WOOF, looking for dog-friendly day trips in Northern California? Perk up your ears and sniff my furry buttocks now!
Last updated 4/23/22
Even though I’ve transformed into the world traveling Yorkie in 2016, I haven’t forgotten the exquisite scents of my hometown Northern California. With an upright wagging tail, I’m ecstatic to bark out my favorite dog-friendly day trips in Northern California or simply NorCal. I also have a real treat for you as my road trip expert Weimaraner cousin Sonny is here to add a mark or two. Together, we are two furry NorCal natives ready to take you through 10 of the most pawsome places in our territory to visit with your dog. Whether you rest your furry paws in the Bay Area or Sacramento, we’ve got you covered with the top dog-friendly day trips in Northern California. Sniff us out below!
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#1 Wine Country
Napa Valley and its surrounding area may be internationally known for gorgeous vineyards and luxurious resorts, but NorCal dog pawrents also know how dog-friendly the region is. Although technically part of the San Francisco Bay Area, wine country is often considered to be separate from the Bay Area by many natives and locals (myself included). Approximately an hour north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento, Napa and Sonoma Valleys offer numerous dog-friendly wineries with dog-friendly tasting rooms not to mention dog-friendly vineyard hikes and hotel packages. Yet, that’s on top of frequently thrown dog-friendly events. In many wineries, your furry friend will be greeted by the resident dog a.k.a. the furry winery boss! My favorite is Hall Wines (401 St. Helena Hwy. South) in St. Helena where dogs are welcome in a plethora of places, from The Great Lawn to Ocean View Terrace. Also in St. Helena in Napa Valley, an aristocratic Napoleon-like Frenchie even launched his own wine empire; at Frenchie Winery in Raymond Vineyards (849 Zinfandel Lane St. Helena, CA 94574), dogs are provided comfy wine barrel dog beds and monitored through a doggie cam while their humans enjoy a wine tasting or two. At Bartholomew Estate Vineyards in Sonoma (1000 Vineyard Lane Sonoma, CA 95476), dogs are also welcome onsite and on a 3-mile trail within Bartholomew Park (as long as they remain on a leash at all times).
Get your furry paws on my sidekick Penny Gurl’s guide to visiting Wine Country with a DOG.
#2 Santa Cruz
Just under a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, a short 40-minute drive from San Jose, and a 2-hour drive from Sacramento, Santa Cruz is an easily accessible day trip in Northern California. This super laid-back town is known for warm beaches (unlike the ones in SF), head-tiltin’ redwood trees, and tie-dye culture. Although dogs aren’t allowed on the famed Santa Cruz Boardwalk, finding dog-friendly activities in the area is never a problem. Dogs may have been banned from Downtown Santa Cruz in the past, but now I can dash through Pacific Avenue with an upright tail. Whether it’s brunch or dinner, I can join my humans on dog-friendly restaurant patios offering dog bowls. At the ARF-so-colorful and eccentric Cafe Limelight (1016 Cedar Street), I can even bark an order off their 5-item doggie menu featuring dental sticks and savory turkey. Santa Cruz is no Napa Valley, but I sure love hitting up their dog-friendly breweries and vineyards, where it’s not uncommon to find dogs inside tasting rooms. With a myriad of dog-friendly state parks, trails, and beaches (Its Beach 701 W Cliff Dr) combined with year-round moderate weather, Santa Cruz is a real pawty for dogs. Sniff out my comprehensive guide to visiting dog-friendly Santa Cruz now!
The short drive north on the Golden Gate Bridge out of the city will take you to Marin County, one of the richest counties not just in the Bay Area but also in the United States. WOOF! Besides multi-million dollar homes, Marin County is known for some of the most ARF-mazing parks and cleanest beaches in California. Heck, I quickly dropped open my little mouth and smiled at the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Right across the 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands is a 2,100-acre hilly area with IG-worthy shots of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco city skyline. In addition to three dog-friendly trails (Coastal Trail, Loop Trail, and Wolf Ridge Loop), dogs are allowed on Rodeo Beach. Dogs are also allowed in certain areas of the state parks, including developed areas and paved roads of the popular Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley.
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the national parks in Marin boast bountiful dog-friendly trails, beaches, and open spaces. Even though dogs are prohibited in Muir Woods (for the safety of your precious dog and wildlife) and campgrounds, they are permitted on the nearby Muir Beach in certain areas, such as Beach Area Proper (on-leash or voice control), Kaashi Way & Coastal Trail (on-leash), and Redwood Creek Lagoon & Riparian Area. Sniff out the National Park Service website for all their dog-friendly locations.
