Where Can I Take My Dog to the Beach?
It is hard to imagine many places a dog is happier than at a beach. Whether running around on the sand, jumping in the water , digging a hole or just lying in the sun, every dog deserves a day at the beach. But all too often dog owners stopping at a sandy stretch of beach are met with signs designed to make hearts - human and canine alike - droop: NO DOGS ON BEACH. Below is a quick traveling tour of America's beaches with each state ranked from the most dog-friendly (****) to the worst (*).
DOGS ON ATLANTIC OCEAN BEACHES (traveling North to South)
The rocky coast of Maine (***) is mesmerizing to look at but doesn't leave much room for sandy beaches. Dogs are generally banned from the beaches at the many small state parks along the Maine coast, but dog owners will find more friendly sands on the town beaches. Around Portland, the state's biggest city, and the tourist towns of the Southern Coast dogs are often allowed on the beach anytime Labor Day to Memorial Day and in the mornings and evenings during the summer. The spectacular Acadia National Park is one of America's most dog-friendly national parks but does not allow dogs on its beaches.
It is lucky for dog lovers that New Hampshire (*) has only 18 miles of coastline. State beaches and parks don't allow dogs on the sand at all. If you must stop in New Hampshire, try the Grand Island Common in New Castle or Foss Beach in Rye during the off-season from October to late May.
Around Boston, the beaches of the North Shore are off-limits to dogs during the summer but other towns in Massachusetts (****) are more generous - dogs are usually allowed year-round with restrictive hours in the summer. Cape Cod, however, is the best destination for beach-loving dogs in New England. Cape Cod National Seashore, America's first national seashore, allows dogs on the beach anytime outside the swimming areas (and not on the trails). The curviture of the Cape limits sightlines down the beach and gives the park the impression of being comprised of a series of dune-backed private coves. The two tourist islands off southern Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, are both extremely dog-friendly - on Nantucket, dogs can even take the shuttle to the beach.
The beaches of Rhode Island (**) are kept dog-free during the summer but if you take the ferry to Block Island, dogs can enjoy the black sand beaches throughout the year. In Newport, you can take your dog on the fabled Cliff Walk (poop bags are provided at the trailhead) through the backyards of America's rich and famous. The hike begins at Bailey's Beach, which welcomes dogs from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
The sandy beaches of Connecticut (*) are not known for being dog-friendly. But many aren't that friendly to people either, with restricted access being common. If your dog is hankering to try the benign waves of the Long Island Sound, stop in Groton. Dogs are not allowed to experience America's most famous beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn.
The further east you go out on Long Island the more dog-friendly New York (**) becomes but whether on the north shore or south shore you can find a place to get your dog to the sea. Dog owners must pass on the prime destinations at Jones Beach and Fire Island National Seashore until reaching the Hamptons, where the tails of surf-loving dogs will start wagging. Many towns in the Hamptons offer dog-friendly sand and at Montauk, on the very tip of Long Island, several beaches allow dogs year-round, including Gin Beach on the Block Island Sound. The wide, white-sand beaches of the Jersey shore are some of America's most popular and there isn't much space for a dog to squeeze into in the summertime.
Most of the beaches in New Jersey (***), including the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, open to dogs in the off-season. Summertime visitors should take their dogs to Island Beach State Park, one of the last undeveloped stretches at the Jersey Shore. Pets are allowed on the non-recreational beaches in this ten-mile oasis. Dogs will never get to trot down the historic wooden planks of the Atlantic City boardwalk, however - no dogs are permitted on the beach or boardwalk of the Grande Dame of America's seaside resorts. Dogs are also not allowed anywhere in the Victorian village of Cape May but dog lovers can travel south of town to Sunset Beach, a sand strip at the southernmost point of the Jersey shore that is actually on the Delaware Bay. In the water offshore of "Dog Beach" are the remains of the Atlantis, a unique concrete ship built to transport soldiers in World War I.
