Dogs are curious creatures by nature. Most dogs prefer to run, play, and explore their surroundings free from the confines of a leash. If you are anything like me, seeing your dog sprint across the beach after a tennis ball or play with other dogs at the local dog park brings so much joy (not to mention the bonus of a tired pet)! However, because of the ever-increasing population of dogs (and people) in San Diego, leash laws are making finding a place to let your pet off leash more and more difficult.
Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m an advocate for leash-free play, I understand these leash-laws are instituted for good reason and appreciate that they are in place to keep both people and pets safe. The law in San Diego County, as it currently stands, is “any dog that is brought into a public or private area where dogs are permitted must be restrained by a handheld leash no longer than eight feet in length.” There are many gorgeous walks you can take, restaurants you can enjoy, and trails you can explore with your pet on leash, but what if you want to give your dog some off-leash play time? Where are the best spots to go?
In an area as pet-friendly as San Diego County, I knew there had to be some great spots that dogs and their owners can enjoy together without the hindrance of a leash. After doing some exploring, I’ve created a list of several of my favorite spots for off-leash playtime.
Del Mar Dog Beach, Del Mar— Since incorporation in 1959, Del Mar has been known as one of San Diego’s most dog-friendly cities and offers one of the two leash-free dog beach zones in San Diego. Del Mar also hosts the annual Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon hosted by the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a must-see for dog lovers! With a growing population and tourists on hand during the summer months, the city only allows off-leash play for 9 months of the year, starting the day after Labor Day and ending on June 15th. The most popular area for owners to bring their dogs is “North Beach,” an area north of 29th Street that stretches a half mile to the border of Solana Beach.
OB Dog Beach, Ocean Beach— Ocean Beach Dog Beach is San Diego’s only 24-hour beach for dogs. This canine-friendly zone is a sandy area at the north end of the beach, where dogs are always permitted off-leash. Its combination of open ocean waves and calmer channel waters makes it a great playground for both rowdy surf dogs and the more timid paw waders. The amount of space and sand is quite large, but be prepared for crowds almost every day.
Fiesta Island, Mission Bay—Fiesta Island is truly one of my favorite spots, because you get the beach feel while still being able to explore the sandy island. Fiesta Island has so much to offer, for both people and dogs. It is rarely crowded and offers beautiful views of Mission Bay, downtown San Diego, and Sea World. Dogs can play on the beach side of the island, where they’ll enjoy lively ocean waves, or on the bay side, where the water is much calmer. There are also large fields to run around in, so Fiesta Island gives your pet the best of both worlds in one convenient location! But be sure to bring water, as there are no fresh water fountains within the park.
Nate’s Point Dog Park, Balboa Park— Visit one of San Diego’s most iconic locations and enjoy off-leash play with your dog at the same time? Yes, please! Nate’s Point Dog Park is located on Balboa Park’s West Mesa, south of El Prado/Laurel Street and east of Balboa Drive. It is approximately 2.3 acres and completely fenced, with amenities that include a drinking fountain and picnic tables. Named for former San Diego city employee Nate Wells, the space has been used as a dog park since 1996. This park is open every day of the year and always has some fun friends for your dog to play with.
Viewpoint Park, Encinitas—For all you North County residents looking for a place to take your four-legged friend off leash, look no further! My favorite spot close to home is Viewpoint Park in Encinitas. This park does designate certain hours that your dog is allowed off leash, so be sure to check the website prior to making the trip. But once you’re there, you’ll enjoy the large grassy zone with amazing views of the ocean. The park provides bags, and a water fountain is available near the entrance. One cautionary note: The park is not completely fenced in, so if your dog tends to wander, this might not be the best spot to start off-leash training.
Whether you prefer to keep your pup on or off leash, San Diego County has so much to offer its pet owner community. So wherever you take your dog, always play it safe and follow the posted rules and regulations. And have fun!