Matlacha: A Dog Friendly Fishing Village With An Art Problem

In 2014, I spent about two months in Ft. Myers, Florida.  After only two weeks in town, I was introduced as a regular at Bonita Bill’s.  Soon thereafter I met the folks at the dog-friendly Sea Gypsy Inn and began attending “secret meetings.”

“Secret meeting” is friend code for “Let’s meet at the Beach Pub, knock back a few beers, and watch the sunset.”

There are lots of places that can draw you back. For me, Ft. Myers is one of those.  I was sorta sideways when I went the first time, and I wasn’t a whole lot better when I went this last time. Maybe that’s just how far I have to go to get my head straight.  Salt, sand, and long-time friends tempting you with boat rides to your favorite bars don’t hurt. 

After all this time, Bonita Bill’s is still my favorite bar. Doc Ford’s still has the best Dark and Stormy, and Beach Pub is still the best place to watch a sunset. I hit up all those places just to be sure, but I also found a new one only 30 minutes away.

Matlacha 

Gallery Garden in Matlacha

WildChild Art Gallery Garden. Photo Credit: WildChild

Matlacha, pronounced like Nick Lachey’s brother (Mat-luh-SHAY), is one of five communities associated with Pine Island.  Four of those communities lie on the island itself, but Matlacha is its own little island between the mainland of Cape Coral and Pine Island.  You’ll cross the “The Fishingest Bridge in the U.S.” to get there. 

If you’re looking for “Old Florida,” where the south blends seamlessly into a tropical vibe, colorful bungalows are inhabited by residents instead of tourists, and fishing is still a way of life for many, this is one of the places you’ll find it.  As the area grows in popularity, you will find a budding tourist industry.  However, it’s still more quiet, bohemian charm than Mickey Mouse, and dogs are welcome. 

Getting There

To get to Matlacha, we drove across the The Fishingest Bridge and through the town.  Yes, we drove THROUGH Matlacha to get to Matlacha.  Bear with me.  We were headed to Matlahca Community Park to drop our kayak in the water and paddle across Matlacha Pass, which is part of the Calusa Blueway paddle trail.

Because why drive to a place when you can paddle across the water in 14 mph winds and maybe see dolphins?  There is always a method to my madness.  

Paddling Matlacha Pass

Across the Pass to Matlacha

Unfortunately, there are no photos of the one dolphin we saw.  By the time I realized I could secure my phone to my bikini top with the pop socket (I’m now calling this the “boob-pro”) and run video while still paddling, the dolphin was gone.  Henri’s startled reaction to him jumping out of the water was priceless though, and I must admit I was pretty excited myself.

Once across the pass, we tied up at Bert’s Bar and Grill for lunch and scenery.  Their dock is made for motor boats, not kayaks, and with about three feet from the water to the dock, getting out of the yak required a delicate balancing act.  We quickly realized that though we had planned to paddle and tie-up, we had not thought to bring a line.

Being the Girl Scout that I am and knowing Henri would stay tight, we used his leash to secure our rig to the dock.  

After tying off, Sandra climbed out while I tried to steady the boat.  Then I passed Henri up to her.  Once Henri was out, I carefully hopped from the boat to the dock. (The reverse effort seemed a little trickier, but with some help from a sympathetic gentleman, we managed a not-quite-so-graceful boarding.  With a shout of “Good Luck, Henri!” from the guy on the dock who assisted us, we paddled away).

Brightly colored surf board greets guests at Bert's Bar and Grill in Matlacha

Welcome to the view at Bert’s Bar and Grill. Photo Credit: Bert’s

The patio at Bert’s is dog-friendly, as are most of the patios in Matlacha, but you really should have a leash.  They brought Henri some water, and after a 1/2 lb. of peel and eat shrimp and a couple of Coronas, we felt well-rested enough to get back to the boat.  The real plan had been to leave the boat docked while we wandered around Matlacha, but without a leash for Henri and no idea where to grab one, we decided to paddle back to the park, put up the yak, and just walk.  

Shopping

Pine Island Road is dotted with shops and galleries boasting colorful exteriors that highlight the community’s quirky, artistic charm.  The most famous of these galleries is Leoma Lovegrove. The can’t miss pink roof sets the tone for a street lined with whimsy.  Unfortunately, her gallery and gardens are NOT dog-friendly, but plenty of other places ARE.

Interior of Island Vision Gallery on Matlacha

Island Visions. Photo Credit: Island Visions

Island Visions is an “eclectic gallery of art and curiosities.”  I stole that description from their business card because it’s the perfect way to describe this shop.  With a flea market feel and treasures around every corner, you’re sure to find something of interest from one of the over 60 local artists represented.  Be sure to look up, around, and down; even the floors are painted with fanciful designs, and you might spot Hector, the shop kitty.

Soft serve pup cup from Great Licks in Matlacha, Florida

Free pup cups at Great Licks

Right next door to Island Visions is Great Licks Ice Cream of Matlacha.  You can take your pooch there for a FREE pup cup with an all-natural treat topping.  Get some for yourself, too.  It’s delicious!

Another noteworthy stop is WildChild Art Gallery.  Voted Best Art Gallery on Pine Island 10 years in a row, you’ll quickly discover something to love.  They keep a stash of dog treats behind the counter for JustA, the lucky Schnauzer whose official title is Gallery Greeter, but he won’t mind sharing.  I was told his name was JustA as in “just a bit of love, just a bit of trouble,” but you can read the real story here.

Not to be missed- but of course I did- is the WildChild garden space open Wednesday through Saturday.  I was there on Monday.  If you visit during the later part of the week, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some of the artists while they work and/or teach classes. If you’re interested in a class, visit Art Classes & Workshops on their website for more information.

Where To Stay

Fish from your own front door at the dog-friendly Bridgewater Inn

Drop a line right out your door. Photo Credit: Bridgewater Inn

We didn’t spend the night in Matlacha, but if we had, I’d have chosen Bridgewater Inn.  We paddled past it on our way to Bert’s, which is next door.  This brightly colored inn features rooms right on the water, perfect for watching sunsets or the daily visitors of wildlife that often include dolphin and manatee.  There were several men fishing from the decks off their rooms who waved at as we passed in our kayak.

Every room at Bridgewater is dog-friendly with no breed or size restrictions AND you can leave your dog unattended as long as he behaves and doesn’t disturb other guests.  A $15 per dog/per stay charge will be added to your rate.

Plan Your Day

I’m not sure whether Matlacha is a fishing village with an art problem or an art village with a fishing problem, but it doesn’t make much difference.  Life happens at a slower pace here.  Do something, or do nothing. It’s your choice, but here are some ideas:

  • Shop the local galleries.  It won’t take all day and you’ll be ready for a late lunch on one of the dog-friendly patios.  Stay for happy hour and enjoy some music.
  • Take A Class. Wildchild offers art classes that allow students to make and take.
  • Do some fishing. Whether it’s off your own deck at Bridgewater or the Fishingest Bridge in the U.S., you’re in the one the best places in the world for this sport. Bridgewater offers a fish cleaning station to their guests and once that’s done you can cook it yourself or take it to Miceli’s and they’ll cook it for you. Take your pup to Miceli’s, too.  Their patio is dog-friendly.
  • Go paddling. There are no particular sights to see but the natural beauty of the area begs to be explored. Dolphin, manatee, and rays are frequent guests. Osprey, herons, egrets, and the occasional Bald Eagle roam the skies and hunt the waters. Mangroves abound.
  • Watch a sunset. At the end of any given day, grab yourself a glass of wine and a comfy chair. You’ll be treated to one of the best sunsets you’ve ever seen, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the green flash.

Parking Tip

Parking can be pretty minimal in front of galleries and restaurants, especially on a pretty day.  Park at the Matlacha Community Park for free and walk.  You can also arrive by boat.

Photo Credits

Special shout out to the local businesses who allowed me to swipe photos from their Facebook pages. Many of the galleries have signs that ask you to not take photos so I altogether dropped the ball on picture taking. I hope I’m a good enough storyteller that you’ll forgive me but if not, I’m blaming the ADHD, the bright colors, and the Florida sun!

 

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Follow the Paws: Dog Friendly Places in New Smyrna Beach

By the time we hit New Smyrna Beach, we’d been gone from home for 14 days. We’d visited Destin, Crystal Springs, Ft. Meyers Beach, and now we had one more chance to stall and an official dog beach to put our paws on before beginning the journey back to Arkansas.  

Paws on the pavement at Smyrna Dunes Park

Follow the paws on the pavement to Smyrna Dunes Dog Beach

Henri and I arrived late Thursday afternoon. While he rested from the drive, I went with my friends to check out downtown. After dinner at a place where “I could see water,” but it was dark, so I couldn’t, we headed to Flagler Avenue. The only thing open late were the bars and it reminded me a lot of the strip in Daytona. My initial take was that it wasn’t a good place for dogs, but what I saw the next morning gave me a different perspective; I’ll get that in a minute.

We poked our heads into a few spots to check out the scene, but with musicians just starting to set up, there wasn’t a lot going on. It was the Thursday after New Year’s and just after 9 p.m. Unimpressed with the scene and interested in one last ditch effort to meet an attractive, single Looper who likes dogs and redheads, my friends took me to the dog-friendly New Smyrna Marina.

