There are many ways to experience Santa Barbara, a posh California beach city that attracts families, wine lovers, history buffs, shoppers (with thick wallets) and those traveling with dogs. Yes, the city known for pristine beaches, upscale boutiques and wineries also welcomes dogs. Not everywhere, of course, but to enough places that it’s easy to enjoy a weekend beach getaway with kids and dogs in beautiful Santa Barbara, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.
Santa Barbara’s Hangouts for Families and Dogs
Trooper, our 13-year-old Lab mix, insists on traveling with us. As soon as he sees luggage, he takes a stance by the front door, then rushes the car. It’s a good thing we love traveling with him! He adores the snow, the beach, basically anywhere we go. Finding a pet-friendly hotel isn’t too difficult (there are about 38,880 pet-friendly hotels in the U.S.) and many are even luxury properties. Up and down the California coast are many beach towns that roll out the welcome mat for dogs of all sizes. Some places, like Santa Barbara on California’s Central Coast, are very dog friendly.
So with its proximity to our home in Valencia (about an hour’s drive), Santa Barbara was the perfect choice for a short weekend getaway with our three kids and Trooper. We wanted to stay at a dog-friendly resort near the beach, waterfront and downtown. Apparently we weren’t asking for too much because the Fess Parker Resort (named after the actor) met all our criteria. The location was perfect: across the street from East Beach and walking distance to downtown and the waterfront. Unlike most of our trips, I didn’t book lots of activities. The purpose of this short trip was for our family to spend a couple of days together before our daughter Megan left for her study abroad program in Amsterdam. So basically we hung out at beaches and found restaurants that welcome dogs.
Fess Parker, A Doubletree by Hilton Resort
Set on 24 acres, the Spanish-style hotel has five restaurants, three tennis courts, an Olympic-sized outdoor pool and is near five beaches. Upon check-in, the front desk provides complimentary doggie treats and poop bags.
Shortly after settling into our spacious room with private patio, we took Trooper for a walk to explore the luxury resort. He seemed happy to trot on beautifully landscaped pathways, stopping to smell flowers and greet other dogs.
Directly across the street from the resort is beautiful East Beach, located at the eastern end of the four-mile stretch of city beach parks.
We took Trooper for a short walk to the water before realizing that, unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this beach. With a calm surf and picnic facilities, it is a great beach for families. Finding a dog-friendly beach was a breeze. Locals pointed us to their favorite stretch of sand at Arroyo Burro Beach Park.
Arroyo Burro Beach Park (AKA, Hendry’s Beach)
People kept raving about Arroyo Burro Beach Park (better known as Henry’s Beach), so we drove the short distance to this popular dog beach, nestled in a residential neighborhood. Trooper went crazy running up and down the shore and digging holes in the sand. Dogs and kids were everywhere. We claimed a spot for ourselves and let Trooper enjoy his day at the beach. There’s also a coin-operated dog wash at the entrance to the parking lot.
It’s fun dining out with Trooper! We haven’t been to many (or even any?) dog-friendly restaurants with Trooper, so we had a blast ordering off the doggie menu for him and eating lunch together at the Brewhouse restaurant, a casual American bistro serving good food and beer.
Our server was attentive to all of us, refreshing our drinks as well as Trooper’s water bowl. While Trooper chowed down on chicken strips, we enjoyed our own delicious sandwiches. The grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and red onions was amazing.
Leashed dogs are allowed on the state’s oldest working wharf, an iconic Santa Barbara landmark with restaurants and shops. It’s a great place for a stroll, snacks, and ocean views. Sailing is a popular activity. But even if you don’t get out on the water, there are plenty of other family-friendly activities. While dogs are not allowed on the beach by the wharf, they are welcome to accompany you during wine tastings at the nearby Santa Barbara Winery. In addition, there are than two dozen parks and trails perfect for furry companions.
Getting Around Santa Barbara
Walking and bicycling are the best ways to explore this pedestrian-friendly city, ranked among the country’s most 11 walkable cities by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Paseos and waterfront pathways make it easy to get around the clean city. Although we didn’t ride a surrey bike this time, we have in the past and it’s a fun way to get some exercise while sightseeing and enjoying the ocean air.
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Santa Barbara has always been one of my favorite California cities and it was fun to share it with Trooper, who after two fun days in the sun and surf, was pooped and slept in the car on the way home.
Looking for more things to do? Besides beach fun, Santa Barbara is rich in history.
Santa Barbara also has lots of outdoor adventures for active families.