Vacations are better when all members of the family can go, even the four-legged ones. And for those in search of a destination that will welcome and entertain your canine companion, Santa Barbara is the perfect spot. From beaches, parks, and trails, to dog-friendly cafes and even wine tasting rooms, there are plenty of activities for you and your dog to enjoy together.
Room and Board
First and foremost, you’ll need a place to stay that rolls out the red carpet for your furry friend, and Santa Barbara has many options. If you prefer to be near the water, the Spanish-style Hotel Milo is a good bet. It’s across from West Beach between Stearns Wharf and the Marina, making it easy to enjoy early-morning strolls. Also near the waterfront and at the edge of Santa Barbara’s trendy Funk Zone neighborhood is the hip Hotel Indigo. The luxury Kimpton Canary, which doesn’t charge extra for four-legged guests, is steps from State Street’s vibrant shopping and dining area.
With ideal weather nearly year-round, Santa Barbara is full of places to eat al fresco. Many of these—from fine dining establishments like Louie’s California Bistro in the Victorian Upham Hotel and State Street’s Arigato Sushi, to the French-American Le Café Stella and Funk Zone’s Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company—are happy to accommodate pups in their outdoor seating areas.
Sand and Surf
There’s no place that better approximates heaven in a dog’s mind than the beach. Of the three-dozen beaches in Santa Barbara County, there are three that provide off-leash freedom—Arroyo Burro East, Shoreline State Park, and Thousand Steps. Bordered by dramatic bluffs, Arroyo Burro, also called Hendry’s, is wide and flat, giving dogs free rein to play fetch and splash in the waves. There’s a dog-washing station by the parking lot, and the upscale Boathouse seaside restaurant has a heated, dog-friendly patio.
Other popular beaches, like Butterfly and Santa Claus, allow dogs, but they must be on leash. While the two beaches closest to downtown Santa Barbara—East Beach and West Beach—do not permit dogs on the sand, you can stroll the paved coastal trail that runs between the beaches and Cabrillo Boulevard.
Parks and Recreation
Hounds are allowed on leash in all but one city park, but if off-leash freedom is what you’re after, the Douglas Family Preserve is the place to go. It’s a well-maintained, 70-acre property with hiking trails and stunning views. It is on a steep bluff, so be careful if your dog likes to wander.
To avoid the cliffs, head to Tucker’s Grove Park a little north of Santa Barbara. This is a great spot for dogs because it’s fenced in and has a lot of shade. The Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens is another pleasant spot for you and your on-leash pooch. It features five and half miles of paths through an authentic Japanese tea garden, a redwood grove, and more.
Paws on the Ground
To the delight of Santa Barbara’s human and canine visitors, the nearby Los Padres National Forest is filled with trails and open spaces. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on leash, and owners should be sure to clean up waste and stay away from wildlife or protected areas. A favorite trail among locals, especially runners and mountain bikers, is the 4-mile trail to Inspiration Point. Knapp’s Castle is an easy hike that rewards with unrivaled coastal views and ruins of a one-time mountain retreat. Coal Oil Point Trail is a scenic 1.5-mile hike near UC Santa Barbara. Dogs are permitted on the bluffs and beach, but should avoid the protected dunes.
Wine and Dogs—The Perfect Pairing
A visit to Santa Barbara would be incomplete without indulging in the region’s award-winning wines, and many of Santa Barbara’s upstart tasting rooms are happy to let you enjoy their harvest with Fido by your side. In the Funk Zone, you can kick back on Santa Barbara Winery’s charming outdoor patio, check out Kunin Winery just a few blocks from the beach, or visit Municipal Winemakers located in a former dive shop. Dogs are also welcome at Jamie Slone Wines in the historic El Paseo outdoor shopping plaza. They specialize in small-production, handcrafted wines and have a fenced-in, open-air tasting room. Also in El Paseo is the tasting room for Grassini Family Vineyards, which has water bowls and treats for visiting mutts.
In Santa Barbara, you can even go sailing with your pooch. Sunset Kidd welcomes dogs on board its 41-foot touring yacht any time, any day. Their cruises are limited to 15 people, and you’ll have a chance to see a variety of marine wildlife. If your dog doesn’t have sea legs, you can do a land tour of Santa Barbara with DeeTours. Traveling in either a soft-top Jeep or convertible limo, you’ll see local landmarks and get ideas for places to eat, shop, and drink.
Final Tips: Packing for Your Pooch
Smart planning and packing will go a long way in ensuring happy travels for you and your dog. Be sure to include the following on your packing list:
A crate : Most hotels require that dogs unattended in rooms be crated. It’s also safer for pets to be in a crate while traveling in the car, and it’s a place where most dogs feel secure.
A Leash : Don’t forget a leash, and preferably two, with one to leave in the car.
Food and bowls : While some hotels and restaurants have bowls, don’t assume they all will. Portion out enough food for the number of days you’ll be gone and pack some treats for the road. For hiking trips, remember to bring water; there are water bottles and collapsible bowls specially designed for dogs on the go.
Poop bags : Even though many trails and beaches have bags, you should be ready for cleanup duty anywhere and at anytime.
Toys : If your dog has a favorite toy, bring it, and if you intend to hit one of the off-leash beaches, don’t forget balls and Frisbees.
Old Towels : Keep extra towels in your car, so you can clean up and dry off Fido after a day at the beach or on the trails.
Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.