One by one, Santa Cruz County’s beaches are becoming off limits to off-leash dogs. The penalties for disobeying leash laws in these “No Paw Zones” can be up to $300, and Animal Control is stepping up enforcement efforts around the County.
With fewer safe outdoor spaces for dogs to exercise, play and socialize, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for pet owners to say on the right side of the law. Luckily, canine refugees can find sanctuary in one of Santa Cruz’s many dog parks.
Finding the right dog park can be a bit of a balancing act for both a dog and its human. Location, amenities, maintenance, safety, and the dogs and owners that frequent the parks are all considerations for finding the right dog park. Is there an area for small dogs? Are the fences high enough? Do I feel safe here? Are people being responsible for their dogs?
The good news is that there are a lot of dog parks to try out in Santa Cruz County. Some of the best are Chanticleer Dog Park, Scotts Valley Dog Park, Aptos Dog Park, and the sole dog beach in town, Mitchell’s Cove.
Whether you’re a newly ticketed refugee in search of a new home, or are a longtime dog park connoisseur looking to try out a hot new park, enjoy this guide to dog parks in Santa Cruz County.
Mitchell’s Cove Beach
West Cliff Drive and David’s Way
Santa Cruz 95060
Officially a State Park, Mitchell’s Cove is the only beach in the County where dogs can run free, unencumbered by leashes—most of the time—before 10am and after 4pm. The Cove is pretty crowded during off-leash hours with dogs of all shapes and sizes playing at the water’s edge, rolling in the sand and mounds of seaweed, and having an absolute blast. Mitchell’s Cove tends to attract locals because it can be hard to find if you’re from out of town. Most tourists go down the street to Its Beach, also known as “The Dog Beach” on Yelp and Google. But those in the know walk down the hidden staircase at the end of David’s Way, and enjoy a half-mile-long stretch of sand dotted with rocks and alcoves, and is perfect for dogs. It’s a smaller beach that feels secluded, and isn’t crowded until after 3 PM, when the regulars come out to play.
Parking is pretty limited on West Cliff Drive, especially during summer months. Leash laws have never really been enforced, but it is technically illegal to have your dog off leash during the day. There are a few things to consider before a trip to Mitchell’s Cove Beach, though. There can be an abundance of seaweed and accompanying flies. The same smells that drive pups crazy can be torture for humans. Also, sometimes the tide rolls in and makes the small beach even smaller. The beach is gateless, waste bags are not provided, and there is not a separate play area for small dogs. Frequently there are young children who pet dogs without permission. All in all, Mitchell’s is the go-to spot for locals craving a morning or evening playdate at the beach with their dog.
Mimi De Marta Dog Park
Santa Cruz 95060
Mimi opened its gates in 2013, and now two- and four-legged residents of downtown Santa Cruz frequently fill the park during lunch breaks and after work. Park goers typically do their own thing, and the communal atmosphere seen at other County dog parks isn’t as big here. It’s an average-sized park, with trees that provide shade and make for a nice place to sit, drink a Verve coffee, and watch puppies at play. There is parking nearby, and the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Dept. maintains the park and makes repairs. Human and dog hydration is provided by a pair of water fountains, but that’s the limit to the amenities here—no poop bags, bathrooms, toys or rakes.
One of the park’s pluses is the lack of wood chips on the ground. Wood chips can bother small dogs who slip and can easily injure themselves. The well-cared-for double-gate system keeps dogs safely enclosed in an area that resembles a gently sloping grass-and-dirt half pipe. Foot traffic on one side and car traffic on the other means that dogs can get distracted at Mimi De Marta, but if you can deal with some noise and a hint of exhaust in the air, the park is a nice, mellow, uncrowded spot to take your dog in the center of town.
Chanticleer Dog Park
1975 Chanticleer Dog Park
Santa Cruz 95062
Located down the street from the beach, Chanticleer is a fantastic dog park with a neighborhood feel. It mostly attracts residents from the Eastside of Santa Cruz, and has established itself as one of the County’s best dog parks. Parking is provided in two dirt lots, and volunteers from “Chanticleer Park Neighbors” make sure parking areas and the park itself is well maintained. The dog park is privately owned, and volunteers are constantly improving things, adding features and sitting areas, and donating items for the community. The best part of Chanticleer are the people—a group of regulars and first timers, many of whom are beach transplants, who are welcoming and puppy-obsessed.
No matter what time of day you come to Chanticleer, there is bound to be at least a few dogs putzing around the grounds. The park is already an awesome place, but as the future home of LEO’s Haven, an inclusive playground for children of all physical abilities, Chanticleer Dog Park might become the puppy mecca for the entire county. A map/diagram showing future plans for the park is posted by the double-gated entrance. The grounds are large and enclosed by a fence of medium height, and there are benches, picnic tables, and a few shaded areas. Poop bags, toys, tennis balls, water bowls, fountains, and even a little cubby with free books to read, are all provided by park-goers. The park runs on volunteerism and donations, so if you take something one day, it’s implied that you should leave something the next time you visit.