New Smyrna Marina

Located on the Intercostal Waterway, the New Smyrna Marina is a full service marina resort boasting a great view and some nice-would-be-an-understatement yachts parked at the dock. Outriggers Bar and Grille closes at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, so we saddled up to the Tiki Bar. The fruity drinks were plentiful and strong, but the bourbon selection was lacking. I’m guessing marina guests haven’t complained about it though, and based on the size of the boats docked there, they have their own bourbon; it’s probably Pappy.  

With a coastal casual vibe, the marina is a place Henri would’ve liked. The Outriggers menu features American favorites and Florida classics, and according to their website, they are one of the only restaurants in Central Florida with a license to purchase fresh fish from the docks. Their patio is dog-friendly and if anybody would like to meet me back there for Sunday brunch, I’d love to give the Mahi Mahi Benedict a try!  

Flagler Avenue 

After a night off, the Old Man Dog was ready to go again. I’d located a place that was on the beach, dog-friendly, and served breakfast BLTs that you could order with a side of grits. Turns out Toni and Joe’s Patio, located at 309 Buenos Aires, was at the end Flager, the street where we were the previous night.

Flager runs between the Intercostal and the Atlantic coast, and Buenos Aires is the last turn you can take before driving into the ocean.

Flagler Avenue is Beach Street, USA with 25 restaurants and bars, and 34 shops, galleries and boutiques lining a five-block stretch. For $150 you can be part of this brick lined paradise, by purchasing a personalized brick to be placed along the walkway. As we drove though on Friday morning, I noticed a few dogs and a few shops with water bowls. If it’s anything like most other beach towns, some of the shops and restaurants are dog-friendly and some aren’t. Just ask before entering.  

Toni and Joe's, New Smyrna Beach

Breakfast with a view at Toni and Joe’s Patio

Tony and Joe’s didn’t offer the most impressive BLT in the world or the greatest grits, but the view was delicious. Just like my favorite bar in Ft. Meyers Beach, the menu is simple. The service was FOUR PAW though, and the atmosphere relaxed and casual. They brought Henri water in a togo container without being asked, and the other guests were friendly, sitting around the picnic tables, chatting with us and one another. It’s hard to be cranky at the beach.

I wish we’d had time to linger on Flagler and do some shopping. If only I’d known. Unfortunately, I needed to budget our time and I had already planned my lingering for the dog beach.

Smyrna Dunes Park 

Dog Beach at Smyrna Dunes Park

Smyrna Dunes Park Dog Beach

Just 10 minutes from our breakfast spot, was Smyrna Dunes Park and the Smyrna Dunes Dog Beach. It’s $10 for a day pass, which is also good for Ponce Inlet Park. If you’re vacationing for a few days, a yearly pass is only $20. So get that instead. You will also want to arrive early. The parking lot only holds about 50 cars and the park closes when the lot is full.  

Smyrna Dunes Park is at the northern tip of New Smyrna Beach peninsula and reaches towards Ponce Inlet. Whether driving on the beach, fishing, or strolling the 1,5 mile wheelchair and stroller accessible boardwalk, the dunes park accommodates most recreational users.

At the parking lot you will find a shaded pavilion and public restrooms. Across from that is the boardwalk. Dogs are NOT allowed on the boardwalk from 10 a.m. until one hour before sunset. The dogs have their own path, complete with waste stations, through the dunes along side of the boardwalk. Paw prints on the parking lot pavement lead the way to a dog wash station located at the beginning of the sand trail. Careful with that hose; the water comes out fast!  

Scoop the poop

Smyrna Dunes Park makes it easy to pick up after your pooch

Dog friendly nature trail through Smyrna Dunes Park

Shorten those leashes and keep your eyes on the ground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 73 acre park boasts five ecosystems including: ocean, river, dunes, scrub zones, and saltwater marsh. It is teeming with wildlife and not without danger. The tortoises won’t get you, but the Diamondback Rattlesnakes might!

I’d been letting Henri sniff the edges of the dunes until someone claimed to have spotted a 6 foot rattler. I checked with the park ranger. Yes, they’re there, along with coyotes, and they are all frequently spotted. I’d suggest keeping a short leash on your dog if walking the nature trails and at least one eye on the ground.

Smyrna Dunes dog beach and the Atlantic Ocean

Paws in the Atlantic for the first time

In addition to the wildlife roaming the dunes, you should also watch out for SHARKS in the water! Yes, sharks. Volousia County is the ‘Shark Bite Capital of the World’ and New Smyrna Beach claims more shark-related incidents per square mile than any other beach in the world. In fact, according to the Ocearch Shark Tracker, Cabot, a 9 ft., 533 lb. Great White, pinged just off the coast about four hours after we left. Katherine, a 15 ft, 2300 lb. female is hanging around now, as I write.  

Thankfully, Henri is a wadder not a swimmer, but that black lab of yours on a 25 ft. leash, swimming off shore, looks just like a tasty seal! 

Now that you’ve been sufficiently warned, the good news is the dog beach is really nice and the parks department is doing everything they can to make dogs feel welcome. The shoreline isn’t as wide as the New Smyrna Beach shore, but with no vehicle traffic, it’s much less crowded, and of course, DOGS! YAY! I saw several groups of people who looked prepared to make a day of it with beach umbrellas, coolers, and dog bowls. If you’re packing a bunch of stuff to the beach, I suggest you bring a wagon to haul it.

Your pooch does have to be on-leash at all times within the park, including on the beach. The leash MUST be under your control, like in your hand (we got in trouble for this while playing with a new friend), but there is no limit on leash length.

Beating back winter at the Smyrna Dunes Dog Beach in New Smyrna Beach, FL

Just another day at the dog beach

I got a few additional tips from the ranger about enjoying the park with your pooch:

  • Short leash those walks through the dunes and don’t let your pup stray off the path. I really can’t stress this one enough.
  • Screen shot your pooch’s vaccination records and keep it on your phone. This isn’t a requirement to enter the park, but if there’s an incident with another dog, they’ll ask for it. Y’all shouldn’t be traveling without your records anyway, but the screen shot on the phone is a GREAT idea!
  • Be cautious when approaching other dogs on the beach. Not everyone is as well-behaved as you. If there’s a fight, you both have to leave, and can even be banned.
  • Follow the signs and obey the rules. Dogs are not allowed on the main boardwalk but they are allowed on the fingers that lead to the beach. It is clearly designed.

When traveling with pets it can be difficult to find places that welcome, as opposed to just tolerate, our furry friends. With clearly marked paths, a place to rinse before heading home, and waste stations located throughout the park, Smyrna Dune Park has done an excellent job of making it easy to enjoy your beach trip. If you visit, remember to take pictures, leave paw prints, and watch out for sharks!

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Detours With Dogs: Three Florida Backroads You Need To Take

When Henri and I left home in Arkansas on December 20th, 2018, we were supposed to be heading to Memphis for an overnight Christmas adventure, including a carriage ride through the Starry Nights light exhibit at Shelby Farms.  A rainy forecast pretty much ruined that, and to make matters worse, it was raining everywhere from Memphis to the gulf. I decided the best I could do was head south.  I knew if I could get to the coast, I’d at least find a dog-friendly bar with a covered patio.

I threw all my clean (winter) clothes, unfolded, into the biggest suitcase I had; I grabbed my cowboy boots (‘cause you never know when you’ll need those at the beach); and I put Henri in the truck.  I didn’t have a plan, or shorts, but I had four pairs of jeans, two swimsuits, my Santa hat, and my cowboy boots!  Is anybody imagining the scene from The Jerk right now?

Arkansas–> Biloxi–> Pensacola–> Destin–> Orlando–> Ft. Myers–> New Smyrna–> Destin–> Pensacola–> Home

Some life lessons can only be learned on the road. Always take the scenic route.

My first stop was at Harrah’s Gulf Coast Casino.  I called them while driving, and thankfully, they had a Pet Stay room available for us.  Nine and half hours on the road was enough and we rolled into valet around 11:30 p.m.  Mix & Mingle and room service were both closed for the night and the only open bar was on the casino floor.  So I took Henri for a short potty walk, picked the stickers out of his paws, and settled him into our room to rest. Then I headed downstairs to decompress. After a few hours on the floor and a good night’s sleep, we checked out and went to downtown Ocean Springs.  I wanted to drop in on one of my favorite shops to see if there was anything I needed.

We haven’t been to Coastal Magpie in two years, but the owner recognized Henri right away and pulled a treat from behind the counter.  I picked up an oyster shell ornament made by a local artist for a girlfriend who collects such things, and then we hit the road again.

Backroad #1: Pensacola Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

If you're driving through Pensacola and not taking this detour, you're doing it wrong.

Gulf of Mexico to the right.  Santa Rosa Sound to the left.

Let me get straight to the point…If you’re headed east or west through Pensacola and not driving the National Seashore, you’re doing it wrong!  It’s ok.  I’ve done it wrong several times, but not anymore.

If you put Gulf Islands National Seashore into your GPS, you’re likely to get the ‘Gulf Breeze Pkwy’ address.  That’s not what you want.  That’s Hwy 98, and while it will get you in and out of Pensacola and old 98 to Destin is still a nice drive, you want the road that runs from Pensacola to Navarre.

