In keeping with the tolerance for diversity that Key West is known for, the island has a reputation as a pet-friendly place. Many facilities, including a number of shops, hotels, and restaurants with outside dining, are welcoming to well-behaved, leashed dogs. It is very common to see local dog owners taking their pets with them when they go out on the town, and visitors will not get a second glance for doing the same as long as Fido’s training in basic public manners has not been neglected.
However, if you are hoping to take your friend for a swim and frolic on the beach, the same policy of tolerance does not carry over to the majority of Key West beaches, where dogs are not allowed at all. Key West public beaches, in particular, are subject to the same ordinances as any Florida public park, and there are only a couple of beaches that you are allowed to visit with a leashed dog. Among all of the Key West public beaches, only one offers some beach-going possibilities for those who would like to let their canine companions run free to enjoy sand and sea.
The dog must be well behaved, on a leash no longer than 6 feet, and under your control at all times. One of these places is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, at the western tip of Key West. The beaches of the Dry Tortugas islands, 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, are another. On the islands, the leash rule still applies and owners must clean up after their dogs. The catch with the Dry Tortugas is that dogs are not allowed on the ferry – they must come over by charter or private boat.
Keeping a dog tied up on a beach may seem almost cruel, and on a hot day, it certainly can be if adequate shade is not provided. Fortunately, there is one small public beach where you are officially authorized to give your best friend the freedom to run, splash, and swim. Known as Dog Beach, this 20-foot wide pocket beach is located at 700 Waddell Avenue, at the corner of Vernon and Waddell. It is tucked in immediately to the west of the deck at Louie’s Backyard Caribbean-American restaurant and bounded by the concrete wall surrounding the neighboring property. There is no sign indicating Dog Beach, but if you simply go to Louie’s and look on the west side of the building, you cannot miss the place.
There are no restrooms or other facilities at Dog Beach, but there are a few palms to sit under while you watch your pet play. Depending on the sand conditions, the shoreline can be rocky and slippery and tends to have clumps of seaweed. This is nothing that will spoil Fido’s good time, but if you want to wade into the water a bit, you should bring some sandals or water shoes. Between the sand and the seaweed, you may also want to have some strategy in mind if you are going to be putting your pet back into a rental car. Finally, once exercise time at Dog Beach is finished, popping over to Louie’s for lunch or happy hour is the obvious move, and your well-behaved pet will be welcomed on the deck.
One other off-leash dog play area is the Higgs Beach Dog Park, just across Atlantic Boulevard inland from Higgs beach. While not a beach, it offers a lot of room to run, and separate spaces for large and small dogs. There is plenty of shade and easy access to White Street Pier for an on-leash walk after playtime.
While the Key West public beaches are not wide-open for dogs, with a bit of inside knowledge and a little planning and effort, it should be possible to give your pet a generous helping of playtime and even some water time each day that you are in town. Feel free to enjoy Key West with your dog, but remember that very hot weather can be dangerous to pets, so provide plenty of water, never leave a dog locked in a vehicle, and only tie your pet up in a well-shaded area.