The Gulf Coast: A Weird and Wonderful Pet-Friendly Road Trip

Posted by Billy Francis

Located on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, America’s third coast spans more than 1,680 miles and sweeps across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The selection of weird and wonderful coastal towns, pristine beaches and pet-friendly oddities you’ll discover along Route 77, Route 98 and more are sure to convince Fido to go coastal on his next road trip.

Texas

“Now, this is somewhere I can cock a leg!” Photo by @Coll_hartel

Kick off your Gulf adventure on South Padre Island near the Mexican border. This popular barrier island is known for gorgeous beaches and calm waters that welcome doggy paddlers. Fido isn’t the only creature who rocks up on the sand from time to time. Sea turtles swim ashore and lay their eggs during nesting season, usually in April. Two- and four-legged visitors can find out more about the natural phenomenon, sit in on a turtle talk and meet rescue reptiles at Sea Turtle Inc. Get a glimpse of what’s to come on your weird and wonderful road trip at Sandbox Inn. This pet-friendly beach house’s deck overlooks master sand sculptor Sandy Feet’s sculpture garden.

With the border in your rearview mirror and Fido’s playlist blasting, it’s time to hit the road. Make your way up the coast along Route 77 to Port Aransas, another Texas barrier island. Just before you get there, be sure to check out the 5 miles of pet-friendly beaches at Mustang Island State Park. When you cruise into town, your hungry hound can stick to his “see-food and eat it” diet at Castaways before you make a mad dash to one of our favorite Gulf Coast Beaches, Padre Island National Seashore. This protected island allows you to experience the shoreline in its most unspoiled state. If you’d like to extend your stay, there’s a  funky home just five minutes from the beach that offers a pool for you and a fenced backyard for your pup.

“Can I go on the rides?”Photo by @legnyag

The next morning, hop on State Highway 35 and put paw to pedal toward Galveston, where you and your pooch can experience breathtaking Gulf sunsets from Seawall Boulevard. Dogs are welcome on the “Nation's Longest Continuous Sidewalk” that runs adjacent to pet-friendly stretches of sand like East Beach and Stewart Beach Park. When it’s time to chow down, pause for a seafood meal at Joe’s Crab Shack. Witness even more sunsets from the large balcony at Davis Estate. The sand is just a few steps away from the back door.

From Galveston, take State Highway 146 to I-10. It's a short drive to the town of Beaumont, which was made famous by the Texas oil boom. Let Fido off leash in the first canine recreation space in the area, Ida Reed Dog Park. Then, make your way to the Fire Museum of Texas’ World’s Largest Working Fire Hydrant. Not only is it in full working order, it’s also decorated with the famous spots of a Dalmatian. Assembled in Disneyland ahead of the release of “101 Dalmatians,” the spots on the hydrant are copyrighted by Walt Disney, so if you were planning on constructing your own giant spotty fire hydrant in the backyard, think again.

Louisiana

“Look, are there treats in there or not?” Photo by @_Arachne__

It’s time to leave Texas behind and drive on to Louisiana. Stay on I-10 North to reach your first stop in The Pelican State, Lafayette, which is known as “the Happiest City in America.” Your dog will be happy to stretch his legs at one of the dog parks in the city before you head to Blue Dog Cafe for some traditional Cajun delights.

After your meal, take U.S. Highway 90 East to explore one of Louisiana’s enchanting bayous and discover the wonderful world of Kenny Hill at Chauvin Sculpture Garden. The mysterious bricklayer constructed over 100 sculptures in secret behind his fence until his eventual eviction in 2000. And he’s never been back to explain the seemingly random nature of the art. Dogs are welcome on guided tours on weekends or on their own at other times. If you want to keep living the bayou life, spend the night in a nearby pet-friendly houseboat.

“What parade? I always dress like this!"Photo by Facebook.com/neworleans

Stay on Highway 90 East until it returns you to I-10 and a straight shot to New Orleans. Whether drawn to “paw-rades” in The French Quarter or running wild around NOLA City Bark, four-legged tourists love The Big Easy as much as anybody else. Before you do anything else, bring your handsome hound to Ugly Dog Saloon and BBQ for a selection of grilled Cajun classics and refreshing frozen drinks. Once you’ve refueled and rehydrated, learn all about the city on one of its many pet-friendly tours. New Orleans is supposedly one of the most haunted places in America. The town itself is below sea level, so tombs across its 42 cemeteries often sit above ground and tortured souls from the War of 1812 are said to wander the streets. You and your furry ghost hunter can find out more on a Haunted History Tour of the city's spookiest hangouts.

Cap off your night in NOLA at The Bulldog Uptown. The pet-friendly patio is a popular spot for local pups to hang out and make friends. This cute cottage is minutes from the action and has a private courtyard for Fido’s late-night pee breaks.

Mississippi

You can never get lost when you’re looking for a lighthouse! Photo by @The_doodle_captain

Continue on I-10 to cross into Mississippi, and turn south on I-110 to reach Biloxi. Make your first stop in the Magnolia State at Biloxi Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1848 as one of the first cast-iron lighthouses in the South. Not only is it a shining light for ships in the area, but also a beacon for gender equality. Bucking the trend of male keepers, Biloxi Lighthouse has had more female lighthouse keepers than anywhere else in the country. The adjacent Lighthouse Park features a nice nature trail lined with native plants for Fido to explore.

From the park, stroll along the shoreline to reach Biloxi Shrimping Tour. Canines of all sizes are welcome to join the hunt for Mississippi Gulf Brown Shrimp, a salty seafood delicacy found in Gulf waters, as long as they don’t mind sharing the poop deck with the official boat dog, TJ. If you need a beer or soda, TJ will deliver it straight to you (he doesn’t accept cards for a tip, only cash or bones). If you want to stick around in Biloxi, this riverfront vacation home has a fenced front yard and ample grassy space for morning games of fetch.

