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No pet left behind

California resorts becoming more pet-friendly

By CARY ORDWAY

It's a well-known truth that pets are often regarded as family members and lodging operators all over California are now offering travelers the opportunity to bring their "family members" with them on vacation. Sensing there's gold in them thar pet owners, dozens of hotels all over the state seem to be adopting a new policy of "No Pet Left Behind."

The idea is not entirely new. Pets have always been part of the family vacation and there have always been motels willing to put up with a little extra cleaning or maybe a few customers barking more than just orders. But today the internet has made it easier than ever for pet-owners to find appropriate lodgings — and vice versa — and that has encouraged lodging operators to give some attention to this important demographic. Type "pet-friendly" into Google and you'll find dozens of websites focused on finding lodging for Fido.

Maybe you thought that bringing your pet would automatically put you in the worst room in the dumpiest motel, but the list of pet-friendly lodgings nowadays includes such prestigious addresses as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco and classy bed-and-breakfast inns like MacCallum House in Mendocino and the Mission Inn San Juan Capistrano.

"Actually, we allow dogs but we don't allow children," says Droze Kern of the Mission Inn San Juan Capistrano, a sentiment shared by many lodging operators who find that pets are often better behaved than human children.

To be sure, lodging operators are careful to establish rules that greatly reduce the possibility that their pet guests will put the operators in the doghouse with other guests. For example, Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara asks guests to sign a Pet Policy form that outlines the hotel's "Two-strikes-and-you're-out" rule on noise complaints. All pets must be on a leash or in a pet carrier when out of the guest room, and they are not to be left in the room unattended. And the guest must agree to pay for any damages to the room.

There are similar rules at San Diego's Ocean Villa Inn, where General Manager Mel Shamblen says the pets aren't the problem. "We have no problems with the pets," Shamblen explains, "but we do with the owners. The owners tend not to agree with the rule that requires animals be on a leash anywhere on our property." Still, most people ultimately obey the rules and Ocean Villa's new emphasis on promoting the hotel as pet-friendly is paying off, Shamblen said.

Most properties separate the pet-friendly lodgings by devoting a floor or wing to guests with animals. Similar to smoking policies in most hotels, pet-friendly resorts generally will not put pet-free guests in rooms where pets have stayed. While a thorough cleaning removes nearly all trace of the animals' visit, some people are ultra-sensitive to even a faint smell or have allergies that might cause problems if exposed to pet dander or fur.

Often hotels will go the extra mile to attract pet-owners, offering special services and goodies to make the animals feel at home. The Mission Inn San Juan Capistrano, for example, offers a special pet blanket, pet bowls and a designated pet walking area. Ocean Villa has plenty of walking room with its proximity to San Diego's Dog Beach — the first one in California — where non-aggressive dogs can run free without a leash.

Travel to one of the 14 Kimpton Hotels in California and you'll unleash a host of doggie amenities including waterbowls, goodbye bones, doggie daycares and even doggie spas. Your pet will be posted on the check-in board where the hotel will keep running tabs on just who — and what — are staying in the hotel that night.

"When a pet comes to our hotel," explains Andrew Freeman, Kimpton vice president of public relations, "they become just like a human guest."

One of the Kimpton hotels even has a resident dog serving as Director of Pet Relations. And if you're traveling alone, Kimpton's "Guppy Love" program will provide you a goldfish to help you make it through the night.

Most pets that are brought along on vacation are dogs — usually under 25 pounds -- which many animal-lovers believe travel better than cats. But people do bring cats and even snakes and lizards on occasion. However, according to the Ocean Villa's Shamblen, he now draws the line at parrots. "They just proved too noisy," he said, noting that when noise levels bother other guests the pet-owners can be forced to check out.

"It's really their choice — check out, or pay for all the other rooms around them," Shamblen said.

No doubt there are pet owners who would buy blocks of rooms in order to accommodate their favorite pets. A good example of a dogged pet-owner is the Mission Inn's Kern, who remembers that during a recent cross-country trip it was not always easy to find lodging for his very large black lab "Mae." Many lodgings would only allow seeing-eye dogs.

