Image: Dog Zone in Long Beach
Justin Rudd
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/30/2008 9:28:47 AM ET 2008-07-30T13:28:47

There’s nothing dogs enjoy more than a good day at the beach.

Fortunately, there are numerous ocean and lake playgrounds for canine frolicking in pet-friendly cities across America. The best ones, of course, allow dogs to go off-leash, no matter what time of year.

A number of these dog-friendly meccas can be found in California.

San Diego
As a city, San Diego is beach heaven for canines. There are three off-leash zones where dogs can run free and even enjoy water activities such as kayaking and surfing.

Dog Beach at Ocean Beach: Dog Beach, situated at the northern end of Ocean Beach, is the original dog beach of California and is popular with both locals and tourists. It offers a wide stretch of sand along the Pacific Coast and is a great place for early morning romps, sunset walks or simply sitting and watching the waves roll in. Parking is plentiful, and this area is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Fiesta Island: Most of this large, sandy island in Mission Bay is a leash-free zone. The picturesque area is filled with sand dunes for a romping good time and the waters in the bay are calm — perfect for canine swimming. There’s ample parking and the area closes at 10 p.m. daily.

Coronado Dog Beach: On Coronado Island, the northern section of the beach closest to the naval station is doggie nirvana. With the backdrop of the famous Hotel Coronado, it’s a great place to picnic and relax. South of the Hotel Del Coronado, you can see the hull of the sunken gambling ship the Monte Carlo, which washed ashore in 1936 and, on a clear day, you can even see Tijuana. While the beach is open 24 hours (street parking only), it can get crowded, so go early.

Huntington Beach
The West Coast’s original Surf City has maintained its casual beach flavor and dogs are welcome along a stretch of sand along the famous Pacific Coast Highway between 21st Street and Seapoint Street — about three-quarters of a mile long. Huntington Dog Beach is open between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. The main restaurant area off the main beach has plenty of outdoor seating areas where you can relax and keep your pooch close by.

Image: Dog Zone in Long Beach
Justin Rudd
Enjoying the sunset after a long day at Dog Zone in Long Beach, Calif.
Long Beach
Dog Beach Zone is definitely a hangout for celebrity dogs and their owners as it’s the only off-leash dog beach in all of Los Angeles County. This three-acre area between Argonne and Roycroft Avenues is in the heart of very pet-friendly Belmont Shore. Dogs are welcome at many of the outdoor areas of restaurants, as well as in some stores on trendy Second Street. This is a popular place for beach events and activities. To keep track, visit hautedogs.org.

Despite the fact that numerous Web sites and blogs claim there is a plethora of off-leash beaches in the northern California, none of these areas are official off-leash areas.

“Most of the beaches are part of state or federal parks and dog’s aren’t allowed or have to be leashed,” explains Chris Powel of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

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Other dog beaches around the U.S.

Chicago
Dogs in Chicago gravitate to the Susan Kimmelman Off-Leash Dog Beach located at the northwest corner of Montrose Beach (the point closest to the city). Canine beach-goers need a special $5 DFA (Dog Friendly Area) tag confirming that they are vaccinated and in good health. The tags are sold at many veterinarian offices and also directly from the Chicago Park District. The only requirement imposed by the city is that dogs have to be leashed coming and going to the designated area.

Dogs need a beach pass to frolic at the Evanston Dog Beach in northern Illinois, too. The off-leash area is open May 1 through October 31, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The beach pass costs $50 for residents and $100 for visitors, to be worn by dog owners.

Annapolis, Md.
Quiet Waters Dog Beach on the banks of the South River in Annapolis, Maryland, is a popular hangout for dogs and is adjacent to a nearby fenced dog park. There are two play areas: One designated for larger dogs, the other for small or elderly animals. Owners are allowed to bring two dogs each, and there’s a shower to rinse off after a day of fun in the sun.

Lake Michigan
The Norman F. Kruse Park in Muskegon, Mich., on the banks of Lake Michigan, offers a beautiful stretch of white sand, capped with sand dunes for canine fun and games. It’s a popular location for a family beach picnics as parking is accessible and there are restroom facilities.

Duck, N.C.
In the town of Duck, dogs and their owners have the whole year to enjoy the vast stretches of beach that trace the coastline beyond a 10-mile radius of city limits.

Whidbey Island, Wash.
It’s a ferry trip to visit South Whidbey State Park on Whidbey Island — and a popular outing for both mainlanders and tourists. This picturesque setting offers dogs a wonderful stretch of sandy beach and ocean to enjoy. It’s a great place for people to relax and unwind too. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainer and the Seattle skyline.

St. Petersburg, Fla.
North Beach at Fort De Soto features a stretch of white sand and has been named one of the most beautiful beaches in America. It’s easy to find a secluded spot on this stretch of ocean paradise. Further, the Pinellas Country Parks and Recreation Department has opened a Paw Playground adjacent to the beach area where dogs can socialize and enjoy some serious doggy play.

Key Biscayne, Fla.
Trendy South Florida caters to pooches at Dog Beach in Key Biscayne, Miami. The area is on the corner of Waddell and Vernon Avenue, just south of South Street. Don’t be surprised if you see dogs sporting the latest bikinis, board shorts and shades to match their owners. No matter where you’re heading for a day of fun in the sun with your dog this summer, don’t forget to pack Frisbees, balls and toys that float for some doggone good fun. Take plenty of drinking water and sunscreen too.

Dog beach etiquette
Petfriendlytravel.com's Travey Thompson says there are not as many off-leash beaches in this country as pet-lovers might imagine.

“Leash-free beaches are the result of huge efforts made at a grass-roots level by dog lovers within a community. I think it’s important for people to understand that these beaches are a privilege that can be revoked at any time. We all need to help keep these leash-free zones in tact by always picking up after our dogs and obeying the rules of the beach.”

For up-to-date information about off-leash zones and beaches that require a leash, visit Haute Dogs, the organization that initiated the Dog Zone in Belmont Shore — it's also a good source of doggy beach information countrywide.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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