Dog-Friendly Places in Florida - A Guide to Restaurants, Beaches and Parks for Your Best Friends
Forget the biscuits – your best friend wants a vacation as badly as you do.
By Kevin McGeever
In Florida, every dog can have its day. Or days . . .
Beaches and dog parks to run free.
Restaurants with individual bowls for canines and their human company.
Shopping, scenic cruises and pet-friendly historic tours. (Dogs were early settlers, too. Or was it setters?)
And then there’s something called a Yappy Hour followed, presumably, by howling at the moon.
Read on to discover resorts, restaurants, beaches, and even city itineraries that are sure to make your best friend's tail wag.
Where to Stay
Situated on northwest Florida’s Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, this resort is a dog-friendly Florida accommodation, offering guests access to most Sandestin amenities. Non-refundable pet fees apply. Or select from the Loews family of hotels. St. Pete Beach’s 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, for dog-friendly cottage options.
Check out more dog-friendly accommodations here.
Where to Play
Florida’s state parks offer more than 700,000 breathtaking, often rugged, acres. When planning things to do with your dog, there is a wide variety of choices. 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.
Here are more Florida Parks with some Bark, for You and Your Pooch.
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's 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 Florida atmospheres.
Check out more Dog-Friendly Restaurants & Bars in Florida.
Dog-Friendly Florida Beaches
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. Here are a few of the many options around the state:
- 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. Pets are allowed at St. George Island State Park Campground, but they must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet when outside your vehicle, and they're not allowed on the park's beach.
Doggone Great Destinations
Check out some interneries for your trip.
Leashed pets are always welcome at the Fountain of Youth attraction, the birthplace of St. Augustine and colonial European America. There’s a planetarium, a native Timucuan village, and a Spanish musket drill and cannon firing (get ready to bark). The reward is a drink from the Fountain of Pooch.
On the second Saturday of the month, dogs are welcome on tours of the historic district.
The beaches here are wide and welcoming to dogs on a leash. Or how about the Amelia Island Dog Park, named one of the top 12 of its kind in the United States? On summer days, dogs can be cool in a pool. Plus, there’s a splash zone and large grassy field for playing catch.
After a workout, dogs are welcome at many eateries. At Jack and Diane’s, dogs get a healthy snack while their parents eat. Café Karibo, one of many dog-friendly places in Florida, has a gorgeous courtyard for a dog nap.
Here’s fun for a good cause: dogs who need good homes. The Brevard Yappy Hour promotes Brevard rescue groups with a monthly get-together and fund-raiser for dogs and their human companions. The restaurant location rotates each month.
How about a great place to walk and a great place to eat?
Lighthouse Point Park, at the southern tip of Ponce Inlet, is a piece of undisturbed natural beauty. Rhokkoh’s Frozen Yogurt & Gourmet Hot Dog Hut caters to canines with water dishes, treats and doggie magazines.
Friends of Jupiter Beach, a volunteer, not-for-profit group, keeps a special section of Jupiter Beach clean and dog-friendly in northern Palm Beach County.
Were I a dog, here’s how I’d do Fort Lauderdale: Get pampered and groomed, then go get filthy.
At Java Cat & Dog Spa (shouldn’t Dog come first in that name?), I can get a bath, a blow-dry, a little trim and then play. I’m a big dog, but my little buddies have a place of their own at TeaCups Puppies & Boutique.
Now that I’m looking fine, head to Hollywood Beach for the exclusive weekend hours.
Heathcote Botanical Gardens is one of the few pet-friendly gardens in the state. Don't leave a negative imprint, but your favored fur baby is welcome.
Now’s here’s a personal playground. Take the public Keewaydin Express shuttle boat from Marco Island to Keewaydin and spend the better part of a day sniffing out this 8-mile deserted barrier island.
Then, after a full day of shopping for the perfect collar, the Mucky Duck restaurant in Captiva welcomes humans and pets to its Gulf of Mexico views.
Back in Sarasota, a shaded stroll along the Sarasota Bayfront can end at OLeary’s Tiki Bar & Grill.
The Florida Keys
The Dolphin Research Center, on Grassy Key, welcomes well-behaved dogs on leashes. Your pet can't take part in the interactive programs or visit the floating docks, but there's lots of room to walk around and enjoy some time with some other mammals.
At the southern end, there is Fort DeSoto, renowned for its dog park and Florida dog beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Dogs are allowed anywhere in the park on a six-foot leash, just not on the main beaches. That’s because they have their own beach – in a fenced-in Paw Playground that’s divided into separate sections for small and large dogs. There also are amenities such as cooling stations with showers and dog-level water fountains.
In north Pinellas, there is Honeymoon Island State Park. Leashed dogs are welcome to walk the beach and nature trail and wade in the shallow waters.
For more dog-friendly destinations in the Sunshine State, check out www.bringfido.com/destination/state/florida/.
Before hitting the road with your pooch, follow these tips:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take a break. Driving? Stop every two to three hours to walk and give water to your dog.
- Pack up. Don’t forget the crate, food and water, bowls, leash, toys, clean-up bags and ice chips (a hydrating treat).