Four-Legged Laguna

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 Laguna Beach residents love their animals, and the town loves them back with pet friendly restaurants, businesses, parks and more. By Jennifer Erickso

People may flock to Laguna Beach for its art, music and dance festivals, or to soak up the sun on its beautiful beaches while embracing its iconic surf culture, but anyone who counts a four-legged friend as part of their household will tell you that it’s Laguna’s pet-friendly persona that puts the icing on the cake.

Even if you have already established set routines with your pets—where you take your walk, where you go for grooming, where you shop for supplies, where you make your charitable donations—consider the possibility that right under your nose there may be opportunities you missed and businesses you never thought to investigate. Read on and see if at least one “who knew?” doesn’t rise to your lips.

Leash-Free Romping

Fact: Dogs need exercise. And most of us try to accommodate our canine housemates, if for nothing more than to bring peace into our homes (a worn out dog equates to a happy owner).

One place to start is Laguna Beach Dog Park, a grassy two-plus-acre expanse located on Laguna Canyon Road. The only place in town where dogs can legally run leash-free, the dog park is open from dawn to dusk every day except Wednesday, when it is closed for maintenance. Dogs of all shapes and sizes, accompanied by an equally diverse group of owners, can play and chase balls to their hearts’ content. Here’s a secret: It’s not just for the dogs.

“I enjoy the dog park as much as my dogs enjoy it,” says Laguna Beach resident and dog park regular Dawn Jordan, who calls the experience “a free form of stress relief.” More than just a place to let her dogs run off-leash, Dawn says it’s a friendly, social, outdoor place to hang out with human and canine friends where you are sure to “meet nice people, hear some good stories and see some amazing, loving and beautiful animals.”

Everyone has their preferred time slot. If you go at a certain time and encounter people and dogs that fit your groove, stick to it. Chances are you’ll see most of that crowd at the same time every day. Note that weekends can get a little crazy, with a lot of part-time users showing up with under-socialized dogs, so stick to early mornings if you want to avoid the unruly crowds.

Friends of Laguna Beach Dog Park was formed in 2005 to help ensure the ongoing integrity and maintenance of the city-operated dog park. FLBDP has since been responsible for adding a back fence to the park, working with the city to create a small dog area and adding amenities such as shade trees and a new water fountain. FLBDP also uses a portion of their donations to support local rescue groups. (949-910-9947;

A Walk With a View

If you are ready for more adventure than the routine walk around the block, most of Laguna’s parks, though not Bluebird, welcome you and your leashed best friend. Moulton Meadows Park along Balboa Avenue in Arch Beach Heights boasts a paved path around a soccer field, picnic areas, a playground and tennis courts set off by ocean and mountain views. From there you can reach the fire road that connects Arch Beach Heights to Top of the World. The paved fire road and a number of dirt paths traverse a gorgeous expanse of parkland that crests Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park at the trailhead for the Aswut Trail.

Alta Laguna Park at Top of the World (also a trailhead for Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park), is another option. “Hands down, you will find the best view in Orange County at this treasure of a park,” says Top of the World resident and writer Jennifer Horsman, who owns a Newfoundland. “Unfortunately, due to limits of our canine companions’ vision, they don’t get to enjoy this,” she adds, speaking of the breathtaking vista encompassing the Saddleback Valley and mountains to one side and Catalina Island to the other. “But they do get miles of hiking trails and a huge field of grass. One trail goes from Alta Laguna Park down to Canyon Acres and another trail goes from the park right into our dog park.”

Down at sea level, Treasure Island Park at the Montage Laguna Beach resort beckons all who want to get up close and personal with the coastline on walkways enveloped by manicured lawns and colorful landscaping, complete with water fountains for humans and canines alike. Take the entrance opposite Wesley Drive to a metered public parking garage, with access to the park—but note that it fills up quickly on weekends and holidays.

Laguna’s public beaches (with the exception of Aliso Beach, which is a county facility) welcome leashed dogs all day from Sept. 11 to June 14, but if you choose to romp on the sand during the tourist season from June 15 to Sept. 10, make sure it’s before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. You can still get pretty close to the beach wandering the paths of Heisler Park.

