Best Pet-Friendly Beaches

Can dogs get sunburned? Are doggie sunglasses a yuppie perversion or genuinely helpful? Are all pooches natural swimmers? These are the kinds of questions that keep beach-loving dog owners up at night. (In case you were wondering, the answers are: definitely, genuinely helpful, and not necessarily.) Check with your vet or a website such as for more info on keeping your pet safe on the shore and in the water.

Luckily, the question of where to find pet-friendly beaches is much easier. They're becoming increasingly common as coastal communities realize it's a win-win -- as long as the human half of the equation does their homework. That means training your dog to obey your voice commands, making sure her license and vaccinations are up to date (bring proof), observing leash laws and, it should go without saying but we'll say it anyway, scooping the poop. If you and your 4-legged buddy are traveling to a beach away from home, remember to attach your vacation address and contact info to her collar.

Here are 6 of the country's best beaches for pets. Since rules can change without warning, be sure to check with the beach before you and your dog visit. And don't forget the sunscreen -- for both of you.

Huntington Dog Beach, California

About 10 miles from Disneyland off the Pacific Coast Highway,
Huntington Dog Beach is canine heaven, where dogs can run leash-free over a 1-mile expanse of sand and surf. Dog Beach is maintained by a nonprofit organization, so consider volunteering for an hour or 2, donating some cash or, at the very least, buying a T-shirt.

Outer Banks Beaches of North Carolina

Many beaches in North Carolina's Outer Banks welcome pets, but the rules vary from town to town, so pay attention. Duck allows canines year-round, and the town beach has an off-leash section; stop by the Public Safety Building (1259 Duck Rd, 252-261-1112) for a free Safe Pet Vacation Kit. Kitty Hawk beaches allow dogs year-round, with leashes required in summer. Nags Head also allows pets year-round, but they must be leashed at all times. Check the above website or here for town-by-town regulations.

Montrose Dog Beach, Chicago

Dogs can romp leash-free at Chicago's Montrose Dog Beach, located in the northwest corner of Montrose Beach on Lake Michigan. It's generally open from dawn till about 9 p.m., and while entrance is
free, you need a $5 tag to get in the dog-friendly areas. The beach is open to all, but volunteers from MonDog -- the Montrose Dog Owners Group -- maintain it, so consider donating a few bucks.

Block Island, Rhode Island

It's safe to say that Block Island, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island and accessible by plane or ferry, loves dogs. Canines can even ride for free with you on the Block Island Ferry (leashes required; inside decks on the slow boat, outside decks on the high-speed ferry). Leashed dogs can hit just about any of the island's beaches, and the restraints can come off during certain hours at certain locations. Check local ordinances.

Dog Beach, Fort Myers Beach, Florida

At Dog Beach, a county park specially designated for dogs and their owners, dogs can roam leash-free from dawn to dusk. There's even a Kayak With Canine program so you and your furry pal can paddle off into the sunset together. There are no restroom facilities for humans, and no running water for either species, so come prepared.

Edisto Island Town Beach and State Park, South Carolina

South Carolina's Edisto Island, an hour's drive from Charleston, is a haven for dogs and their humans. Whether you stay at a pet-friendly B&B or pitch a tent in the 1,255-acre state park's oceanside campground, your pooch is welcome year-round on the island's pristine, palmetto-lined beaches. Leash laws are in effect all year on the park's 1.5-mile sand beach, and from May through October on the town beach. Lots to do here: fishing, boating, swimming, shelling, biking and hiking the 4-mile nature trail.

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