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Beach Blanket

Exploring the PCH from San Diego to Huntington Beach
By Eileen Barish

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) showcases the beauty and majesty of California as it meanders along one of the prettiest stretches of coastline anywhere in the world. Popular with tourists and locals just about any time of the year, traveling this ocean-hugging road reveals the storied beauty, excitement and diversity of California. You and your canine cohort can explore leash-free beaches, visit quaint seaside towns, stay in stylish hotels and share some excellent al fresco dining along the way.

Starting in San Diego, the experience begins with a near perfect climate and endless outdoor fun. There’s no doubt it will inspire even the laziest pooches to get off their haunches and sniff out a bit of excitdanaement. California’s second largest city is a happening place with revitalized downtown neighborhoods to tour, such as Little Italy, East Village, the Victorian National Historic Gaslamp District, Old Town and the city’s 1,200-acre gem—Balboa Park.

If water-filled fun is what you and the pooch crave, you’re in for a treat. The town’s beaches are plentiful, from the coves and cliffs of La Jolla to the Silver Strand of Coronado. Ocean Beach Park is San Diego’s most pupular beach…it’s the “in place” for leash-free canines any time of day. Also, include Fiesta Island in your water plan; it’s every canine’s dream of Fantasy Island.

Expanding your horizons, you can’t go wrong with an excursion to Coronado, a unique combination of quaint small town ambience and sophisticated luxury.  For some outdoor pleasure, the northernmost section of North Beach is where you’ll want to be. On a typical day, dozens of dogs will be doing their thing…rolling in the sand, splashing in the waves and fetching Frisbees.

For some strolling fun, window shopping and people watching, there is not a better place than the historically preserved downtown, especially along Orange Avenue, Coronado’s charming main street. It’s lined with bookstores, antique shops, home, garden and gourmet food shops. Don’t be surprised to find a water bowl outside any number of stores and an offer of a dog biscuit or two.

Dana Point Harbor: Surfers at Huntington Beach, Surf City USA | Photo credit: Surf City USA - Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau

Next stop is La Jolla, a Mediterranean-style village graced with a rocky coastline punctuated by scenic beaches. Within this strikingly beautiful setting, you’ll find a shopping Mecca worthy of its weight in people watching. In summer, dog times are restricted to before 9 am or after 6 pm (no restrictions in the winter). For some divine R&R, take the Cliffside Stairway to the beach or find a sweet spot with Spot on the grassy knoll atop the bluffs and practice your best laid-back routine.

Heading north to Dana Point, you’ll be treated to a spectacular harbor with dramatic coastal bluffs. A jaunt to seven-acre Heritage Park rewards with fabulous views of the marina. The Dog Fun Zone is where your pup can run free. When day is done, Pines Park is the place for sunset watching. Guaranteed, your pup will have plenty of canine company. Cozy up on a bench and wait for your “ahhhh” moment to begin.

If you and the dawgs are into quaint and artsy, the picture perfect artists’ colony of Laguna Beach is the next stop on this PCH excursion. “First Thursdays Art Walk” is a festive citywide evening with more than 40 galleries participating. When you and your buddy want some quiet lounging or a bit of Rexercise, Alta Laguna Park is a hilltop oasis that dishes up views and walking trails for you and old brown eyes. Or make your dog’s day at Dog Park, a leash-free zone from dawn to dusk every day except Wednesday.

Laguna Surfers: Surfers at Huntington Beach, Surf City USA | Photo credit: Surf City USA - Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau

Keep your dog’s tail wagging as your adventure continues to Huntington Beach, the finale on this Southern California section of the fabled PCH. First on your agenda should be the Doggie Bus to Huntington Dog Beach where leash-free abandon is de rigueur. If you happen to be visiting in July, don’t miss the Surfin’ Paws Dog Jam on Dog Beach, the dog surfing competition and free dog surfing lessons. What a way to spend the day! Hungry for more? A Fido foodie highlight is The Park Bench Café where a truly unique dining experience awaits. Your pooch can saddle up to the café and choose from a menu designed for canine connoisseurs.

Well, it’s time to say goodbye to this part of the California coast. Part two of this PCH travel itinerary will continue north in a future issue.

Ocean Beach, a short drive from downtown San Diego, is a trip back to the seventies with its retro feel and shops. At the end of the main drag near the beach is an ice cream store with funky and unusual flavors. A scoop for you and another for the-you-know-who is a perfect way to end the day.

Where to Stay
Well-located and beautiful, pet-friendly hotels:

Manchester Grand Hyatt, One Market Place, San Diego, CA 92101; (619) 232-1234
Westin San Diego, 400 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101; (619) 239-4500
St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, One Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, CA 92629; (949) 234-3200
Shorebreak Hotel, 500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, CA 92648; (714) 861-4470

Award-winning author and nationally known pet-travel expert, Eileen Barish’s books have been reviewed by more than 500 publications. A contributing writer to national magazines such as Newsweek and a frequent guest on CNN and other networks, Eileen’s sage advice on pet-travel has enriched the lives of thousands of pet parents. Her current books include Vacationing with Your Pet, the best-selling directory of 25,000 pet-friendly accommodations in the US and Canada, as well as the state guides to dog-friendly activities for Arizona, California, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Her books are available at all major bookstores, or by calling (800) 638-3637.

Image 1: Photography courtesy San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau
Image 2: Photography courtesy Surf City USA - Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau

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