While the natural wonders of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park remain off limits to man’s best friends, if you own a horse, most trails therein welcome your equestrian pursuits (the few that don’t are marked for “hikers only”). Start at the Big Bend Staging Area, located on the west side of Laguna Canyon Road about a mile south of the Willow Canyon Staging Area, which is reserved for equestrian use and is the only one that accommodates horse trailers. (949-923-2235;

If you haven’t already done this, you’ll find that walking your dog on the streets of Laguna Beach—the town’s “urban park”—is also a very rewarding experience for both you and any canine companions. Dog-friendly businesses abound and many put out water bowls. If you miss one, just head to the fountain at the corner of Forest Avenue and Glenneyre Street where dogs have their own spout. Many stores also hand out treats. And while it may be against the law for eating establishments to allow dogs inside, a cornucopia of restaurants and coffee spots in town will be overjoyed to seat you on their outdoor patios.

Supplies and Services

As for businesses that cater to your pet’s every need, look no further than your own backyard for everything from food, grooming, supplies and high-end clothing to doggie day care and long-term boarding.

“I try to carry a little bit of everything,” says Coast Pet Supply owner Victoria Sartor. In addition to premium dog food, including food for raw, grain-free and limited-ingredient allergy diets for dogs and cats, Victoria stocks food for birds, fish and small animals—even live crickets for lizards. “We are a full service pet store,” she says—and she means it. Open seven days a week, the north Laguna shop also offers full-service grooming for all dogs and cats. (880 N. Coast Hwy.; 949-497-6580;

At the south end of town, Molly Winders has owned and operated the Tailwagger, a grooming business with a steady stream of loyal customers for 25 years. Molly’s motto? “I don’t discriminate.” She says that while some groomers won’t accept rescue dogs with “issues” or older dogs who may lose bladder control, she takes all comers, large or small, old or young, pedigreed or not—they all deserve equal care. “I treat every dog as though it’s my own,” Molly says. And because she truly appreciates people who rescue dogs, she offers lifelong discounts to all rescues. Oh, and did we mention she’s green? Molly uses only non-toxic and biodegradable products. (1854 S Coast Hwy. #9; 949-494-2006;

Heading into the downtown area, Laguna Groomers, upstairs at the Lumberyard, sets itself apart with its “cage-free” grooming for dogs and cats, says owner Duke Ho, who also insists on hand-drying the pets. Whether waiting their turn or waiting for pick up, cats and dogs at Duke’s hang out on benches separated by little dividers. (384 Forest Ave., #25; 949-497-2255;

A short walk from Duke’s, you’ll find the Laguna Beach Dog Company. “We try to keep the prices reasonable and competitive,” says manager Jessica Bowman. The small boutique, owned by Greg and Kimberly Preite, serves as a showcase for casual to high-fashion dog clothing, jewelry and accessories, including many original items designed by Kimberly herself under her “Doggie Designer” label. While small dogs make up the primary customer base, the shop also carries trendy bandanas suitable for the larger set, and a variety of all-natural and organic dog treats, food and bones appealing to pooches of all sizes. (384 Forest Ave.; 949-494-7200;

When you can’t make your mind up between shopping for yourself or your dog, stop in at Anything Canine on the ocean side of Coast Highway, just up from Forest Avenue. Owner Lee Ann Litterst opened this haven for dogs and their owners a little over a year ago with the intention of pampering both. Drop your pooch off for grooming or a mani/pedi (complete with nail polish if desired), while you enjoy yourself. Lee Ann’s “shop and dine” service means they’ll keep your furry friend for additional time at a special rate. Dinner? No problem, as they stay open until 9 p.m. Plus, with walk-ins welcome and a back door opening onto the alley right behind the playground at Main Beach, you can take Rover in straight from his romp in the waves to get him spiffed up and presentable for more civilized pursuits. Before you go, check out Lee Ann’s merchandise. “I wanted something for everybody,” says Lee Ann, who carries clothing, food and accessories, ranging from budget-priced toys to high-end designer duds. “If I don’t have it, I’ll find it for you,” she says. The store even provides concierge service to regular customers in an upstairs lounge. (357 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-716-8051;

For those in need of a little training, Penny Milne at DubDubDog Animal Behavior Services can very likely help. Penny offers puppy kindergarten, dog training and other special classes for the improvement of dogs and their masters alike through Laguna Beach Community Services. (949-497-7050;

Home Away From Home

For those occasions when life’s demands or travel separate you from your beloved pets, whether during the day or for overnight boarding, two local facilities will meet your needs. Coastal Kennels on Laguna Canyon Road provides a kind of one-stop-shopping for vacationing families. Co-owned by Laguna Beach veterinarian Dr. James Levin and managed by Michelle Marquis, the facility not only boards your dogs and cats, they’ll also look after other family pets, including birds, guinea pigs, lizards and fish. Their doggie day care options include keeping your pup separately from the others—interacting with staff only, or allowing for well-supervised play sessions in one of their enclosed play yards with a limited number of playmates. “Dogs are easy enough to make happy, says staffer James Johnson. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t leave the kennel happy.” (20592 Laguna Canyon Rd.; 949-494-0142;

