Imagine it: Digging in the sand, playing an oceanside game of Frisbee, jumping over waves and splashing in tidal pools.
Beaches are the things of dreams — both for humans and canines. To give you both something to look forward to, here are a few of the best dog-friendly beaches within driving distance of Chattanooga.
Cape San Blas, Fla.
All Cape San Blas beaches, aside from those at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, are dog-friendly, though they must be leashed at all times. Dogs are also welcome on the trails on the bay side of the state park. Afterward, bring your dogs for a drink at Scallop RePUBlic, which offers Florida craft beers and premium wines on tap and permits dogs in the area below the bar.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 7 hours, 15 minutes
St. Augustine, Fla.
Dogs are allowed on all St. Augustine beaches outside of Anastasia State Park. All that's required is to keep them leashed and clean up after them. St. Augustine also boasts more than 20 dog-friendly restaurants — a sampling of which is included in St. Augustine City Walks' special pet-friendly food tours. You can even take your pooch for a history lesson at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument while in town.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 7 hours, 20 minutes
St. George Island, Fla.
This unspoiled barrier island's miles of uncrowded beaches and clear gulf waters are ideal for both pets and their humans. Leashed dogs are welcome on all of the island's public beaches. They are, however, prohibited from certain portions of the state park, which occupies nearly 2,000 acres on the eastern end of the island. The island's pet-friendly attitude extends to many local bars, restaurants and shops, including Paddy's Raw Bar, BJ's Pizza & Subs, Doc Myers' Island Pub & Sports Bar, Blue Parrot Oceanfront Cafe, Aunt Ebby's Ice Cream, Jolly Roger Beach Shop, Island Outfitters, and Island Dog Beach & Surf Shop.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 7 hours, 10 minutes
Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Ga.
Leashes are required on this portion of the island to protect nesting sea turtles and migratory birds, and leashes must be no longer 16 feet. All beaches north of the South Dunes Picnic Area are leash-free, but most are narrow and only accessible at low tide.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Edisto Island, S.C.
Dogs are always welcome on Edisto Beach. They must be on a leash from the beginning of May through the end of October; otherwise, your pups can run leash-free, according to the Edisto Beach town website. Dog waste bags are available at most of the beach access points. One thing people who are unfamiliar with this beach should be aware of are the significant drop-offs on both sides of the groins that line the beach.
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 6 hours, 45 minutes
A guide to keeping your dog safe and happy surfside
* Make sure your dog has an ID tag that includes your contact information while away. A microchip is always a good idea, along with keeping your dog’s flea prevention meds up to date.
* Check water conditions to protect your pet from being swept up by rip currents, undertow or fast-moving water.
* Have plenty of fresh water on-hand and an umbrella for shade.
* Not all dogs have a natural ability to swim. Using a long leash, wade slowly into shallow water with your pet and wait to see if they start paddling on their own. Once they start to seem tired, head back to shore.
* Stay alert for potential hazards along the shore and just under the surface. Shellfish, starfish, sea urchins and dead fish can all be toxic if consumed.
* If your dog loves chasing waves, keep an eye on how much saltwater they consume. Too much could lead to severe increases in their blood’s sodium levels, or hypernatremia. It can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include vomiting, increased thirst, difficulty walking (ataxia), tremors and seizures.
* Hose off your dog to remove saltwater, then take them for a brief walk to help them dry off before hopping in the car or heading indoors.