If you aren’t up for a hike, take your dog on a day trip to my human’s favorite, Sausalito. A 30-minute ferry ride from San Francisco will take you and your dog to timeless views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a charming waterfront walkway with restaurants and shops. Official ferry rules state that dogs are allowed on the ferry as long as they remain in a handheld kennel or airline-approved carrier. Sniff out 7 ARF-mazing things to do with your dog in Sausalito here.
Big dogs can hop onto the Blue & Gold Fleet vessel from Pier 41 in the city as long as they’re on a leash. Small dogs can also board as long as they’re in an approved carrier. Per their policy, you must be able to control your dog at all times; otherwise, your dog may be subject to removal.
#4 Lake Tahoe
Whether you wanna perk up your ears at the South Shore or rest your paws on the North Shore, Lake Tahoe (or Tahoe for short) is a heavenly, glassy blue paradise for dogs. If you don’t already know, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At the border between California and Nevada, Tahoe is only less than 2 hours away from Sacramento and 3.5 hours from San Francisco. For Peninsula and South Bay folks, Tahoe serves more of a weekend getaway than a day trip. While both North and South Shores have bragging rights to beautiful ski resorts and beaches, the South Shore (South Lake Tahoe) is our pick for a more lively and upbeat time. After all, South Lake Tahoe is buzzin’ with outdoor live music, bars, and lounges. Although casinos are not dog-friendly (GRR, it’s too smokey anyway), my cousin Sonny and I like to get our grub on at the spectacular dog-friendly restaurants in Heavenly Village (Base Camp Pizza is the BEST). Besides dog-friendly eateries and breweries, you’ll come across pawsome dog-friendly hikes (Lake of the Sky Trail, Mt. Tallac, Tahoe Rim Trail) and dog-friendly beaches (Lakeside Beach, Kiva Beach, North Zephyr Cove Beach).
If you and your furry traveler get bored in Tahoe, you can drive 30-60 minutes (depending on which part of Tahoe you’re in) to Reno, Nevada. About 22 miles from Tahoe, Reno is coined the “The Biggest Little City in the World.” It has a dog-friendly downtown along the Truckee River where your dog can effortlessly sniff out dog bowls and treats outside of restaurants with dog-friendly dining patios.
#5 Sly Park
On Hwy 50 towards Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County, Sly Park is approximately an hour east of Sacramento, 2.5 hours from San Francisco, and just under 3 hours from San Jose. Dogs are allowed in the Sly Park Recreation Area as long as they’re on a 10-foot max leash and under control at all times (and, of course, don’t forget to clean up after your dog). The heart of Sly Park lies Jenkinson Lake. At 3500 ft elevation, Jenkinson Lake is where my little BIG cousin Sonny cam frolick outdoors all day, from paddleboarding to kayaking to hiking. With 9 miles of dog-friendly trails surrounding the lake, Sonny loves a good hike on Miwok Trail or Jenkinson Lake Loop Trail (not to mention sniff out those waterfalls). Be sure to pack bottled water, water bowls, food, and treats so you and your dog can picnic by the lake after a nice hike. If you opt to stay overnight for some weekend fun, your dog can also join you on the campgrounds.
