15 Fun things to do with your dog in San Francisco

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Josh the dog is having fun hiking in San Fransico Photo by Phil King. pkingdesign

San Francisco is a beautiful city in Northern California and is the 17th most populated place in the United States, with 815,200 residents, according to the 2021 census. Located on the San Francisco Bay, the city is noted for its beaches, surfing, and baseball. 

With an average high of 57 degrees F in January and about 85 degrees F in June, it is the ideal temperature for every kind of outdoor sport. 

One thing is for sure, San Franciscans love dogs. In fact, furry kids outnumber human children in San Francisco! With an estimated 120 thousand dogs and only 110 thousand children, dogs rule in this city. So, of course, the community had to step up and make sure dog parents have plenty of ways to enjoy the city with their fur babies. 

You will find dog hotels, cock”tail” parties, special doggie cafes, and stores just for your pups. Here are some of our favorite 15 fun things to do with your dog in San Francisco.

Hit the beach: Baker Beach

Just a mile from the Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach is one of the best dog-friendly beaches in the city. San Francisco is a pet-loving city, and you can find so much to do, but the beach is the best. Just ask your pooch. At Baker Beach on Gibson Road, dogs can be free to run off-leash north of Lobos Creek. They are allowed to play all over the beach but must be leashed when south of the creek. 

At the base of some incredible rugged cliffs, the beach is clean, and the water is blue, but you have to keep it that way so bring some doggie poo bags. You will also need to bring plenty of water because you do not want your fur buddy drinking saltwater from the ocean. Otherwise, it is free time for playing so bring some water toys and maybe a puppy life jacket if your dog loves to swim. 

Take a cruise: Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruises

Enjoy an hour on the water with Fido aboard the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruises in the bay. See some fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Pier 39 with its abundant sea lions. Your pup will love barking back at the sea lions and watching for dolphins and other critters but make sure you keep him on a leash. You do not want him going overboard. The guide will give you a detailed commentary as you go, listing all the highlights of the trip. 

The boat has both indoor and outdoor seating so you and your little buddy can relax and take a break from all the distractions. The cruise is one hour long and fully narrated so you can learn all about the history of the various attractions. But the Blue & Gold has other tours as well, including the 90-minute Escape from the Rock, 30-minute RocketBoat, and a peaceful ferry to Sausalito or Tiburon.

Play all day: Golden Gate Park

With over 1,000 acres, Golden Gate Park is one of the city’s most pet-friendly parks. First, there are five dog play spaces, including one beach area. The Fulton Street entrance has one small dog spot, while there are others at 38th Avenue, Miccle Drive, Stanyan and Grove, and Lincoln Way. It is more than three miles long and a half mile wide with gardens, grassy meadows, lakes, groves, and other attractions. 

While there are several museums in the park, you cannot bring your fur baby inside, but you can enjoy them from the outside. The gardens are incredible all year long, including the Japanese Tea Garden with its cherry trees in the spring and the botanic gardens with a nearby herd of bison. It is worth it just to stroll through the park and see the sights like the Dutch Windmill, Spreckles Lake, strawberry fields, bowling greens, and playgrounds. Just make sure you keep your pup leashed when not in the dog play areas. 

Take a hike: Bay Area Ridge Trail

At just under three miles long, this easy hike gives you incredible views of the city as well as a peaceful walk through the trees. Along the walk, you will notice many artworks, including the Spire 90-foot tower and Wood Line, both by Andy Goldsworthy. It typically takes about two hours to walk the loop, but you are encouraged to stop along the way and admire the beauty. Don’t forget to stop by the lookout point for a stunning shot of the Palace of Fine Arts. 

Another important site is the National Cemetery Overlook, where you can see the final resting place of 30,000 soldiers. You will be climbing some hills no matter which way you go, and you will always be able to see the ocean as well as the bay. The hike will take you all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, where you can take a walk across if you like. 

Stroll through the art: Palace of Fine Arts

Speaking of the Palace of Fine Arts, you can take your furry friend with you for a stroll through the art gallery here. With its colonnades and famous Roman-Greco rotunda, this is one of the most photographed sites in the city of San Francisco. There is a peaceful lagoon to explore, a long walk around the area, and then you and your furry family member can enjoy a picnic in the park. 

