WHERE TO STAY
Motel 6. Some Holiday Inns. Some Comfort Inns. It’s common knowledge that dogs are allowed in these stays. Today, though, you can find more sophisticated venues to shelter you and yours. Situated on northwest Florida’s Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, this resort welcomes pets while offering guests access to most Sandestin amenities. Non-refundable pet fees apply. Or select from the Loews family of hotels. St. Pete Beach’s Loews Don CeSar Hotel, the region’s signature 1928 pink palace, allows dogs, and even performs doggie massages. Several hours south, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel extends families and pets the chance to stay in a luxurious Art Deco-influenced gem. Finally, the nation’s Southernmost City is known as a dog-friendly destination. If you’re looking for B&B accommodations, check into the Chelsea House Pool and Gardens or Courtney’s Place Key West Historic Cottages and Inns.
WHERE TO PLAY
Florida’s state parks offer more than 700,000 breathtaking, often rugged, acres. Leash laws are in effect, and wildlife encounters frequent. Dog parks, typically fenced in with shade, water and doggie showers, serve up safe places for off-leash play. At Amelia Earhart Bark Park in Miami, you’ll find five acres divided into areas for small and large dogs. Fleet Peeples Park in Winter Park was voted one of America’s top 10 dog parks by Dog Fancy magazine. In Key West, wander down to Higgs Beach Dog Park. Water fountains and lots of shade make this a pleasant place. The park’s name, though, is something of a misnomer: there is no beach access here.
TAKE A WALK
If you’re headed into central Florida, you should know that you can’t take dogs to any Disney World park. The good news? Disney provides several kennels to house your canine while you’re off meeting the mouse. Other outdoor attractions will welcome your pet, such as the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin. This shopping/dining/entertainment venue holds an old-South feel and Bark Avenue, where you can buy chi-chi dog clothes and accessories (think party dresses emblazoned with rhinestones). In Miami Beach, take your pet on a self-guided walking tour of the Art Deco district. In Key West, bring him with you as you applaud the sunset from Mallory Square or bop around the Southernmost Point. And if you find yourself tempted to down a beer or two while in town, you’ll find a hearty number of Duval Street bars with outdoor seating areas. Many allow dogs.
A GOOD MEAL
Florida’s climate practically mandates outdoor dining. Many restaurants allow well-behaved dogs on their patios. From Davis Islands Dog Park near downtown Tampa, check out Gaspar Grotto on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, Macdinton's Irish Pub on South Howard Avenue and The Green Iguana on Anderson Road for dog-friendly atmospheres.
In a state with 1,350 miles of coastline, you’d think it would be a snap to find a nice beach for your surf-loving dog. But “No Dogs” signs abound on Florida’s coast. In fact, while state parks allow dogs, virtually all prohibit dogs on park beaches. The only exception is Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin. It allots a small portion of its beachfront to dogs, who must be leashed for the occasion.
Better to try dog beaches – sometimes organized by the municipality, sometimes organized by locals who’ve claimed a stretch of land for their mutts to rule.
Dog Beach on the southern tip of Tampa’s Davis Islands is a personal favorite: friendly animals and owners, doggie showers and a gate.
Rickenbacker Causeway Beach, Miami: Extending from Miami to Key Biscayne. Dogs should be leashed as they swim.
Courtney Campbell Causeway, Clearwater: Over Old Tampa Bay, from the Clearwater area into Tampa.
Dog Beach at Bayview Park, Pensacola: An acre of waterfront where dogs frolic.
Dog Beach, Key West: A tiny stretch at the intersection of Vernon and Waddell avenues.
St. George Island: Many of the beaches lining this 22-mile barrier island near Apalachicola are dog-friendly, and several vacation rentals allow pets. (Dogs are not allowed in St. George State Park.)
Before hitting the road with your pooch, follow these tips:
1 Check for hidden rules. Call every venue you’re visiting, especially hotels, to check for “hidden” pet rules. There may be weight restrictions, non-refundable pet fees, a limit on the number of animals allowed in each room, etc.
2 Get your shots. Make sure your dog’s shots are current. Many hotels, kennels and attractions require dogs to be inoculated against rabies, distemper and bordetella.
3 Show your papers. Carry a certificate of health, a letter from your vet stating that your dog is current on his shots and free of communicable diseases.
4 Take a break. Driving? Stop every two to three hours to walk and give water to your dog.
5 Pack up. Don’t forget the crate, food and water, bowls, leash, toys, clean-up bags and ice chips (a hydrating treat).