Take Your Dog for a Swim (or Run) in the Gulf Coast Sun

Text and Photos by Josephine Matyas

As every dog owner knows, a well-exercised dog tends to be a well-behaved dog. Luckily, there are spots that cater to both dog owners and their furry friends along the popular strip of Florida coastline known as the ‘Florida Panhandle.’ (If you imagine the state of Florida as a pan, the ‘panhandle’ would be the northwestern portion that runs approximately 200 miles in length, and is bordered by Alabama, Georgia and the Gulf of Mexico.)

Balmy and mild in the winter, hot and humid in the summer, the area attracts a diverse group of travelers - many of whom come with their dogs. And as dog lovers (and dog owners) can tell you, sometimes you just gotta let ‘em run.

If you can add some swimming to that, so much the better.

Here are a sampling of some not-to-be-missed spots in the Panhandle where you can enjoy some fun-in-the-sun, and let your dogs have their day, too:

Pensacola’s Swimming Hole for Dogs
A popular spot with both locals and visitors is the fenced, off-leash Bayview Dog Park, located at the far west end of the Panhandle. Combining a wide stretch of beach and the waters of Bayou Texar, the doggie swim area here is clearly marked by buoys.

“We get within a block of the park and my dogs go crazy,” laughs one local dog owner, tossing balls into the water for her enthusiastic pooch. “We see lots of people and dogs here – all shapes and sizes come and go.”

The Bayview Dog Park is well equipped with a shower to rinse off saltwater-soaked dogs, a shaded canopy area with picnic tables for humans, and a large grassy area marked by a whimsical, over-sized red fire hydrant. (The usual ‘poop-and-scoop’ rules apply.)

Two other parks in the area have off-leash areas as well: Shoreline Bark Park in Gulf Breeze, and Scott Complex Dog Park near the Pensacola airport. (But Bayview Dog Park is the only one with an off-leash swimming area.) Hotels and lodging in the area that are dog friendly can be found at[]=aa69.

Panama City Beach Loves its Dogs!

Further to the east along the Panhandle – some 95 miles away – more dogs can be found frolicking in the water at Panama City Beach, one of the most popular resort areas for families on school break, and snowbirds in the winter months. The summer holidays are the busiest time at Panama City Beach as families flock here for the powder white beaches and the turquoise waters. Many come with man’s best friend in tow – especially since the area is known for townhouse and condominium-style accommodations that are family- and wallet-friendly.

“Panama City Beach is an old Florida beach town that has recently gone through a positive renaissance,” says Susan Estler, who works with the local tourism board. “The area right next to City Pier is Doggie Beach – an on-leash swimming spot for dogs.”

Established in 2007, the Doggie Beach is a 500-foot stretch of sand that’s become very popular with locals and visitors to the town.

Panama City Beach has several other off-leash parks (alas, no swimming...) Details on the parks can be found at, along with a listing of pet-friendly lodging and dining.  

Florida Panhandle Vacations

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