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Picture a soft, sandy beach, the crash of the waves in your ears, the sun warming your skin, and, laid out next to you, your beloved dog. With fall here and winter around the corner, this may sound pretty good. In Florida, it’s a way of life. With more Americans traveling with their pets — 37 percent of them, according to the American Pet Products Association — Florida is getting into the dog-friendly business.
Whatever you like to do, there’s a good chance you can find a dog-friendly version in Florida.
The Sunshine State has 663 miles of beach, and dog-friendly ones dot the peninsula. Fort De Soto Park near St. Petersburg has a 300-yard off-leash beach area, plus 3 acres of fenced-in green space for dogs to romp. Jupiter Beach Park in north Palm Beach County is another popular off-leash dog beach, and it’s on the Atlantic side of the state so you may find bigger waves.
Most parks require dogs to be on a leash (not an extendable one either). St. Augustine Beach is great if you want to watch the sun rise. At pet-friendly beach Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach, you can catch a rocket launch from nearby Cape Canaveral.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in America — it turns 450 years old this year. Every second Saturday, City Walks of St. Augustine offers a free dog-friendly walking tour. Guides take groups of humans and dogs on a trip through the city’s transformation from a military settlement into a glamorous getaway for the rich in the late 1800s.
If history is not your thing, City Walks allows dogs on its Ghostly Encounters walking tour and the History, Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem tour. For foodies, St. Augustine Historic Walking Tours has the Bone Apetit tour, with tastings from the city’s eclectic collection of restaurants, and the Pup Crawl, a pet-friendly pub crawl.
Many standup paddleboarding businesses allow dogs on the tours. Virginia-based pet writer Rebecca Randolph takes her dog Garth (and her husband) to Florida almost every year. She recommended Paddle the Florida Keys in Islamorada or Lazy Dog Paddle in Key West.
“You can rent paddleboards to take a paddleboard ecotour, and both allow you to bring your dog with you,” Rebecca said.
Prefer to be underwater? Keyz Charter takes you out on a snorkeling adventure, and your dog can tag along.
“Garth hangs out with [Captain Sam] under the shade of the awning while we snorkel,” Rebecca said. “Her boat is very comfortable, and she’s very knowledgeable.”
Some of Florida’s biggest shopping districts allow dogs in most of the stores and even set out water bowls. Among the dog-friendly stores in downtown Naples is Pucci and Catana, fea turing collars, fun toys, and treats. P&C also sells products crafted by Etsy business owners.
OnBlonde Pet Spa and Boutique in Palm Beach will give your pup the pampering he deserves while you take a few hours for yourself. We’re not talking a flea bath and a nail trim, though. The “natural luxury” treatment on the spa menu includes a natural botanical glossing shampoo and conditioning masque. You can also find a milk thistle paw soak to help those dry paws after that beach trip.
Few weeks go by in Orlando without some kind of big dog festival. One of the biggest is Paws in the Park at Lake Eola Park. The annual festival is an all-out celebration of pets. On top of the charity walk and pet rescue area, dogs can try their paws at lure courses or dock diving. Your pet can even get his photo with Pluto. (Disney is a sponsor.)
Florida allows dogs at restaurants, provided they’re on a pup-friendly patio. Some restaurants have gone beyond a bowl of water and a biscuit.
Hurricane Alley restaurant in Boynton Beach has a menu for dogs that ranges from your basic bacon to grilled salmon and roast beef ends. “People want to eat with their best friend. That’s not always a person,” said owner Kim Kelly.
For John Messmore, owner of the Sweet Sage Cafe in North Redington Beach, he wouldn’t go anywhere without his dog. That’s why he one day stayed up until 5 a.m. to create the cafe’s doggy menu. “Half our business is tourist, and half is local,” Messmore said. “People just love it.”
Writer Gina Caballero has visited nine state parks, and her terrier, Oz, always goes with her. On one trip, Gina and Oz canoed along Silber River in Marion County, which has a monkey colony.
“A local tour boat operator known as Colonel Tooey released a troop of Rhesus monkeys into the forest in 1938 to enhance his ‘Jungle Cruise’ ride,” Gina said. While dogs can visit all of the state parks, they are restricted from state park beaches.
“You have a lot of native species that are protected, and they don’t want the dogs to disturb those pro- tected species,” Gina said.
The Matanzas River is a unique ecosystem because it filters out into the Atlantic Ocean. Dolphins love to congregate there. At St. Augustine Eco Tours, humans and dogs can board the Cetacea, a former Secret Service boat. There, guests may spot birds, jellyfish, turtles, and those beautiful dolphins, which seem to fascinate dogs.
“We know that it’s because the dogs can hear the dolphins echolocating beneath the surface of the water,” said owner Captain Zach McKenna.
Lowe’s Don Cesar Resort: The historic Don Cesar in St. Pete Beach offers a chef-prepared room service menu and in-room massages for your dog. Loew’s locations at Universal orlando also have a room-service menu.
St. Francis Inn: This St. Augustine bed-and-breakfast has several pet-friendly suites, and a beautiful secluded garden where you and your pet can eat breakfast and enjoy happy hour. It also provides a welcome goody bag for your dog.
Aloft Hotels: Aloft is moving into Florida in a big way. This very millennial hotel is in several Florida cities, including Orlando, Miami, and Tallahassee. Its pet amenities include free treats, dog toys, and a dog bed.
Vero Beach Hotel and Spa: Kimpton hotels are some of the most pet-friendly in the business. There are no restrictions or fees, and pets are treated to amenities like beds, water and food bowls, and treats.
Other pet-friendly hotel companies in Florida include La Quinta, Holiday Inn, Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, and Westin.
Walt Disney World: If you really want to go, know that non-service dogs are not allowed at any of the hotels or parks on Walt Disney World property. Dogs are allowed only at the Fort Wilderness campground and at best Friends Pet resort.
Heat: Even in the non-summer months, Florida can be hot and humid. Don’t leave pets in cars, try not to keep them outside in the afternoon, and make sure they have shade and plenty of water.
Wildlife: Florida is home to a wide range of exotic and dangerous wildlife, from alligators to bufo toads. Be mindful of what your pet is doing and be careful.
Restaurants: Call ahead before bringing a pet to a restaurant. While Florida allows pets on patios, not every patio is pet-friendly.
Breed-specific legislation: Florida has banned its cities and counties from passing BSLs. However, Miami-Dade county passed its measure against Pit Bulls before Florida’s ban.
Read more on traveling with your dog:
About the author: Christie Zizo is a writer in Orlando, Florida. When she’s not writing about her dogs and her cat at LifeWithBeagle.com, she’s working at an area TV station as a digital media producer. She’s a graduate of the University of Central Florida (go Knights!). Favorite place in Florida: St. Augustine.