I first began going to Destin on family vacations as a kid. Back then, there wasn’t much to it and we certainly never took the dog. It was also pretty much just a beach trip with idle days in the sun and nights spent stalking sand crabs. My only other memory is The Donut Hole and The Back Porch (both are still there, neither is dog friendly).
In January of 2017, my parents fulfilled their dream of retiring to the beach. Dad really wanted to be somewhere warmer than the panhandle, but Mom insisted they be within reasonable driving distance of Arkansas. Destin it was! Since their retirement, I spend every Christmas there, and so does Henri. I’m not mad about it.
I made my first dog friendly 30A post in January 2018. Because everything was new to us, we did lots of exploring and reporting. Five years later, we still have our favorite dog-friendly places, but we’ve discovered plenty more. I’m updating our list by starting in the same place I started in that first post, and that’s with the legal details you need to know. They are worth repeating.
Dog Friendly Beaches
In short, there aren’t any. In Okaloosa County, where Destin stretches for about 8 miles along HWY 98, dogs are NOT allowed on ANY beaches, anywhere. 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.
Dogs are NOT allowed on the beaches of Destin.
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 4 PM and 9 AM during Standard time periods. Non-resident dogs are not allowed. It’s easier to sneak around and blend in on those beaches, but if you get caught you can be fined. Code enforcement officers are responsible for beach patrol in South Walton. They drive white trucks.
Only resident dogs with permits are allowed on the beaches of 30A.
If you can’t take your dog to the beach, what can you do? Eat and drink, of course! And hike, and paddle, and shop. Then more eating and drinking. We’ve spent 5 consecutive years roaming the two counties, and we kinda feel like locals now. Family aside, there is always a reason to return.
Dog Friendly Shopping on The Emerald Coast
If shopping is your preferred entertainment, the Emerald Coast has you covered. Aside from the many locally owned shops that welcome your dog, there are three large outdoor promenades to meet your shopping and dining needs.
For dog friendly shopping in Destin take your pooch to HarborWalk Village, a collection of restaurants and (mostly tourist) shops located on the bay. You can stroll the village walk and the marina, rent a paddle board, kayak, or jet ski, book a dolphin cruise, catch some live music, or enjoy a cocktail at any of several places that welcome dogs. Need a cocktail, but can’t sit still? Get it togo.
Harborwalk hosts a variety of events year ’round, including Pawdi Gras. Be sure to check the calendar before visiting with your dog. It can get crowded with vacation-brained adults and low flying, marginally supervised kids, and event days may not be suitable for all canines.
Next on list of dog friendly shopping areas is Grand Boulevard in MIramar Beach. There, you’ll find national brands, local boutiques, upscale specialty shops, and dog friendly patios for dining. Look for the year-round farmer’s market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and dog friendly events hosted by local humane education organization, Dog Harmony. Some of our favorite dog friendly stores include Tommy Bahama, Orvis, and locally owned, Zoo Gallery (also found in Grayton Beach).
Last but definitely not least, is Baytown Wharf. Why there isn’t a little dog boutique offering daily Yappy Hour (with complimentary cocktails for humans), clinics, and all the things you tend to forget while traveling with your dog, is absolutely beyond me. I have visions of living on a boat at Baytown Marina and walking to my shop every day. On my way to work, I’d stop at the fenced dog park located between the marina and the shopping area so Henri could handle his business and stretch his sea legs. If anybody wants to steal my idea then hire me to come work for you, feel free!
Located in within Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Baytown Wharf houses a myriad of dog friendly restaurants and shops. You will pass through a guard gate upon arrival and be expected to state your destination. Just say “Baytown Wharf.” From festivals to music on the lawn, there is usually something happening. Most events are family and dog, ’cause dogs are family, friendly. My favorite event is the Gumbo Festival in February.
If you forgot your leash, run out of poop bags, or just want to pick up a little something special, then visit The Doggie Bag for a boutique experience and hand made treats, or Pet Supplies Plus (locally owned franchise) for big box options. The Doggie Bowl will have unique, locally made items such as bandanas, collars, and art, while PSP will carry all the big brand food, bowls, leashes, and canine PFDs.
