Southern California Beach Tips: Dogs, Bonfires

If you’re heading to a Southern California beach with your dog, or if you’re planning to build a bonfire, here are a few pointers:

Beaches and Dogs

For dog owners, call ahead. Most beaches in Southern California don’t allow dogs on the beach, and with good reason. It may be fun to take Fido for a run through the waves and fling him a Frisbee or two. But beach park rangers say dogs can cause two problems. First, the poop factor, so clean up after Fido! Second, dogs, even if they’re well-behaved and on a leash, tend to scare away wildlife and lower beach habitat values.

Wes Chapin is an interpretive specialist for the California State Parks Channel Coast District, which operates state beaches from Oxnard to north of Santa Barbara. He says studies of beach trails that allow dogs have come up with surprising findings: In areas where dogs are allowed on trails, even on leash, wild animals keep much farther back than in areas where dogs are prohibited.

The finding probably has to do with dogs’ predatory ancestry, and wild animals’ understandable wariness, Chapin says. But whatever the reason, the presence of dogs discourages wildlife.

Find a Dog Beach

That said, dog-friendly beaches abound. In Southern California, the communities of Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Newport Beach, Ocean Beach, Oceano, San Clemente and Seal Beach, as well as San Diego’s Mission Bay all have dog beaches. Check with each community’s Web site for specifics.

Beaches and Bonfires

Fire pits are practically ancestral: a gathering-place for story telling, and when they’re a bonfire on the beach, there’s the added fun of that ancestral beach desert: S’Mores. Building fires seaside, California however, with our wildfire dangers always present, well, some beaches prohibit beach bonfires or enforce tight restrictions.

Chapin points out that many well-intended beach-goers carefully extinguish their bonfires at the end of their evening, and conscientiously cover the remaining coals with sand. That might seem like a good idea, Chapin says, but all it accomplishes is to keep the buried coals and covering sand toasty hot for some beach visitor to burn their feet on the next day.

Find a Bonfire Beach

State-run beaches in California do not allow fires on the beach, period. If you’ve got your heart set on a bonfire vanity, call ahead to find a beach that allows them, and find out what the beach’s rules are. Some cities, such as Huntington Beach, maintain concrete bonfire rings that have become a local tradition. Also, be sure to use only unprocessed, natural wood that won’t pollute the beach with contaminated remains. And, of course, carry out your trash, including bottles and cans.

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