Our adventure began last spring when, having been a hardcore cat person my entire life, I suddenly found myself enchanted by every passing dog, from Dachshunds to Dobermans, all of whom seemed to be giving me a knowing look as if to say: “It’s time.”
I must have surveyed every one-eyed, three-legged sob story in Los Angeles when a friend said to me, “Why don’t you just get a happy dog?” And that’s when I met Bodie.
He’d been picked up wandering the streets of South Central with a bad sniffle and was due to be euthanized when rescue group Pryor’s Planet swooped in and saved the day. There wasn’t an ounce of self-pity to this grinning Chow-Pit mix and when I took him home I was amazed by his impeccable manners (most of which I’ve undone) and his Zen demeanour. And then the medication wore off. (He’d just been neutered.)
I now had 50 pounds of robust energy on my hands and the only dog who could match his appetite for play was a giant Bullmastiff named Winnie. When her owner relocated to Portland, Oregon (repeatedly rated the most dog-friendly city in the US), the idea of a road trip was born.
Some would say making a 2,000-mile roundtrip as a first-time dog owner just three weeks into the relationship was a little ambitious (okay, foolish) but I was oblivious to any potential hazards and luckily Bodie turned out to be just as fearless and easy-going as I’d hoped. He also has exactly the same taste in hotels as me. (For a gangland stray, he sure does love the finer things in life.)
I have to say those three weeks cruising in a metallic orange Honda Element (voted dog-friendly car of the year) were transformative for me: I’d been utterly bereft when my beloved US Navy beau Jonathan received orders to relocate from nearby San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia, and then told me he was going to be at sea for 10 months of the upcoming year. He felt there was too much uncertainty in our future to make any promises and so we split. I was wretched (as, it turns out, was he) but being around Bodie’s relentlessly joyful spirit I couldn’t help but start enjoying the simple pleasures of life again. (There’s nothing like finding out your dog has a penchant for tzatziki to make you smile.)
Bodie and I had the time of our lives—which was just as well, because almost exactly one year later, Jonathan returned with newfound clarity and a marriage proposal, meaning that Bodie and I were now invited to make the rather more epic journey from west coast to east!
Altogether we explored 14 states on a perpetual mission to have as much dog-related fun as possible. There are so many wonderful experiences to be had, I would like to take this opportunity to share my Top Ten with you (in geographical order):
SAN YSIDRO RANCH, SANTA BARBARA, CA
You know you’ve arrived when you step onto the jasmine-draped deck of your own private cottage and see both your name and your dog’s branded into wooden panels beside the door.
Inside, you discover bottled Evian beside the doggie water bowl and a squeaky Bow Wow Beanie courtesy of hotel owner Ty Warner, who just happens to be the creator of Beanie Babies.
As you explore the tranquil lavender-lined gardens, you’ll understand why Julia Roberts honeymooned here. Taste the food and you’ll know why Oprah is a regular diner. I ordered chicken and rice off the dog room service menu for Bodie and we shared a cosy fireside dinner before star-gazing on our flagstone terrace.
Rising early, we hiked a portion of the 17 miles of adjacent trails and then enjoyed matching massages. Bodie was putty in the hands of Glenys, so in the zone he looked like he was doing yoga.
We could’ve lingered for all eternity but gorgeous Arroyo Burro off-leash beach was calling, just 20 minutes up the coast. This was a first for Bodie and we happened to find ourselves romping in the surf alongside Tamar Geller, acclaimed author of The Loved Dog, barefoot with her pups. Talk about a Hollywood ending! sanysidroranch.com
Dogs are definitely first-class citizens in Carmel, even the high-end jewellers offer dog biscuits and one exquisite perfume boutique (Ajne) invites you to explore your own sense of smell by creating a customised scent, all while your dog splays at your feet in aromatic bliss.
Come sunset, amble down to the beach and bring your camera—this is one of California’s great beauty spots. Just be sure to keep your dog at sea level; mine went scampering up the bank and ended up tearing around the legendary Pebble Beach golf course just days before the US Open.
At the fabulous Diggidy Dog Boutique, you can purchase dog biscuits in the shape of cocktails, ideal to take along to Doris Day’s Cypress Inn, where you’ll find as many dogs at the bar as boozers. Better yet, you can actually dine indoors with your pup on account of the tables being “technically” in the lobby.