I used ‘Via de Luna Drive’ but you could also try ‘J Earle Bowden Way.’  If you aren’t starting or ending at Navarre Beach, again, I remind you, you did it wrong.

This route will only cost you an extra fifteen to twenty minutes in time, but you will be flanked on one side by Santa Rosa Sound and on the other by the Gulf of Mexico.  I did it both coming and going, and even on a cloudy day, it’s beautiful.

In addition to the scenery, you’ll drive right by the Pensacola Beach Dog Park located on the sandy white shores of the gulf!  Pensacola Beach Dog Park East is located at Lot E on Via de Luna Drive.  It’s the first parking lot past Portifino Island Resort (not pet friendly).  Dogs are required to be on leash at all times and signs denote dog-friendly areas.  Poop bags, waste disposal bins, and hand wipes are also available.

On our way home, it was a gorgeous day and there were lots of dogs already staking claim to their beach spots, as well as many coming and going.  I asked several of what looked to be locals about “leash length” regulations and everyone seemed to think there were none.  I was told the beach patrol guys do come through to make sure pets are leashed and well-behaved, but that they are very nice and usually have treats.

Pensacola Beach Dog Park East is one of two beach parks on the gulf, both of which require leashes, and one of four parks total.  You can find out more about Pensacola’s dog beaches and parks here.

Backroad #2: Ocala

Drive for through Ocala, Florida for some southern scenery that can't be beat.

Driving Florida from the north to the central area, ditch the traffic, roll down the windows and take a detour through Ocala.  One of only five cities, four in the U.S. and one in France, permitted under Chamber of Commerce guidelines to use the designation “Horse Capital of the World,” Marion Co was the first place in Florida to develop a thoroughbred horse farm.  Your detour will take you past picket fence framed farms with rolling green pastures, and down a highway lined with trees dripping Spanish moss from their branches.  If it happens to be sunset, then count yourself lucky.

For a dog-friendly stop, visit Silver Springs State Park.  A natural landmark since the 1870s, Silver Springs is considered Florida’s first tourist attraction. Gateway to the Ocala National Forrest via the Silver River, this is a great place to do some paddling.  Please note that while well-behaved pets are welcome in Silver Springs State Park campground, picnic area, and hiking trails, they are not allowed on glass bottom boat tours, nor does the on-site outfitter allow pets in rental kayaks or canoes.

You can paddle Silver Springs with your pup, but you’ll need your own boat. The launch fee is $4.00.

Backroad #3: US 17

U.S. Route 17  is a north-south highway that runs from Punta Gorda, FL all the way to St. Mary’s, GA.  I was headed south from central Florida and could have taken 75 through Tampa, but I was on a backroad roll and finally enjoying life’s little detours without all the chaos.

This road doesn’t have the scenery of the national seashore or Ocala, but it doesn’t have the traffic of I-75.  You’ll cross the Peace River, and for at least a small portion of your drive, travel alongside it.  If you’re a paddler and the water is up, this is another great stop. I haven’t done it, but I follow the Canoe Outpost @Peacepaddler on Instagram. They have river scenery and dogs.

19 Days, 4000+ Miles

Detours are great if the road ends at the beach.

The best roads are traveled with friends.

The last three months of 2018 did a number on me, and 19 days and 4000 miles was how long it took me to get back to myself.  I hadn’t planned to go all the way to Ft. Myers but the offers kept coming, and since my attitude hadn’t changed, I just kept driving.  Getting out of your own space, both physically and emotionally, rolling down the windows, and breathing some fresh air can set you straight.

The other thing that sets you straight are friends.  Our adventures south started with frustration, but ended with the thought that occurred to me while driving U.S. 17, the lesson I shared at the beginning of this story.

Life will always throw you detours.  It’s up to you to take the scenic route.

I ended 2018 and began 2019 doing just that: three unexpected backroads, sudden opportunities to catch up with old friends, and the reminder that those people- my friends- are the best parts of me.

Happy New Year, y’all!

 

 

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Explore. Sleep. Repeat. at the Dog Friendly Wanderoo Lodge

This is a story. A story about how one night in Eureka Springs, Arkansas became two; celebrating birthdays with strangers became partying with friends; and how the Joy Motel became the Wanderoo Lodge 

Tim Freeman, owner of the newly remodeled Wanderoo Lodge, was born for this job. Literally. His great grandparents were the original owners of Camp Joy, which eventually became the Joy Motel. The Joy is where Tim remembers swimming with his cousins in the pool. He grew up on this land, so it’s only natural that this Eureka native is the one remodeling and rebranding it after years of neglect. 

Road signage for Wanderoo Eureka

Welcome to the Wanderoo!

Of course, I didn’t really know any of this when I booked my stay there. Nor did I know that I had lived across the street from Tim 15 years ago in Fayetteville, AR.  

I booked my stay at the Wanderoo because that was the location of the Float Eureka office. Ozark Mountain Ziplines is also located on the property, but Henri said that sounded like a terrible idea.

I reached out to Float Eureka to discuss a post for the blog. Rachel, one of the owners, suggested a comparison of standard vs inflatable boards when paddling with your dog. Great idea! I asked if I could also stay at the lodge. Thus, an adventure was born. 

I’m pretty sure this is the way it happened for Tim and his buddies who own Float Eureka. They’ve only known each other five years, but many travels, beers and conversations with the right people and awesome ideas are often born. Throw in a little kismet- the Joy wasn’t for sale when Tim first returned to Eureka looking for a place to buy, but soon went on the market- and wonderful things began to happen.

The Wanderoo was meant to be.

Bar with riverbed inlay

A river runs through it at the Gravel Bar.

Check-in is at 3:00 p.m. We arrived around 4:00 p.m on a Friday afternoon just as they were putting the finishing touches on the opening-that-night Gravel Bar. I am proud to say I was the first person to order a glass of wine and I was standing right there when they flipped the switch on the ‘river’ inset into the bar top. It’s a pretty fabulous piece of craftsmanship done by local, when you see his work you’ll call him an artist, Shaman Hill of Rustic Creations and Designs.

Jinx, the property cat

Jinx does what Jinx wants.

After my glass of wine on the dog-friendly porch, Henri and I strolled back to our room. Roaming off-leash without much notice from other guests, he casually followed behind me. As I approached my room, I noticed a cat sitting on top of my car. Seemingly lackadaisical, I hoped he was friendly. He was.  

Jinx is the property cat and I guess he knew just who’s car to lay on ‘cause I had treats. I saw Jinx a few other times during our stay and I must say he’s pretty cool. He’s very social and friendly, and though he’s not afraid of dogs, he shows no interest in antagonizing them like some cats do. Jinx just goes about his business. Be sure you take him some treats.  

Had I known the Gravel Bar was opening Friday night, I wouldn’t have made dinner plans downtown. As it was, I’d promised some clients I’d meet them and their very well behaved dog- shameless self-promotion– at Local Flavor, a dog-friendly favorite of ours.

The Wanderoo offers a $15/day shuttle to guests and since it runs until midnight, Henri and I took advantage of that. After dinner we returned to a bustling Gravel Bar and though opening night seemed a success, we called it a day. I didn’t want either of us worn out for our paddle the next morning.  

The King Wanderoom is sparse, but spacious and comfortable with a large window that overlooks a salt water pool. There’s no art on the walls, but you’ll enjoy the amenities of a mini-fridge, Keurig-style coffee pot, microwave, and flat screen TV. With one table and two chairs, and one additional chair, there was plenty of floor space for a slow 12 year old dog to do a couple of tosses of fetch. The bathroom is clean-lined with subway tiles and fluffy, white towels, and the king-sized bed was comfortable with plenty of pillows for a good night’s sleep. 

The King Wanderoom at Wanderoo Lodge

The King Wanderoom is perfect for a good night’s sleep or a baseball nap.

Since the Gravel Bar doesn’t serve breakfast and I’d fed my dinner leftovers to Henri, after coffee we went in search of food. I was told there was a food truck across the street in the parking lot of the old high school, but fair warning…by attempting to get across that intersection, you will be keeping your angels busy. My breakfast sandwich with homemade sausage was pretty delicious, but I’m not sure it was worth the risk to life and limb. 

We were scheduled to meet Rachel from Float Eureka at their office, which used to be the check-in desk of the Joy Motel. Now that the big house is remodeled and the front desk located inside, the outfitter uses the space for their business.

Check-out is at noon, so we did that before leaving. We inquired about keeping our room for one more night but unfortunately they were full. Fortune took a turn, however, and by the time we got back from our paddle a cancelation had opened a space for us. Since it wasn’t the haunted room (every place in Eureka has one), we happily accepted Tim’s invitation to stay another night. It was his birthday after all and opening weekend of his new bar. How could I say no? Dusty, the manager, even threw in a free t-shirt when I complained of not having enough clothes for a second night! FYI. That shirt is super-soft and now one of my favorites. 

It was 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon with a paddle behind us, a night before us, and a comfy place to rest. This seemed like a good time for nap. We went to our new room, hit the air, turned on the Cardinals game, and promptly dozed off.  

After our snooze, I realized I hadn’t really planned Henri food for a second night. I needed to find a grocery store and this is the great thing about traveling with a raw fed dog. If he weren’t raw fed, he’d be on some fancy high dollar kibble that was only available via private shipping from a nunnery in Australia. As it is, a can of salmon and some green beans works just fine. It also gave me a chance to pick up some fruit and protein for my own breakfast the next morning. Hart’s Family Center isn’t a fancy gourmet grocer, but it was just down the road and met our needs.  

