With the gray-green ocean waters lapping at the sand, the boardwalk that smells like french fries and caramel corn, the sunburned nights spent wearing flip-flops and sipping beer, the beaches of Maryland and Delaware are a summery siren call.
But, not if you have a dog. In the height of the season, most of the quintessential beachiness -- the popular resorts, Ocean City's boardwalk, the nightclubs, are, for the most part, off-limits to the four-legged kind.
That's slowly changing. A recent survey by the Associated Press and Petside.com found that 50 percent of dog owners have taken their pet on vacation. With a statistic like that, even spots not known as the most pet-friendly places, like Delaware's Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach, are starting to if not exactly see the light, then hear the potential ka-ching of the cash register.
Of all the oceanfront real estate along the Maryland/Delaware shore, tiny Lewes seems to have become the most welcoming for dogs.
It's not only home to the area's only always-open dog beaches, but it's a spot where one can find a delightfully canine-centric bed and breakfast and places to dine -- not just eat, but dine -- with your pet.
Joan Rabin and Barbara Slater of Timonium travel often, heading to Lewes at least four times a year -- but not without Tala, their aging standard poodle.
"Our dogs are part of our family," Slater says. "They kind of need to go with us."
"That's how we relax, when she's totally safe," Rabin adds.
As frequent travelers, they know how challenging it can be to find a place to stay that's more luxurious for people and more accommodating for pets than a roadside motel with lumpy mattresses and a concrete parking lot for a front yard.
In Lewes, they say they've found dog "paradise" at a bed and breakfast called the Lazy L. Dogs are not only allowed at the inn, they're celebrated. Owned by true dog people, the Lazy L is designed to meet a dog's every need while giving vacationers a warm, serene destination to unwind.
At the inn, people enter through a threshold where the doormat says: Must Love Dogs. Dining-room tablecloths are decorated with tiny paw prints. An expansive, grassy dog run stretches across the lawn. An outdoor dog shower, stocked with doggie shampoo and conditioner, washes away all the sand after a swim.
Owners Debbie Estes and Joanne Cassidy, who have three dogs of their own -- Lewie, Kelley and Rosey -- know exactly what a vacationing dog owner needs: water bowls, lots of extra towels, flashlights for nighttime dog walks and blankets to spread over the bed so the little -- or not-so-little -- guy can sleep with you.
Unlike average hotels or motels, they know you don't want the admittance to be based on the size of your pet. And you don't want to pay extra dog fees. You want to feel at home, except be spoiled -- and they know how to make that happen.
Dogs who come down to breakfast on the porch get home-baked treats. "This place is such total heaven," Rabin says. "It is a true dog resort and it is rare."
Just north of the inn is Broadkill Beach, one of the only beaches in the area where you can bring your dog any time and also one of the more raw, natural spots one can find in a resort town.
You won't find a boardwalk here; in fact, you'll find essentially nothing but dunes and a somewhat wild beach. It's a place where it's possible to be alone on the beach with your dog and maybe a horseshoe crab or two early in the season.
There's also Lewes town beach, which is flat, manicured and has a gentle surf, but is open to dogs only very early in the morning and after 6:30 p.m. at night. And at nearby Cape Henlopen State Park, dogs can use only the surfing or fishing beach, not the swimming areas.
With Lewes as a home base, it's easy to take a drive south, where you'll find some great places to shop for the pets in your life. You'll even find a few places where the pets can shop right alongside you.
If you're in the area around a weekend, a fun stop is Yuppy Puppy in Bethany Beach. The shop sells a selection of treats, toys and accessories -- including summery and preppy Lilly Pulitzer leashes and collars. A dog would look so stylish on the beach in, say, the one with the sailboat print.
Better yet, the store offers an opportunity for a little canine socialization. On Friday nights, it's "pooch pizza," where dogs can stop in for a complimentary slice. Sunday mornings it's "pooch pancakes."
"Dogs drag their owners up the ramp," says clerk Deborah Moore, laughing. "It's a lot of fun."
In Rehoboth, if you have a dog and don't stop at Critter Beach, you had better not tell him. It would be like stopping by Orlando, Fla., with your kids and not hitting Disney World. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but Critter Beach is a huge, well-stocked store with practically every dog toy known to man. Just the selection of water toys is worth a trip, but equally worth a visit is a chance to say hello to Izzy, Critter Beach's unofficial mascot who likes to hang out near the cash register. At just three pounds, Izzy's got about the same heft as a pocketful of coins.
Around Lewes and Rehoboth, there are a number of casual eateries with patios or outdoor space where people can eat with their dogs in tow. You can hit a crab shack like the Lazy Susan in Lewes, grab a sandwich at Arena's, which has a Lewes and a Rehoboth location, enjoy something from the grill at Rehoboth's Cafe Sole.
It's a little harder to bring along the pooch if you want to go upscale. If a more ambitious cuisine is your thing, you'll want to seek out FishOn!, the rare restaurant with a wine list and a foodie-pleasing menu where people and dogs can dine together.
The hostess will escort you and your furry date to a table on the patio. While the server quenches your thirst with a glass of ice water, le chien will be served a bowl of water, too, as well as some crunchy doggie biscuits to whet the appetite.
While you consider the menu -- maybe the grilled salmon with shaved apple and fennel slaw, maybe the pan seared scallops with sweet corn, soybean and cherry tomato succotash -- the dog gets his own menu to look over. Will it be the barkers dozen of mini chicken treats? Or, maybe a cup of the Yoghund ice cream?
Manager Frederick Mazzeo opened his upscale eatery to dogs in March. The owner of Puck, 130 pounds of what Mazzeo calls "half-Lab, half-shepherd and half-wolf," he knows how important dogs are to people.
In fact, most of the people who work at FishOn! have dogs, including the chef, who has a golden retriever named Babbo, after Mario Batali's famed New York City restaurant.
As word has spread about the service, people with dogs -- both locals and tourists -- have crowded the patio, Mazzeo says.
"They don't want to leave their dogs at home," Mazzeo says. "They want to take their dog to dinner."
If you go
LodgingLazy L Bed & Breakfast, 1601 Willow Creek, Lewes. 302-644-7220. A B&B where your dogs are more-than-welcome. Rooms $175 to $215 in season, plus a cottage on the dog run that starts at $190 a night.
DiningFishOn!, Village of Five Points, Lewes. 302-645-9790. An upscale eatery that also has a menu for dogs. Entrees $10 to $23.
Lazy Susan's Seafood Deli, 1420 Highway One, Lewes. 302-645-5115. A no-frills crab house. Call for prices.
Arena's Deli & Bar, 4113 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-CAFE. A comfortable spot for lunch or dinner with a large selection of sandwiches and salads. Almost everything is under $10.
Dog attractionsCritter Beach, 156 Rehoboth Ave, Rehoboth Beach. 302-226-2690.
Yuppy Puppy, 123 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach. 302-537-0171.
Dog beachesBroadkill Beach, Lewes: Dogs allowed all the time, everywhere.
Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes: Dogs allowed in non-swimming beaches.
Delaware Seashore Park, south of Dewey Beach: Dogs allowed in non-swimming beaches.
Dewey Beach: Dogs allowed if they are leashed and have a city license before 9:30 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m.
Lewes Beach: Dogs allowed before 8 a.m. and after 6:30 p.m. between May 1 and Sept. 30.
Rehoboth Beach: Dogs not allowed on beach or boardwalk between April 1 and Oct. 31.