For her new book, “The Privileged Pooch,” Espinosa traveled throughout Southern California in search of the most deluxe pet-friendly accommodations around. She and her sidekick, bichon frisé Marcel, personally tested 73 hotels (the criteria was that they had to be three-, four- or five-star hotels) and countless restaurants and activities to get an idea for this burgeoning market for the opulence-inclined canine. Sixty-nine of those hotels made it into the book for their willingness – and even eagerness – to receive and entertain pets.
Espinosa broke the book down into regions: San Diego, Palm Springs, Orange County, Los Angeles (broken down into subzones: Long Beach/Palos Verdes/Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Pasadena) and Santa Barbara/Ojai.
For each of the hotels she visited, she applied a “wag” rating: one wag equals “pooches permitted,” two wags for “pooches playground,” three wags is a “pooches pampered” and four wags, the best of all, means the place is a “pooches paradise.”
As for eateries and activities, Espinosa only included those that allow dogs to come on to the restaurant’s patio, not merely to be tied up outside. She also includes a price chart for each of the establishments, making it easy to find the perfect place to spend an afternoon or an entire weekend with your pet.
“I wanted to make it easy to read, because I like to just be able to flip through something and find exactly what I want,” she said.
Espinosa said the biggest difference in pet travel now as compared to years past is that hotels have figured out what a booming industry the pet market is shaping up to be. Now, she said, hotels are all but begging guests to bring Fluffy along, rather than simply tolerating it.
Here’s what else she had to say about luxury pet travel and the process of finding the best of the best in Southern California.
Pets Magazine: Why did you want to do this book?
Maggie Espinosa: I have my bichon frisé Marcel, and I always thought it would be nice to travel with him. Five or six years ago, I tried out a hotel, and found this burgeoning industry out there. It comes to be that a lot of hotels and hospitality industries have realized this is something many people want to do, to travel with their pets. Plus, it's a good market: it’s often people with no kids and money to spend, who treat their pets like their children. There are other pet travel books out there, but I wanted to make sure that the places in book also included something you would want to do with or without your pet so that you’re not compromising your vacation for having your pet with you. I took advantage of the pet sitter available at some hotels so I could go out and do some activities without my pet. I wanted to give people that option.
PM: What was the process of researching this book?
ME: First, I looked at other books so as not copy what was already on the shelves first. Once I found there was not such a thing, I went to all hotels I thought were really neat, to see if they were pet friendly. If they were, Marcel and I stayed at them. After a while, I didn't want to come home! I was like, ‘what, this dump?’ [laughs] But seriously, sometimes you read a press release, and when you actually go to a hotel, it’s not the same thing. I felt that to do this book justice, I had to actually go to the places and see them first hand.
PM: How does Southern California stack up against other regions?
ME: There are lots of pet-friendly facilities in Southern California, but there are a lot in other places, too, like Northern California and New York City. Those areas have some really beautiful places as well, so while we have a lot here, we haven’t necessarily cornered the market.
PM: How do you think people's relationships with their pets have changed over the years?
ME: Years ago, the dog was just the backyard dog, but not anymore. Studies have shown that people who have lost their jobs have cut back on spending on themselves, but they spend the same amount on their pets. The days of the dog house are gone. People really have a mind shift when it comes to their pets, and we really go out of our way for our pets now.
PM: What was your method for determining if a place was pet friendly?
ME: When I first started writing this book, I had no intention of rating the hotels. I thought pet friendly is pet friendly, right? But then I would go to some of these places and they would say the dog could only stay in the room, and was not allowed in lobby or the outside areas, so you were basically sequestered to your room for the entire night. That was what I called “pet permitted.” Then, in other places, you would arrive and they would say, “okay, your dog’s gondola ride is ready,” or, “would Marcel like a massage?” So there’s a whole gamut within the “pet permitted” category. That was when I started to rate them. Between two and three “wags,” the difference could be size restrictions, pet fees, or the little amenities offered like bowls or beds.
PM: Do you travel with Marcel often?
ME: Since I’ve written the book, I’ve traveled with him a bit more. The book was picked up by Barnes and Noble, so I’m doing some book signings around the country, and he comes with me. Barnes and Noble lets him come to the signings, and often I think people come more to see him than to see me. It really has gone to his head!