Birthday celebrations at the Wanderoo Lodge

Owner, Tim, is ready to celebrate with his guests.

With Henri fed and me showered and sporting my new Wanderoo t-shirt, we headed up to the Gravel Bar to see what was happening.

A LOT!

A lot was happening and it was the perfect sampling of everything Eureka Springs is- friends, family, a former mayor, a manager who side gigs as an Elvis impersonator and his wife, a renowned crochet artist, a server who looks a whole lot like Hannah Montana but dresses like the Swiss Miss in combat boots and has the best color red lipstick you’ve ever seen, a school teacher, a few folks from here and there, a couple of dogs, and Jinx supervising from the front porch.

At least two other birthdays in the house that night contributed to a mood that was festive and upbeat. Cake and homemade moonshine were being shared and laughter was abundant. The name had changed but the J O Y was still there.  

We arrived just in time to watch Tim blow out his birthday candles.

As midnight and last call drew near, plans to head downtown to Chelsea’s started solidifying. I took Henri back to our room and jumped on the over-stuffed shuttle with my new assortment of friends. It continued to be interesting. Why quit now? 

If you are ever in Eureka, go to Chelsea’s. The music and the people are eclectic and generally great. Where else are you going to find a red-headed Dothraki and a Jersey Boy shooting pool together while a band by the name of A Ferocious Jungle Cat lays it down on stage? I eventually had my fill of entertainment and bummed a ride back to the Wanderoo. There were a few people in the pool, even though it was technically closed, but all was quiet. Snuggled next to Henri, my head hit the pillow and I quickly closed my eyes on another successful adventure.  

Back deck at the Wanderoo Lodge

Sunday morning coming down.

Sunday morning brought with it a cool drizzling rain. Henri and I sat outside the back door of our room watching the drops of water hit the pool while I drank my coffee and began writing some notes.

What would I say about this adventure and these people..?

We checked out of the Wanderoo on Sunday morning and headed to brunch at Oscar’s Cafe, where Henri was welcomed with a bowl of water and some bacon. If the gossip I overheard on the porch that morning is any indication, the people in Eureka are expecting great things from the new lodge.

Supported by a solid group of friends and family, as well as a town eager to see the Joy resurrected, Tim has used his background in hotel consulting and love of Eureka to create a new vibe at an old place. I think you can expect the Wanderoo to continue to grow, branding itself as the in-town lodge that is your gateway to Ozarks adventure.

“That boy Tim has a good head on his shoulders,” said an elderly gentleman on the porch of Oscar’s. “He’s smart for his age and if the folks in Eureka will listen to him, he’ll do a lot of good around here.”

That seems like pretty high praise to me and based on what I experienced, I couldn’t agree more!

A note about the pet policy: There isn’t an official one. There are no breed bans or size limits. Well behaved pets can be left unattended in your room with or without a crate. They’ve accepted cats and parrots, as well as dog guests. If you visit with your pooch, don’t be the one who screws it up. Keep your furry friend under control, pick up your poop, and don’t chase Jinx! 

You can find at least a few other posts about Eureka if you search our blog. It’s not far from home and we like it a lot. Here are some more dog-friendly things to do while you’re in town:

  • Shop downtown. Many of the shops are dog-friendly and have bowls on the sidewalk outside their doors. Visit Blackie’s Back Yard for pet-related gifts, toys, and treats.
  • Have a sangria on the patio at Local Flavor. Dogs will need to go up the back stairs to reach the front patio or through the doggie gate to get to the side area. Yes, there’s a doggie gate!
  • Visit Basin Park. From crafts to music, there’s almost always something going on there.
  • Visit the Christ of the Ozarks statue. Weighing over 2 million pounds and standing 67 ft. tall Big Jesus has overlooked Eureka since 1967.
  • Run off-leash at the Bark Park.
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Standard vs Inflatable SUP When Paddling With Your Pooch

Standard vs Inflatable SUPs

Recently I visited a girlfriend who lives on Lake Murray, SC. While there, we decided to take the jet skis across the lake to a restaurant for lunch. It’s been twenty years since I’ve been on a jet ski. Somewhere between zooming across a lake at 23 years old with my 140 lb. St. Bernard riding in front of me and turning 47, I got too old for jet skis. In my defense, the water was pretty choppy and once we switched bikes and I took the heavier one (and had a martini at lunch), I was better. However, the conclusion is this…

I’m more a martini boat than a cigarette boat kind of girl. I prefer the back of a big, heavy Harley to a crotch-rocket, and if I’m going to be on a jet ski, then I need nice calm waters and a cocktail.  

SUPing

I assumed when it came to paddle boards, I’d feel similarly, preferring the stability of a standard to that of a blow-up. I also assumed a 12 year old dog with a bum knee would feel the same. As it turns out, it wasn’t that cut and dry, and I had way more opinions about the situation than Henri did. If you follow this blog that probably doesn’t surprise you. 

To discover our personal preference and try to figure out what board was best for pooch paddlers, we went out with Rachel from Float Eureka. Located near downtown at the newly remodeled Wanderoo Lodge, this new outfitter has everything you need, including a shuttle to get you to, from, and onto the water. They even rent coolers and sell sunscreen, sunglasses, and floating koozies 

*Note: When paddling in Arkansas, you are required by law to have a floating koozie. Our rivers, lakes, and oceans have enough problems without you losing your koozie and can of whatever in our waterways. GET ONE!  

Float Eureka offers several excursion options, but Lake Leatherwood is about 15 minutes from the Wanderoo. It’s the perfect place to test out your paddle skills if you’re a newbie, test boards without worrying about motor boat traffic, or just enjoy a chill afternoon with your pooch. 

Unloading vs. Unpacking

Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard

Tower iSUP: Unpack, unroll, inflate, add fin

The Tower Adventurer 1 iSUP is compact, lightweight and easy to assemble. That makes transport and unpacking a breeze, especially for a solo paddler. After pulling it from the storage bag and unrolling it, it took less than six minutes to inflate using a hand pump. Add the fin, and Voila! You’re ready for the water! 

No help needed with a blow-up and no risk of breaking your toe if you drop your board on it.

Compare that to messing with webbing, then having to pull your SUP off the top of your vehicle by yourself or carrying 60-plus pounds to the water alone, and this first point is a no-brainer!

Paddling Comparison

Since Henri hadn’t been on a paddle board in a while, I decided it would be best to start with the standard. It was bigger, heavier, and I knew it would be more stable. He loaded like a pro, situated himself in the sweet spot, and off we went. 

The Jackson SUPerNatural is heavier than the blow-up by almost 40 lbs and sits lower in the water. It’s wider by three inches, which doesn’t seem like a lot unless you need the extra stability. Additionally, Henri’s added weight didn’t seem to make much of a difference in the way I handled the board, and overall, I was much more confident and comfortable on the standard SUP.

After paddling around a bit and realizing Henri was as chill as ever, we decided to switch boards and give the blow-up a go.

I don’t know if it was Rachel’s mad paddling skills or my exceptional balance (thank you daily yoga practice), but we switched SUPs right in the middle of the lake without incident.

Rachel mounted my board first. Then I switched to hers before transferring Henri. Once Henri and I were on the blow-up, it was time to give standing a shot. He wasn’t quite centered and didn’t seem to have any interest in cooperating with my attempted adjustments to his positioning, so this was a delicate process. I managed.  

The difference in the two boards is pretty drastic, at least in my opinion. The blow-up is lighter weight and less stable, but I found it easier to paddle and maneuver. It also glides through the water much more quickly. Surprisingly, Henri’s added weight seemed more of a benefit than a disadvantage as long as he was centered. If he off-centered or moved, however, it required quite a bit of compensation on my part.  

Final Thoughts (of a novice paddler)  

SUP Comparison

SUPerNatural vs Tower iSUP

Standard boards are probably best for beginners, large dogs, multiple dogs, or dogs who can’t be still. They’re a pain in the arse to load/unload/carry, but they make up for it with stability and roominess. With the extra foot plus in length, I could have easily added my Sportsman cooler and then used it as something to lean against when not standing.

Standard boards: Perfect if you’re planning on an hours-long adventure. 

Shifting from sitting to kneeling to standing is much easier on a standard board. Again, it’s about stability. It’s requires more upper body/core strength to paddle, but it’s less work to balance. If you’re strong but uncoordinated, this may be the perfect board for you.  

Blow-ups, by comparison, are a lot easier to handle for a solo paddler. You don’t need a roof rack and could probably fit at least two in the backseat of a Mini Cooper. They glide more quickly and easily through the water so if you lack muscle, this is a better board for you. You will need a good sense of balance though. If you don’t possess at least a modicum of that, it could be quite the workout. You’ll later discover muscles that you didn’t know you had.

Blow-up boards: Perfect for 20-minute workouts

This is the perfect workout board. I’d love to have one for quick trips to the water as part of my weekly routine, but I would not want to spend all day on one. If you have a dog who likes to move around a lot or you have any kind of injury that affects standing joints or your sense of balance, this might not be the board for you.  

