Dog-Friendly San Diego: Liberty Station and Balboa Park … with fries

Liberty Station and NTC Parkdog in cafe Balboa Park, San Diego, California

If you’re pup isn’t bothered by the sound of low flying jet planes – about every five minutes – then Liberty Station is a great place in San Diego to run the dog.

One advantage of San Diego is the airport is minutes from downtown, hotels and the marina. One disadvantage of San Diego is the airport is minutes from downtown – the sounds of jet engines punctuate conversations and activities, especially out and about at Liberty Station.

Liberty Station, a former navel base, is now an arts district and destination park, attracting dogs and their families to the central courtyard, hungry diners to the Liberty Public Market – San Diego’s first year-round food hall – and art lovers to any of the 145 artist studios, galleries and dance companies filling what was once a naval barracks and training grounds.

From 1923 to 1997, about 2 million military men and women trained at the Naval Training Center in San Diego solidifying the city as a ‘navy town.’ After the Cold War, and the closing of NTC, San Diego was left with 45 historical buildings and a central courtyard waiting for a new purpose.

Enter the NTC Foundation, a non-profit established to turn the 100-acre area into a creative district housing artist galleries open to the public and private ventures like restaurants and the Liberty Public Market. Dogs can’t go into the market, but can sit outside beside café tables enjoying brunch either from many of the vendors in the market or at the hugely popular Breakfast Republic home of smores French Toast and Jurassic pork benedict.

Inside the market, Howlistic is a vendor filled with pet products and food (nothing made in China), dog novelties and trendy brand-name pup gear.

Easily spend an afternoon at Liberty Station having brunch then a romp in the courtyard. But come back the first Friday of every month between 5 and 9 pm for the Liberty Station gallery open house. Meet many artists – and plenty of animal pics – including Susan Salazar specializing in realistic wild and domestic animal portraits using coloured pencils, paint and mix media. Commissions start at $350 US.

Or paint your own pup during special Project Pet nights at Pinot’s Palette (one of 140 painting and wine event franchises around North America – watch for horsetrotting fun in Toronto soon). Send in a photo in advance and experienced artist with help you create your own fur-baby portrait – next pet night is in June 2018.

NTC Park at Liberty Station hosts the 10th Annual Doggie Street Festival November 17, 2018, 9am to 2pm.

Then head to Balboa Park, the heart of San Diego

Why wouldn’t a cute little Jack Russell want a taste of your truffle oil and parmesan fries? Panama 66 café serves the courtyard near the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, America’s largest urban culture park. And if you really want (and pay for it), they’ll serve a burger to your pup.

dog walking through Balboa Park, San Diego, CaliforniaBut there’s a few rules – listed on the menu – because that’s how many people bring dogs here.  There’s also rules for kids, so I’m not as offended.

Balboa Park features 17 major museums among ornate Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings left over (and rebuilt) from the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal, then used again as the site of the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition.

Gradually, the temporary structures were replaced by replica permanent ones and filled with the city’s prized museums including The San Diego Museum of Art, host to major international touring exhibits. Not far away is the San Diego Zoo – unfortunately not dog-friendly but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few there. (More on that next on

Clearly, dogs can’t go into the museums so head to the Balboa Park gardens … so many gardens.

Start at the Balboa Park Koi ponds and Zen gardens in the Japanese Friendship Gardens. Then stroll the El Prado pedestrian walkway, with so many other dog walkers, and you might meet a musician whose little terrier graces a CD cover (available for purchase – the CD, not the dog). You can also take the dog through the 1915 wood lath Botanical Building filled with thousands of tropical plants.

Walk, walk and walk through 1400 acres of public land – just what the dog demands. Finally, hoist a craft beer or two at Panama 66, with Fido. You won’t be the only one.

Where to stay – dog-friendly – in San Diego? Check out our Kona Koi review. 
San Diego Hotels Starting at $43/Night!


  1. hzulueta · · Reply

    I was doing a google search about dog friendly San Diego and was happy to stumble upon your blog and this article. We love Liberty Station!.

    1. Thanks so much! Love hearing that.

  2. […] What is dog-friendly in San Diego? A lot. Checkout’s San Diego dog quest here. […]

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