I think I’ve had a pretty wide breadth of experience when it comes to travel. I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with friends, I’ve traveled with family, I’ve traveled with flings and serious boyfriends. But until recently, I’ve never traveled with the love of my life: my eleven-year-old cocker spaniel, Tucker.
Regular readers know that Tucker is an important fixture around Wanderland HQ. Still, especially with his recent relocation to California, I don’t get nearly enough time with my little man. So when I decided to do a week-long road trip to San Diego and Palm Springs while in California, I knew Tucker would be coming along.
Traveling with a dog, especially one that is thirty-five pounds and therefore cannot fit in a purse, requires a certain amount of research and planning, and ideally, a destination that is already dog welcoming. I quickly realized that for my first big pet project, I couldn’t have asked for a more pet-friendly destination than San Diego. Tucker, my friend Kat and I spent four nights and five days in San Diego, mostly based in Mission Beach — and my other guy Ian joined us for the last night.
Tucker already filled you in on the kick off to our road trip, but I thought I’d chime in with a human perspective and a few tips for those who might want to bring their own four-legged besties to the beach.
Where to Eat
I love going out to eat when I travel, and so this was a big concern for me. Staying in a pet friendly rental (more on that below) was crucial — we were able to eat breakfast and some lunches and dinners at our beach houses, which made life a lot easier than if we had been at a hotel and had to worry about sourcing three Tucker-approved restaurants per day. was a great resource for doing so, as was the detailed list of area restaurants provided by our Luv Surf rental.
Our favorite find of the trip was , a chic restaurant with an inspiring menu, a gorgeous atmosphere, and an attentive wait staff. They also provided a water bowl, homemade dog treats, and waiters who coo-ed over our cutie. Tucker was one of three dogs in the restaurant that night!
For breakfast our final morning, we wanted to head somewhere special, and so we set off for Acai bowls and egg white garden omelets made for happy humans, and more water bowls, dog biscuits and attention from the staff made for a very pleased pup.
Swell is owned by the same management group as The Patio on Lamont, and had we had more time in San Diego, we would have worked our way through even more of the Patio Group’s portfolio, as all their restaurants are pet-friendly.
Other amazing eateries we encountered were , an organic juice bar that was great for grabbing something to-go on a doggie walk, , a Mission Beach institution with outdoor dog-friendly seating, and , a waterfront spot in Ocean Beach that has a pet-welcoming patio, raises money for the local humane society, and even had for dogs! Tucker was all about the bacon flavored pupsicle we ordered for him.
What to Do
Where we stayed in Mission Beach, dogs were only allowed on the sand between 6pm-9am (starts at 4pm in the winter) and must be on a leash at all times. We did take Tucker to watch the sunset with us one night on our beach chairs — which he loved! — but otherwise sought out more dog friendly options.
And oh, there are amazing ones! Our big beach day was to , which is simply the most beautiful dog beach I’ve ever encountered. A sheltered peninsula with plentiful parking, we couldn’t believe how many playful dogs and their friendly humans were here even on a weekday morning. If you or your pup gets peckish, Shades restaurant is just moments away. Had we had more time, I would have also checked out , the only other off-leash dog beach in San Diego proper (there are many more further afield). There’s also around, but who needs a land-locked park when there’s a beach nearby?
If you’re driving from Los Angeles or anywhere else north, I highly recommend making a stop at Huntington Dog Beach, which I — er, Tucker — wrote about as well.
Have an activity you need or want to do without your pet? We were pretty eager to go diving in San Diego (post to come!) but were concerned about leaving Tuck unattended for such a long stretch. Enter , a dog walking app that allowed us to schedule a mid-day walk and play session from my iPhone, with detailed instructions for the pre-screened walker. I even got a photo of Tuck and a map of their route upon their return!
For other shorter activities that we did sans-dog, like amazing classes at and , we felt comfortable leaving Tucker guarding the house as he was surrounded by a cozy home with filled with dog toys, treats, and a bed.
Where to Shop
Granted, I’m not much of a shopper. But I couldn’t resist popping into the two boutiques in Mission Beach. While primarily stores for people, there are some cute pet accessories (I snagged Tuck a cute bandana!) on offer and your four legged fashion advisors are warmly welcomed to join you for shopping.
Where to Stay
While there are plenty of pet-friendly hotels across California, I knew that for this trip we wanted to focus on finding vacation rentals instead — both we and Tucker could feel more at home, and we would be able to prepare some meals with a cocker-spaniel shaped shadow following us around.
Enter . They are not a property management company — they personally own and maintain each home in their portfolio. I had the chance to check out two in my four nights in San Diego. First, we checked out their cute Island Court home, and next, we moved over to their showpiece Zanzibar Court property.
Let me tell you, that house on Zanzibar Court? It might just be one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed. Around the corner from the boardwalk, filled with squeal-inducing adorable details, and coated in a thick veneer of beachy charm, we felt like the luckiest girls — and pup — in San Diego while staying here. I have vowed to return again for a full week someday!
Yes, you can filter for pet-friendly properties on sites like Airbnb (in fact, this is what we did in Palm Springs.) However, you’ll have to go into each individual listing to see what kind of extra charges pets will incur, and it can be hard to determine exactly how pet-friendly the property will actually be.
With , there’s no guess work. There are no extra charges, and in fact each and every rental is stocked with the stuff of doggie dreams: dog beds, dog toys, food and water bowls, dog treats, and even dog food. They also come with guides to the area’s pet friendly restaurants and beaches, and the insanely hospitable staff are never more than a phone call away for questions.
And there are plenty of amenities for humans, too: beach cruiser bikes, beach towels and chairs, a garage, and a shed full of boogie boards.
Tucker has been on the road with us often, but in very specific circumstances: to our beach house in Martha’s Vineyard, to visit my sister in Rochester, to visit me in New York City (I snuck him into my Pratt dorm once or twice!) and back and forth dozens of times between my mom and dad’s home bases in Philadelphia, Boston and Albany. But I have to admit, I was always super intimidated by the idea of traveling — actually traveling, not just shuffling between family and friends — with my canine cutie.
Tucker loves being in the car and is never happier than when accompanying us on human errands and tasks (my dad pretty much exclusively gets his hair cut at dog-friendly establishments.) So I wasn’t really worried about how he’d handle being on vacation. I was worried about me. Would I feel limited in my activities? Would I be stressed about where we could eat? Would I be resentful of having to spend so much time and energy on someone else?
Well, let’s just say I didn’t know it was possible to love my overweight cocker spaniel any more than I already did. But traveling with him for a week cracked my heart open a million times with happiness. And all those logistics I was worried about just melted away. The transition to traveling with a leash in hand was pretty seamless — you got to the dog beach instead of the human one. You pick restaurants that allow four-legged friends. You plan your days around dog walks and puppy snuggles. You smile at watching the world through your dog’s eyes. And, if you’re anything like me, you love every second of it.
I can’t wait to plan my next dog-friendly California adventure! Any tips on that, or general traveling with pet tips? Leave ’em in the comments — Tucker and I will both say thanks. (Or in Tucker’s case, arf arf!)
Up next, Palm Springs!
Many thanks to Luv Surf and the Patio Group for their wonderful San Diego hospitality. I can’t recommend them more highly!