Christmas Vacation, Animal Style

How to Hit the Road with Your Pooch in Tow

CHRISTMAS VACATION, ANIMAL STYLE: Dog people know the drill. You’re itching for the all-important getta’ outta’ Dodging, to cleanse the soul and try to remember how to relax again. But what about Fido? Do you ditch the beloved hound yet again, consign them to doggie day and night care, neglecting their own need to get outta’ Dodge and hang with their owner homies?

Faced with the dilemma, we decided to road test Harper with a couple of nights in a dog-friendly hotel in the township of Cambria, which seems perfectly suited to a quick escape route from Santa Barbara, close enough yet far enough to feel like another place and plane. The results? Mostly positive, with stress and logistical challenges attached, but also the satisfaction of knowing we showed her a grand little time away and assuaged our potential guilt over dog-ditching.

Some background is in order. Harper is a beautiful handful of a dog, the product of an unsanctioned late-night liaison involving the randy yellow lab named Thor, who hopped the fence to make doggie whoopee with the sweet golden retriever aptly named Gracie. Enter the litter which included Harper (so named after Harper Lee), who sometimes earns her nickname “Hyper.” Harper’s wily wild side we attribute to Thor, and the loving, gentle, human affection-addicted side is Gracie’s doing, so we surmise. (Yes, we know it’s a too-pat, sexist equation.)

This summer, it was time to load up the pooch and drive north. An avowed beach-loving bitch, Harper started squirming and softly whimpering as we drove past Cayucos (pop. 6,103), the wee hamlet of Harmony (pop. 18), and eased into Cambria (pop. 6,444). Our destination was Cambria’s oceanfront Moonstone Beach, and the dog-kindly Sand Pebbles Inn, where they set up a dog bed and supplied biscuits, a water bowl, and a seemingly authentic canine-centric vibe.

Just across the street was the yawning beach upon which the bowser could romp, even in the grayish mist of June gloom. (Note: Non-water dogs will be content walking along the snaky wooden boardwalk tracing along the cliffs above the water.)

Cambria apparently gets the point that dogliness is next to godliness. A sign in one downtown store reads “Pets welcome. Children must be leashed.” Step one during the day was to wear out the excitable dog with some ball-lobbing at the Cambria dog park just on the outskirts of town. She takes the retriever thing with a fierce seriousness, running 110% (the Thor factor at work). We then took the chiller pooch into town for some shopping at Maddie Mae’s Pet Pantry, of course, where the merchandise includes a “mega-bacon bone” and “homemade cheddar-bacon stars.” It took some vigilance to keep Harper from eating and slobbering on the merchandise.

As a true confession, we did break the all-about-the-dog agenda, leaving her in the car to dine at Indigo Moon, but she was invited to join us for lunch in the lovely outdoor garden area of Robin’s the next day, where she sat with an uncommon patience, except when she tried to filch my spare ribs with hoisin BBQ sauce. She’s got a thing for BBQ. And any and all other food stuffs.

Harper also has a thing for “hiking,” on and off of trails, and we found a semi-secret treasure of an ocean-adjacent acreage with the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The meandering property on the bluffs over the northern-attitudinal ocean is well worth checking out and traipsing on, with or without dog in tow. Harper beamed with approval and even sat for a photo op — briefly — on the big bench made of branches. It was one of those vacation-istic “Kodak moments” she will treasure for a lifetime. Ok, we exaggerate. Suffice to say, she had a grand old time, as did we, despite the rearrangement of leisure plans and the periodic sleep interruption of a dog’s slobbery tongue on the cheek in the wee hours.


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