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Pet Travel & The Pacific Coast

Traveling the Pet-Friendly Central California Coast
by Susan Benton

Next time you feel the need to take a road trip in California, consider an adventure that doesn't involve leaving your pet behind.

Pawprints on Carmel City Beach
Pawprints on Carmel City Beach

Just two hours south of San Francisco, drive the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), or State Route 1, south from Carmel-by-the-Sea, through Big Sur to Santa Barbara to experience jaw dropping vistas, explore quaint towns tucked along the mountainside and delight in the diverse California wildlife and coastal landscape that is arguably one of the most scenic drives in the world.

Start in idyllic Carmel-by-the-Sea — a town that retains the charm and appeal of a simpler time in a pristine setting along the Pacific coast. There are no street addresses in Carmel, only general descriptions based on a business or home's intersection in this quaint community.

Surf, sun and fun
The "pets welcome" philosophy is immediately evident with a visit to one of the town's main attractions, Carmel City Beach. This off-leash area, located just south of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course, offers one mile of surf and sand and is open everyday to the public and their well-behaved pets.

Browse for Baubles
Many shops and restaurants in town are dog-friendly, including the incomparable Fourtané Estate Jewelers. This treasure trove of estate and designer jewelry has been a staple in Carmel for nearly 60 years. Kady and Parker, the owners' Labrador retrievers, are there to greet visitors upon arrival. According to John Bonifas — whose family has owned and operated the business since the 1950s — "Fourtané has the finest collections in the nation, consisting of authentic fine antique and estate watches and jewelry from the 1800s to present day."

The store boasts the largest Rolex collection on the West Coast and allows visitors to search for the perfect objets d'art or custom-design the engagement ring of their dreams.

Dine With Your Dog
Your pet will receive his own wine bucket full of fresh water, while you enjoy dinner on the year-round heated garden patio at PortaBella on Ocean Avenue. This is a great place to meet and mingle with other pet parents and enjoy some delicious fare inspired by regions in Italy, Spain and the South of France. For starters, try the Dungeness crab and Roasted Pepper Cakes or Fresh Goat Cheese Ravioli in a Hazelnut Beurre Brun Sauce. For dinner, you can't go wrong with the paella or filet mignon. The restaurant offers a large selection of California wines, as well.

Drinks and Dozing
Before turning in for the evening, enjoy a nightcap on the open-air patio near the cozy fireplace at the Cypress Inn. This landmark hotel located in the heart of town is owned by Doris Day and Dennis LeVett. Well-behaved pets are not only welcomed, but greeted with open arms and treats to ensure a comfortable night's stay. The hotel offers pet-sitting services and can recommend pet-friendly dining options around town as well.

Heading south on PCH from Carmel, roll down the windows and allow your pet to breathe the fresh ocean air on the overwhelmingly scenic drive south through Big Sur. After another hour or so, follow the signs to San Luis Obispo, or "SLO" as it's affectionately called.

In this pet-loving community, you can browse many shops and explore the parks and other areas of town with your pooch confidently in tow. There are several shops that tailor specifically to pets, including the Waggin' Tail Café & Barkery, where all new furry visitors get their photos taken and pinned to the ever-expanding wall of animal patrons. The well-kept shop features hard-to-find pet novelties such as a wide selection of life preservers, costumes and pet trinkets; as well as organic, homemade dog treats. There is also a wide selection of toys and everyday products for dogs (and other pets) of all sizes.

For lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, bring your well-behaved pet to NOVO Restaurant and Bakery. Consistently ranked as on of the best eateries in SLO, diners can enjoy "innovative global cuisine," which consists of salads, tapas, stir fry and curries. There, pets are welcome on the outdoor patio, which is located near a creek.

If you prefer camping to hotels, dogs are allowed (on leash) at El Chorro Regional Park Campground. There are 62 campsites for tent or RV camping, and the area features a golf course, barbecue facilities, volleyball courts, an off-leash dog park, horseshoe pits, a botanical garden, softball fields and hiking trails. To stay overnight, there is an additional $2 per night charge per pet.

Your Own Private Sandcastle
If feel like driving a bit further to seek more comfortable accommodations, catch the 101 and continue south for about 10 minutes until you reach the Sandcastle Inn. Reservations are highly recommended for this pet-friendly Shangri-la, located right on the sand in Pismo Beach. The hotel is walking distance to the pier and its many shops and restaurants. Spend the day and evening exploring this beach community and relax to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore at night.

Drink With Your Dog
After a restful night's sleep, maybe you're ready to sample the Central Coast's most famous commodity — wine. Two wineries in Solvang (just north of Santa Barbara), Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard and Lincourt Vineyard, allow pets on-leash on the patios. To get there, take the scenic PCH or the (still scenic, but much quicker) Highway 101, and follow the signs to Solvang. Spend the early afternoon wine tasting award-winning vintages including Buttonwood's sauvignon blanc blend and Lincourt's 2005 Pinot Noir, which was named "Best Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara" by Food & Wine.

Photo Opp
After you've had a few sips of wine, zip down Highway 101 to your final Central California destination — Santa Barbara. By now, it's probably time for Fido to stretch his legs. Consider making a stop at the Douglas Family Preserve (just off State Route 225), a beautiful 70-acre open park expanse with stunning beach views and trails running throughout the bluffs. Well-behaved dogs are welcome to explore the area on or off-leash.

Sky's the Limit
After days of driving and an afternoon of imbibing, perhaps you're ready to splurge on your last night's accommodations (go ahead, you deserve it!). Consider the Four Seasons Biltmore. Dogs less than 50 pounds are allowed at this five-star establishment located in the prestigious Montecito area, just south of Santa Barbara. There are 207 guest rooms, suites and 12 private cottages. Rates begin at $550 per night. Reservations are recommended, so be sure to call ahead to reserve what may very well be the most comfortable room you and your pet will enjoy along the Central California Coast.

If You Go...

Fourtané Estate & Contemporary Jewelry & Watches
Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Street
Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
(831) 624-4684

Ocean Avenue, between Lincoln and Monte Verde
Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
(831) 624-4395

Cypress Inn
Lincoln and 7th
Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
(831) 624-3871

San Luis Obispo
Waggin' Tail Cafe & Bakery
722 Marsh St.
San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401
(805) 787-0190

El Chorro Regional Park Campground
H 1
San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401
(805) 781-5930

NOVO Restaurant and Bakery
726 Higuera Street
San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401
(805) 543-3986

Pismo Beach
Sandcastle Inn
100 Stimson Avenue
Pismo Beach, Calif. 93449
(800) 822-6606

Santa Barbara County
Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
1500 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, Calif. 93463
(805) 688-3032

Lincourt Vineyards
1711 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, California 93463
(805) 688-8554

Douglas Family Preserve
2981 Cliff Dr.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
(805) 687-3714

Four Seasons Biltmore
1260 Channel Drive
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93108
(805) 969-2261

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