As cliché as it is, I enjoy long walks on… dog-friendly beaches. And just my luck! Earlier this summer my traveling companion’s paws and my feet walked atop the sand of the gorgeous beach at 30 Degrees 8 Minutes North Latitude in Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) near St. Augustine, Florida.
I’m in the early stages of exploring Florida’s pet-friendly destinations but from what I’ve experienced to date, St. Augustine leads the pack when it comes to welcoming canine companions. The nation’s oldest city offers several dog-friendly beaches (if your hound is on a leash) along with activities to make paw-some memories with your pooch.
Walking One of the Dog-Friendly Beaches
The 30 Degrees 8 Minutes North Latitude beach (coordinates) in Ponte Vedra Beach, a relatively short drive from downtown St. Augustine, is where many historians believe this to be the offshore location where Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon first saw Florida. It’s also located in GTM Research Reserve, a gorgeous, 73,000+ acre reserve. It’s “dedicated to the conservation of natural biodiversity and cultural resources through research and monitoring to guide science-based stewardship and education strategies.” (Source: Florida DEP). It’s home to an array of flora and fauna including more than 350 species of birds, more than 300 fish species and 580 species of plants. Of the animals, it’s home to nearly 50 protected species while and 8 botanicals are protected.
The boardwalk leading up to beach climbs over sand dunes and when I reached the pinnacle (these are tall sand dunes!), I literally gasped when seeing the stunning view of the beach. Since it was a Sunday morning, it was quiet and peaceful. There were a handful of visitors, some with their dogs, enjoying the serenity of the broad beach.
I looked for fossilized shark teeth while Radcliff, my rescue dog, splashed in the surf, something he’s been afraid of doing at the dog beach near home. I’m guessing it’s because the beach at GTM Research Reserve has a gentle slope with Atlantic waves peacefully rolling up as compared to Venice’s Brohard Beach Paw Park’s aggressive waves which usually have him barking and running away.
If you’ve visited Punta Gorda, Fla., and seen the statue of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon in Gilchrist Park, then the statue of the explorer at the GTM Research Reserve will look familiar to you. This is because it was cast from a mold of the one in Punta Gorda. Why are there statues in these Florida destinations? Legend states Ponce de Leon landed in the St. Augustine area in 1513 then step foot in the Charlotte Harbor area (some historians believe where today’s Punta Gorda is located) in 1513 and in 1521. I guess you can say he was Florida’s first tourist! Anyway, St. Augustine and Punta Gorda celebrate the Spanish conquistador and commemorate him with statues.
Hitching a Ride on the Red Train Tour
“Is he your service dog?” the woman sitting next to me on Ripley’s Red Train Tour asked, referring to Radcliff, who was wearing a baby-blue cooling vest because it was hotter than the dickens.
“No, he’s just a regular dog and this tour is dog-friendly,” I replied.
Slurping Up Water at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park
Dogs (with their humans) can hop on and off Ripley’s Red Train Tour, which is what we did and one of those stops is Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. Legend states Ponce de Leon was in search of this fountain which is believed to have healing qualities and found it in 1513. That area was settled in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles making St. Augustine the nation’s oldest successful European settlement.
I was tickled knowing this attraction is pet-friendly and my mongrel and I sipped water from the fountain. Personally, I’m not a fan of Florida’s sulfur-laden water but figured I could use all the help in fighting aging. Radcliff, on the other hand, slurped up two cups.
If you haven’t visited, the Fountain of Youth is more than a water spigot. It’s a destination attraction where visitors can spend at least half a day exploring and learning about Florida’s history. Included in the daily activities is the firing of a replica 1500 canon which was a bit much for Radcliff so we took it as our cue to enjoy more of beautiful St. Augustine.
Pet-Friendly Dining in St. Augustine
As for dining, there are dozens and dozens of pet-friendly options and where Rad and I stayed, they provided me with a list of doggie-dining options. For dinner, I had a craving for pizza and was looking for a place away from the crowds and ended up at Puccini’s Pizzeria on Vilano Beach, a short distance from St. Augustine’s downtown. It had fun evening entertainment, tasty pizza and the staff brought out a big bowl of ice water for Radcliff.
Breakfast was enjoyed at Hot Shot Bakery & Café. Ohmygoodness!
You MUST visit Hot Shot Bakery and hopefully you will meet the Duchess of Datil, Sherry Stoppelbein. Try something from her Datil B. Good line of datil pepper condiments, whether it be the jam or sauce. It can be a panini, wrap, burger or one of her famous specials. Or if you dare, ask for a chocolate-covered datil pepper and eat it without crying. Sherry is recognized as one of St. Augustine’s top chefs and is a native with Minorcan roots which run deep in St. Augustine.
Activities Beyond Pet-Friendly Beaches in St. Augustine
My visit was brief but other dog-friendly activities I hope to check out in the future include the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute Scenic Cruise of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Historic Walking Tours offers several walking tours welcoming four-legged friends, including a Pup Crawl, a pet-friendly pub crawl.
Dog-Friendly Accommodations in St. Augustine
Dog-friendly accommodations are plentiful and we stayed at Southern Oaks Inn which was perfectly located across from a pick-up point for the Red Train Tour. The front desk staff gave Radcliff a dog biscuit at check in and they have fenced in area where dogs can socialize and run off the leash. Entire grounds of the hotel were clean and my room was perfect. Rad gives it two paws up!
This was not my first trip to St. Augustine but it was the first with a dog. I’m still getting used to traveling with a dog and it takes a little more planning and can be stressful. I’m grateful St. Augustine has many dog-friendly options for me and my pup to enjoy. Learn more about St. Augustine and plan pet-friendly or human-only trip by visiting FloridasHistoricCoast.com.
View additional photos from my trip on my Flickr channel.
Note: As of Sept. 28, the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve is closed until further notice due to Hurricane Irma. Visit the GTM Research Reserve website for updates.
Disclosure: During my visit, I was the guest of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. They have not reviewed this post and all opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit and my special-needs dog.