By Jason A. Heidemann
We began our journey in Naples, a tiny enclave that retirees and snowbirds flock to for its justly famous picturesque coastline and predictably mild winter climate. Downtown is lined with chic boutiques and lunching ladies who cling to their pocket-sized pooches Paris Hilton style. Give your dog and your dogs (and by that we mean feet) a break at 5th Avenue Coffee Company [599 5th Ave. South, Naples; (239) 261-5757], where friendly canines are welcomed both inside and out and even offered their own bowl of water to help take the edge off the Florida heat. Likewise, you can grab a quick burger and killer milkshake at Cheeburger Cheeburger [(239) 435-9796; Cheeburger.com], an affordable and dog-friendly pit stop on the main drag. But it’s the historic and dog-welcoming Naples Pier [NaplesPier.com] that beckons us with its luminous sunsets.
Nothing says an overnight in Florida better than the Paws and Palms program at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa [5001 Coconut Rd., Bonita Springs; (239) 444-1234; CoconutPoint.Hyatt.com]. Dogs weighing up to 50 pounds are welcomed with their own special doggie menu. In-room bed and a food and water dish are likewise provided, while humans can wag their own tails at the stunningly landscaped grounds and luxurious rooms. The hotel is located in Bonita Springs, a short drive north from Naples and home to Dog Beach Park [8600 Estero Blvd., (239) 533-7275; LeeParks.org], a spacious and stunning off-leash area where the sound of happily wagging tails nearly drowns out the roar of the ocean. Afterward, follow Bonita Beach Rd. back to Hwy. 41 and check out Dipidy Dawg [23111 Fashion Dr., Ste. 107; (239) 949-9885; DipidyDawg.com], a spectacular gourmet dog bakery and boutique located within one of Bonita’s ubiquitous and upscale strip malls.
City and sea blend together beautifully in the tranquil twin cities of Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg. We fell hard for the weekly Saturday Morning Market [SaturdayMorningMarket.com] in St. Pete, a funky mishmash of local vendors where you can shop for cheap chic jewelry, nosh on farm-fresh treats, and chill out to live music with pooch in tow. Check out Fred’s Finest Pet Treats [(727) 521-1979; email@example.com], an all-natural purveyor of feline and canine gourmet goodies. Next, hit the North Shore Dog Park [StPete.org/parks], an expansive and breathtaking 1-acre dog run at 7th Ave. and North Shore Dr. NE. Finally, splash around in the sea until the sun sets at the excellent Paw Playground [FortDeSoto.com/pawplayground], a pristine patch of sand and surf where canines can roam around in the ocean while enjoying their very own dog-level drinking fountains and showers.
Cosmopolitan Tampa appeals to the more metropolitan mutt. There’s never a shortage of trendy Floridians walking their dogs around Old Hyde Park Village, a bayside neighborhood full of striking Victorian homes, shops, and cafes. Visit Downtown Dogs [1631 W. Snow Circle, Tampa; (813) 250-3647; ShopDowntownDogs.com] for high-end collars and leads and holistic pet treats. Stroll into nearby Indigo Coffee [716 S. Village Circle, (813) 250-0345], a pooch-welcoming java joint that also offers tasty snacks. At day’s end, hit the hay at Quorum Hotel Tampa [700 N. Westshore Blvd.; (813) 289-8200; QuorumTampa.com], a Florida Green Lodge noted for its reasonable prices and proximity to Tampa’s top attractions. Pets are allowed with a $75 fee.
Fort Lauderdale beckons weary pets and their people with miles of endless coastline and an intricate system of inland canals and waterways lined with opulent yachts and mansions. Meanwhile, an endless parade of designer doggies and their glamour-obsessed humans fuels our obsession with sun-drenched Miami. Stroll Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale’s upscale main artery and a welcoming place to pal around with your pooch. Big City Tavern [609 E. Las Olas Blvd.; (954) 727-0307; BigCityLasOlas.com] has an expansive and dog-friendly outdoor patio and welcomes people with steak- and seafood-heavy dishes. The French can always be called upon to roll out the welcome mat for mutts, and La Bonne Crepe [815 E Las Olas Blvd.; (954) 761-1515; LaBonneCrepe.com], a cheap and cheerful creperie, welcomes canines on its covered patio. Colahatchee Park [1975 NE 15th Ave.; (954) 390-2130; WiltonManors.com] offers humans 8.5 acres of volleyball and picnic areas, plus a lovely covered boardwalk in the tranquil and residential Wilton Manors area. Its off-leash dog park is a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the beaches.
After whiling away the afternoon in Fort Lauderdale, we dashed on down to Miami, a mere 20 miles away via I-95. Lincoln Road [LincolnRoad.org], the commercial nerve center of South Beach, offers an endless abundance of tacky souvenir shops, upscale restaurants, high-end fashion houses, and primo people watching. Leashed dogs are welcome up and down this pedestrian-only street and especially at super-chic Dog Bar [1684 Jefferson Ave.; (305) 532-5654; DogBar.com]. This combination groomer, boutique, and barkery is fastidious in its attention to providing quality products for pets. It ought to be—Billy Joel and Calvin Klein’s dogs are among its many celebrity clients.
Miami has blossomed into a full-blown foodie destination over the last decade, and although pets may be shut out of most of the action, China Grill [404 Washington Ave., (305) 534-2211; ChinaGrillmgt.com] pays tribute to human’s best friend with “Dogs Gone Wild,” a Sunday night ritual featuring menus for both animals and people. If you’ve got the bucks, bed down at the Setai [2001 Collins Ave.; (305) 520-6000; Setai.com], a gorgeous luxury hotel with an Asian tinge. Smaller dogs are welcomed with temperature-controlled water bowls (seriously!), a dog bed, treats, and more. Visiting pets at the oceanfront Casa Grande Suite Hotel Spa [834 Ocean Dr.; (866) 420-2272; CasaGrandeSuiteHotel.com] are greeted with a welcoming letter from the general manager’s dog, Tootsie, highlighting pooch places of interest around town, and are also given a gourmet treat and chew toy. Cats are likewise offered treats and a catnip toy.
Approximately 30 percent of the Greyhound racetracks in the United States are located in Florida. That means there are a lot of retired racers in the Sunshine State in search of loving forever homes when their time at the track comes to an end. Check out National Greyhound Adoption Program (NGAP.com) or Grey2K USA (Grey2KUSA.org) to see how you can help. —Lauren Lewis Innocenzi
Florida is not all about sunbathing and shopping. In fact, the Florida Everglades and Biscayne National Parks draw more than a million visitors each year. If you’re headed to the Alligator State without Fido in tow, you might consider taking an eco-adventure to explore the wilderness and get in touch with nature the earth-friendly way. Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation (MiamiDade.gov/ecoadventures) offers up a host of tours, such as biking, hiking, snorkeling, canoeing, birding, and even a sea turtle awareness program to showcase the captivating subtropical South Florida ecosystem. —Lauren Lewis Innocenzi