The Nation's Largest Off-leash Dog Park Helps Canines and Their Companions Unwind

By Elisa Southard
Photos by Will Southard

In the opening scene of Casablanca, a thick black line traces the route WWII émigrés traveled across Europe to Africa, and into Casablanca. Their goal: freedom. A continent and a half-century away, dogs strain at their leashes with the same goal.

Annually, 500,000 pets trek to Point Isabel Regional Shoreline (“Canine-blanca” if you will), a refuge to nourish the soul while your dog stretches her off-leash legs. Locals call it Pt. Isabel Dog Park. Displaying true California spirit, you step on the path and a view of the San Francisco skyline welcomes you at the nation’s largest off-leash paradise.

The park mimics its four-footed visitors: sitting doglegged along the inner harbor of San Francisco Bay, it expands to 23 acres of flat land accented with sloping hills and separated by a channel. Cyclists grace the San Francisco Bay Trail, which lies along the fenced perimeter. Look up and you’ll see migrating birds; gaze along the shore and you’ll swear those shorebirds smile back.

Pt. Isabel digs into your life long after your initial visit. “This place is unique, you can think about other things, not worry about your dog getting in trouble,” says Fred Andrews, Emmy-award winning writer and creator of science mysteries. As we talked, his white Shepard-mix Ichiban sniffed the hill ‘on gopher patrol.’  “We brought Ichiban here in 2005 when we lived in San Francisco. But we turned into regulars when we moved to Oakland two years ago.”

So many different dogs parade by daily...Chihuahuas, Great Danes, Chow-chows, Labradoodles; they sniff and wrestle along this cherished real estate. Four-legged water lovers, fat or skinny, world-class shedders or hairless pups - they all dip into the channel, scramble onto the shore, then shake out in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. (A bonus for owners is the knock-out view — at no charge.)  

AKC Champion Portuguese water dog Dulcinea loves to spend time frolicking in the water here. She and her daughter lead disciplined show-dog lives, so they long for well-deserved playtime. Owner/trainer Carole Corbett, a transplanted New Yorker, comes to Pt. Isabel several times a week. “I tell them its free-form time. I chuck balls and enjoy the freedom too!”

As random as the romp appears, volunteers do keep on eye on things. California state retiree Varon Smith, along with his two green-jacketed park rangers, Doberhound Liz and Beagweiler (Beagle/Rotweiller) Benny, “observe, educate and report.” Formal park rules exist, such as: owners must carry a leash (six-foot maximum), have dogs under voice control, and keep them within sight. Liz and Benny scan for unkindly behavior, with Smith alerting owners to leash aggressive dogs. He reminds people to pick up after them. (Biodegradable pick-up mitt stations stand tall throughout the park.)

Off-leash refuges like Pt. Isabel validate canine contributions to our lives - just watch the joyful owners who accompany them there. So why not consider steering your wheels there on your next San Francisco Bay Area trip? You can even complete your visit with a little shopping and a spa stop at Mudpuppy’s. While your fur-ball receives his natural herbal flea dip, you can sip espresso at the Sit and Stay Café — just as WWII pilgrims did their martinis at Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

Pt. Isabel Regional Shoreline Park
2701 Isabel Street
Richmond, CA 94808

For information on treatments at Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub

Menu highlights at the Sit and Stay Cafe!__sitstay

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