Tips for Beginners 

  • Paddle naked! Or at least barefooted. It’s easier to balance.
  • Keep your head up and your eye on the horizon.
  • Don’t lock your knees.
  • Use your core when stroking, not your arms. 
  • Start with your pooch situated just forward of the “belly” of the board. That’s the center and your dog should be just in front of you. Make adjustments based on your combined weight and paddle style. Get comfortable.  

To learn more about paddling, we suggest you give it a try!

Call our friends at Float Eureka, or your own local outfitter, and let them get you on the water. If you have questions about introducing your pooch to the board and/or gaining his trust, message me or post a question. I’d love to help you enjoy this great sport together.

 

 

 

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How To Survive July 4th with Your Dog: Book A Room

How to survive July 4th with your dog

Prior to 2016, I’d never noticed Henri being especially fearful of fireworks. I mean, he didn’t like them- what dog does?!- but he wasn’t traumatized. It was that year, on the 4th of July that I came home from a cookout to discover a trembling, fearful, hot mess of a dog. We were living in a 1940s style bungalow with about zero noise insulation and our neighborhood had become a war zone. We slept on the kitchen floor that night-Henri seemed to think it was the safest place- and I promised him he’d never have to do that again.

By the time explosion season came the next year, we had fancy noise-canceling headphones, calming treats (we use these), and the pinky-paw swear that I wouldn’t make him stay home alone. The headphones worked great once he realized what they did, the calming treats have been used since, and Henri survived another year. Of course, I missed out on some pretty cool fireworks shows and I’ve still got several large boxes of unexploded Saturn Missles, but we do what we can for our pets.

This year I had the genius idea that we should get away.

As I’ve already mentioned, I live in a residential area turned holiday battlefield. It’s fairly ridiculous, as it goes on for days, but the worst of it is on the 4th and the weekend nights preceding and following. I live in the South. Any excuse to blow stuff up for ONE day is an excuse to continue for several. Far be it from us to waste ammo (sips sweet tea for emphasis).

Why were we staying here?!

To test my get away theory, I decided to book a room at a hotel in a non-residential area. Surely, it would be quieter. Then it occurred to me that I might be able to get a room overlooking some distant display. Could I enjoy fireworks without Henri having to endure the sounds? I called our local Aloft for a chat.

Lucky for me their marketing director has a Jack Russell Terrier who is also afraid of noise. She was more than happy to help me with my special request. I say ‘special request’ because Aloft typically makes every effort to put canine guests in first floor rooms for ease of potty duties. Their ARF program makes sure the pooches have great amenities (though sometimes you do have to ask), and many of the hotels, including Aloft Rogers-Bentonville, have a ‘pet wing’ on the first floor with direct access to outside.

We received a discounted room on the 6th floor of the hotel overlooking one of Northwest Arkansas’ biggest displays. A 20-plus minute fiery explosion was going to go off less than half a mile from our window. I took Henri’s headphones and calming treats just in case.

When the first boom announced the start of the show, Henri’s ears went back. I gave him a scratch and acted like it was no big deal. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, but after a few more shots, he settled himself under the desk. I offered him some comforting words and plopped myself onto the bed. When it became obvious that death was not eminent, he decided to join me. Though he turned his head and curled up next to me in such a way as to pretend they weren’t there, he could definitely hear and see them. Fortunately, the insulation of our room and the noise from the TV on the wall, provided just the right amount of dampening of both sight and sound. Our experiment was a success and if things get too bad in the ‘hood, we may head back to the hotel.

Things to try when the sky is falling and we’re all going to die:

Since we can’t all pack up and head to the nearest hotel, I’m providing you with a list of my best suggestions for dealing with dog anxiety. In my experience as a trainer, I have found that it is typically a combination of things that helps the most. If I have personally used or have confidence in a specific suggested product or method, there’s a link. However, I do want to offer this one precaution: if your dog is really unhinged and you suspect he might be a danger to himself or someone else, like a flight or bite risk, call your vet. Get real drugs and save the experiments for later.

  • White noise. There are machines and phone apps, and just recently I discovered you can ask Alexa to “play white noise.”
  • DogTV. Yes, DogTV. I bought a subscription just to see what it was and it’s kinda cool. Henri will lay on the end of the bed and watch it intermittently. Now might be a good time to sign up for a free trial.
  • ThunderShirt or anxiety wrap. If fireworks are going off in your neighborhood as you’re reading this, it may be a little late for you to run out and purchase a ThunderShirt, or they may be sold out. If you’ve got an ace bandage, try the anxiety wrap. You could also try a t-shirt, if your dog wears them, or an old t-shirt of yours if you can make it fit snuggly. This is like swaddling a baby, so you do want a snug, but not too tight, fit.
  • Calming treats (lots of good ones on the market), CDB Oil/treats, Rescue Remedy.
  • Lavender spray or oil (put it on your dog/Thundershirt/wrap/t-shirt/bedding)
  • Pheromone spray (spray on Thundershirt/wrap/t-shirt/bedding but NOT on dog)
  • A distracting toy or chew. Stuff a Kong with peanut butter and freeze it (it’ll last longer). Visit your butcher for a genuine marrow bone. Try a puzzle or treat dispensing toy.
  • Exercise! Take your dog for a long walk, hike, or swim before dusk. Exercise releases endorphins.

If there is something you’ve tried that works and I haven’t mentioned it, please SHARE in the comments. You might help somebody.

 

 

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Chewy On This!

Chewy box delivery

Special delivery!

So, in case you aren’t following us on Facebook or Instagram, or didn’t understand the title of this post, I’m really excited to announce… 

I’M A CHEWY INFLUENCER!

This is how we met…

My Chewy story began with my training clients. They invite me into their homes and lives, and rely on me to help them provide the best for their pets. I value their trust and I’m p i c k y about referrals. Many of my clients were already using their services and making comments like, “I’ll order it from Chewy.” Based on their reported experiences, more and more, I found myself comfortable referencing them. If there was a product we needed quickly- Adaptil comes to mind- or if I was looking for something fun to entertain a bored dog- like the Tether Tug– I was whipping out my phone to check their site or show a product.

It wasn’t until April 2018 (when Henri needed a tux and FAST), that I personally ordered from Chewy. My confidence in their ability to deliver came from my clients’ rave reviews and more than a little desperation. They promised his tux would be here before we left town and it was. I’m still waiting on a Victoria’s Secret order I placed on the 9th that was supposed to be here on the 14th. I called today. They don’t know where it is. But I digress…

It isn’t just the fulfillment of a delivery promise, it’s the ‘above and beyond’ that really impressed me. From suggesting that an unused bag of food or a collar that didn’t fit quite right be donated to a local shelter (with a replacement on the way at no additional charge) to sending a card to a grieving pet parent, it was clear to me that Chewy was doing something different

I finally decided it was time to reach out!

I wanted to Pawtner Up with Chewy in some way, though I wasn’t sure how. Feature their products, write travel content for their blog…? On a whim, I sent them an email. Quick to respond, they invited me to join their influencer program.  

This is how it works…

As a Chewy Influencer, each month I’ll receive a special newsletter with 14 plus featured items. Goodies range from premium pet food to treats, to grooming products and toys. I get to pick TWO and have them delivered straight to my door. Along with saying ‘YES!” to the gig, I asked if I could share with clients and friends. Henri is pushing 12. His opinion of toys isn’t what it used to be and his need for training aides is pretty minimal. Now, if it’s a product that makes travel more comfortable or it involves treats, we might get stingy.

All we have to do in return is offer our honest opinion and y’all know I’ve got plenty those! Church of the Painful Truth, as one girlfriend likes to call it.  

You’ll be able to find our monthly reviews on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook, and if you’re one of my lucky clients or happen to run into me at event, there’s a good chance I’ll be toting a little something extra from our new friends. Our first treat sample was a hit with Henri, most of the dogs at the paddle clinic I taught, and one lone beggar at the Dog Days of Summer event at Sassafrass Springs Vineyard.  

As a Walt Disney World College Program Alum, I learned about customer service from one of the best in the industry. That was in 1990. These days, I’m fairly certain it’s just Disney and Chewy doing it right. Chewy offers 24/7 help online and if you call their 1-800 number a REAL person answers, not a recording asking you to push buttons. Don’t believe me? Try it. It’s 2:45 p.m. central time and I just got off the phone with Alonzo. 

I’m super-proud to say I’m helping Chewy make happiness happen and I hope you’ll follow us and give some of our suggestions a try!!  

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Downtown & Dog Friendly in Baton Rouge

Balcony view of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge

Perfect view of the Mississippi River from our balcony

If you’re going to host the perfect party, then you need a perfect venue. That’s more easily said than done if your party includes 250 people and their dogs decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos. Fortunately for us, the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center was nothing less than that on the weekend of April 20th when we headed to town for a Fur Ball weekend.

Check-In

Check-in at the Hilton is at 3:00 p.m. (check-out is at noon, God love ’em!) and we arrived around 4:00 p.m. Since all our weekend adventures included places we could walk, I pulled up to valet and handed over my keys. With several attendants available, it wasn’t long  before the friendly staff had me unloaded onto a cart and I was watching my car disappear.