This small college town about 14 miles west of Downtown Sacramento is a wonderful destination to explore with your dog. Despite its proximity to the Bay Area (over an hour drive northeast from San Francisco and less than 2 hours from San Jose), Davis is almost entirely overlooked by visitors (unless you’re a UCD student or have ties to its internationally renowned UC Davis campus). A side note: UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is not only the largest veterinary school in the country but also the BEST in the world, which means your furry traveler should be in good hands in an unlikely event of an emergency. The lettered and numbered streets of Downtown Davis are quaint like in any small town, but they boast abundant dog-friendly eateries ranging from pizzerias to burger joints to cafes. As a nomadic dog who has gallivanted throughout Europe for the last few years, I love hanging out at the cutesy Tea List (222 D St. Ste 3) for afternoon high tea with Sonny. Chilling on their wooden dog-friendly patio (which is free from cars), I can devour scones and tea sandwiches in peace. In addition to more than several dog-friendly trails nearby (Putah Creek), the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden makes for a calming yet interesting saunter with your dog. If you wanna grab a beer or two, take your dog to long-time Davis establishment Sudwerk Brewery (2001 2nd St) where you’ll surely find some dogs running around the joint. 🙂
#7 Bodega Bay
Situated on the Pacific Coast in Sonoma County, the whale-watching small town of Bodega Bay is under a 90-minute drive north of San Francisco and a 2-hour drive from both San Jose and Sacramento. Rose to fame as the setting of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary film The Birds, Bodega Bay is a marvelous dog-friendly day trip packed with outdoor activities, seaside eateries, and boutique shops. In addition to dining out with your dog over coastal views, other dog-friendly activities at this beautiful fishing port include hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, and enjoying the beaches. YEP, dogs are also allowed on most trails and beaches at Bodega Bay as long as they’re leashed. For instance, at Sonoma Coast State Park, dogs are allowed on the following beaches: Campbell Cove, Marshall Gulch, Carmet Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, Portuguese Beach, Duncan’s Cover, Wright’s Beach, Furlong Gulch, Shell Beach, Blind Beach, and Russian Gulch. Doran Regional Park also boasts a 2-mile stretch of beach that’s pawfect for picnicking with your dog after a nice sandy walk. We especially love the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, which is an easy 1.19-mile trail near Doran Regional Park that’s a MUST for some fun bird watching.
#8 Folsom Lake
Nestled in the foothills of Sierra Nevada, the 9-mile long Folsom Lake is a reservoir situated on the American River just 30 minutes from Sacramento, 2 hours from San Francisco, and 2.5 hours from San Jose. Not only are dogs allowed on all trails, but also IN the water (well, excluding swim areas at Negro Bar, Granite Bay, Beals Point, and Nimbus Flat)! A real athlete, my cousin Sonny has over 50 miles of trails to mark up (ARF, should he wish) in addition to fun water excursions (kayaking, anyone?). His go-to trails are the Johnny Cash Trail and Folsom Lake Granite Bay Trail. Despite a low level of water in recent years due to severe drought in California, Folsom Lake remains a popular area for swimming. All in all, Folsom Lake is an ultra chill yet solid recreational area for humans to appreciate nature with their dogs. As the summers and winters may have extreme temperatures, we recommend visiting Folsom Lake with your dog in the Spring and Fall.
#9 Half Moon Bay
Resting between the Pacific Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains in San Mateo County, the jaw-droppin’ city of Half Moon Bay is only a 35-minute drive south of San Francisco, under an hour drive from San Jose, and 2.5 hours from Sacramento. As the oldest city in San Mateo County, this seaside resort town got its mesmerizing name from its crescent-shaped harbor. Half Moon Bay is a bark-worthy, frequently visited Northern California day trip destination flooded with boutiques and cozy rustic inns and bed and breakfasts. With dog-friendly beaches, coastal hiking trails, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, this small upscale coastal city makes a sweet getaway with your dog. From the scenic Sam’s Chowder House (4210 CA-1) to the loved by locals San Benito House (356 Main St.), dog-friendly dining options are more than plentiful. Although I love roaming around off-leash at Miramar Beach (Medio Ave and Mirada Rd), there are also on-leash dog-friendly beaches such as Surfers Beach (near Sam’s Chowder House), Half Moon Bay State Beach, and Poplar Beach. And, WOOF – dogs are also allowed at the oceanfront 5-star Ritz Carlton Resort!
Technically in Central California, Monterey is PAWS DOWN one of the best dog-friendly day trips in Northern California, especially from San Francisco. One of the oldest cities in California, this John Steinback-famous coastal city is an easy 2-hour drive from San Francisco (down Hwy 101), a little over an hour drive from San Jose, and a 3-hour drive from Sacramento. From dog-friendly kayaks in Monterey Bay to dog-friendly scenic Pacific Coast hikes like Eolian Dunes Preserve and Jacks Peak Park, Monterey is one of the most splendid picturesque areas in California to visit with your dog. The nearby wealthy town of Carmel, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor, is also rated the #1 dog-friendly town in America! Dogs can get their paws sandy at the very dog-friendly Carmel Beach, order off doggie menus at fancy restaurants, and stop for water and treat breaks at one of the many upscale shops on Ocean. Sniff out more fun dog-friendly activities in Monterey here.
WOOF, I hope you and your dog enjoy these 10 dog-friendly day trips in Northern California from me with a few barks from my cousin Sonny! Be sure to share your day trips in NorCal with me – BARK AT ME!
Markin’ it up,
Roger Wellington a.k.a. The Doob