09/02/2014 12:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Dog Beaches of Southern California, Part 2: "Across the Swooping Plain"

"If dogs run free, why not we? Across the swooping plain?"

Bob Dylan again. "If Dogs Run Free", his catchy tune from the 1970 album, "New Morning".


And Clay, the Dog, and I are driving south to find every damn dog beach between LA and Tijuana. Yessiree! (see Part 1 )

We head south from Huntington Dog Beach, and after a few more miles of wide open PCH, we run right into a bottle neck at toney Newport Beach. We take the path of least resistance and end up driving the whole length of the Balboa Peninsula. It's a two lane highway, reminding me of Marina Del Rey: lettered street names, harbors on both sides of the road, a few "USC" signposts out in front of the homes. "Fuck, USC, Professor," Clay barks impatiently. "Ok, okay..."

We zip back up the Peninsula and through the Newport bottleneck. Very West Coast Gatsby and Fitzgerald, don't you know? But definitely no dog beaches. Same with Corona Del Mar and Crystal Cove State Park. Clay's getting a little antsy.

He barks from the back seat,
"Man, what was wrong with HDB?"
"Have a little faith, my hound."

It's a long crawl through upscale Laguna, past Dana Point's dogless Doheny State Beach, to Capistrano Beach. Both of us need a pit stop, so we park in the mostly abandoned parking lot. I take a chance and let Clay out to relieve himself as I make my way to the men's room.

It takes all of thirty seconds for us to notice a heavyset uniformed police woman making her way towards us with a ticket pad in hand. I hightail it back to the car, but it's too late.

"You gotta leash?" she asks.
"Yeah," I say hopefully.
"Then use it," she says, pointing to the signs all along the sidewalk to the beachfront.

I smile gratefully, acknowledging that's it's another Leo Carrillo State Park type deal (a "dogs on leash" beach near the LA-Ventura County line), and I put the dreaded cordon around Clay's neck. He looks at me reproachfully and telepathically snaps, "Let's get out of Dodge."

It's lunch time. In fact, it's been lunch time for hours. It's just that there hasn't been any place to eat. What? Are we supposed to chow down at one of the endless chain restaurants along the corporate, homogenous coast? No way. Where are all the little clam shacks with the fried clam strips, fresh oysters, and tasty calamari? Certainly not in Newport or Laguna.

But where there's a will, there's a way, so after asking every local along Capistrano Beach, we make our way to Jon's Fish Market at 34665 Golden Lantern, back in Dana Point. It's perfect. Right on the dock and we're the only customers. Clay? No problem. We eat outside. He gets a few fried clam strips, the skin of the delicious fresh swordfish, and he even settles for a few french fries. Hey, he's hungry.

By now, we're racing against the sun. So far, we've actually found only one off-leash beach, but we heard there was another at San Onofre, about twenty miles south. We hop back on the 5, and just past San Clemente and before the Camp Pendleton Military Base, we pull off the freeway, and head over to the ocean. The road winds around, down towards the beach, and actually turns to gravel before it dumps us into the old dirt parking lot at the beach in front of the recently closed nuclear power plant. (Road closure info:)

Flashback. 1975. It's a surf city scene, seriously old school. Beach dudes and dudettes, many over 50, in wet suits, their boards tied onto their cars; the hard core ones still riding the waves as the sun inches towards the horizon. I ask one bare-chested dude if it's cool for dogs on the beach. He smiles broadly and answers "Whatever, man." I let Clay out of the wagon and he sprints the whole length of San Onofre Beach. There are no signs, no cops, just a sprawl of seagulls digging in the dark wet sand, maybe ten surfers out in the ocean, and one happy, leashless dog named Clay.


It's already dark when we pull into the First Street Bar in Encinitas. Somehow the coastal road is called South Coast Highway 101 down here, and everyone is "laid back and mellow". Beach towns. Dudes with surf boards, walking the street barefoot, bare-chested, day time, after dark, whenever.

I decide to just have one Cuba Libre while Clay waits in the wagon, but it's time well spent as the affable barflies tell me about Ocean Dog Beach, Del Mar Dog Beach, Coronado Dog Beach, Shelter Island Dog Beach, Mission Bay Dog Beach. It sounds like the further south one gets towards the manana border, the friendlier it gets towards los peros.

I also decide to call a friend of my Indonesian wife's, Sondang, and her Austrian husband, David, just north of San Diego, and they invite Clay and me over for a good night's sleep. David even goes online and prints out a route to Ocean Beach for us the next morning.

"It can cure the soul, it can make it whole. If dogs run free."

Dog beaches of Southern Cal, Day Two...

Here we come....


PART 3, Eureka! The Grandaddy of All SoCal's Dog Beaches


Please visit Trules' personal blog, "trules rules" at:

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