Admit it, if us lovers of these four-legged creatures could take them everywhere we go with no exceptions we would. With miles of sandy beaches, endless winter sunshine and a laid-back vibe, there’s no reason to leave your furry friend behind when you vacation in Florida. From lodging that offers special pet beds, to beaches with off-leash play, to theme parks with nearby kennels, many places around the state accommodate visitors with pets. Many Florida state parks also allow leashed dogs. The options are infinite and here I will be listing the top destinations for you and your friendly companion.
- Dog Beach and Paw Playground at Fort De Soto State Park. In 2010, Southern Living magazine named this spot in Pinellas County on Florida’s West Coast one of the top five dog beaches in the South. You only need to set one paw onto the sugary sand to know why: it’s a gorgeous and peaceful place. The Gulf of Mexico is usually warm and calm, and dogs of all sizes love to play in the soft surf. Dogs can run on the beach and swim off-leash, then enjoy a large, adjacent fenced-in grassy dog park area. There are water fountains, waste bags and a place to wash salt out of dog fur. Admission to the park area is $5.
- Dinosaur World in Plant City. Who loves dinosaurs? Dogs, that’s who. Located halfway between Tampa and Disney, Dinosaur World is a park featuring 150 giant dinosaur statues and trails winding through the lush Florida landscape. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trails and it’s a great opportunity to snap a photo of your pooch with a giant Stegosaurus. Tickets are $14.95, dogs are free; open daily.
- Dog Wood Park, Jacksonville. This 25-acre, privately owned park is heaven for dogs. It’s all off-leash and entirely fenced in, from the pond to the grassy knoll to the trails. A separate small area nearby has chairs where owners can sip coffee and chat. There are two ponds, Lake Bow Wow for the big dogs and Lake Fifi for little ones, plus doggie sand piles, shady areas and tires for dogs to climb on. Day visits are $11, including tax. Additional services, like use of the park’s indoor dog wash area, are extra.
- The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Avilesdiscovered this spring in 1565 and the Timucua Indians lived here for 4,000 years before that. You and your dog can sniff around and drink from the fountain. Tickets are $12.
- Downtown Naples. A great place to stroll with your pet while embracing tropical Florida, downtown Naples has lots of outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants where you can dine al fresco with your dog. Several stores – Diva Doghouse, For Footed Friends, Pucci & Catana and Fergie’s Closet Doggie Boutique – specialize in upscale pet accessories, clothing and food.
- Lincoln Road, Miami. Located on South Beach, this pedestrian-friendly shopping area is the place to watch all of the beautiful people and their designer dogs. Outdoor restaurants and tropical drinks abound.
- Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound. This sprawling park on Florida’s East Coast, north of tony Palm Beach, offers miles of trails that showcase how Florida looked before development. Dogs must be leashed. Admission is $6 per vehicle
- Panama City Beach dog playground. This Florida Panhandle spring break favorite offers 400 feet of beachfront for leashed dogs and the new Panama City BeachConservation Park with 12 trails (dogs must be leashed there).
- Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway, Tallahassee. This park in the state’s capitol is popular with local dog owners because of its beautiful trails and secluded grassy areas.