Continue into the canyon and on Sun Valley Drive you’ll find Dog Ranch Bed and Biscuit tucked away in a bucolic setting. Run by hands-on owner Stephanie Marshall, this is a doggie Shangri-La. Stephanie’s place will wipe away any guilt you feel over “abandoning” your beloved canine. The fenced outdoor grounds, carpeted in TigerTurf grass and embellished with shade trees, a cabana with misters for hot days, a redwood deck and a saltwater pool for afternoon dips, provide enough space for dogs to play together or find their own quiet corner. Wish you could be a fly on the wall while your furry counterpart plays at camp? You can, thanks to the live webcam accessible to clients. What’s more, Dog Ranch runs completely on solar power, and she uses all natural cleaning products for dogs and facilities alike. “We try not to use any chemicals, or anything at all that can be harmful to the environment or the dogs,” Stephanie says. (20401 Sun Valley Dr.; 949-494-0484;

Caring for Those Less Fortunate

Laguna certainly has no shortage of dog and cat lovers who strive to rescue and improve the lives of the pets who give us so much joy. Take Gina Kantzabedian, owner of Animal Crackers pet supplies and grooming, and founder of the eponymous nonprofit, Animal Crackers Pet Rescue. Already a legend in her own time celebrated by ever-growing ranks of staunch supporters, Gina pours her heart and soul, as well as every available penny, into her rescue efforts. She estimates that about 80 percent of the pets she saves come from “high kill” shelters, as far away as Los Angeles and even Kern County, while the rest come from people in Laguna who for one reason or another can’t keep their animal.

Despite its small storefront, Animal Crackers stocks a wide variety of premium pet foods, as well as all kinds of pet products, accessories and toys, in addition to offering full-service grooming for all cats and dogs. The best part is that when you shop here, you know where your money is going. “All we’re about is rescue, and all proceeds go to rescue,” Gina says. “We don’t charge anything for adoptions, we just make sure the animals go to very, very good homes.” Gina also offers a year of free grooming to adopters. (30822 S. Coast Hwy.;

Like Gina, the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter reserves the right to be very selective about potential homes for their rescues. “You can’t just come in and walk away with a dog,” explains volunteer Joe Solano. There’s a process. “We’ll keep them as long as it takes to find the right home,” he says. Lounging in cages with heated floors, toys, beds and access to an enclosed outdoor area, the dogs don’t seem to be in any hurry either.

Operated by the city of Laguna Beach, which funds basic upkeep and routine operations, the shelter relies on donations and the fundraising efforts of its nonprofit arm, PUP Laguna Beach—Protecting Unwanted Pets—to help pay for surgical procedures, medications and other expenses. As a rule, the shelter only takes in strays or abandoned pets that are picked up by animal control, but space permitting they will also occasionally accept sick or injured adoptable dogs from the county’s kill shelter to give them the care and medical attention they need.

In addition to taking care of dog licensing for the city, the animal shelter maintains binders full of information on just about any pet-related topic imaginable, including a list of lost and found pets, where to get low-cost veterinary procedures and where to look for services such as boarding and training. The shelter also holds a free spay/neuter clinic annually, with services donated by all five local veterinary practices, as well as a low-cost vaccine clinic.

In its newly renovated facility, with three extremely dedicated staffers and a virtual army of loyal volunteers, the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter runs like a well-oiled machine. “It’s amazing what they do here,” Joe says. For her part, manager Nancy Goodwin, a shelter worker for more than 25 years, admits, “We couldn’t operate without volunteers.” She can’t say enough about the generosity of local vets who help with sick and injured pets for little or no cost. (20612 Laguna Canyon Rd.; 949-497-3552;

The Pet Rescue Center is located in Mission Viejo but operated by two Laguna Beach locals: Blythe Wheaton and Dr. Matthew Wheaton of Alicia Pet Care Center. The two are passionate about helping California’s animals in need, working with shelters and rescue groups to save the lives of at risk dogs and cats. The Pet Rescue Center also allocates financial grants to provide life-saving treatments for pets. (25800 Jeronimo Rd. Ste 100, Mission Viejo; 877-277-7938;