Off-season, the sandy beaches in Delaware (****) are a paradise for dogs. Two state parks, Cape Henlopen and Delaware Seashore, both welcome dogs between October 1 and May 1. During the summer season dogs can also share the beach with their owners on select stretches of sand in Delaware state parks. In Cape Henlopen, the 80-foot high Great Dune is the highest sand pile on the Atlantic shore between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. The concrete observation towers standing as silent sentinels along Delaware beaches were built to bolster America's coastal defenses during World War II. Summer vacationers can take dogs on the Dewey Beach town beach in the mornings and evenings. Along the Delaware Bay just north of Cape Henlopen you can find several beaches that offer frisky wave action and wide swaths of sandy beach - and best of all there are no restrictions against dogs on the bay beaches.
The Assateague Island National Seashore is the prime destination for dog owners heading for the beach in Maryland (***). The undeveloped dunesland permits dogs year-round on the beach and in the campgrounds (but not on the short nature trails). Keep your dog alert for the wild ponies that live on the island. Its neighbor to the north, Assateague State Park, often celebrated as one of the best state parks in America, is off-limits to dogs. If you are not roughing it on your trip to the Maryland seashore, nearby Ocean City allows dogs on the beach and boardwalk between October 1 and May 1. Traveling along the Chesapeake Bay, dogs are banned from the thin beaches in Maryland state parks. Exceptions are the small beach in the former amusement park at North Point State Park and the beach north of the causeway at Point Lookout State Park.
There is plenty to like for beach-loving dogs in Virginia (***). Canine romps on the clean, wide sands of Virginia Beach's "Strip," the commercial oceanfront from 1st Street to 40th Street, can't begin until the day after Labor Day but during the summer dogs are allowed on residential beaches above 41st Street before 10 a.m and afer 6 p.m. Dogs can jump in the ocean anytime at Cape Henry on Fort Story, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay. Fort Story is an active military base, the only installation devoted to coastal operations, but its uncrowded, pristine beaches are open to the public and dogs. Just to the west is First Landing State Park, where canine swimming is allowed on unguarded sandy beaches. Check for seasonal restrictions against dogs in these places. Just off-shore are views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, one of the seven modern engineering marvels of the world. Each span of the 17.6-mile crossing utilizes more than 2,500 concrete piles to support the trestles.
Except for designated wildlife areas, dogs are permitted on the beach year-round virtually everywhere on the Outer Banks in North Carolina (****). Cape Hatteras Natonal Seashore has only four swimming beaches (in season) on its entire 70 miles of protected coastline which leaves plenty of open sand for the dog to roam. Seafaring dogs can reach Ocracoke Island and Cape Lookout National Seashore by ferry or private boat for many miles of more undeveloped, dog-friendly beaches. The northern part of the barrier islands has been rapidly developing in the past decade but where you can still find access to the beach, unleashed dogs are sill allowed year-round in towns like Duck and Corolla. Mainland North Carolina beaches on Cape Fear are almost as dog-friendly; most swimming beaches restrict dogs only during the day in the summer.
South Carolina (****) ranks among the most dog-friendly beach states on the Atlantic seaboard. Get away from the people and commercial beaches and there is plenty of unrestricted sand for dogs in the Palmetto state. Most of the smaller towns allow dogs on the beach under voice control and only Myrtle Beach (from 21st Avenue North to 13th Avenue South) bans dogs completely. One of the best places to take dogs here is Hunting Island State Park. More than one million visitors (human) come here each year, 85 miles south of Charleston, to enjoy three miles of unspoiled beach.
Georgia (**) doesn't sport much coastline and many of the beaches on Georgia's barrier islands and the Golden Isles are under control of resorts and most welcome dogs except during the middle of the day in summer. Cumberland Island National Seashore permits dogs but is accessible only by private boat. Savannah's beach at Tybee Island is closed to dogs.