We over-nighted two minutes’ walk away at the cosy Monte Verde Inn. Manager Randal makes you feel like you’re staying with friends and Bodie was so content he had his first ever morning sleep-in. Heaven! ajne.com; diggidydogcarmel.com; cypress-inn.com; monteverdeinn.com
3 DOGGIE DASH, PORTLAND, OR
Of all the wild, ruggedly scenic spots in Oregon, why would I recommend a city destination? Because it’s not every day you can take your dog for a walk with 6,000 other dog-lovers. Each May, the Oregon Humane Society hosts a fundraiser that is a true spectacle. As well as the mass riverside stroll, you can enjoy doggie costume and kissing contests, free pancakes, and the sensation of being united with your fellow man (and dog) for the greater good.
Stay at the Hotel Monaco and you’ll be greeted by a dog concierge (former Guide Dog for the Blind, Timmy), given innumerable treats, and offered sessions with a local pet psychic. (Bridget told me Bodie was having a good time but worried that we might be lost, seeing as it was so long since we’d been home.) If your dog has ingested too many calories at Cupcake Jones, call Run! Daycamp for Dogs; fitness fiends David and Erica will pick up your pooch and take him on an amazing pack run though the local countryside. I actually went along for the ride, got drenched, and loved squelching in the mud almost as much as Bodie. oregonhumane.org; monaco-portland.com; petsaretalking.com; cupcakejones.net; daycampfordogs.com
4 CAESAR’S PALACE, LAS VEGAS, NV
First there was Cesar’s dog food, then dog whisperer Cesar Millan, now Caesar’s Palace is going to the dogs! Bodie still had to bypass the blackjack table (all those card-counting classes in vain) but thanks to the new PetStay policy, he was welcome to sashay down the caramel marble corridor leading to the sumptuous Augustus Tower suites and treated to nifty Bella dog bowls, a zippy doggie bag dispenser, and handmade cookies that looked yummy enough for human consumption.
With everything in Vegas being on such a grand scale, we were surprised to find such a little square of Astroturf assigned for the morning pee, then again the neighbouring Bellagio fountains proved inspirational and it’s not every day your dog gets to do his business within view of Chanel and Dior. Afterwards at the hotel gift shop, Bodie selected a squeaky toy in the shape of a bottle of Cristal (or Cristail, to be precise!)—perfect for toasting the newlyweds emerging from the Hound Dog Ceremony at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.
*I only found out after the fact that dogs are banned from walking The Strip itself! caesarspalace.com; vivalasvegasweddingchapel.com
I was in two minds whether to include this hot rocking state on account of the fact that a) Bodie was not welcome at any restaurant terrace (lady at the visitors center: “You wanna have dinner with your dog?!”) and b) both Canyonlands and Arches National Park have a rule that your furry friend can only go where your car can go, which is fine if you’re recreating scenes from Thelma & Louise but frustrating when you have a hankering for a hike. But then I discovered the dog-friendly Negro Bill Canyon Trail, which has all the majestic looming red rocks and soft pinky-terracotta sands of the parks plus a cooling stream with great gnarly branches to chew on.
After staying the night in a claustrophobic motel I discovered the irresistibly cute 3 Dogs & A Moose Cottages where dogs can roam freely in their idyllic garden.
I also have to give special mention to the friendliest family vet I ever met: Moab Veterinary Clinic on Spanish Valley Drive. There’s a little one year-old girl toddling around reception who can mime dog in sign language. For that alone Moab makes the list, 3dogsandamoosecottages.com; discovermoab.com
6 GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL MONUMENT, CO
Thirty-five miles from Alamosa you can live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies, trekking a vast golden plain and then attempting to scale the drifting dunes (tallest in North America). For Bodie, this was like exercising on a step machine—every paw up he sank back down, continuing to scrabble ad infinitum. You’ll definitely need to bring an ample water supply for the pair of you, maybe even a snack; that way you can take your time marvelling at the scenery while your dog attempts to burrow to Australia. Just be prepared to be emptying sand from your pockets/shoes/ears for days to come.
One fun overnight option is Best Western’s Movie Manor in Monte Vista where, from May to September, you and your best friend can cuddle up and watch a film projected onto a giant outdoor screen from the comfort of your motel room! Alternatively, you can drive three hours north and stay at Number 7 on my list… (nps.gov/GRSA; bestwesterncolorado.com/monte-vista-hotels)
7 THE BROADMOOR, COLORADO SPRINGS, CO
I’ve been fantasizing about visiting this fabled five-star haven for over ten years, ever since I saw an aerial shot showcasing its breathtaking 3,000-acre setting at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. I could almost sense the “if these walls could talk” history and feel the exhilarating tingle of the fresh Colorado air.
