When reclining on Florida's beautiful beaches, there's no need to feel guilty about leaving your best friend back home in a kennel.
Your dog could be right there with you, frolicking in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, or fetching a ball or Frisbee on one of Florida's numerous dog-friendly beaches.
You can map out your whole vacation and fun activities with Fido in mind, thanks to Florida's bevy of resorts, parks, eateries, attractions, trails and events that cater to visitors' four-legged friends.
If you're traveling to the Sunshine State with your pooch, here are a few tips: First, remember to have plenty of water on hand for your pets to avoid dehydration, which can sneak up on humans and dogs alike in Florida's heat. Take frequent breaks with your dogs in the shade, and consult with your pet's veterinarian before leaving about special canine sunscreen and about heartworm medication as a buffer against Florida's pesky mosquitoes.
To get you started on planning your trip, here's a list of some of Florida's most popular dog beaches:
Fort De Soto Park, Dog Beach and Paw Playground
A gorgeous and serene place for humans and dogs alike, this location in Pinellas County was voted America's Top Beach in 2009 by Trip Advisor and also one of the top five dog parks/beaches in the South by Southern Living magazine in 2010. Owners can enjoy picnics and bring their dogs to swim and play off-leash in the smooth surf. Next to 300 yards of beach area, there are three acres of fenced-in grassy park space separated for both large and small dogs to run free. Afterward, there are water fountains to help quench your dog's thirst, and hoses to help cool and rinse them off. The beach is free and parking is $5.
Davis Islands Dog Beach, Tampa
Just south of downtown Tampa, at the southernmost point of Davis Islands, this one-and-a-half-acre dog beach is one of two fenced-in play areas for dogs to romp about unleashed. The dog beach has more than 200 feet of waterfront access. Next to it is a one-acre fenced-in dry dog park. Water stations are available to rinse off and to help keep your pooch hydrated, and bag dispensers are there to help you pick up after your dogs.
This piece of paradise with 15 miles of beaches on Florida's Southwest Coast about 20 miles from Fort Myers has many dog-friendly beaches. Gulfside Beach (known as Algiers Beach) is one of them. Dogs are allowed if on a leash, and owners must clean up after them. The beach includes picnic tables and access to a nature trail. Parking is $3 per hour.
This Dog Beach near the Fort Myers/Bonita Springs line is an off-leash beach just outside Lovers Key State Park on the west side of the foot of New Pass Bridge. Here dogs of all sizes romp free in the calm, low-lying waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A portable toilet is on site along with doggie shower stations. Parking is free.
Your dog will have a blast playing with other dogs in the soft sands of this small beach at the nation's southernmost point in Key West. Afterward, you could grab a beer or other beverage next door on the patio at Louie's Backyard, a popular pet-friendly, ocean-front Victorian home-turned-restaurant.
Just off the causeway on the way to Key Biscayne is Miami's popular dog friendly beach at Hobie Beach. Located between downtown Miami, Key Biscayne and Brickell, it offers beautiful skyline views while dogs play in the shallow waters. Parking is free.
Miami Beach's Bark Beach
One of six dog beaches in the City of Miami Beach, this beach sits adjacent to North Shore Open Space Park, which is also pet friendly and a great place for a stroll after a swim in the ocean. There are also plenty of outdoor pet-friendly restaurants nearby. At the beach, dogs must be on a leash except in the designated area. Proof of your dog's vaccinations is required. Daily permit fees per dogs: $5 for city residents; $25 for non-residents.
Jupiter Beach (off-leash dog beach)
Dogs are welcome on a 2.5 mile stretch of Jupiter Beach on this coastline at A1A and Marcinski Road in northern Palm Beach County. The cost is free and so is parking along the beach. Free dog bags are provided by Friends of Jupiter Beach.
This popular Northwest Florida destination offers more than 400 feet of beachfront space on powder-white sands in turquoise waters for leashed dogs to enjoy, located at the southern beach end of Pier Park, west of City Pier. A hose on the boardwalk is available to help rinse off dogs following playtime. Afterward, stroll through and stop at any number of outdoor pet-friendly restaurants throughout Pier Park.
-- Story by Saundra Amrhein for VISIT FLORIDA