Marin County for Dogs

The Inside Scoop on Where to Take Your Pooch
picture of dog
Call First
The dog policy has been under discussion by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and authorities. GORP suggests that you call first to find out current regulations.

Long known as the home of hot tubs, backrubs, and ferny pubs, this comfortable, green county is also a heavenly place for the canines among us.

As you cross over the Golden Gate Bridge into this magical land, look to your left. See those hills overlooking the ocean and the bay? Some of this spectacular turf is open to off-leash dogs. A few magnificent beaches also permit buck-naked (leashless) pooches. Most are run by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which for the asking hands out a nifty trail guide for dogs.

In addition to those off-leash havens, Marin County operates 25 Open Space District lands. The landscapes include grassy expanses, wooded trails, redwood groves, marshes, and steep mountainsides. The idea is to set aside bits of land so that Marin never ends up looking like the Santa Clara Valley. The Open Space parks are free, completely undeveloped, and open 24 hours. Until 1995, dogs were permitted off leash just about everywhere on these lands. However, now there are restrictions - generally in sensitive wildlife areas. If dogs are not allowed, it is clearly posted. The fire roads are a particularly good deal, since most dogs don't mind the wide berth. For maps (they're $2 when ordered by mail), call (415) 499-6387.

Most dogs are surprised to discover that if they wear a leash, they're permitted to explore a bit of beautiful Mount Tamalpais.

Their mouths also tend to drop open when you mention they can visit parts of the Point Reyes National Seashore . Because it's a delicate ecosystem and a national treasure, dogs are banned from campgrounds, most backcountry trails, and several beaches. Kehoe Beach is Bill's favorite dog-friendly Point Reyes National Seashore beach.

The Marin County ordinance doesn't specifically require dogs to be on leash. It states, "Dogs must be under the control of a responsible person at all times." But most towns—and even the parks within unincorporated areas—have their own leash laws that supersede this laid-back law. Bolinas is a refreshing exception. If dogs could live in any town in Marin, this mellow hamlet would surely be their paws-down pick.

Marin Headlands Trails

From Rodeo Beach, you can circle the lagoon or head up into the hills. You're in for a gorgeous walk—or a gorgeous and challenging walk, depending on the weather. Look at a map of the Bay Area, and it will be obvious why the headlands' trees all grow at an eastward slant. In summer especially, cold ocean air funnels through the Golden Gate, sucked in by the Central Valley's heat—chilling the headlands and the inhabitants of western San Francisco with fog and wind. The Bay Area may be "air-conditioned by God," but the headlands sit right at the air inflow, and it's set on "high." Never come here without at least one jacket.

Your dog will love the wind. The combination of fishy breeze and aromatic brush from the hillsides sends many into olfactory ecstasy. What looks from a distance like green fuzz on these headlands is a profusion of wildflowers and low brush. Indian paintbrush, hemlock, sticky monkeyflower, ferns, dock, morning glory, blackberry, sage, and thousands more species grow here—even some stunted but effective poison oak on the windward sides. (On the lee of the hills, it's not stunted.) Groves of eucalyptus grow on the crests. You hear a lovely low rustle and roar of wind, surf, birds, and insects—and the squeak and groan of eucalyptuses rubbing against each other. Pinch some sage between your fingers and sniff; if you can ever leave California again after that, you're a strong person.

From the beach and lagoon, you can hike the circle formed by the Miwuk Trail starting at the eastern end of the lagoon, meeting the Wolf Ridge Trail, then meeting the Coastal Trail at the Pacific Coast Trail, back to where you started. Or you can pick up the Coastal Trail off Bunker Road near Rodeo Beach. There are trailhead signs.

Sights along these trails include World War II gun emplacements, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco. As the trail rises and falls, you will discover a blessing: You'll be intermittently sheltered from the wind, and in these pockets, if the sun warms your back, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. Your dog can run off leash on all these trails.

If you want to hike from Rodeo Beach to Muir Beach, you must put your pooch on leash at the point where the Coastal Trail branches off westward. But the great thing is that you can travel nearly the whole width of the headlands with your dog. This is tick country, so search carefully when you get home.

The California Dog Lover's Companion is available from

© Article copyright Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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