Rest A While Park in Baton Rouge

Potty area at Rest A While Park

Before heading to our room, I inquired about a potty area. The Hilton takes up a block on Lafayette between Florida and Convention Streets and the potty area at Rest A While Park is on the corner of Convention and Layfayette. You’ll have to cross Convention to get to the small green space but it isn’t too inconvenient, and at night it is well lit enough that I felt safe taking Henri there alone.

The only unpleasantry is that what should be a downtown oasis with beautifully matured Live Oaks providing shaded seating is in desperate need of a poop pick up. The park is not Hilton property, so I’m not blaming them, but whoever you people are who aren’t picking up after your dogs…YOU’RE THE REASON WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

After our potty trip we met the valet at the elevator and followed him to our room. For our two night stay in Baton Rouge, the Hilton graciously comp’ed us a king room with a balcony over-looking the Mississippi. This made it really difficult to do our tourist duty, because after 7 hours in the car all I wanted to do was sit on that balcony and watch barges as the sun set over the water.

Friday Night

We had a little over an hour to kill before meeting my girlfriend downtown for Live After Five. That means Henri got to nap while Mommy washed off road dirt and got ready. I did at least grab a cocktail from the Kingfish Lounge in the hotel lobby and take advantage of my balcony view while sipping it.

 

Live After Five in Baton rouge

A little too live for dogs

Live After Five is a weekly concert series presented by the Downtown Business Association. It includes a stage with live music, as well as food and drink vendors, and it is FREE. No one told us we couldn’t be there with a dog, but I’m not sure I’d call it “dog-friendly.” Frankly, it was a little too live for us and we didn’t stay long.

We opted instead to find a nice restaurant with outdoor seating where we could avoid the crowd and the noise. We didn’t have to look far, as Capital City Grill is only about a block from the Hilton and it was on our route.

Metal tables and chairs sit just outside the front door of the restaurant on the plaza of the Manship Theater. Light jazz played on their speakers, but the pleasantness of that was mostly drowned out by the music echoing from Live. Good company, a bottle of wine, and a chance to catch up with one of my besties while Henri relaxed made up for that.

Since Henri had turned down food at breakfast that morning and dinner the night before, I decided he was due for something more tempting than his usual fare. I was pleased to discover a plain grilled chicken breast served with rice and a veggie of the day, which turned out to be broccoli. I placed a togo order for the chicken so it would come in a box and not on a restaurant plate, then ordered the Mahi Corn Maque Chow for myself. Based on how quickly Henri emptied his box, I’m fairly certain his chicken was as good as my fish. Mine might have been better.

With full bellies, we wandered back to our hotel and went to our room to take advantage of the warm night air and our quiet balcony. After another hour(ish) of girl gossip, it was lights out. I selected my breakfast from the room service menu and hung the tag on the door with a note that said “Dog in room. He will bark but he is nice.”

Saturday Shennanigans

Had I known what a good night’s sleep I’d get or how early I’d be awake, I’d have scheduled my breakfast to come a little earlier. I only had one package of caffinated coffee in my room and I was finished with it long before my breakfast arrived. The good news is the delay gave me time to take Henri to potty and realize his tummy was still upset. So when we returned to the room, I called room service to add an order of plain scrambled eggs to my breakfast. Yes, it was for Henri.

You may call him spoiled, but I say he’s well-kept.

Since Saturday night was the BIG night and the reason we’d come to Baton Rouge, I’d planned to take it easy Saturday morning. A trip to the farmer’s market followed by lunch was all we had planned. We took the elevator to the lobby and noticed that Fur Ball set-up was in full swing. We met our table hostess and tireless volunteer, Elizabeth, and Henri scored one of the highly coveted signature bow ties. If I’d known then, what I know now, I’d have taken a sneak-peak into the ballroom to check out those table decorations before the ceiling lights went out and the event lights came on!

Daytime Downtown

St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge

St. Joseph Cathedral built in 1853

When doing my research for this trip the one thing I couldn’t quite figure out was the farmer’s market situation. It appeared there were two markets in Baton Rouge, one dog-friendly and one not, but I never could quite nail down which was which or where they were. One was within walking distance of our hotel, so we just decided to head there. Much to our dismay Red Stick Farmer’s Market is NOT dog-friendly. Additionally, there aren’t two markets, just the one and it moves from place to place. No dogs at the farmer’s market left us with time to kill so we got all touristy.

Downtown Baton Rouge was shockingly deserted compared to Friday night and my Saturday morning expectations. The streets were quiet and there was little traffic. Our first stop was St. Joseph Cathedral, a white, Gothic Revival church with strikingly beautiful red doors marking the locked entrance. I mean, I wasn’t gonna go to confession, but I might have lit a candle, and I would have loved to have seen the inside of that historic building.

With not much else to do or see, we wandered back to our hotel to discover a whole bunch of stuff going on! Military officers everywhere indicated some sort of convention or incident, and musicians setting up in the lobby bar provided even more activity. I soon discovered our hotel was indeed playing host to a military officers convention, in addition to being one of the local music venues for the 3rd Street Songwriters Festival. I located a festival schedule that revealed music would be starting in our lobby at 1. I could not have felt more lucky.

Songwriters Festival

Songwriters in the Hilton Baton Rouge lobby

Songwriters in our lobby

The 3rd Street Songwriters Festival is an annual event featuring local, regional, and national songwriters. Songwriters get a chance to have their original compositions critiqued by a professional panel, as well as participate in traditional Nashville-style rounds at venues along 3rd Street. Our dog-friendly lobby bar, with a lunch menu featuring selections from the Kingfish Grill, was the perfect setting for a relaxed and casual afternoon. I suggest you try the Louisiana Chicken Sandwich. It was more than enough for me, and after scraping off the fire roasted peppers, onions, and BBQ sauce, I let Henri have the rest.

Riverfront Plaza

Fletcher-class destroyer USS Kidd

USS Kid, The Pirate of the Pacific

We enjoyed about an hour and a half of music before Henri’s gas alerted me that he might need a potty break. At the very least, he didn’t need to continue laying beneath the table offending others. We walked over to the Rest A While, but he didn’t go; it was hard to blame him. I don’t like to use public restrooms when the toilet hasn’t been flushed. I thought if we did a bit more walking he might find a suitable location, so we headed toward the Riverfront Plaza walkway.

The walkway meanders along the Mississippi River levee and from where we were we could see our hotel and our little balcony. We strolled the brick-lined sidewalk to the observation deck overlooking the river and then paused in front of the USS Kid for a photo op. As Henri’s tongue began to hang further and turn pinker, I decided a return to our room and a nap before the evening’s festivities might benefit us both.

Fur Ball

Next up on our schedule was the Fur Ball, an elaborate and fabulously organized formal event where your dog can be your date. Our hotel was the party venue and what a party it was! If you’ve never been to a tailgate, a crawfish boil, Mardi Gras, or St. Patrick’s Day in Baton rouge, then I’m not sure I can adequately describe these people to you. They are next level party professionals and they know how to have a good time. 

I’ll be telling you more about the Fur Ball and Companion Animal Alliance, the non-profit it supports, in my next post. Until then, be sure to check out photos from all our adventures on Instagram and follow us on Facebook. You never know when we’ll head back to Baton Rouge or at least stop there on our way to somewhere else.

Booking with Hilton

If you’re headed to Baton Rouge, we hope you’ll consider booking your pet-friendly stay at the Hilton. They comp’ed us our room but they didn’t pay us to say they were awesome. With all the things going on at the hotel that weekend, it would have been easy to over-look a girl and her dog. Yet, somehow, every time we exited the elevator someone at the desk said hello and on several occasions offered Henri a cookie from the treat jar.

If booking your stay with Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, here are the highlights from their 16 point Pet Agreement:

  • Pets must be domesticated dogs or cats weighing no more than 75 lbs.
  • No more than 2 pets per room
  • A $50.00 non-refundable, per stay service fee will be charged to your final bill
  • Pets may be left unattended in your guest room but the “Pet Friendly Room” door hanger must be placed on the door and the front desk notified of your absence

Tell them Travel Tails sent you and PICK UP YOUR POOP!

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Date Me, Date My Dog: Valentine’s Day Tips for Dog Lovers

Custom dog cake from Three Dog Bakery

Cake available from Three Dog Bakery in Bentonville, AR

A good girlfriend recently sent me a silicon wine cup that says “It’s not drinking alone if your dog is home.” A perfect gift that also perfectly sums up how I feel about Valentine’s Day. For those of you who might not be as content as I am to avoid dating disasters and simply spend time with your furry favorite, here are some ideas on how you can find and share time with a significant two-legged other AND your dog.

Dating Sites

Twindog dating app for dog lovers

Available in the app store on your smart phone.

If you’re still looking for love in all the wrong places, then maybe you need something other than Tinder. How about Twindog? Formerly Tindog, the app lets you swipe right to meet that cutie with the hot human, swipe left to avoid someone who just spent $1500 on the newest designer-doodle.

Date My Pet is another online dating service that has been featured in USA Today and on Good Morning America. Not just a dating site, they also feature trending articles on everything from myths about sex to Why You Should Date a Girl with a Dog. I suggest you read that one.

If you’ve been on Match and grown tired of selfies in the bathroom mirror then maybe you should try Pet People Meet. Their website says they are “Dating Partners” with Match.com. I’m guessing that means they use a similar algorithm, but what do I know? I was only on Match for one month when a well-intentioned friend purchased me a membership. I spent the majority of that time cutting and pasting bios into emails that I would then forward to a girlfriend who is a high school English teacher. Needless to say, I had more laughs than dates.

