San Diego’s outdoor lifestyle and pet-friendly atmosphere make it the perfect locale for spending some quality time with your furry four-legged friend. Travelers and locals alike have a tremendous number of options for outdoor and sometimes even indoor fun.
The area is so welcoming to pets that dog owners don’t have to leave their pups at home when spending a few days here on vacation. Here are some of the most dog-friendly activities to consider in San Diego, CA.
1. Spend Time at a Dog Beach
San Diego may very well have the best dog-friendly beaches in the United States. You’ll find several that are leash-free, including the aptly named Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, the original dog beach in the San Diego area. Here, your furry friends can play off-leash all year long.
Two other leash-free beaches include North Beach, on the north end of the famous Coronado beach by Hotel del Coronado, and Dog Beach in Del Mar at the river mouth.
Other dog-friendly beaches to consider include Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Cardiff State Beach, Imperial Beach, and La Jolla Shores Beach. These are on-leash beaches where dogs are permitted during certain hours of the day.
You may also see some dogs riding waves on surfboards (wearing life jackets, of course). There are a couple of doggy surfing contests throughout the year.
2. Play Fetch at Fiesta Island
Fiesta Island, located in Mission Bay, is a great place to take your pooch because they can run off-leash on most of the island. You’ll find a dog-friendly beach here, too, with waveless bay waters and big sandy dunes for furry friends who are more interested in a relaxing stroll than swimming.
Fiesta Island has a large dog park where your best friend can run off-leash, along with a large area with picnic tables where dogs are also welcome. You can spend a relaxing day here, but keep in mind that there are no restrooms.
Tip: Make sure to avoid fenced-in areas here as Fiesta Island is also home to the San Diego Youth Aquatic Center.
3. Take Your Pooch on a Hike
You’ll find great hiking in the wide-open spaces all over San Diego, but some trails are better than others for four-legged friends. Remember to bring doggy bags to clean up any messes along with water for dog and human hydration. Here are three easy and popular spots.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
You’ll find a network of trails at this pet-friendly park by the ocean in Ocean Beach. Pet parents will also love the breathtaking views. Make sure you keep your dog on a leash, as the trails here have significant drop-offs, and there will definitely be other dogs around.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve
The moderately long trails here are great for dogs of all ages who love to smell and discover new things. Los Peñasquitos is also a great walk with a four-legged friend on warm days, as the canyon is not too hot and has a fair amount of shade for rest stops. They’ll probably also want to play in the creek.
You can enter the preserve from several access points. It runs between roughly Rancho Peñasquitos and Mira Mesa.
Here’s another easy trail for people and dogs who must always be on a leash. You’ll find the lagoon along the coast between Carlsbad and Encinitas. A roughly 2-mile trail runs on the lagoon’s north side, offering various discovery points for nature lovers, including where to spot nesting birds to mudflats and the creatures that live in them.
4. Take a Boat Ride on Mission Bay
If your dog doesn’t like to swim, she may love feeling the wind in her face on a boat ride on Mission Bay. Seaforth Boat Rentals is pet-friendly and will even provide you with life vests for your best friend.
You can rent powerboats, sailboats, fishing boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and more here. Aqua Adventures is another business that also offers pet-friendly rentals. It’s not uncommon to see smaller dogs accompany their owners on a stand-up paddleboard.
5. Spend the Day in Balboa Park
Besides being one of the best attractions in San Diego, Balboa Park, one of the largest parks in the country, is also a great place to bring your pooch. It offers numerous areas for pet-friendly activities among its 1,000 acres.
You’ll find plenty of open space, gardens, walking paths, and museums. Nate’s Point Off-Leash Dog Park is a designated off-leash area and one of the most popular dog parks in San Diego. Find it south of El Prado / Laurel Street and east of Balboa Drive.
Our favorite Balboa Park restaurants are pet-friendly, including Panama 66 with its huge patio (delicious counter-order sandwiches and craft beer), and The Prado (table service salads, pasta, tacos).
Ensure your pets are leashed in Balboa Park when not in designated off-leash areas. And, no, they are not allowed into the museums.
6. Visit Old Town San Diego
San Diego is even dog-friendly in outdoor historical areas like Old Town San Diego, considered the birthplace of California. Dogs are not allowed inside of the buildings, but you’ll still get a feel for what life was like during the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872.
You’ll be able to admire the restored adobe buildings (from the outside) and walk through the Historic Plaza, where there is some green space to walk on. Here you also may find some live entertainment.
The marketplaces like San Diego Old Town Market have some outdoor retail stalls to browse, and your dog is welcome to join you for a Mexican food meal at one of the restaurants like Fred’s Mexican Cafe, which even offers a dog menu.
7. Run Free at Off-Leash Dog Parks
If you need to visit off-leash parks to let your pet run free and work off, then visiting a San Diego dog run will do the trick. Your pets will love the freedom that running through these off-leash areas brings. Play fetch and do anything else that your four-legged friend desires.
Consider taking your dog to popular places like San Diego Humane Society and SPCA Dog Park, Encinias Park, and Doyle Community Park. Here’s the full list of approved areas.
