The soft sands, crystal-clear waters, gentle tides and epic sunsets of Gulf Coast beaches have long lured both human and canine visitors. If you and Fido can hear the surf calling your names, throw an extra towel in the bag, read up on our dog-friendly tips for the beach, and fill your cooler with pupsicles (and maybe some human treats, too). Then seek out one or more of these 10 dog beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Doggie paddlers across the country can also enjoy the best dog beaches on the East and West Coast, or explore the best dog-friendly shores on lakes and rivers.
Posted by Jessica Roberts
1. Brohard Paw Park
If your ideal beach trip includes Frisbee catching, seagull chasing and water romping, this is the spot for you. Although Sarasota County boasts a whopping 69 pet-friendly parks, Brohard Paw Park is the only beach that permits dogs. Your pup can splash, dig and retrieve off leash along the entire half-mile stretch of sand. Parking is adjacent to the fenced-in portion of the dog park, which includes picnic tables and benches, waste stations, and drinking fountains for both humans and their furry friends. After all the fun, you and Fido can both rinse the sand and salt off at the outdoor showers on your way out.
Brohard Paw Park is open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk. Access to the dog beach and park is free. For nearby pet-friendly lodgings, this San Marco Dream Vacation home is perfect for beach bums and pups of all sizes. It even offers a fenced yard for some extra fun in the sun.
2. Padre Island National Seashore
Dogs, horses, llamas, mules … all are welcome on the Gulf Coast beaches at Padre Island National Seashore. As the world's longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island, the park covers more than 60 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre. This protected island allows you to experience the Gulf Coast in its most unspoiled state. Nature-lovers can watch newly hatched sea turtles make their way across the sand or observe hundreds of bird species. Outdoor enthusiasts can kayak with their dogs on the lagoon and camp under the stars. Or, you and Fido can simply enjoy the surf and sand.
Dogs can explore most of the park but must be leashed at all times to protect the wildlife and its natural habitat. Pups and their people have access to restrooms and rinse-off showers near the pet access trail at the northern end of the Malaquite Pavilion parking area. While you’re in the area, also check out the dog-friendly beach at Mustang Island State Park, just north of Padre Island.
Padre Island National Seashore is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There is an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle per day or $20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. Annual passes are also available. Stay at the nearby waterfront Capri Beach Hotel, which welcomes dogs of any size for no additional fee and features rooms with beautiful views of the Harbor Bridge and the Bay.
3. Fort De Soto Beach
Located off the coast of St. Petersburg, Fort de Soto Park invites you and your furry friend on a historic beachfront adventure. Named after the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, this park sprawls over 1,136 acres of five interconnected islands. You can still wander along the original road built in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Fido would rather wander over to the 2.5-acre stretch of dog beach on the southern tip of Mullet Key, where he can play in the surf and sand without a leash. Just off the beach are two fenced-in areas, one for large dogs and one for small, where furry friends can run to their heart’s content before cleaning up at the wash station provided. You can also hike across miles of trails or rent a pet-friendly kayak from United Park Services.
Fort de Soto Beach is accessed by road around the clock, but the boat ramp is only open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. When it's time to call it a day, send Fido to the cellar! Inspired by Tuscan vineyards, Jason's Beach Wine Cellar is a unique St. Pete stay. Your furry friend is welcome to join you in a game of life-sized Jenga or barbecue night on the private patio.
4. Dauphin Island Beach
Known as the sunset capital of Alabama, this pristine island welcomes two- and four-legged beachgoers who simply want to bask in the beauty of the Gulf Coast. At Dauphin Island Beach, you and your pooch can explore several miles of natural coastline and enjoy swimming in the gentle waves. Leashed dogs can play alongside you while you’re on the public beach, fishing off the pier or hiking the island. Need a break from the sand? Grab lunch or dinner at nearby Miguel’s Beach’n Baja for some “West Coast flavor with a Gulf Coast soul,” or walk the shaded trails in the maritime forest at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary on the island.
Dauphin Island Beach is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the spring and summer, there is an entrance fee of $6 per car (or $2 per person for walk-ins). If you want to extend your stay, book a spot at the on-site dog-friendly campground or check out this lovely beach house on the Mississippi Sound.
