The best of Key West with your pet
By SiSi Penaloza
Key West is a dog lover’s town! The Florida Keys is peppered with pet-friendly lodgings – from Key Largo to Marathon to Islamorada to Key West. For many a sun-starved Canadian, a visit to the Florida Keys represents a fresh, sun-kissed slice of Key Lime Pie in the dark of winter. In other words, it’s drool-worthy at first sight – a symbol of escape and endless days. A place where the pavement ends and the coastline begins. An experience best captured with your furry first mate!
Where to Stay
The Westin Key West Resort & Marina is an especially smart bet for pet owners. Repeat guests praise the Mallory Square location above all else. Located in Old Town, the resort is a block from buzzing Duval Street. Stroll on the waterfront promenade with your dog and window shop the charming neighborhood boutiques and cafe culture. With 170 rooms and suites, the hotel has a quaint feel in keeping with the intimate scale of the location. Bistro 245, Castaway and Latitudes offer savory fare and a lively atmosphere right on site. Known for its popular Sunday Brunch, Bistro 245 is more family-friendly, as it is open for all meals and has a relaxed atmosphere. The marina accommodates 37 boats or small yachts. For bonus points, think surreal marina views at sunset, and a well appointed swimming pool.
Westin trademark Heavenly Beds in every guestroom, not to mention 32-inch flat-screens and iPod docking stations. Splurge a bit on a suite with a private balcony and a Jacuzzi tub. Their dog friendly services include a heavenly pillow, doggie bowls and a welcome bag with doggie essentials. It’s a truly welcoming place for humans who put their dogs first and a prime spot for sightseeing day trips. Hook up with local pooches and their owners and give your pup some off-leash time at Higgs Beach Dog Park in Key West.
Best Time to Visit
One of the best times for animal lovers to visit The Keys is in the last week of October. The annual week long Fantasy Fest is a feast for the furry senses. The exhaustive range of activities is boggling, but one you and your pet can enjoy together is the Pet Masquerade and Parade. From chihuahuas moonlighting as Elvis to sheepdogs passing as Pippi Longstocking, there’s canine eye candy as far as the eye can see. Shutterbugs get ready, this is one of the most phenomenal photo ops of the year. Get in on the fun and register to participate or simply enjoy the whimsy and wonder of the over-the-top costumes.
For feline lovers, you can’t go to the Florida Keys without visiting Hemingway’s home on Key West, where he lived in this tranquil setting and wrote for ten years. Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to gain a window on the iconic author’s daily life, habits and interests beyond his writing career. As long as your pet is easily carried throughout the tour, they are in like Flynn. Pets are welcome as long as they are of the austere, stoic variety – much like the critics of Hemingway’s day. As a museum experience, it is rich with archival photographs and ephemera from one of the legendary authors’ most prolific decades. As an animal lover’s destination it gets even better; this is also the sanctuary for more than 60 cats! Many of them are polydactyl (six-toed) and descended from a six-toed tomcat given to Papa Hemingway by a sea captain.
Wild About Dolphins is a fabulous eco-charter to the Dolphin Playground in the waters by Key West, ideal for snorkeling and dolphin viewing. This four hour trip goes above and beyond on the dog friendly front. Captain Sheri is a dog lover herself and her golden retriever Maya goes out on most trips. Enjoy a healthy, filling lunch before jumping in for a refreshing snorkel session. The boat comes equipped with doggy life jackets and most active dogs can climb on and off the boat easily with the specialized ladder. Captain Sheri puts safety at the top of her list; she’s such a savvy driver that the dog water bowl on board never seemed to spill over. Talk about impressive. Pups of all sizes have a great time swimming around in the shallows and Captain Sheri is a veteran tour guide of all the most scenic spots. If you are lucky, you’ll see dolphins all day, even playing and surfing in your bow wake. Maya has clearly established a rapport with the local dolphins, setting a great example for your own dog!
Your pup is also welcome to join you at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, just north of Marathon. The staff is made up of avid dog lovers, and the dolphins tend to enjoy bumping noses with them too!
Lazy Dog Kayak is another great option for seafaring dogs. Rent the kayak, settle Rover up front, and off you go across the channel. Exotic sights and smells should keep your dog enthralled. Once you reach the sandbar, it’s like your own private castaway island dog park, where you can off-leash to your hearts’ content. Your dog will be exhausted by the time you get back to the marina. Lazy Dog Kayak is located on Stock Island, the first island north of Key West, at mile marker 4.
Even more sedentary senior dogs can get in on aquatic exploration in Key West. You and your calm, leashed companion can enjoy a trip to the Key West Aquarium. This acclaimed historic attraction includes a cool touch tank, groovy jellyfish exhibit, alligator exhibit and thrilling shark feeding times. Well-behaved dogs are welcome throughout the aquarium, but must be on leash at all times. Hyperactive or yappy pets may be asked to leave.
Best Dog Beaches in the Keys
Want to hit the beach with your pet? Most beaches in the Keys prohibit pets year round, but here are a few stretches of shoreline where you can romp in the surf to your pooch’s content.
Sombrero Beach Road
Relish in this sandy, Atlantic-facing beach with your dog on leash. Be especially sensitive to nature during turtle nesting time, April through October. Make sure your dog doesn’t start digging and destroying future hatchlings, as loggerheads bury their eggs in the sand. Nests are shallower than you might think.
MM 73, Overseas Highway
Keep your pet on the leash at all times and explore stunning tidal flats that extend for nearly half a mile at certain tide times. Keep in mind that during summer the temps and humidity can be dangerous for pets, be sure to keep them cool and provide plenty of drinking water.
Vernon and Waddell
Key West, FL
Located behind the famous Louie’s Backyard, this pebble beach is where locals bring their dogs to swim off the pent up energy or cool off on especially hot days. A great place to meet people and sneak in some doggy cardio at the same time!