Dog Friendly Dining From Destin to Santa Rosa Beach
Boshamp’s restaurant is named after the owner’s three Labradores- BoBo, Otis, and Shug. A mash up of their names plus the owner’s initials, M.P. is how his sister arrived at that. A harbor-side spot with a great view, Boshamp’s in Destin boasts four decks that tier down to a sandy beach with chairs, hammocks, and games. If you arrive with your dog, they will likely walk you right through the restaurant to your spot on the patio. The gumbo, served on a paw print punch out napkin, is delicious, and most of their swag features Labs.
If you’re the brunchy type, be sure to check out Mama Clemenza’s in MIramar Beach. Serving European style breakfast and brunch, trust me when I tell you to order from the chalkboard. If there’s banana bread, you’ll want some of that, too. And an order of oranges. If you’ve never had them served drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, you are in for a treat. Mama’s isn’t a huge space so from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it is very likely that you’ll need reservations. Well behaved kids and pups (on the patio) are always welcome, but when I say well-behaved, I mean it. “Mama” won’t hesitate to package your meal to go if you can’t control your charges. With that being said, I go here at least once every time I’m in town!
Mezcal’s Mexican Grill
I know you probably don’t go to Destin for the Mexican food. I don’t either. That’s why this place isn’t likely to be on your radar. Adjust your radar, and go check out the live music at the Tiki Bar at Mezcal’s Mexican Grill in MIramar Beach. It’s where I was first introduced to the Rhino Jockey’s, and while they no longer play there (you can catch them at the dog-friendly North Beach Social featured in the next section), the restaurant has decided to bring music back to the outdoor area. Beginning March 3rd, you’ll be able to catch a new trio of fabulous women every other Thursday night. I’m told there will be a fiddle player.
Camille’s at Crystal Beach
Camille’s at Crystal Beach sidewalk cafe In Destin is open from 7 a.m.- 5 p.m. and is the perfect spot to grab a bagel and coffee after strolling the boardwalk with your pooch. They have music from 10 a.m. to noon on Sundays, and on Thursdays and Fridays from 3 p.m.- 5 p.m. Return there in the evening without your dog, and enjoy a delicious dinner at the restaurant upstairs.
Pompano Joe’s in Miramar Beach remains our most frequented location in the area. Partly due to proximity to my parent’s house (about 5 minutes), but largely due to atmosphere, view, and dog friendliness. The restaurant sits on the gulf-side of the street and the bottom deck is right on the sand. The downstairs bar isn’t open during the off-season, but the upstairs outdoor bar frequently is, especially on a nice day. Happy hour starts at 3 p.m. with $5.00 margaritas and $2.50 draft beers. By four, you can count on a crowd of locals spreading across the entry way. You’re very likely to meet a black and white dog named, Lulu and her bird friend, Mr. Utley, as well as, Morgan, the Golden Retriever. If you don’t have treats Lulu won’t talk to you; my Dad has her spoiled.
After the sun sets, be sure to grab some dinner. Dogs are allowed to join their people for dinning on the front (street-side) deck. I love the Reggae Rolls, the smoked tuna dip, and the gumbo, but really, most everything is good.
North Beach Social
Another favorite locals’ hangout is North Beach Social in Santa Rosa Beach. An open-air beach bar located on the sandy shore of the Choctawhatchee Bay, NBS features music five days a week, including Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and a menu highlighting favorite dishes from across their family of five popular restaurants. Both kid and dog friendly, you can enjoy bar, deck, or relaxed seating in the sand. Sand seating includes picnic tables, as well as conversation areas with fire pits (weather permitting). Adults will appreciate the casual atmosphere, while kids occupy themselves with with giant-sized beach games. Fair warning, this place can get crowded and the kids sometimes run a little wild. My preferred seating is on the deck, stage left. That’s the furthest point from the play area, and a good spot to be if you’d like to listen to the music, but eek out a less trafficked spot for an old man dog.
Grayton Seafood Co
Nothing says “Nice dogs, friendly folks” more than a restaurant with a dog at the host stand! Though sometimes heard as “Nice dogs,strange people,” however you repeat it, it’s the unofficial motto of Grayton Beach. “Nice dogs, friendly folks” is what I discovered when I decided to try Grayton Seafood Co located in Grayton Beach. That was last August when they were still doing the Pandemic Pivot with outdoor only seating. We made our reservation request via text and made sure to mention that we also had a dog. The reply was “Yes!!! Bring all the dogs! See y’all tonight!” I didn’t know at the time, but that response was from one of the owners.