Originally constructed for the Panama Pacific International Expo in 1915, the architectural wonder features some incredible artwork both inside and out. The Palace Lagoon is one of the most popular spots for pups as they enjoy seeing all the critters that live there. But please keep Fido on a leash at all times. Absolutely free, you and your dog can enjoy the area from dawn til dusk, and there is even a cafe in case you get hungry. 

Explore the military past: Presidio of San Francisco

Learn some military history at the Presidio, a former military post, which is now a 1,500-acre park and rec center. And since it is all dog-friendly, you and your fur baby can enjoy the entire place together as long as he is leashed. From here, you get some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for free. 

There is also a visitor center, but it is only open from 10 AM until 5 PM daily. Other attractions include Baker Beach and a 14-acre park called Tunnel Tops, where you can enjoy a picnic or just hang out and soak up the sun. Be aware that certain areas are closed from April until September due to coyote pupping season. But you can still enjoy the Fort Point Historic Site, Battery Bluff, and Crissy Marsh, where over 100 types of birds visit daily.

Visit a movie scene: Alamo Square Park

If you have ever seen the 1990s sitcom Full House, you will want to bring your pup to this iconic park. This is the park you see in the opening credits of the show where the Tanner family is having a picnic in front of The Painted Ladies, the famous pastel-painted homes. Located in the Western Addition residential area, all dogs are allowed as long as they are leashed, and the park is full of cottonwood trees, green grass, and beautiful scenery. 

Besides all that, there are playgrounds, picnic tables, restrooms, tennis courts, and even a dog play area on the western end of the park where you can let Fido off the leash for a while. You can also take a hike through the woods and see the horseback trail that dates back to 1856 when Mayor James Van Ness set aside the area for horses and their riders could rest. 

Run off leash: Mission Creek Dog Park

Located near Giants Stadium, this fully-fenced dog park is the perfect spot to let your fur baby run around with other fur babies while you relax and watch them play. Most of the park is gravel, allowing for drainage to prevent mud. The rest is an artificial turf that pups love. The water fountains here are unique, with giant water bowls at the bottom for your pooch and picnic tables both shaded and sunny throughout.  

You will find that the entire place is flat, unlike most of San Francisco, which is a plus. Your dog will definitely get to socialize with other pups since this is such a popular park. Take a seat and relax while your fur baby runs out all that excess energy he always seems to have. Parking can be difficult, especially on game days. And the parking meter prices go up at that time to what the city calls special event prices. 

Shop til you drop: Union Square San Francisco

Need a little retail therapy? You do not have to leave your fur baby at home. There are literally over a hundred stores, kiosks, eateries, and bars in Union Square, and many of them are perfectly fine with you bringing in your buddy. 

Some of the most popular shops here that love dogs include Williams-Sonoma, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrum, as well as Bloomingdales and Macys. Right in the middle of downtown San Francisco, the square is fully pet-friendly outside too. 

In the middle of the square stands Nike, the goddess of victory, and it may or may not be a coincidence that there is a Nike store directly across the street. And yes, Nike allows dogs into their shop. Just down the street at Macy’s, you and your pup can stop in for a bite at The Rotunda. Try the rotunda burger with smoked cheddar and fries or the fillet of fish made with Pacific rockfish. 

Do some light reading: Book Passage Bookstore

Book Passage is a popular bookstore in San Francisco with books for everyone, from children’s books to horror stories. Your leashed pup is welcome as long as he is well-behaved. They often have ticketed events with authors and other famous people, but you will have to check with the store to see if your pooch can come. These range from writing classes, self-editing, language classes, and as well as kids classes just for fun. 

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, there is another Book Passage Bookstore with a cafe so you and your fur baby can enjoy a bite while you peruse the books. They even have book signings, classes, and workshops. At this shop, you and your dog can meet Neo, the bookstore’s mascot and local resident, and enjoy some music by Jann Wenner and Ben Fong-Torres. The shop has thousands of books, both old and new, with first editions and special editions as well. 

Tour the city: San Francisco Native Tours

Enjoy great company and delicious food on a San Francisco Native Walking Tour with your pooch. Led by a fifth-generation guide, you and your pup can walk from North Beach to Haight and then to Mission in a tour that lasts about four and a half hours. Learn all about the different cultures in the city as well as all the local folklore and other stories. You will get to enjoy some free snacks with insider tips on where to go to dine out in San Francisco. 