"So I just put on a pair of sunglasses and grabbed my partner's arm," Kern remembered. "It's wonderful — people open doors for you. It really gives you a different perspective on how people treat you."

Below are some choices for taking your pets along on your California vacation. As always, check for travel deals and vacation packages that may be available at certain times of the year. Often there will be travel packages specifically for you and your pet. Some of these offer downright cheap vacations, even with your pet:

Sample Pet-Friendly Lodgings

Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort, Santa Barbara — This large resort is located on the beach and features an old-California charm with its red-tile roofs and the many historic buildingslocated throughout Santa Barbara. A putting green, lighted tennis courts, heated outdoor swimming pool and an extensive exercise facility are all on the property. Phone (805)-564-4333.

Ocean Villa Inn, San Diego — Located near San Diego's famous Dog Beach, this hotel offers rooms and suites, an outdoor heated pool and scenic views. Nearby is a funky beach town to explore and, within just a few minutes, you can reach major attractions such as SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, Old Town and Seaport Village. $25 one-time charge for one or two pets, $25 for each additional. Phone 800-759-0012.

Mission Inn San Juan Capistrano — located in one of California's most charming and historic towns, the inn is a 20-room boutique hotel nestled in an 80-year-old orange grove. The inn is near the famous Mission at San Juan Capistrano. Also nearby are several Orange County beach towns including San Clemente, Dana Point and Laguna. Phone: 866-234-0249.

Kimpton Hotels — This group of 39 fine North American hotels includes 14 in California, and most of those are in the San Francisco Bay area. All of the hotels are pet-friendly, including the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, located a short walk from the Moscone Convention Center, the Financial District, Nob Hill, Chinatown and the Theater District. The hotel is a San Francisco classic, having opened in 1928. Phone 800-795-7129.

MacCallum House — Located in the spectacular seaside village of Mendocino (where they filmed TV's Murder She Wrote), MacCallum House offers both historic and modern lodgings close to the town's shops, restaurants and art galleries. The inn's restaurant is considered among the best in Mendocino. The town is perched on a breath-taking bluff, offering panoramic views of the Northern California coastline. Phone 800-609-0492.

Pine Knot Guest Ranch — close to skiing and other recreation in Big Bear Lake, the Pine Knot Guest Ranch offers quiet, newly built cabins for two to four people. A variety of accommodations are available, some with in-room Jacuzzis, kitchenettes and wood-burning fireplaces. Big Bear village is within easy walking distance. Phone 800-866-3446.

Irwin Street Inn — Located in the San Joaquin Valley city of Hanford, the Irwin Street Inn offers Victorian accommodations with tree-lined gardens and a pastoral setting. This bed-and-breakfast inn is within easy strolling distance of Courthouse Square as well as local restaurants, shops and museums. The inn has 30 rooms and suites, each with bath, four-poster beds and antique furnishings. Phone 866-583-REST.

Carmel River Inn — If you're headed for the beautiful seaside village of Carmel, rest assured that Carmel is a pet-friendly community complete with "doggy hitching posts" out front of the many unique shops, art galleries and restaurants. The Carmel River Inn charges $25 for a "well-behaved" dog. Four-legged visitors to Carmel enjoy the Carmel City Beach, which is one of only a few pet-friendly beaches on California's Central Coast. Phone 800-966-6490.

Royal Copenhagen Inn — With the movie "Sideways" now on DVD, the Solvang area, near Santa Barbara, is experiencing a tourist boom as visitors explore the towns and wineries shown in the film. The Royal Copenhagen Inn is located in Solvang, a Danish theme town that is picturesque and known for its old-world charm. Movie-goers will see that this area photographs well and is worth a visit even if they don't want to sample the many wines grown locally. Phone 800-624-6604.

If you're looking to return to an area every year, consider pet friendly timeshare. Developers are increasingly catering to pet owners, recognizing that many are unwilling to purchase suites unless they can take their entire family - which includes pets.

(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)

OTHER DESTINATIONS: There are several other California Weekend articles to help you plan your California vacation. Be sure and check out the articles on Valentines getaways, houseboats and guest ranches.

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