Date Ideas

Whether it’s just you and your dog on Valentine’s Day or you’ve organized a threesome with your mate and your mutt, there are plenty of ways to spend time together. Depending on where you live, finding a restaurant patio for dining in February might be difficult but no worries! I’ve included ideas for doggie dates that’ll keep you indoors and cozied up even if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Visit a Dog-Friendly Winery or Brewery

Vineyard in Springdale, AR

Sassafrass Springs Vineyard

In our travels, we’ve discovered that breweries are an easy go-to for dog-friendliness and whether it’s the taproom or the side-yard, it seems a lot of them will welcome your pooch in some portion of their establishment. Many of the breweries even use their spent grain to make dog treats and/or sell dog swag. So while you’re sipping on your Sexual Chocolate at Foothills Brewing Co in No. Carolina, make sure your pooch gets a little something too.

If fruit is more your thing, then a stroll through a dog-friendly vineyard might be the perfect afternoon. Sassafrass Springs is our local favorite and since we last featured them, they’ve added an indoor fireplace with blankets and cozy seating for three. To locate a dog-friendly winery near you, visit our new friends, the Cork Hounds. We’ll be guest blogging for them in the future, as well as referencing them when we travel. Their database currently includes over 1800 dog-friendly wineries in 24 different states.

Pack a picnic

Picnic at Ascot backpack

Backpack by Picnic at Ascot

How long has it been since you packed a picnic basket with your favorite snacks and headed somewhere with a view? If you choose a short hike instead of the park, your dog will thank you for the woodland sniffs and you’ll likely find a more secluded and private spot to spread your blanket. A hill or mountain top at sunset is my suggestion.

Don’t want to lug a picnic basket on a hike? Try one of these backpack versions instead.

Outdoor movie or drive-in

This is actually one of my favorite summertime activities with Henri. Our local drive-in always has a double feature and I like to go on Sunday nights. It’s a great way to wind down a busy weekend and there are usually less kids. If you live somewhere with a year ’round warm climate, then I bet you can find one in your neck of the woods. A quick search of “outdoor movies in February” gave me lots of options… in California.

Visit a farmer’s market

Another of my favorite activities is shopping the local farmer’s market. It makes a great casual date, especially if it’s followed by brunch. To punch up the romance a bit, skip the restaurant brunch and instead head home with your fresh finds and create something together. If your date buys you flowers, you might have a keeper.

Don’t have a dog? Then visit your local shelter.

Ours is hosting a My Furry Valentine event featuring a pizza and pasta buffet and $14 adoptions for matches made at the event.

Where will you find or celebrate love this year? Tell us in the comments or share with us on social media.

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Every Dog Has His Day on 30A

Christmas at the beach

Merry Christmas from the beach at Pompano Joe’s in Destin, FL!

Before you head to the sugar-white beaches of Destin and 30A with your pooch, there are some things you should know. Let’s start with where dogs are and are not allowed, and what it’s going to cost you if you get busted.

Is your attorney liscensed in Florida? Henri’s is not.

In Okaloosa County, where Destin stretches for about 8 miles along HWY 98, dogs are NOT allowed on ANY beaches, anywhere, whether they are residents or not. NO DOGS. The fine for a first offense is typically $100 ($200 for the 2nd, $300 for the 3rd), but the county deputies can fine you as much as $300 the first time if they so choose.

Just down the road on 30A in Walton County (South Walton) resident dogs with permits and leashes are allowed on beaches between 6 PM and 8 AM during Daylight Savings time periods and between 3 PM and 9 AM during Standard time periods, but non-resident dogs are not. It’s easier to sneak around and blend in on those beaches but if you get caught you will likely be fined. First offense is $100, second $200, and up to $500 for your fifth offense. After that you probably would just go to jail. Code enforcement officers are responsible for beach enforcement in South Walton. They drive white trucks.

So, if you can’t take your dog to the beach, what can you do? Eat and drink, of course! And some hiking and some paddling, and more eating and drinking. We spent 10 days roaming the two counties and dug up plenty of food and fun and LOTS of reasons to return.

Okaloosa Co

City of Destin at The Harbor

Obligatory photo op at HarborWalk.

If you’re in Destin, Florida, then you’re in Okaloosa County. No dogs on the beaches there, remember? Instead, take your pooch to HarborWalk Village, a collection of restaurants and shops located on the bay. You can stroll the village walk and the marina, rent a paddle board or kayak, book a dolphin cruise, catch some live music, or enjoy a cocktail at any of several places that welcome dogs. According to their website, they also have weekly fireworks and Fat Tuesday parades so be sure to check the schedule and NOT have your dog there for that. Except for Mardi Paws on February 13th. You can check out their event page on the Book of Face.

HarborWalk was where we had planned to spend New Year’s Eve but after a day visit to check it out and chatting with some of the employees, we decided dogs didn’t want to do that. It is very family friendly and though it wasn’t crowded on the two days we went, you can easily see how a night like NYE with live music, vacation brained adults, low-flying unsupervised kids, and fireworks might not be a joy for an 11 year-old dog (or his 40-something single mom).

Even though we chose not to spend NYE there (we stayed in because it was so cold), we did find a few restaurants worth mentioning, and on a second trip we discovered an unoccupied pier where we chased off a pelican and took up residence in hopes of a dolphin sighting.

Doggie Dining Available at Harry T's

Harry T’s Welcomes Dogs

Harry T’s Lighthouse, with a dog water and snack bowl located near their outdoor menu and snacks at the host stand, was the first place we found and the most dog-welcoming. There is no back way to the dog-friendly patio but the host will escort you through the restaurant to your seat. Our waiter immediately greeted us with a menu and a water bowl and then asked if Henri would like a treat. Yes. Yes, he would. And I would like to have all the bourbon! Though my parents are the ones who told me about this place, my Dad failed to mention the awesome bourbon selection.

The menu at Harry T’s is pretty standard beach American fare with brunch on Saturday and Sunday, but the reason you go is the view. The patio is the perfect place to watch the tour boats coming back to the marina at sunset. It’s also covered, heated, and zippered plastic ‘windows’ protect you from the wind. Destin isn’t always warm in December.

 

Dog in her cheerleader dress

Sanza was ready for a win. Hail State!

AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar was our next restaurant discovery at HarborWalk. The view isn’t as great but they have a HUGE outdoor TV and multiple TVs behind the outdoor bar. It would have been perfect for watching the Razorback’s SEC basketball opener. I even called to make sure that the parts of the patio with the TVs were dog-friendly and to ask if they’d be willing to change at least one of the small TVs for me to watch the game. I didn’t ask if they had the SEC Network. They don’t. Oh well.

It just so happened to be one of the few warmish days we got while in Florida so I was perfectly content to sit in the sun, eat oysters and drink a bloody mary while watching Mississippi State in their bowl game. And we made LOTS of friends!

Even though they didn’t offer to bring us a water bowl (BYOB), it was by far the one place we went where we saw the most dogs. I’m sure the weather was a factor in that- vacationers don’t always bring their dogs and the natives were staying home because it was only 64 degrees- but when the sun did come out, so did the dog people.

After lunch, I grabbed a beer to go- YES, TO GO- and we wandered down to the marina walkway to check out the boats. In case this is your first time reading this blog, you should know I am obsessed with the naming of boats and although I don’t have a boat, I do have a name. We landed at the end of an empty pier where we sat and stared at the water hoping for dolphins, waiting for pirates, and finishing my beer.

Paw print napkin at Boshamp's

Tasty gumbo. Adorable napkin.

The last place in Destin we need to highlight -for now- is Boshamp’s. The restaurant’s name was imagined by the owner’s sister and combines the names of his three labs, BoBo, Otis, and Shug, and his initials, M.P. to get “Boshamp’s.” Another harbor-side spot with an incredible view, Boshamp’s boasts four decks that tier down to a sandy beach with chairs, hammocks, and games. This place is definitely on our ‘return when it’s warmer’ list, especially if they allow dogs on the lower decks and in the sand. Unfortunately, the day we went for lunch it was cold and misting rain, though a dolphin sighting made up for that.

My gumbo was served on a napkin with a paw print punch-out and according to their website, their oysters come from Apalachicola. This is yet another reason to return to Boshamp’s. It’ll tide me over on that three-hour drive from Destin to Apalach to eat more oysters.

On second thought, maybe we’ll just go back to the Forgotten Coast. I know a few good places to eat and they allow dogs on the beaches.

Walton Co

South Walton, SoWal, 30A- it’s all in Walton County and just a hop, skip and a jump from Destin. This is the stretch that includes Santa Rosa, Seaside, Seagrove, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach and Grayton Beach; I may have missed a few. We checked out some of that during our stay but when we arrived at my parents and needed to see the ocean immediatelyPompano Joe’s in Miramar Beach, just five minutes from the house, was where we went.

Their address says Destin, FL but they are geographically located in Miramar Beach in Walton County. I make note of this because it’s important to know what county you’re in and how much that beach fine might cost you.

Pompano Joe's Back Deck

Just another day on the back deck at Pompano Joe’s.

