twin Lakes State Beach and Corcoran Beach are both dog-friendly, and there is also a pup popular harbor walk and trail section at Schwan Lagoon Park. 

Other smaller sections of Santa Cruz are also dog-friendly, like Pleasure Point, Watsonville, Boulder Creek, and Scotts Valley. Always keep your pup on a leash, and bring plenty of poop bags and extra water for you both. Also, make sure you ask before bringing your fur buddy into any establishment.

The Final Woof

The city of Santa Cruz has a lot to offer pet parents and their pups whether you are visiting for one day or a week, or two. From the beaches to the vineyards, you will find a vast array of dog-friendly places to go and things to do. In this guide, we went over the important things to know about the city, like laws and pet etiquette, the best dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks, and bars, and where you can take your cuddly canine companion hiking, paddling, and even surfing, if he knows how. We also listed some doggie daycares, veterinarians, and animal hospitals as well as the best time to visit the city and which neighborhoods are the most pup popular. 

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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