Each has its own rules, so make sure you check the requirements before you go. Some even have special sections for small dogs and large dogs that are completely fenced.
8. Visit Dog-Friendly Restaurants and Bars
When you’re hungry, you don’t have to leave your four-legged friend at home or back at the hotel. San Diego has tons of bars and restaurants that welcome leashed dogs, whether on a sun deck, outdoor patio, or in another dog-friendly area.
Tip: Combine your day in the surf and sun with a dog-friendly restaurant at Ocean Beach, where you’ll find more than 30 pet-friendly establishments. Some even have a yappy hour where your pooch is more than welcome.
Check out these other venues that are more than welcoming to dogs:
- Barbarella (La Jolla Shoes — they have a dog menu, too)
- PB Fish Shop (Pacific Beach — they bring out dog bowls and treats)
- Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens (Escondido location only)
- Pizza Port (Ocean Beach)
- Station Tavern (North Park — they also have a kids’ play area)
- The Dog Society (Rolando Park)
When taking your four-footed friend to a restaurant or bar, make sure you take dog treats, chew toys, and water to keep him happy.
9. Go to a Baseball Game at Petco Park
Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is one of the area’s most friendly dog-related venues. Enjoy a baseball game in one of five Barkyard viewing areas in the left-center field.
Each semi-private viewing area holds up to four people and two dogs and is available through a 10-game Flex Membership. Pet amenities include a designated entrance and Pet Relief Area, a pet drinking fountain and umbrellas to protect your dog, and special artificial turf that stays cool so pups don’t burn their paws.
10. Visit a Pet Boutique
After a long day out in San Diego, pamper your dog at a pet boutique. Some pet boutiques have self-wash stations, which are particularly useful for out-of-town dog owners. Try places like the original Paw Pleasers in North Park with its full-service dog bakery and selection of toys and gifts, or Dexter’s Deli, a health food store for pets with several locations.
11. Stay at a Dog-Friendly Hotel
Of course, San Diego, CA, has a great selection of pet-friendly hotels where pets can stay for an additional fee. Among the pet-friendly hotels you’ll want to consider are:
You can refer to my full list of dog-friendly San Diego hotels. Be sure to check for any size, weight, or breed restrictions.
12. Visit La Jolla
The community of La Jolla has virtually everything you want in a day out with your furry friend, including dog-friendly restaurants, local parks, and more. Nearly every shop in the Village welcomes dogs, so your pooch can also indulge in retail therapy with you.
Speaking from much personal experience, it’s just an easy place to go without putting much thought into it. The Village area even has special dog bag dispensers and waste disposal containers.
13. Go Wine Tasting
Yes, your dog is even welcome at the San Diego area wineries in both urban and vineyard settings. The most popular is Eagle’s Nest Winery in Ramona, where you can sip a variety of red, white, and port wines with your pooch on a leash in a picturesque setting.
A variety of urban wineries allow dogs like Orfila’s tasting rooms in Oceanside, but you can also bring them to the winery tasting room in Escondido.
A good rule of thumb is to call the winery in advance as many are pet-friendly, but they do not say so on their websites.
14. Cruise the Embarcadero
If you’re looking for a new place to walk the dog in San Diego, try the Embarcadero. This bayfront entertainment area wraps around San Diego Bay, starting south of the San Diego Airport and ending at the Convention Center.
You’ll be able to see the ships and submarines at the San Diego Maritime Museum from the path, pass by the USS Midway Museum, and snap photos in front of the massive “Unconditional Surrender” statue. Proceed to Seaport Village and The Headquarters, where restaurants with patios like Puesto offer pet-friendly dining. Browse the shops here and rest on the grass.
Speaking of grass, you’ll pass multiple small parks along the way and the bigger Waterfront Park near Little Italy along the way.
Tip: For an even longer walk, start at Harbor Island by taking the self-guided art walk.
15. Picnic at Kate Sessions Memorial Park
This isn’t an official dog park, but tons of dogs and their owners can be seen socializing throughout the day and into the evenings at Kate Sessions Memorial Park in Pacific Beach. Dogs are to remain leashed, but many are not. Do the latter at your own risk because the park is patrolled.
It’s a neighborhood park. A short path with a small incline and decline loops the park. You can circle it a few times for exercise. However, it boasts spectacular views of downtown over Mission Bay and even out to the Pacific Ocean.
Many people bring picnic blankets for afternoon and sunset picnics with their families and dogs. The other side of the park offers picnic tables, a playground, and a flat grassy field perfect for leisure sports as well. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Pacific Beach.
Important Tips for Dog Owners
Every beach has different regulations for dogs that are determined by whether they are managed by the state, the City of San Diego, or the city within San Diego County that the beach is in.
Beaches managed by the City of San Diego that are not specifically designated as off-leash, allow dogs after 6 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31 and after 4 p.m. from Nov. 1 to March 31 and overnight until 9 a.m.
Leashes in San Diego City parks and beaches can be no longer than 8′, so be careful if you use the longer retractable leashes.
Only fully vaccinated dogs are permitted in off-leash areas so keep your puppies at home until they receive their required vaccines.
Most importantly, have fun!