Florida (*) ranks among the most dog-unfriendly of states. Entire counties and regions ban dogs from the beach. There are so many prohibitions already against dogs on Florida beaches that when they change, it is typically in favor of dog owners. For the Atlantic beaches, the northeast part of the state around Jacksonville (Amelia Island) offers some of the best beaches for dogs in the state but heading south below Daytona, dogs are almost universally banned from the sand. Jupiter, on the Treasure Coast, is one place you can find a break from the ubiquitous NO DOGS ON BEACH signs. Fort Lauderdale has thrown dog owners a tiny bone - they have set up a 100-yard long Dog Beach (at Sunrise and A1A) on Saturdays and Sundays only from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.
DOGS ON GULF OF MEXICO BEACHES (traveling East to West)
The Gulf Coast beaches in Florida (*) offer precious little for dog owners. Dogs were once associated as closely with the Florida Keys as conch shells but today you have to look hard for a beach to take your dog. Anne's Beach in Lower Matecumbe and Sombrero Beach in Marathon are two safe places. In Key West the "Dog Beach" is at Waddell and Vernon avenues but there is really just enough sand to accomodate one good beach blanket and the little amount of swimming available is treacherous over coral outcroppings. On the Suncoast, seek out Bonita Beach Dog Park north of Naples, the excellent Fort DeSoto Dog Beach and Park in St. Petersburg and the Dog Beach on Honeymoon Island in the Dunedin area. Head for Franklin County, though, where dogs are allowed on all the public beaches - and the only county in Florida to allow dogs to run free. On the Florida Panhandle the Gulf Islands National Seashore is the only national seashore that bans dogs completely. It is the same story in town after town on the Gulf of Mexico across Florida. Near Panama City, dogs can reach the water on Carrabelle Beach and Bruce Beach. At Saint Andrews State Beach, a past winner of "The Best Beach In America," dogs can hike the sandy nature trails and run on the beach of the Grand Lagoon. It isn't actually the Gulf of Mexico or the Best Beach In America, but you can them from here.
For dog owners, Alabama (*) may as well not even have the few beaches it does on the Gulf of Mexico.
In Mississippi (**) dog owners need to stay on the western coast in Hancock County; dogs aren't allowed around the populated Biloxi beaches.
People don't seek out Louisiana (*) for its sandy beaches; most of the coastline is made up of bayous. Grand Isle State Park is the only state park with access to the Gulf of Mexico and dogs are allowed in non-swimming areas here.
In Texas (***), Padre Island is America's longest barrier island and there is plenty of room for dogs on its 113 miles of sand. At Padre Island National Seashore dogs are allowed anywhere except on the deck at Malaquite Beach and in front of the Visitor Center at the Swimming Beach. Galveston Island serves up another 32 miles of mostly dog-friendly beach.
DOGS ON PACIFIC OCEAN BEACHES (traveling North to South)
Dogs on leash are allowed in all Washington (***) state parks, often on the beach, but not in many swimming areas around Puget Sound. No dogs are allowed on beaches in the city of Seattle. The uncrowded Pacific Coast beaches are some of the dog-friendliest in America - even Olympic National Park, which bans dogs from almost all of its 632,324 acres, opens some of its remote coastal beaches to dogs. Dogs are allowed on almost all beaches on the Washington coast as long as they remain out of the active swimming areas.
All of the beaches in Oregon (****) are public. You can step on every grain of Oregon sand for 400 miles and, in the rare exception of a ban due to nesting birds, your dog can be with you all the way. One beach dog owners won't want to miss is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area with its 40 miles of sandy shore. These are the biggest dunes in the United States - as tall as 500 feet and reaching two and one-half miles inland at their widest point.
