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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 immediately, Pompano 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.
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.”
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 has been on my radar for quite some time for no other reason except their un-official town motto:
Nice dogs, friendly folks.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.