A few things to keep in mind: there are wood chips that can hurt smaller pups; the double-gate system isn’t the greatest design; there is no designated zone for small dogs; and during the rainy season the park can become a slushy, muddy mess, especially by the entrance. All in all, Chanticleer is a welcoming, well-kept, dog park that is popular, especially for those living on the East Side.
Pacheco Dog Park
Pacheco Avenue and Prospect Heights
Santa Cruz 95065
Pacheco is a small, charming dog park maintained by the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Rec Department. Located in a sleepy part of town, Pacheco never gets super busy and feels safe, enclosed, and intimate. The manicured grounds are littered with donated tennis balls and toys so dogs always have something to play with. Most of the dogs who come to Pacheco are well-trained, mild-tempered, and have attentive owners. It’s BYOB, but bowls for water and a faucet are on site for thirsty canines. Parking on the street is not hard to come by.
This little gem of a spot is mostly used by area residents. Park regulars begin showing up at around 4pm, and it feels like the kind of park where everyone knows each other’s name. However, the wood chip surface could spell trouble for smaller dogs, who might slip and slide, and find it difficult to run. Sections of the fence are a bit low at some points, but the double-gate system is expertly designed. A hidden treasure, Pacheco is worth a visit.
Aptos Dog Park
2225 Huntington Drive
The Aptos Dog Park is actually two parks in one: a mini park for smaller dogs, and the main park for larger dogs. Situated in the Polo Grounds of Aptos, this park has everything a dog and owner needs. It’s clear that users take pride in the park, and ensure that trash cans, restrooms, water pumps, chairs, benches, fountains, and gates are all in tip top shape. The Santa Cruz County Parks Department, park regulars, and volunteers also donate a multitude of puppy playthings and baggies. The large parking lot is ADA-compliant and easy to navigate, as well. Usually, there is a crowd centered around the covered area, which provides respite from rain or sun. However, the cover provided by the tent structure can’t save the park’s surface in rainy months, and mud and slush can be an issue.
Regulars, many of whom are residents of Aptos, convene at the park to talk about life and philosophical canine issues (grooming, teething, puppy care). The sense of community extends to visitors, and locals are more than happy to share their park with newcomers and their dogs. Anyone in the area should check it out. There’s a good chance that you and your dog will be back for another visit.
Scotts Valley Dog Park at Skypark
361 Kings Village Road
Scotts Valley 95066
Skypark is Scotts Valley’s outdoor social hub, and the dog park attracts dog and their owners from all over the city. The “Bark Park at Skypark” is well maintained, with plenty of parking and amenities like plastic bags, trash cans, bathrooms, donated toys, pooper scoopers, hoses, water bowls, and even an area for small dogs. Park designers used dirt and grass, not wood chips, for the small dog area for those concerned about puppy paws. A small canopy provides much-needed shade and protection from the rain, and there are chairs scattered throughout the large puppy play area.
Scott’s Valley Dog Park is a good place for exercise and socialization but is not a place for aggressive or unsocialized dogs. It’s become so popular that it can get a bit chaotic, with untrained dogs and inattentive owners on cell phones, smoking, or reading. Children playing in the people park nearby are attracted by the dogs, and will sometimes approach to pet the animals. This makes for a potentially dangerous and combustible situation.
University Terrace Dog Park
369 Meder St
Santa Cruz 95060
One of the newest dog parks in town, University Terrace has quickly become a top doggy destination for UCSC students and residents of Santa Cruz’s Westside. The park itself is huge, impeccably maintained, and has some the best amenities in town. A large L-shaped, grassy playland creates the perfect habitat for larger dogs who need space to run around. There is a separate, protected puppy zone with a smooth grassy surface that is heaven for little paws. Poop bags are readily available, as are trash cans, bathrooms, assorted toys and balls, and water fountains. The Terrace also features basketball courts, tennis courts, a playground, picnic tables and shaded areas, making it a popular hangout at all times of the day.
To reach the dog park area, park on Meder Street and walk toward the tennis courts in the back of the park. You’ll probably see some dogs running around in a gigantic, fully-fenced enclosure, and people milling about picnic tables in the center of the puppy play area. After numerous complaints about the dog park not being fully fenced, the park is now fully secure. The regulars at University Terrace are welcoming and enthusiastic about their dogs, and are passionate about maintaining their dog park. The vibe is open and friendly, and there are plenty of comfortable places to sit and socialize, or just keep to yourself. It’s definitely a park to check out, and is one of the best-kept dog park secrets in Santa Cruz County.