The Best Dog Beaches, Coast to Coast

“Go ahead, make my day,” was a favorite line of actor Clint Eastwood, who also served as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a California beach town south of San Francisco. But the phrase gains new meaning with present Carmel mayor Sue McCloud, who invites you to visit the picturesque town’s beach with your dog.

“Carmel is dog heaven on Earth,” she says, after walking her own Dandie Dinmont Terrier on Carmel’s beach bluff pathway. “Our beach is off-leash, and nearly everything here is canine-oriented,” she says, mentioning the water bowls, treats, restaurants, inns, and more throughout Carmel that are all geared toward dogs.

Carmel’s beach is just one of many of the best dog beaches across the United States. You and your dog can take in the waves from coast to coast with a bit of advance planning. So load up your woody, as the Beach Boys sang, and prepare for plenty of canine beach safaris this summer.

Clues to Dog-friendly Beaches
If you and your dog pull in to an unfamiliar beach town, a few major clues can indicate whether or not the beach welcomes dogs. “In general, if a beach allows swimming, it will not allow dogs,” says Doug Gelbert, author of Doggin America’s Beaches: A Traveler’s Guide to Dog-friendly Beaches. “If a beach has lifeguards, it absolutely will not allow dogs.”

Although human swimmers and dogs generally don’t mix, Gelbert says many beaches permit dog access. The friendliest are “beaches that allow dogs in season, out of season, 24/7, 365 days a year, and dogs are allowed to run off leash,” he says. Some beaches permit dogs on leashes year-round, while others restrict dogs to certain hours or off seasons. Many New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts beaches fall into the latter category.

Three Dog-beach-paradise States
When planning a summer beach getaway with your dog, it’s hard to go wrong with these states:

  • Delaware “In Delaware, you can always get your dog to the beach,” says Gelbert, “even in season.”
  • Oregon “All 360 miles of beach in Oregon are public and open to dogs, he says. Lincoln City particularly welcomes dogs, according to city spokeswoman Sandy Pfaff. “Not only are there 7 miles of pristine beach for the two of you to walk or jog, but also there are numerous hiking trails with stellar views,” explains Pfaff. “Some of the local merchants will even allow your well-behaved pet to shop with you, and there are pet-friendly lodging opportunities to meet any need, desire or budget.”

North Carolina According to Gelbert, “North Carolina has the dog-friendliest beaches on the East Coast, mostly on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.”

Best Beaches for Dog Lovers, Countrywide
Gelbert says you can enjoy a dream beach vacation with your dog at the following destinations:

  • California: San Diego Dog Beach, San Simeon State Beach, Pismo Beach, Pfeiffer Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, areas surrounding San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mendocino, Crescent Beach
  • Connecticut: Bluff Point Coastal Preserve
  • Delaware: Fowler Beach, Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware Seashore State Park
  • Florida: Amelia Island, Sombrero Beach, Fort De Soto Park, Bonita Beach, St. Andrews Beach
  • Georgia: Golden Isles
  • Louisiana: Grand Isle State Park
  • Maine: Old Orchard Beach, York Harbor Beach
  • Maryland: Assateague Island National Seashore
  • Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore
  • New Jersey: Island Beach State Park, Gateway National Recreation Area, North Brigantine Natural Area, Corson’s Inlet State Park, Higbee Beach, Sunset Beach
  • New York: Montauk
  • North Carolina: Duck, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Crystal Coast, Topsail Beach, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Brunswick Islands
  • Oregon: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Gold Beach, Cannon Beach
  • Rhode Island: Scarborough State Beach, Cliff Walk
  • South Carolina: Grand Strand, Edisto Beach, Hunting Island State Park
  • Texas: Galveston Island, Padre Island National Seashore
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach
  • Washington: Long Beach Peninsula, North Beach Point

Remember to Bring Water
Bringing water to a beach might seem unnecessary, but Gelbert advises it’s the most important thing you should take on your trips with your dog. “Hiking on sand is tough going and will tire a dog, and fetching sticks in the waves will get any dog thirsty,” he explains. “While drinking some salt water will be inevitable, you want to make sure your dog has fresh water.”

In Carmel, many dogs and their owners make a pilgrimage to the “Fountain of Woof” after their beach visits, according to community services assistant Cindi Lopez-Frincke. “It’s the nation’s first official doggie drinking fountain, where dogs can enjoy fresh running water,” she says.

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