5a and 5b. Pensacola Dog Beaches
Yes, that’s right: dog beaches, plural! Canine beach bums will love relaxing on one or both of Pensacola’s dog beaches, where pups are permitted to sunbathe and splash alongside their humans and other furry pals. Pensacola is a popular destination town on the Florida panhandle featuring numerous restaurants, shops, events and activities for tourists of any age and species. But what really draws in the more than two million visitors annually are the soft, sugar-white beaches. Both Pensacola Beach East Dog Park and Pensacola Beach West Dog Park require dogs to be leashed at all times with rabies tags attached, and officers do patrol the beach to make sure everyone is obeying the rules and playing safely. Waste bags, trash bins and wipes for cleaning hands and paws are available at the parking lots of both beaches.
Pensacola Beach East and West Dog Parks are open from 7 a.m. until sunset from May 1 to Oct. 31, and from sunrise to sunset the rest of the year. Both are free to visit. After you’ve had your fill of sand and sun, retire for the night at the beachfront Big House. The pet-friendly rental features a fenced yard with a pool, volleyball court, and mini-golf.
6. Ocean Springs Beach
Lay down a towel and slather on the SPF, because once Fido gets to Ocean Springs Beach he’s never going to want to leave. This quiet, serene Gulf island retreat is a favorite for sun-seeking dogs and their humans. It’s a private beach that’s open to the public and leashed dogs and always receives rave reviews for being a clean, peaceful place to play with your puppy. Unlike other beaches in the area, there are outdoor showers where you can rinse the sand off yourself and your best friend after a day of play. You may need to lure him away from the fun with a promise of a fresh bowl of water and a relaxing nap on the patio at nearby Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach restaurant.
Ocean Springs Beach is open 24/7, but there is no parking allowed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Parking and entrance to the beach are free. Get some rest at the Bottlebrush on Bowen, a cozy getaway with a covered back porch and outdoor playset.
7. Rutherford Beach
This stretch of shell-laden beach along the Gulf of Mexico was hit hard by Hurricane Rita in 2005. Only a few of the homes that lined these shores now remain, leaving Rutherford Beach largely uninhabited. Driving to the area will take you across bayous and through a number of wetlands conservation areas and wildlife refuges unlike anywhere else in the world. Dogs are welcome to explore the area and dip their paws in the water, no leashes required. If one day just isn't enough time for the beach, you can park, camp or boondock right on the sand here for no charge.
Rutherford Beach is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Escape to the Louisiana Rockefeller Refuge for a private retreat overlooking coastal marshes. You and your pup can try your paws at fishing or crabbing along the Mermentau River. Just watch out for alligators!
8. Honeymoon Island State Park Dog Beach
Show your pooch a little extra TLC at Honeymoon Island State Park Dog Beach. She can swim, wade, walk and sunbathe on the shores of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico or stroll along the nature trail at this island paradise. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times. Once you've built up an appetite, take Fido to local watering hole Rosie’s Tavern, where he’ll receive a warm welcome and likely even a treat.
Honeymoon Island State Park Dog Beach is open daily from 8 a.m. until sundown. There is a park entrance fee of $8 per vehicle. Just a quick drive to Ozona will land you at this Waterfront Mermaid House, a pet-friendly rental where "merdogs" are welcome to join you for dolphin spotting on the private dock.
9. Stewart Beach Park
The family-friendly Stewart Beach Park has plenty of amenities to make your trip as fun, easy and accessible as possible. Plan to spend the whole day here. Facilities include restrooms, showers and a shaded pavilion. You can also rent umbrellas, chairs and beach wheelchairs if needed. There are even concessions at the park, or you can pack a cooler and fire up the on-site BBQ pits. Dogs are welcome to join in on all of the fun but must be leashed at all times.
Stewart Beach is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission is $12 per vehicle Monday to Thursday and $15 per vehicle Friday to Sunday. After a day at the beach, cozy up at the Xanadu Beach Cottage, where you and Fido can relax on the shaded patio after a day of fun in the sun.
10. Punta Antón Lizardo
For the last spot on our list of top 10 beaches on the Gulf Coast, vámonos a México! Known as the playa para perros or "dog beach," Punta Antón Lizardo is a favorite for four-legged locals and vacationers. The beach stretches for more than 10 miles and is a veritable paradise for pooches who want to run freely on the sand and splash in the warm waters of the gulf. Off the coast is a stretch of the Veracruz Coral Reef System, making this spot a must-visit destination for snorkel enthusiasts.
Punta Antón Lizardo is open 24/7. Parking and beach access are free year round. Extend your stay in a cabana at the adjacent pet-friendly CocoAventura for convenient access to the beach. Click here for more information on traveling to Mexico with your dog.