Do you have a beagle? You owe it to yourself and the dog to take that hound down south. My husband David and I drove our beagles, Huckleberry and Moxie, The Adorables, down there for two weeks and it was like finding their ancestral home, where they were royalty. Southerners can’t keep their hands off beagles. They rush across streets to greet them and swap beagle stories.
Also, beagles–at least ours–smile at the sunshine. They’d never seen the beach. Moxie was so excited, she just rolled in the sand. She completely coated herself in sand every time we took her to the beach. And not just because it smelled like something dead, either. Though she did try to coat herself in the scent of low tide by rolling in shells and seaweed.
We’re mainly vegetarian, but we made sure the dogs had a taste of BBQ, crab, catfish, biscuits and gravy and other Southern delights. Especially in North Carolina, where they had spent their lives in cages. Huck usually defers to Moxie, but he jumped ahead to get some pulled pork he may have been smelling for years.
The biggest draw for them, though, were the Southerners. Everyone would gush over them and tell stories of childhood beagles. Grown men would run over to ask us about them. Even if someone had the restraint not to touch Huck and Moxie, we’d hear them mention “two beagles!” as we passed. One guy sat with us for a half an hour on a porch talking hound dogs. They’d tell us about the best and worst dogs they ever had. I felt a genuine affection for these hunters for the love they had for the their beagles–and ours. One told us that Huckleberry, who is covered in sweet liver freckles “is all ticked up.” He said they were “mannered,” which we found both flattering and hilarious, given their typical behavior. “Do you run ’em?” they’d ask. David wanted to say we use them mainly for cuddling, they’re good cuddlers.
A friend suggested that it’s not the beagles that were magical conversation starters, it’s the Southerners. I still think the beagles made us a lot of friends. Maybe that expression about “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” is really an insight into Southern culture. The politician should get a dog–better yet, a beagle–and he’ll make friends. If I ever have a reporting assignment down South, I’ll be sure to bring the beagles.
Dog-Friendly Southern Roadtrip
Dee’s Drive-Inn: An amazing drive-in restaurant where the waitress comes to your car. We were not the first to order our dinner with a hot dog for our dogs. Louisa, KY
Mine-Made Paradise Park: Looking for an upside to mountain top removal mining? They’ve turned some of the places into parks. This one gets herds of elk. The beagles were allowed to roam and we all saw about 100 elk.
Florida – Just about every restaurant has an outdoor table. The question is: will they give you table service there? Will they let you and your dogs eat there when anybody else is around?
Homosassa/Crystal River – If you’re coming in February to see manatees, book ahead. Better yet, come in January so locals won’t taunt you “Oh, there were hundreds here a couple weeks ago.”
Bella Oasis Inn is a giant motel with pool and restaurant. Ceilings are tall and rooms are huge. They’re totally dog friendly and just friendly. Random staff would come up and ask us about the dogs and give us tips on where we might take them. Plus, you can get up in the morning and stumble over a bridge to the Homosassa Wildlife Park. And there’s a giant manatee statue out front.
Crystal River Kayak Company lets you rent out a canoe with your dogs. They’re only about a 30 minute paddle–probably less if you know what you’re doing–to the Three Sisters Spring, where the manatees have a sanctuary and hang out.
Homosassa Wildlife Park doesn’t let you bring your dog back on the boat or path to the park. But they do have kennels. Not that we would put our dogs in them.
Neon Leon’s Zydeco Steakhouse not only let us sit on the patio with the dogs (their first restaurant), they had a waitress come out and serve us. Excellent hush puppies.
Patriotic Place is a tiny cafe covered in Americana and pictures from soldiers. Nice omelets. Nice staff, who pulled out some chairs so we could sit outside by their creek with the dogs.
Museum Cafe sits right across from the historic sugar mill. The guy who runs it is sweet–helping us with travel arrangements and setting us up out back on a table.
Peck’s Old Port Cove is one of the few places around Homosassa where you get anywhere near the gulf. Picnic tables outside near the water and crab “farm.” I’m not a big seafood person, but those who are love it.
Front Porch Restaurant & Pie, 12039 North Florida Avenue, Dunnellon, FL, is just the kind of old, local place you hope to find. Fabulous pie. Friendly staff and customers.
Boathouse Restaurant in Crystal River has a bartender that went out of her way to serve us on the porch. She even got some extra appetizers for the beagles. I’m not a big seafood fan, but loved the pecan-crusted something or other.
Over Easy Cafe has a porch that always seems to have dogs. Waitresses hand out dog treats and fawn over dogs. Had dinner and breakfast there and everything was delicious. Also check out Island Paws, owned by the same couple in the same complex, which has a lot of goofy, healthy and fun dog stuff.
Madre’s Baja Tacos looks like a dive bar, but has amazing food that the owners really care about. The falafel has a tiny bit of fresh coconut, for example. I don’t even like coconut and it was delicious. Also, they’re very cool about dogs eating at their outside tables.
Tybee Island, GA
The Crab Shack is one of these wacky tourist attraction kind of places, like Jimmy Buffett’s TGIFridays. But it has good seafood, tables with a garbage bin in the center, pelicans in the water, an odd alligator lagoon and a cat sanctuary. Locals like it for the booze.
Charleston, SC–The downtown is tiny and everyone wants to be there, not across the river in a big chain hotel. That means dog-friendly rooms are scarce on weekends and you need to reserve ahead. The tourist office is officially discouraging about dog-friendly restaurants, but we found plenty.
Vendue Inn is fancy, in a nice way, and right by the water. The best feature is the staff, who gush over your dog. And they let you sit with the dogs in the lobby by the fireplace on a rainy day. They also have a special accommodation for guests at their daily free drinks and breakfast: they have you sit in the “music room” and serve you there.
The Charleston historic district dog run is not quite as it seems. It’s not completely fenced in. You would think the Hazel Parker Playground was by the two gates, but no. It’s open in the back by the playground. Not exactly beagle-friendly. One local told us people gather at 5.
Poogan’s Porch may be the best restaurant in Charleston, even if they didn’t let you eat with your dog. Everyone in Charleston has a beautiful porch and Poogan’s is made more so by its dog-friendly tables. The restaurant is named for a charismatic mutt who hung out on the porch and, according to the local ghost tours, still haunts the place. The waitress will remind you that you can order something just for your dog. You can have fantastic crab cakes, biscuits or any other low country favorite on their front porch.
Cafe Paradiso on Market Street set up a table with an umbrella outside just for us when we showed up with two beagles in the rain. Nice french toast made in a panini press.
A.W. Shucks has an outdoor area just for dogs. As they were leading us on a long walk away from their huge outdoor patio, I feared they were taking us to a dark back alley. But it was a perfect courtyard, all to ourselves. Seafood: fine.
More Florida Roadtrip Coverage:
- American Pro: A tour that practically guarantees you’ll touch a manatee–but neither of you will enjoy it
- Snorkeling with manatees the right way in Homosassa
- Renting a boat to see manatees in Homosassa – Crystal River, FL
- Homosassa Wildlife Park: Manatees in rehab and wild in the river
- Elk flock to park reclaimed from KY mining wasteland