The next morning, drive east for just a few minutes along Highway 90 to reach the next bizarre sculpture on your road trip. The Crooked Feather Sculpture depicts the head of a stoic Native American staring into the distance. (It's actually an exact replica of the original, which was starting to rot). Once you’ve snapped a pic for Fido’s ‘gram, head on to Ocean Springs and Ocean Springs Beach. You can even keep your car clean by washing your pooch’s sandy paws at the on-site showers. After the beach, pull up for some pulled pork at The Shed BBQ & Blues before leaving Mississippi.

Alabama

“You can’t fool me, that’s not the real one!” Photo by @Lamthehuntr

Alabama is home to the shortest section of the Gulf Coast, but it’s still packed full of pet-friendly attractions. Start your Bama leg off in Mobile, where the aptly named Dog River runs through town. First, head to USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park to see mighty naval vessels and learn about America’s military history. Leashed pups are welcome in the outside areas. Afterwards, Fido can stop and smell the roses at Mobile Botanical Gardens and play fetch at the 4-acre Julien Marx Dog Park. When it's 5 o'Clock in Mobile, enjoy a cold beer with your good boy in the outdoor seating area at Serda Brewing Co. Call it a night at this gorgeous apartment in the heart of historic Midtown.

From Mobile, head east on I-10 toward Florida. Before you reach The Sunshine State, take a last detour to check out Alabama's contribution to your trip's weird and wonderful sights, courtesy of George Barber. Most eccentric billionaires spend their money on private jets and islands, but not Mr. Barber. Instead, the former race car driver and entrepreneur transformed his marina in Elberta and the surrounding area into an outdoor art gallery. Hike through the woods with your dog to find the seven Dinosaurs in the Woods and Bamahenge, a fiberglass replica of Stonehenge. In the marina, you’ll see the strange sight of a giant lady’s head and legs rising out of the water.

Florida

“Long hair, don’t care!” Photo by BringFido

U.S. Route 98 welcomes you to Florida, the final Gulf State on your journey. Fido's first stop is Pensacola, where he can take his pick between the white sands of Pensacola Beach West and East Dog Parks. Canines aren’t the only intelligent mammals to inhabit the Gulf Coast. See if you can sniff out dolphins in the surrounding waters with Ho2 Pensacola Dolphin Tours. After meeting the locals, bring your biking Boxer to Hub Stacey’s for fun and food on the patio. If you're ready for a break, soak your feet in a hundred-year-old claw bathtub at this Zen property made of Native Cypress and recycled cork. Your pup will love exploring the home's quirky garden.

Leave Pensacola and continue along the Panhandle on U.S. Route 98. In less than three hours you'll reach Panama City, a perennial pet-friendly destination in the summer. Let Fido splash in emerald waters at the dog beach, and then experience the other side of Florida at Conservation Park. The 24 miles of boardwalks and trails lead you through wetlands under a shady tree canopy, great for hikes on sunny days when you’re feeling beached out. You'll have a long drive before your next stop, so you might want to recharge at this cozy hidden gem less than a mile away from the beach.

“Welcome to Tampa!"Photo by @goldendooodscout

Get an early start the next morning and take the scenic route along U.S. 98, or save some time and return to I-10, for the next leg of your road trip. Beautiful and super-dog-friendly Tampa lies roughly six hours from Panama City. From Ybor City’s bustling nightlife to Saint Petersburg’s up-and-coming food scene, the Tampa Bay area is a must-visit on any Gulf Coast adventure. When you reach the city, take a deserved break at this quiet rental. Your waterdog can launch off the private dock in the river or lounge by the pool. After settling in, bring your hound to hang out at Tampa's first fully air-conditioned indoor/outdoor dog park and bar, Two Shepherds Taproom.

On your second day in Tampa, Fido can introduce himself to the Sunshine State’s most gentle resident, the manatee. Florida Manatee Adventures in nearby Crystal River welcomes pooches to join their three-hour tours to meet these enchanting creatures. If he just wants to spend the day at the beach, don’t miss a visit to Fort De Soto Dog Beach Park in St. Petersburg.

As you head south from Tampa, choose the more scenic route on I-275, which crosses St. Pete and takes you across the pretty Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In just over two hours, you’ll reach the chic city of Naples. Let your pup stretch his legs at Naples Botanical Garden. Sprawling across 170 acres, it showcases rare charismatic plants, tropical landscapes and, of course, gardens that are devoted to the native plants of Florida. You’re free to explore them on the boardwalk, pavements and pathways that wind around the different habitats. After a long walk, settle down for a “taste of Naples” at The Dock at Crayton Cove. Explore Naples and the Paradise Coast at your leisure with a stay at this pet-friendly home with a pool and balcony that’s also close to the beach.

"Weird dome things, ahoy!"Photo by @hilljafl

Your Gulf Coast road trip ends at the Florida Everglades, a unique ecosystem that showcases the diversity of Florida’s plant and animal species. Two of its most famous residents are the American Alligator and the Florida Panther. Fido should steer clear of both when he visits Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The final oddity on the journey is the eerie, man-made phenomenon of Cape Romano Dome Homes. The domes were neither the meeting place for a secret cult nor left behind by extraterrestrials, but the ambitious DIY project of oil tycoon Bob Lee. Rising sea levels have seen the domes march farther into the Gulf of Mexico over the years. Everglades Area Tours and Florida Adventures and Rentals offer pet-friendly private tours around the domes and surrounding waters.

Where’s your favorite pet-friendly pitstop on America’s third coast? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

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