Northern California (****) would get plenty of votes from beach-loving dogs for having the best beaches in America. Only a beach here and there restricts dogs from its sand on the North Coast. Even in the highly populated areas, concessions are made for dog owners. In Marin County a "Dog Beach" has been set aside on the north end of Stinson Beach and many towns allow dogs on the beach under voice control. San Francisco ranks among the dog-friendliest of beach cities. Take your dog to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and have your pick of several designated dog-friendly beach areas. At Baker Beach, dogs are allowed to romp off-leash. Further down the coast, dog owners will want to visit the Monterey Peninsula. Dogs are welcome to run on the Carmel City Beach and can slip into the water near Monterey and Pacific Grove as well. At Big Sur dogs can enjoy one of the prettiest secluded beaches on the coast a Pfeiffer Beach. Skip Santa Cruz and there are plenty of opportunites to get your dog on the sand in California's Central Coast, especially on unnamed beaches.
Heading south on the California coast the water warms up and beach restrictions on dogs increase accordingly. There is still sand time for dogs in Oxnard and Ventura but things are getting bleak as dog owners reach Santa Barbara. In Los Angeles County the beaches are for people. In Southern California (**), San Diego is the place for sand-loving dogs. Several popular beaches have set aside "dog beaches" that attract hundreds of dogs. Every day is a beach day for dogs in San Diego
DOGS ON GREAT LAKES BEACHES (traveling West to East)
Possessing the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world, there is enough water in Lake Superior (**) to easily fill the other four Great Lakes to overflowing. Lake Superior is known for its cold water and rugged shoreline but there are some sandy beaches scattered across its 300 or so miles of southern shores. Other beaches are more of the cobble variety. Most of the shoreline is sparsely populated which bodes well for finding a dog-friendly beach. In Michigan, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore allows dogs on the beach from Twelvemile Beach Campground to Au Sable Lighthouse and at Munising, dogs can dig in the sand at Miners Beach. At Sand Point, dogs can play on the beach until the trail begins to climb the cliffs. In Wisconsin, dogs are allowed on the beach in Ashland and in Minnesota, dogs can swim in Lake Superior at Duluth's Park Point Beach.
Dogs will have to admire the spectacular dunes and sandy beaches of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (**) mostly from the car as dogs are not allowed on Michigan state beaches and most county and town beaches. In-season, the metropolises of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin are even more restrictive. Chicago has recently gotten its first official dog beach at Montrose Avenue. Belmont Beach is not an official Chicago beach so dogs are allowed on this small patch of sand in a fenced area. In nearby Evanston licensed and vaccinated dogs are allowed on Dog Beach but a beach token is required for non-residents from May to October which costs $80 to $100. Your best bets to dip into Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake totally within the United States, are the national lakeshores and the state parks of Wisconsin's Door County. At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore dogs are restricted to the easternmost beaches at Mt. Baldy and Central Avenue until October when all beaches open to our four-legged friends. In the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, dogs can swim in the waves of Lake Michigan backed by some of America's larges dunes on all beaches except Platte Point Beach, the D.H. Day Campground Beach and the Manitou Islands. Dogs also cannot make the Dune Climb up hundreds of feet of sand.
Lake Huron (*) features 3,827 miles of shoreline, characterized by shallow water and many sandy beaches. None of this will matter much to your dog, however, since the Lake Huron beaches in Michigan are mostly closed to him. Alpena is a rare exception. Dogs are allowed on the resort destination of Macinac Island, however.
Although its shores are the most densely populated of any of the Great Lakes, there is plenty of opportunity for a dog to explore Lake Erie (***). The smallest of the five lakes, Erie waters average only about 62 feet in depth and warm rapidly in the summer for happy dog paddling. Ohio, especially around Cleveland, is the most restrictive of the Lake Erie states. Try some of the smaller town beaches in Ohio and New York, most of which permit dogs outside of designated swimming areas. Some of the best Lake Erie beachfront is in Presque Isle State Park, the most-visited state park in Pennsylvania. Your dog can can hike the sandytrails past the swimming beaches and enjoy the waves on the long, unsupervised sretches on the northern end of the peninsula.
Not many people have settled most of the hundreds of miles of shoreline of the south side of Lake Ontario (*) in New York. There aren't many beaches and not many bans on dogs - as long as they don't try to swim with the humans.