Summer vacation means time at the beach, and there’s nothing better than finding a shore town that you and your dog can enjoy together. We recently made a trip down to Florida’s Forgotten Coast – a stretch of relatively quiet, undeveloped coastline on the Florida panhandle – to explore their dog friendly beaches, and get a feel for the area. We know … it’s a “ruff” job … but someone has to do it!
Encompassing the coastline from Mexico Beach to St. Marks, the Forgotten Coast offers a number of vacation destinations to choose from. Of course, each area has it’s own personality, but what they all have in common is a laid-back attitude, friendly locals, gorgeous white sand beaches, Caribbean blue water, and plenty of spots where your pup is welcome to splash in the waves with you.
We started our trip by gathering some information at the Visitors Center in Port St. Joe. The staff was happy to see us, and more than willing to help – but they were truly delighted to see the dogs, and invited them to come right inside! Port St. Joe won our Best City for Pet Travelers award in 2015, and after the warm welcome we received, it’s easy to understand why.
The town isn’t very big, and Ty and Buster were more than happy to stretch their legs by taking a walking tour of the local sights. We started at the BayWalk, a gravel trail that runs from Frank Pate Park to the marina. Along the way, we had fantastic views of St. Joseph Bay, walked past the historic Cape San Blas Lighthouse, which was built 130 years ago and relocated here in 2014, and found a nice spot for lunch.
After getting a bite to eat, we checked out the cute historic downtown, with its shops and restaurants, and then hopped back in the car for the 40 minute drive to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on the other side of the bay. Perched on the tip of the peninsula, this park has a pet friendly campground and allows leashed pets in the picnic areas and on the nature trails – but all of their 9.5 miles of beach is closed to dogs to protect the sea turtles and shore birds that nest here.
Making our way back down the peninsula, we noticed several community parks with beach access and were delighted to find that leashed dogs were welcome on all of them – all day long, all year round! On a recommendation from a friend, we stopped at Salinas Park, and had a wonderful walk along the shore. The beach was so quiet, the sand was like sugar, and a gentle breeze made our day absolutely perfect. Horses are also allowed on the beach here – and there were several horse trailers in the parking area selling rides.
One thing you won’t find in Port St. Joe or on Cape San Blas is a bunch of hotels towering over the beach. There are a couple of pet friendly hotel options, but most people choose vacation rentals for their stay.
St. George is a 28-mile long barrier island that’s divided into three sections: the eastern nine miles are preserved as St. George Island State Park, the middle section is where you’ll find the public beach, residential areas, restaurants, shops and other businesses, and the western end is an exclusive, gated housing community with its own airstrip and some of the most expensive homes on the Gulf of Mexico.
Our first stop was at the state park, and again we found that the campground and trails were pet friendly, but the beaches were not. Still, it’s nice to have some variety, and the boys throughly enjoyed the 2.5-mile Gap Point trail through the pine forest. (Parking is in the campground, and the trail leads to the left of the playground.)
When you’ve gotten your exercise and you’re ready to hit the beach, head back into town where the entire public beach is pet friendly – all day long, all year round! This beach even allows dogs to be off-leash, as long as they are within sight and hearing of you, and they respond to voice commands.
Similar to Cape San Blas, the primary accommodations here are vacation rentals, though the St. George Inn does have some pet friendly rooms. There are more pet friendly hotels in Apalachicola, which is just 12 miles away.
Alligator Point was the quietest and most secluded of the beaches we visited on the Forgotten Coast. The closest grocery store was nearly 30 miles away, but with eight miles of nearly deserted beaches – who needs to eat?! Dogs on leash are welcome here all day long, all year round! And the beach was strewn with large shells, making it an even more interesting place to walk.
Rental properties will be your only accommodation option on Alligator Point, but if you really want to get away from it all … this is the spot!
Don’t forget these important tips on keeping your dog safe at the beach!
Florida’s Forgotten Coast may sound a little sad, but we found it to be a wonderful place for a relaxing, dog friendly beach vacation for you and your best friend!