FORT DE SOTO PARK -- Picture this: You’re sitting on a white sand beach, warm sun on your skin. Coconut-scented sunscreen wafts through the air. A splashing noise comes from the blue Gulf of Mexico. It’s your dog, happily retrieving his favorite ball from the water.
This could be your vacation, with a bit of planning.
There’s no reason to leave your four-legged 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 permit leashed dogs
Lodging with your dog can be as rustic as a campground or as ritzy as, well, the Ritz Carlton. In places like Key West or Sanibel Island — where all beaches are open to leashed dogs — unique and funky pet-friendly accommodations are easy to find in various price ranges.
Most counties have their own tourism boards and many have specific pages on their websites about pet-friendly activities, restaurants and hotels. Visit Florida has lots of information at www.visitflorida.com/Pet_Friendly_Florida.
Here are some dog-friendly destinations around Florida, along with lodging advice and general tips for traveling here with pets.
• 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. www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm.
• Dinosaur World in Plant City. Who loves dinosaurs? Dogs, that’s who. About halfway between Tampa and Orlando, 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 (some intrepid bloggers have gotten shots of their dogs posing inside a dinosaur’s mouth). Tickets are $14.95, dogs are free; open daily. www.dinosaurworld.com/dinosaur_world_plant_city_florida/.
• 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. www.jaxdogs.com/index.html.
• The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles discovered 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. www.fountainofyouthflorida.com/index.php.