For pets in need of urgent, life-saving procedures or treatments that owners simply can’t afford, RUFF, Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends, is there to help. Chances are you’ve heard about RUFF because of its two annual fundraising events held at Tivoli Too!, where you can celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving by dining at tables with your furry friends right at your feet. But few realize that the “rescue” in RUFF refers not to taking in strays, but rather to providing emergency funds for urgent medical attention. “Most people think we are a shelter facility,” admits Sandra Truelove, RUFF’s board president, who explains they have no facility, just an emergency hotline. However, RUFF recently added one more service to its mission—a pet food bank for low-income seniors. On the last Friday of each month, the Susi Q Senior Center operates a food bank for seniors in need, and RUFF stepped in to make monthly pet food drops. They try to get as much food donated as they can and buy the rest in bulk. “We were finding out that they didn’t have any money and would give their own food to their pets and go without,” Sandra says. (949-580-1092;

So much is for the dogs, but no dogs are allowed at the Bluebell Foundation for Cats. Set on two acres in the canyon, the Bluebell Foundation serves as a retirement haven for felines, with about 50 cats currently living at leisure in the cozy cottage with its enclosed outdoor patio. While many go to live there because their owners have died or can no longer care for them, some are rescued as strays and sponsored. Many cats have taken up permanent residence, though some are available for adoption.

Bluebell operates entirely on donations. After the 1998 mudslide nearly destroyed the facility, necessary repairs almost drained its coffers. As a result, any new residents must be sponsored by a financial donation to support their care. (20982 Laguna Canyon Rd.; 949-494-1586;


Dogs are People too

Sometimes you just want to go out and enjoy yourself in an environment that caters as much to humans as it does to dogs—and maybe soak up a little culture. Many of the participating galleries in First Thursdays Art Walk welcome your canine companions from 6 to 9 p.m. (

Also on the first Thursday of every month is Yappy Hour at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, held from 5 to 8 p.m. May through September. It may look like a sophisticated lawn party, but, trust us, it’s gone to the dogs! “I call it another canine connection,” says Laguna Beach Festival of Arts and Sawdust Festival artist David Milton, who has attended several of the events with his wife Deborah and their golden retriever, Roxy. David, also a dog park regular, says there’s a very good local turnout—upwards of 200 dogs in fact. Human patrons can purchase burgers, brews and wines, while their canine friends receive complimentary handmade dog biscuits and lap up water in a variety of dog-inspired flavors.. The Yappy Club card will give you 15 percent off food and beverage purchase and complimentary day-use valet parking. A portion of the proceeds this year benefit the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter. (One Ritz-Carlton Dr., Dana Point; 949-240-2000;

When wine is on your mind, dogs are also welcome to accompany their owners on the outdoor patio at Laguna Culinary Arts Gourmet Cheese Shop and Wine Cellar for wine and cheese tasting from 1 to 4 p.m. every Saturday. (845 Laguna Canyon Rd.; 949-494-4006;

Sometimes, after too much work or too much play, a little stress reduction is in order. The Laguna Laughter Club holds free laughter yoga sessions at the beach seven days a week—and dogs are welcome. (Main Beach; 949-376-1939;

Laguna’s wealth of pet-friendly offerings make it a true paradise for pets. Step outside, try something new and don’t forget to bring your four-legged friend with you. LBM

Pet-Friendly Dining

Café Anastasia, 470 Ocean Ave.

Café Heidelberg, 1100 S. Coast Hwy.

The Cliff Restaurant, 577 S. Coast Hwy.

Coffee Pub, 384 Forest Ave.

The Cottage Restaurant, 308 N. Coast Hwy.

Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen, 31732 S. Coast Hwy.

GG’s Café Bistro, 540 S. Coast Hwy., Ste. 108

Hennessey’s Tavern, 213 Ocean Ave.

The Koffee Klatch, 1440 S. Coast Hwy.

The Laguna Coffee Company,
1050 S. Coast Hwy.

Madison Square and Garden Café,
320 N. Coast Hwy.

The Rooftop Lounge, 1289 S. Coast Hwy.

Sapphire Restaurant & Pantry,
1200 S. Coast Hwy.

Taco Loco, 640 S. Coast Hwy.

Tivoli Terrace, 650 Laguna Canyon Rd.

Tivoli Too!, 777 Laguna Canyon Rd.

Zinc Café & Market, 350 Ocean Ave.


Laguna Pet Vets

Arch Beach Veterinary Clinic

Laguna Beach Animal Hospital

Canyon Animal Hospital

Aliso Beach Animal Clinic

OC Animal Medical Center

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