My dog Vinnie is a young Kelpie mix we adopted when he was a wee 4 months old. We’ve never had his DNA tested but I’d bet my last dollar he’s all herding mutt. He’s got the high energy, drive and smarts of a herding dog. And over the summer, he passed his herding instinct test with flying colors.
Given his often maniacal energy, getting him plenty of off-leash exercise every day is a top priority at my place. Vin needs lots of room to run and play with other dogs or he makes his own fun in our home, usually in ways we don’t appreciate.
Thanks to Vinnie we’ve explored loads of off-leash spots in San Francisco. Here are his top 5 favorite play areas in no particular order. Four paws up for every one!
- Fort Funston. Whether you choose to wander the trails and hike the dunes, or head all the way down to the beach, this is an enormous slice of doggy heaven. It’s a wonderful place for humans to visit too. While dogs galore race all about, you can admire gorgeous coastal views, check out weekend hang gliders, scout out sand dollars on the beach or watch for wildlife. I’ve spotted hawks, whales and dolphins here! This place is so big that you can’t see it all in a single visit. Visit often and choose a different route each time. You’ll feel like you escaped the City and your dog will adore you for it. A solid recall is a must as this “park” is unfenced. There are doggy water fountains on the main paved trail and in the parking lot.
- Ocean Beach. You may not realize it, but two stretches of Ocean Beach are open to leash-free pooches. They are the area south of Sloat Boulevard and a much larger area north of Stairwell 21. The larger area is Vinnie’s favorite because there’s loads of room to break into a full out gallop. This beach is unfenced so make sure your dog is trained to come to you when you call him. Bring your own water and some for your pup as there are no water fountains.
- Upper Douglass Dog Park. This park is tucked into the hills overlooking Noe Valley at Douglass and 27th. It’s fenced except for the narrow entrance. Besides a large flat 3-acre grassy field, there are steep rocky outcroppings at one end of the park where nimble and fleet-footed canines scramble up and down. Hike a hidden trail that ascends the rocks in one corner and weaves among the tall trees overlooking the park, and you’ll feel like you’re in a forest, far from the City. Big rocks and tree logs make nice spots to perch while your pooch plays. This park has a dog water fountain. The City and Bay views from just outside the park are lovely.
- St. Mary’s Dog Park. If your dog is still honing his recall skills, this park’s for him. It’s fully-fenced so you can relax, big enough for chase, fetch and frisbee, but not so big that you won’t be able to find him. You won’t find gravel or hard-packed dirt here. Most of the park is lush grass where dogs love to roll and frolick. Shrubbery and trees create natural hide-and-seek pockets for dogs who are so inclined. This park is located at Murray Avenue & Justin Drive and has a dog water fountain.
- Stern Grove. Many people don’t realize that Stern Grove’s not just for humans. It’s got a couple of leash-free dog parks. The best and largest is the Pine Lake play area, located off of Crestlake and Vale in San Francisco. At 3.3 acres,it never feels crowded even though it’s heavily-used by dogs in the know. A paved path that loops around the huge grassy expanse provides a nice jogging or walking route and a welcome alternative to standing around while your dog plays. This park’s not enclosed, but it sits in a deep natural valley and is far enough from streets that you needn’t worry about your dog running into traffic. There are two dog water fountains and free parking in the adjoining lot.
If you’ve never visited these parks, get out there now while the days are still on the longer side. Don’t forget to take poop bags. And if there are other “4 paw” SF dog parks your pooch loves, by all means, post a comment and let us know about it.