When we arrived, staff was happily hustling about the parking lot tent that served as their temporary seating area. A big, unattended dog sat quietly behind the check-in table. His name is Charlie, and he’s not really unattended at all. He just didn’t need anything at the time. You could tell there was a lot of multi-tasking going on, but even so, we were greeted and seated quickly. A server immediately brought Henri a bowl of water, and at least one or two others gave him scratchies as they scooted past. The vibe was lively and friendly, and the food was fantastic.
I didn’t get a chance to eat there at Christmas, so I haven’t dined indoors. But if following them on Insta is any indication, it hasn’t changed. This is a close knit, dog loving crew ready to welcome you into their family.
Places to Hike With Your Dog on The Emerald Coast
There are several state parks along the panhandle where well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome. Since you can’t take your pooch to the beach, it’s a great option for folks looking to get in some exercise, and it definitely beats the city sidewalk or the crowded promenades. Please note that all Florida State Parks require dog leashes to be hand-held and no longer than 6 ft in length.
On 30A, you’ll discover he coastal forests of Grayton Beach State Park where Oak and Magnolia are bent by salty winds and a dune lake leads to the ocean. If you’re looking for something a bit more formal, then the Camellias of Eden Gardens State Park, including the beautifully kept lawns surrounding the historic Wesley Homestead, are sure to please you.
Grayton Beach State Park
Dogs are not allowed on the beach at Grayton Beach State Park, nor are they allowed on the boardwalk leading to the beach (ask me how I know). At the park entrance/ pay station, you’ll be given a map, a dog treat, and a point to where dogs are and are not allowed. You’ll also get a reminder to stay off the protected dunes.
I suggest you check your map to find the trail along Western Lake. An arching Live Oak, more reminiscent of Middle-Earth than Florida, beckons you to enter. 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’s lots of sniffing to be done.
If you aren’t too tender, you can walk much of the trail barefooted. 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.
At some point on the trail you may discover a small passage that seems well-worn. Following it up the sandy incline and through the barely-big-enough hole made by bent trees and shrub, you will find found yourself 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 here, 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.
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.
Eden Gardens State Park
Entry to Eden Gardens is $4.00 and on the honor system. Personally, I think you should drop a five, but please don’t just skip it.
The focal point of this park is a beautifully renovated two-story house with elegant white columns and wrap-around porch. Tours of Wesley House are available, but I’m guessing you can’t take your dog. While the porch is the perfect lounging spot for you and your pooch if the rest of your party wants to tour the home, there is plenty to sniff throughout the ornamental gardens. Camellias and azaleas bloom October through May with peak blooming around March, and the grounds include a heritage rose garden, butterfly garden, and a reflection pond filled with water lilies and koi.
A well-worn nature trail meanders softly around the park and past Tucker Bayou. There you will find a small launch area for your paddle-craft. The shallow bayou provides connection to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Choctawhatchee Bay where dolphin sightings are common. Word of warning for the adventurous: the Intracoastal will likely be crowded with motor boat traffic. So do be careful, especially with inexperienced paddlers or dogs on board.
After an afternoon at either of these parks, head to one of the nearby spots already mentioned for food, libations, and relaxation.
Where to Stay With Your Dog on the Emerald Coast
Honestly, there are tons of dog friendly places to stay, especially if you take into account all the VBROs and Airbnbs. It would be impossible to tell you about all of them. I’m just going to throw you a budget, a mid-range, and a boutique option. All three of these picks allow dogs to be left in the room unattended
The always dog friendly La Quinta recently opened a new hotel on Emerald Coast Parkway in MIramar. You are not on the beach, but you can walk there. Pack your wagon, head down Driftwood, and you will be at Pompano Joe’s. If you want something a bit more in the center of things, shopping included, check out Residence Inn at Grand Boulevard. While you’re not near the beach (drive times could be 30 minutes or more to go just a few miles), you’ll be able to split the difference between Destin and 30A. For a more quiet and charming experience, book your stay at the privately owned Hibiscus Coffee and Guesthouse in Grayton Beach. Again, not on the beach, but very close, and right in the middle of my favorite place.
As this popular area of Florida continues to grow, you can count on us to continue to go. Check back for updates on the Emerald Coast area, and visit us frequently for all our dog friendly discoveries and canine travel tips.