The resort is so plush you can’t quite believe they allow muddy paws and yet this is one of the very few places that permit you to leave your furry friend in the room. When you check in, you will be given a comprehensive Pitty Pat Club kit including a Best-Friend-In-Residence card for you to hang on the door for when you are over at the Charles Court restaurant sampling the local specialties. Your dog won’t go unspoilt with Mother Hubbard cookies and his very own bone-shaped Broadmoor ID tag.
This was definitely one of Bodie’s favourite places—just opening our patio doors onto a lake-view lawn he went into a paroxysm of delight, writhing on the grass and then gawping breathless at the vista. His jaw was still slack with wonder when we visited nearby Garden of the Gods where, unlike Moab, you can scramble around the mythical red rocks to your heart’s content. And it’s free.
I definitely wish we’d had more time here. This was true doggie deluxe! broadmoor.com; gardenofgods.com
MUSEUM OF THE DOG, ST LOUIS, MO
The American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog is a must and a marvel. Over 700 original paintings, drawings, sculptures, bronzes, and porcelain figures are on display, along with fascinating exhibits (including Dogs of War and a Hall of Fame) and a charming library, all of which you can peruse with your pup.
Drive 25 minutes west and you can drop your little masterpiece at the Frolic Inn for daycare with dog behaviour expert Kristen (she introduced Bodie to his first donkey), leaving you free to visit the Incredible Dog Arena at Purina Farms where highly excitable rescues perform agility skits, including leaping for Frisbees over a heated swimming pool—this is actually where dock diving originated.
The best dog-friendly accommodation in St Louis is the quirkily hip Moonrise Hotel in the Del Mar Loop district, just a few blocks from a rustic but cozy coffee shop called Kayak, named after the owner’s Siberian Husky. One more block and you’re at Forest Park where you can enjoy Yappy Hour at the Boathouse and, come July, enter the Paddle with Your Pooch contest. Definitely something we plan to attend next summer. museumofthedog.org; purina.com; frolic-inn.com; moonrisehotel.com; boathouseforestpark.com
9 THE GREAT DISMAL SWAMP, SUFFOLK, VA
It’s the name that got me. I had to know just how dismal a swamp could be: I pictured a vast brown mulch but discovered something lush and green and frankly Amazonian. Better yet, the immaculately tarmac-ed road running alongside the canal is closed to cars and shaded by a canopy of trees. Less fabulous is the threat of bears; apparently you are supposed to ‘fight back’ as opposed to ‘play dead.’ Far more lethal in my mind are the ticks. Don’t even consider coming here unless your dog is Frontline-d to the gills. I was oblivious and Bodie is still paying the price for my ignorance. Still, for a blissful hour or two we strolled in splendour watching the riverboats glide by feeling like we were in a scene from The African Queen. (I was Katherine Hepburn in my giant sunhat while Bodie made an excellent Bogey.)
Historic Page House Inn, Norfolk, a 30 minute drive from the swamp, is equally atmospheric and happens to be within walking distance of the Bea Arthur Dog Park, a must for Bodie as he is a huge fan of The Golden Girls. Huge. pagehouseinn.com
CAROUSEL BARK PARK, WILMINGTON, DE
A major contender for Most Scenic Dog Park in the US. You drive into a wooded dell (having first taken a wrong turn into the adjacent equestrian centre), park beneath the shade of a Beech tree, cross a trickly stream, take the left fork, and then reel as 50 acres of sprightly green grass greets you. Unleashed, your dog starts nosing in the bushes until he catches sight of the Enchanted Lake, whereupon he romps down to the muddy bank and propels himself into the water with joyful abandon, no regard for how deep said lake may be.
In the ocean, Bodie swims with a slight air of panic, but here he happily doggy-paddled way out for sticks, occasionally returning with a droopy green beard of pondweed. (Rather more tasty are the “ruffins” offered at the nearby Centreville Café.) We were continuing on to New York City for Fleet Week, but Philadelphia, PA, is just half an hour away and I must say the Hotel Palomar looks supercool and offers great VIP (Very Important Pet) amenities.
Park: 3700 Limestone Road, Wilmington, DE 19808;