There are hidden treasures all over San Francisco that suggest why we have more dogs than children within the city limits, and why Tony Bennett left his heart here. One of my favorite outings with my dog is walking through the Presidio of San Francisco. Depending on your particular mood, you can either socialize with people or escape into a grove of eucalyptus trees and onto a quiet path for solitude. Visitors often know about famous San Francisco landmarks such as Golden Gate Park, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Presidio, a former army base dating back to 1776, is a gem that people are surprised to discover when they visit the city.
Whether you walk or drive into the Presidio, the wide-open expanse of grass known as Crissy Field must be the world’s biggest green welcome mat for dogs, as well as people. It may be a behemoth compared to the average city park, but if you didn’t know what you were looking at, this national park would be easy to miss. It is well integrated into the urban landscape but worth discovering, and exploring. Signage along trails and markers for historical buildings are prevalent, encouraging exploration of the park. Clearly marked routes allow you to avoid busy roads with bicyclists and joggers headed to Fort Point. The reward for spending time in this enormous urban national park is that each season brings out unique wildlife experiences. You might hear pairs of nesting Red Tail Hawks high above, see a mother fox with her kits hurry through the underbrush, or seals barking at fishermen down at the water. Dotted along many paths on the Presidio property are complimentary dog waste bags alongside trash bins. If your dog gets thirsty, some water fountains feature special low bowls or modified spouts to make it easy to hydrate canine friends. It’s a thrill for you and your dog to enjoy the great outdoors this way without leaving the city limits.
What really surprises visitors traveling with or without their dog are the many neighborhood shops and shopkeepers who are dog friendly.
San Francisco’s mild year-round climate is inviting, especially during the times when parts of our country are covered in snow or getting daily downpours. However, what really surprises visitors traveling with or without their dog are the many neighborhood shops and shopkeepers who are dog friendly. Walking along the city streets, you will find shops with water bowls outside on the sidewalk waiting for thirsty dogs to take drink. The storeowner may not have dogs of their own but their attitude is welcoming. In my neighborhood, we have found stores with large plastic containers of doggie treats inside waiting to be handed out at the cash register. Some stores may not always want your dog inside, but many have installed wall-mounted “hitching posts” with cute signs outside, to attach your dog’s leash while you are inside. With a water bowl included, dogs needing to wait outdoors are not forgotten, and are more comfortable than just being tied up to a parking meter. But not all shopkeepers require dogs to wait outside. You can find shops with signs welcoming you to bring your dog inside with you if they are well behaved, whether carried or on leash. A guide with a current list of dog friendly shops, places to stay, trails to hike, and up-to-date leash laws is The Dog Lover’s Companion to the San Francisco Bay Area: The Inside Scoop on Where to Take Your Dog (Dog Lover’s Companion Guides) by Maria Goodavage and Phil Frank.
For some of us, our four-legged buddy is our dearest travel companion. San Francisco understands this special bond, and many chic hotels not only allow pets but they roll out the red carpet for their four-legged guests. When you check in with a dog, the Kimpton Hotels in San Francisco provide door hangers that alert others guests and staff that your pet is in the room. What visitors often don’t know is that many taxicab companies, like DeSoto Cab Company, are happy to accommodate you and your pooch if you just call ahead and let them know you have a dog with you. This not only saves you the trouble of waiting for the right taxicab, but you know when you step inside that the driver will be accepting of your dog as well.
The city’s attitude for embracing pets might also be linked to the fact that the patron saint of San Francisco is St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is well known for his love of all animals. Today, besides churches offering annual blessings for our pets, you will find local veterinarian practices and animal hospitals including meaningful alters honoring pets that have passed, as part of El Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This celebration comes from México, Latin and South America in which the spirits of dead loved ones are invited to visit the living as honored guests, during the first two weeks of November. Showing respect for our four-legged loved ones is something in which San Franciscans take pride.
Likewise, visitors will find that residents not only love dogs but also are passionate about protecting the public spaces shared by both citizen and canine. Don’t be surprised by the outgoing nature of strangers the first time you visit with your dog. When you arrive in town, you will find every neighborhood has a park and green area suitable for dogs. Since picking up after your dog is expected, many local pet shops not only sell premium dog treats and toys, but lavender scented biodegradable poop bags, to make a necessary chore a little less smelly.
Once upon a time doctors made house calls and all stores delivered. Today, locally owned stores like Jeffrey’s Natural Pet Foods and Pawtrero Hill Bathhouse & Feed Co. Ltd. deliver all over San Francisco and even across the Bay. If your dog rolls around in something stinky or decides to jump into the Pacific Ocean, Pawtrero Hill Bathhouse also has everything you need for a self-service bath for your dog.
No one in San Francisco will ever forget the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck during the World Series. But one positive outcome of that tragic day is that a beautiful stretch of waterfront, known as the Embarcadero, has been restored. This wide public promenade allows space to stroll or jog with your dog without running into other people or bicyclists. You can go from the San Francisco Giants ballpark along the water, all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, with your dog picking up smells as if they are reading the local newspaper. The beauty of the palm trees and city art installations, besides vintage street cars and local landmarks, will have you stopping to soak up the sights and smells as much as your dog.
One of the best-kept secrets that locals enjoy is the walking path from the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza parking lot to Fort Point below. This trail is perfect for dogs and for owners with a camera. The path is winding enough to keep the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the water below always in sight. This time of year, the Pacific Ocean is very blue and there are several incredible vantage points to take the perfect postcard photo. This area is only one part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As a national park, dogs should stay on leash for their safety as well as the protection of any unexpected wildlife you may encounter.
Sharing travel experiences with our four-legged buddies can make all the difference on a trip. However, sometimes the unexpected happens and we may need a doctor. If you need emergency care for your dog while in San Francisco, have no fear. There are several world-class facilities that offer 24-hour services such as Pets Unlimited and All Animals Emergency. With many dog lovers in the city who want their dog treated in their own home, San Francisco also has veterinarians who make house calls.
Characteristic of the city of St. Francis, a tradition going back decades is the San Francisco SPCA Macy’s Holiday Windows Pet Adoption Campaign. Macy’s Flagship Union Square Store unveils their windows in November for pet lovers and shoppers to see and adopt the cutest little kittens and puppies. This tradition actually began at Gump’s, a landmark San Francisco store. I remember downtown holiday shopping trips when I used to press my own eight-year-old nose to their windows to see the puppies. This year marks Macy’s 25th year since taking the helm for this wonderful adoption event.
This time of year San Francisco shines extra brightly and you will receive a welcome mat stretching from one end of the city to the other. In between, expect restaurants with outdoor dining tables allowing you to eat al fresco with your four-legged companion. With so much obvious love for dogs, after spending even a day in San Francisco, just like Tony Bennett, you really might leave your heart here. Consider it a good reason to come back and fetch it.