FORT DE SOTO PARK, Fla. -- Picture this: You're sitting on a white sand beach, warm sun on your skin. Coconut-scented sunscreen wafts through the air. A splashing noise comes from the blue Gulf of Mexico. It's your dog, happily retrieving his favorite ball from the water.
This could be your vacation, with a bit of planning.
With miles of sandy beaches, endless winter sunshine and a laid-back vibe, there's no reason to leave your four-legged friend behind when you vacation in Florida. From lodging that offers special pet beds, to beaches with off-leash play, to theme parks with nearby kennels, many places around the state accommodate visitors with pets. Many Florida state parks also permit leashed dogs
Lodging with your dog can be as rustic as a campground or as ritzy as, well, the Ritz Carlton. In places like Key West or Sanibel Island -- where all beaches are open to leashed dogs -- unique and funky pet-friendly accommodations are easy to find in various price ranges.
Most counties have their own tourism boards and many have specific pages on their websites about pet-friendly activities, restaurants and hotels. Visit Florida has lots of information at www.visitflorida.com/Pet_Friendly_Florida.
Jeannette Scott, a fashion blogger from Orlando, took her shih tzu-Yorkie mix named Bella on a three-day trip in June. Together, they drove three hours to Fort Myers, boarded a ferry to Key West, stayed at a Sheraton that offered a doggie bed for Bella, and posed for photos in front of a frozen yogurt stand that carried Yoghund, a froyo for doggies.
"She thought it was really fun to get away and go on adventure instead of staying at home," said Scott.
If your dog might enjoy the same, here are some dog-friendly destinations around Florida, along with lodging advice and general tips for traveling here with pets.
Dog Beach and Paw Playground, Fort De Soto State Park: In 2010, Southern Living magazine named this spot in Pinellas County on Florida's West Coast one of the top five dog beaches in the South. You only need to set one paw onto the sugary sand to know why: It's a gorgeous and peaceful place. The Gulf of Mexico is usually warm and calm, and dogs of all sizes love to play in the soft surf. Dogs can run on the beach and swim off-leash, then enjoy a large, adjacent fenced-in grassy dog park area. There are water fountains, waste bags and a place to wash salt out of dog fur. Admission to the park area is $5.
Dinosaur World, Plant City: Who loves dinosaurs? Dogs, that's who. Located halfway between Tampa and Disney, Dinosaur World is a park featuring 150 giant dinosaur statues and trails winding through the lush Florida landscape. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trails and it's a great opportunity to snap a photo of your pooch with a giant Stegosaurus (some intrepid bloggers have gotten shots of their dogs posing inside a dinosaur's mouth). Tickets are $14.95, dogs are free; open daily.
Dog Wood Park, Jacksonville: This 25-acre, privately owned park is heaven for dogs. It's all off-leash and entirely fenced in, from the pond to the grassy knoll to the trails. A separate small area nearby has chairs where owners can sip coffee and chat. There are two ponds, Lake Bow Wow for the big dogs and Lake Fifi for little ones, plus doggie sand piles, shady areas and tires for dogs to climb on. Day visits are $11, including tax. Additional services, like use of the park's indoor dog wash area, are extra.
The Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine: Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles discovered this spring in 1565 and the Timucua Indians lived here for 4,000 years before that. You and your dog can sniff around and drink from the fountain. Tickets are $12.
Downtown Naples: A great place to stroll with your pet while embracing tropical Florida, downtown Naples has lots of outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants where you can dine al fresco with your dog. Several stores -- Diva Doghouse, For Footed Friends, Pucci & Catana and Fergie's Closet Doggie Boutique -- specialize in upscale pet accessories, clothing and food.
Lincoln Road, Miami: Located on South Beach, this pedestrian-friendly shopping area is the place to watch all of the beautiful people and their designer dogs. Outdoor restaurants and tropical drinks abound.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound: This sprawling park on Florida's East Coast, north of tony Palm Beach, offers miles of trails that showcase how Florida looked before development. Dogs must be leashed. Admission is $6 per vehicle.