Try some authentic Sicilian pizza as well as delicious Ghirardelli chocolates, fudge, taffy, pastries, and sandwiches too. Uncover secrets in the financial district, learn about the old west on the Barbary Coase during the gold rush, and explore the Italian district. Chinatown is another great stop where you can enjoy some authentic Chinese food and then get some fortune cookies from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company. 

Create something special: Pottery in the Mission

This dog-popular experience is an Airbnb-hosted event with Marieke where you can learn to sculpt, making your own items from clay. Each piece will be professionally finished, glazed, and fired so you can take your artwork home with you. 

Fido can hang out and soak up all the attention he will get from the owners as well as the guests. Be sure to mention that you are bringing your furry family member when booking. 

You can start on the pottery wheel, where you learn how to secure your clay and sculpt it as it spins. Make a cup or bowl, learning how to shape your masterpiece from the instructor. You will get to shape about six different pieces of clay and will end up with at least two pieces to take home with you. The classes run for three weeks, so it is not just a one-and-done experience. Each class lasts about two hours, and you should make sure your nails are trimmed, and you wear something that can get messy. 

Enjoy the night: San Francisco Night Photo Workshop

Another Airbnb experience, this one hosted by photographer Anthony. Book a private tour and mention your pup, so you do not end up on tour with allergy sufferers. Anthony will be driving you and your pooch around to the most stunning attractions like the Bay Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The three-hour tour includes learning how to get the best nighttime shots with your digital camera, including aperture and staging secrets. 

Be sure your dog is leashed, and you wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking on different kinds of terrain. This is not a tour for those using camera phones or point-and-shoot cameras. You will meet at the parking lot of the St. Francis Yacht Club and get a fast orientation before heading out just as the sun sets. Learn how to take long shots on Lombard Street and what to do to take the absolute best night photos while Fido enjoys the night air.  

Have a brew or two: Seven Stills Mission Bay

Seven Stills Mission Bay lets you and your dog tour the brewery and learn about how they make the best beer and whiskey. The unique way of making whiskey from craft beers began from a little question from one friend to another about what would happen if you made whiskey from a great craft beer instead of the low-quality liquor normally used. They started in a garage in 2013 and now have a distillery with 17,500 acres that includes a restaurant and beer garden. 

The company’s vision was to launch seven whiskeys from seven different craft beers (hence the name), but today they have made over 100 from 100 different beers. Your pooch can join you anywhere the public is allowed, both inside and out, but their favorite spot seems to be the beer garden, where everyone is friendly, and they can run around and play. You can even shoot a game of pool. But Fido will just have to watch since there are no pool cues for dogs… yet. 

Ride the train: Tilden Steam Train

Also known as the Redwood Valley Railway, this 15-inch gauge steam train will take you and your little buddy on a trip around Tilden Park and the forest of 600+ redwood trees planted by the railway years ago. Established in 1952, the train started as a 12-inch gauge carrying more than 160 thousand guests a year. The new larger train can accommodate two adults in each seat instead of one, so you and Fido can share a seat. 

The ride only lasts 12 minutes, but you and your pup will get to see some incredible sights, including the local flora and fauna. The train is not just a bunch of seats, though. It has a variety of cars, including gondolas that can seat eight adults, a boxcar, jimmies, a flatcar, and a red caboose. The rest of Tilden Park is also dog-friendly unless marked otherwise, but you need to keep your pup on a leash. 

The Final Woof

No matter whether you have one tiny terrier or a whole pack of huge hounds, San Francisco has something fun for all dogs and their parents. You can take Fido to the beach for some splashing in the surf or ride on a train in Tilden Park, take a boat ride in the bay, or shop at Union Square. 

Whatever you and your pup feel like doing, you can probably find it in this dog-friendly city where dogs outnumber the kids. 

There are hundreds of hiking trails that allow dogs where your pooch can work off some of that excess energy he always seems to have. Or you can visit the famous park where several shows have been filmed, including Full House. Just remember to bring a leash, doggy bags, and extra water and snacks. 

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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