If you follow us on Facebook one of the first photos you saw posted was taken at Pompano Joe’s. Their back deck faces the gulf and their bottom deck is right on the sand. The downstairs bar isn’t open this time of year and there is no deck/table service, but it’s easy enough to put your pooch in a sit/stay and walk to the indoor bar to order a drink. I could see Henri from the bar while I ordered and we never lost eye contact.

I didn’t eat at Pompano Joe’s during my ten-day stay but we drank there several times and maybe walked on the beach. I don’t know if it would be my favorite place during regular summer season but whoever put that Christmas tree in the sand made it hands down my favorite place during this trip.

I had more fun sitting in my chair, meeting and chatting with new people, and taking family photos for folks in front of that tree than I had anywhere in Destin.

We went there several times during our stay and I NEVER got tired of looking at it. Ever. I have a hundred pictures of that tree and I want a job there next year. Henri and I will just hang out, greet guests, and take Christmas pictures.

The other Miramar spot we visited was Kenny D’s. They serve Cajun style food, and with beads hanging from just about every available spot, it has that N’awlins vibe. You can’t see the water from their dog-friendly patio but the Oyster Chowder is worth a stop and my brother will tell you to add a side of their signature sauce to anything. You should also visit their website and click on “Where’Yat?” Whether you’re from up north and need a translation, or the Ninth Ward and need a giggle, you’ll enjoy it. At the very least you’ll learn whether you want to order your Po’ Boy “dressed” or “nuttinonit.”

Santa Rosa

The Bay restaurant in Santa Rosa

Outside at The Bay in Santa Rosa.

I stumbled upon our next discovery via a Facebook event that popped up in my feed. I get a little weirded out sometimes by how Facebook knows but in this case it worked to our advantage. The Bay is located just off 30A on the Choctawhatchee Bay. If it’s dark and you miss your turn into the parking lot, you’ll have to go all the way across the 3 mile bay bridge before you can turn around. I’m really not sure how that happened.

On Wednesday evenings, The Bay has Wednesday Night Bonfire at the Beach off their back deck, and it is dog and family friendly. Except the night we chose to go it was too windy for a bonfire and the deck was all zippered up to keep out the wind and keep in the warmth.

I didn’t know when we pulled up that there was no bonfire that night. I’d called before going but apparently between my call and our arrival, they determined it was too dangerous. I poked my head through the front door to inquire. The hostess told us there was a back door that we could go through to get to the temporarily enclosed back deck. I couldn’t find it. So when we went back to the hostess stand to ask again, she sent a server out back to meet us.

Since it was just the two of us, we saddled up to the end of the bar. It was the perfect spot. Henri could lounge beneath my bar stool out of the walkway and I could see the band. There was a very well-behaved Boxer named Roscoe at the other end; he’s a regular.

If we lived in the area, we’d be regulars at The Bay too!

I ordered a glass of wine and chatted with the bartender about the menu, settling on the Point Washington Rolls – spring rolls filled with alligator tasso and poblano sounded like something I needed to try. The atmosphere was lively but not loud and the band was a great temptation to linger. I wish I could recall their name. I met one of the member’s wives and her Dad and chatted about rosés and dogs but I can’t remember the name of the band. It’s that kind of place. Laid back and friendly. Oh! And all the kids seemed well-behaved. Not one of them tried to pet Henri without asking.

Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach has been on my radar for quite some time for no other reason except their un-official town motto:

Nice dogs, friendly folks.

Nice Dogs, Friendly Folks

At the corner of Hotz Ave. & Garfield St.

After being in cold, cloudy Florida for several days, I was thrilled to finally get high 50s and sunny. We headed straight to Grayton Beach State Park to investigate the dune lake. It had been my plan for us to paddle this salt marsh ecosystem but I’m a sissy and the only thing worse than being cold is being wet and cold. We settled for a hike through a coastal forest where Oak and Magnolia are bent by salty winds. It wasn’t really a settle.

Cost of admission for Henri and I was a whopping $4.00. It’s a drive-thru entrance/pay station and they have dog treats. The ranger handed me a map, pointed out where dogs were and were not allowed, reminded us to stay off the protected dunes, and wished us a good day.

Since dogs aren’t allowed on the beach at the state park, not even resident ones and not even on the boardwalk leading to the beach, we stuck to the trail along Western Lake. An arching Live Oak, more reminiscent of Middle-Earth than Florida, beckons you to enter and just on the other side of that magical doorway an interpretive nature trail begins with this prayer…

Prayer of the Woods, Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach State Park Western Lake trail

Visitors can choose either: a 1 mile trail that takes you through the dune ecosystem, along the salt marsh, and circles back through the pine flat woods OR a 4.5 mile (9 miles round trip) trail that takes you around the back waters of Western Lake. We took the short trail but spent over an hour meandering. There was lots of sniffing to be done.

I walked much of the trail in bare feet. It’s just sand and marsh and a little mud never hurt anybody. It is worth noting that you should check your pup’s feet for stickers after this hike though. It seems I was pulling them out of Henri’s paws pretty much all week, even after a simple stroll through our neighborhood. What is up with coastal regions and stickers?! We had the same problem in Biloxi!

Gulfside view at Grayton Beach State Park

Gorgeous view of the gulf from the dunes of Grayton Beach State Park.

At one point on the trail we discovered a small passage that seemed well-worn. Following it up the sandy incline and through the barely-big-enough hole made by bent trees and shrub, we found ourselves on the dunes staring at the gulf. Signs and temporary fencing block much of the access to the dune area that separates the lake from the beach, and even though I saw neither of those, I was fairly certain we weren’t supposed to be there. We cautiously made our way to the peak and not wanting to track up the area more than necessary, we sat down to take in the stunning view and listen to the ocean sounds.

If you’ve never been perched atop a sand dune between a lake and an ocean, surrounded by a variety of ecosystems, I highly recommend it.

By noon we were making our way back to the car and dusting off our feet for the next adventure. It was on to Chiringo for lunch, then a scavenger hunt to find the Dogs of Grayton mural.

Dogs of Grayton Beach mural

Dogs of Grayton features resident dogs of Grayton Beach.

Nestled between the planned communities of neatly stacked condos and manicured medians is the small town of Grayton Beach. It’s so small, in fact, that every resident dog of the community can be found on the Dogs of Grayton mural located at Mystic Porte & The Shops of Grayton. We were pointed in the right direction by a gentleman named Billy. His dog, Tip, is on the mural and Billy explained that the dogs with halos had passed over to the Bridge. We counted 174 dogs total. I’m not sure how this began or who maintains it but you can rest assure that I’m going to make finding out a priority!

The narrow roads of Grayton are shaded by moss-draped Oaks and Southern Magnolias. Worn picket fences surround bungalow houses and as best I can tell the main road is Hotz Ave. It should be one-way but it’s not. Or maybe I just don’t know. No matter. No one seemed particularly distressed about which direction I was going. It might be the salt air or perhaps it was the music box tune of the ice cream truck playing in the distance, but everyone is just a little more relaxed here.

We drove down Hotz the first time at noon but the street was crowded, parking was nonexistent and Chiringo was packed. That’s when we decided to detour a bit. First we went to find the mural then I decided to drive 30A to Seaside to checkout the Seaside Square and the food truck situation. BIG mistake! Motor vehicle traffic was bumper to bumper and very slow moving. I saw an entire parking lot full of bicycles and there were people everywhere. Every food truck I could see had a line. I took 395 out of Seaside, back to 98, and looped back to the slower side of life.

Ahhh Chiringo! What more I could ask? I missed out on the lunch special but I’d also missed the crowd. What was left were a dozen or so patrons and a couple of dogs.

Balkie, the Golden Retriever

Balkie was visiting from St. Louis

Relaxing on the patio at Chiringo

Relaxing after our hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dog-friendly bar in a quirky little beach town with Fleetwood Mac coming out of the speakers and a bourbon coke icee machine behind the bar is exactly my kind of place. I plopped myself down into a plastic Adirondack and pondered if I would ever leave. Stalling as best I could, I ordered the Lump Crab and Avocado Toast. Then I decided to have another Icee. I talked to some people and pet some dogs, andchanged chairs twice before running out of sun. Sigh. It was time to go.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just time to leave Grayton, it was time to return home. We’ll be making another trip to the area in the near and warmer future to check out some things we missed- like paddling the dune lakes- and return to a few of our favorites. In the meantime, follow our adventures on Instagram and like us on Facebook to stay up to date on where we’re going next.

Happy Tails, y’all!

SIDE NOTE: While visiting the Destin/ 30A area many people choose to rent bicycles for their exploring. Rentals can be anywhere from $20-$50 a day depending on the bike you choose. If you’d like to have a bike during your stay then please consider BUYING one from St. Andrew’s By the Sea Episcopal Church in Destin.

St. Andrew’s bicycle ministry gives donated bikes to individuals who have no other transportation but need to get to jobs or appointments. Volunteers keep donated bikes in good repair and ready to be provided to those who ask. In order to support this ministry, they also offer bikes for sale. They don’t advertise because it is not their intent to compete with local rental businesses. However, you can buy a bike from them for a ‘suggested donation’ of $35. You’ll have to pick it up yourself but for the same price as a one-day rental you can keep your bike as long as you want and/or donate it back to them at the end of your stay and feel good about yourself.

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