My 3-year-old mutt, Bailey, was at a park when a pet psychic asked to give him a reading. Being a polite dog, Bailey consented. From the reading came three revelations:
I had misnamed Bailey when I adopted him. His "real" name was Gentle Ben.
Bailey likes fish. (We'll come back to this one.)
Bailey had a message for his human companions: "My life is never boring," he said.
At least on point No. 3, the psychic was correct. In the previous couple of years, this dog had traveled thousands of miles on more than a dozen California road trips.
What follows is a list of what I (psychically) inferred to be Bailey's five favorite destinations, though I also sought input from a real expert: Maria Goodavage, author of "The Dog Lover's Companion to California." (The fifth edition of that book is due out this spring; Goodavage's first "Dog Lover's Companion" for Southern California is scheduled for fall release.)
A note on lodgings: Always call about size limitations and fees. Among the chains that are pet-friendly: Loews, Kimpton, Sheraton, Westin, W, Red Roof, Motel 6 and La Quinta. Hotels cited below are merely examples and are not meant to be comprehensive lists.
Before diving into the top five cities, we offer one honorable mention: Napa. "A lot more wineries welcome dogs into the tasting rooms when legal," Goodavage said, adding that the city of Napa has several off-leash dog runs, including one at Alston Park that Bailey enjoyed.
And now, from south to north, Bailey's five favorites:
San Diego: The leash-free Dog Beach is to canines what Sea World is to children: a prime place to run around, be noisy and, if your parents allow it, get remarkably wet. You'll find it off West Point Loma Boulevard, in the Ocean Beach neighborhood. After getting messy, visit the self-service Dog Beach Dog Wash, 4933 Voltaire St., (619) 523-1700.
Another favorite is the off-leash dog run on the west side of Balboa Park, near where El Prado becomes Laurel Street. Open field, well-tended grass and complimentary poop bags.
The swankiest pet-friendly lodgings are on neighboring Coronado. The Loews Coronado Bay Resort, (619) 424-4000, www.loewshotels.com, and the Coronado Island Marriott Resort, (619) 435-3000, www.marriott.com, allow dogs at no additional charge.
Need doggy day care? I recently discovered the PetsHotel in La Jolla, a kennel alternative in a PetsMart store. Pets' individual sleeping areas and group playroom are visible behind glass, allowing customers to monitor animals' treatment. 8657 Villa La Jolla Drive, (858) 535-9861, www.petshotel.com.
Long Beach: This is Bailey's favorite destination, paws down. Dog Beach Zone, a coned-off section along Belmont Shore, is a hoot. The DBZ even has its own website: www.dogzone.org.
After Bailey has gotten sufficiently cruddy, we drive to the self-service Belmont Pets and LaunderPet, 3429 E. Broadway, (562) 433-3605.
If I'm feeling generous, I'll let him get dirty again at the off-leash run inside Recreation Park. Yes, the dog park also has a website: www.geocities.com/lbdogpark.
The pet-friendly Coast Long Beach Hotel, (562) 435-7676, www.coasthotels.com, has a pleasant waterfront location and lots of green space. The downtown Westin, (562) 436-3000, www.westin.com, also allows dogs. I haven't stayed at either, but I have spent a weekend with Bailey at the Turret House, (888) 488-7738, www.turrethouse.com, a renovated Victorian run by two friendly dog lovers. The resident bulldog and chow didn't care that Bailey raided their bowl.
Santa Barbara: This city jumped a few spots in Bailey's rankings after author Goodavage shared the secret of Santa Barbara's dog beach. The city confirmed it: The stretch of coast from the steps at Mesa Lane heading east to the estuary of Arroyo Burro County Beach Park is open to off-leash dogs. So are parts of the Douglas Family Preserve to the north.
Goodavage's favorite: Rancho Oso Guest Ranch & Stables, (805) 683-5686, www.rancho-oso.com. Guests can sleep with their pet on cots in a covered wagon,Said Goodavage: "Your dog even can go along on a trail ride."
Carmel: Goodavage calls Carmel "the most dog-friendly village in the United States." Rarely will one find a leash-free playground as pretty as Carmel City Beach, with its white sand and stately cypress trees. Carmel River State Beach also allows dogs, though they must be leashed. At Mission Trail Park, across the street from the city's mission, dogs need only be under owners' voice control.
Pet-friendly accommodations include animal lover Doris Day's Cypress Inn, (800) 443-7443, www.cypress-inn.com. Pooches are welcome to join their people for afternoon tea in the garden or happy hour in the library bar.
The Tradewinds Inn, (800) 624-6665, www.tradewindsinn.com, finished a $4-million renovation that made the pages of Architectural Digest, but it still welcomes well-behaved dogs.
In July, Bailey spent two enjoyable days at the Carmel River Inn, (831) 624-1575, www.carmelriverinn, which consists of a 1934-built motel building and about two-dozen cottages scattered among grass and gardens. Winter rates start under $100.
Mendocino: "The big thing there is the lodging," Goodavage said. Pet-friendly accommodations abound.
Stanford Inn by the Sea & Spa, (800) 331-8884, www.stanfordinn.com, boasts that it has hosted dogs, cats, iguanas and a pot-bellied pig. In nearby Little River, the Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, (800) 731-5525, www.schoolhousecreek.com, has trails and a beach cove where pooches can play off-leash.
"Dogs who check into the McCallum House get treats made of organic goose liver," Goodavage said, referring to the MacCallum House Inn and Restaurant in downtown Mendocino, (800) 609-0492, www.maccallumhouse.com.
I was in Mendocino with Bailey for a little family gathering at the Brewery Gulch Inn, a handsome B&B built of magnificently aged, richly hued redwood logs recovered from a local river. The only problem: The inn didn't allow pets. We found good care for Bailey at nearby Woodlands Kennel, (707) 937-5208, a family-run operation that boarded Bailey at night and paroled him to me during the day.
When I picked up Bailey on his final morning at Woodlands, he stood by his kennel handler and, amazingly, seemed reluctant to leave. That's strange behavior for this dog — but not as strange as the pet-psychic story.
A few days after revealing to the psychic that his original name was Gentle Ben and that he liked fish, Bailey was back at the dog park. He vanished into some bushes for a few minutes, then reappeared — with a plastic fish in his mouth.