In recent years “Man’s Best Friend” has morphed into “Everyone’s Best Travel Friend.” Even before the pandemic, dogs had become more vital members of the family, with Americans spending record amounts of money on their four-legged children. This has included more travelers wishing to take their pets with them on vacations. In the luxury end of the travel market this has also been greatly driven by the enormous expansion of private aviation, which makes flying with dogs easy. The concurrent growth of home rentals via platforms such as Airbnb, with many pet friendly properties, also smooths the process.
All of this has surged even more during the COVID-19 pandemic, for several reasons. Pandemic induced adoptions drove the rate of dog ownership in this country to new highs, while a focus on keeping the core “pod” of the family unit together became the norm at home or on the road, and boarding occupancy became unusually scarce. Road tripping by car skyrocketed, making it even easier to bring a pup, and the increased desirability of private lodging units, from cabins to glamping tents to villas during the pandemic also lends itself to pet travel partners.
As the demand for traveling with dogs has grown, so to have the number of places that will take them. It used to be common that low-end hotel and motel chains often welcomed dogs while high-end ones did not, but this has changed dramatically as luxury hotels can no longer afford to miss out on deep pocketed dog lovers. However, it is important to note that many so-called “dog friendly” luxury hotels come up short, especially with nonsensical size restrictions. The chief problem with allowing dogs is the concern that they might disturb other paying guests, and this has little to do with size – and to the degree it does, small dogs tend to be more problematic. Despite the backwards and archaic logic, many of the larger luxury hotel brands such as Four Seasons still frequently restrict doggie guests based on size.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are obsessively dog friendly brands, and a few stand out, most notably Loews, Montage, fast expanding Auberge Resorts, one of the most consistently dog friendly luxury brands, and Kimpton. The latter may not always reach the luxury travel category, but they are by far the largest in terms of destinations served, urban and resort, always have a warm welcome for all visiting pets, and do offer some standout properties.
So, to be considered truly dog friendly, hotels must actually welcome dogs, small or not, but that’s just the first step. Over the past 20-plus years I have stayed with my dogs at many different top tier properties, and I have found that there is also a clear industry difference in attitude between hotels that are “dog accepting” and those that are truly “dog friendly,” meaning a warm sense of welcome. Allowing dogs is just the first step, welcoming them with toys, treats, amenities, facilities and menus is another. The very best offer services like pet sitting, dog walking and even spa treatments, while increasingly, some have house dogs to greet who had to leave pets behind and miss it
The following properties – many of them Forbes 5-Star winners – excel at some or all of these second and third levels of welcoming and can fairly be considered among “The Best Dog Friendly” lodging. I will note that because I live in the Northeast, most of my dog stays have been in a drive market range from Montreal to the Carolinas, so my list skews that way, but there are other hotels on this list that I have visited without my dogs or know people I trust who have been with pets.
Inn By The Sea, Cape Elizabeth, Maine: I put this eco-friendly oceanfront resort just outside Portland first on this list, and it was not an accident. If you are a hotelier considering a shift toward dog-friendly, this is the place you should visit to see how it is done. I have stayed at Inn By The Sea on three different occasions with different doggie children over the past two and half decades, and it has remained an exceptional example of the genre. The vast majority of luxury hotels welcoming pets charge an extra fee, and I don’t blame them, because there can (and should) be extra cleaning required, even if it’s just a lot more vacuuming. But Inn By The Sea does not have a fee even though complimentary extras include water bowls, beach towels, cozy blankets, and signature treats at turndown daily. They offer dog walking and dog sitting and have an outdoor bar and restaurant deck serving both cocktails and full fine-dining meals where your dog can join you – and order off a gourmet pet menu. The huge back lawn is similarly equipped with cozy Adirondack chairs staffed by servers bearing treats for humans and pups, water bowls and adult beverages.
That would be more than enough, but it’s far from the entire list. In a unique partnership with a local shelter, the house dog greeting guests in the lobby is always an available rescue and they are approaching 200 dogs placed with visiting guests over the years. The concierge has a list of nearby pet-friendly walking trails, beaches and off leash parks, the resort has its own private beach welcoming dogs in off-season, and for the last week of the warm weather season each fall they close the resort pool to humans and turn the hounds loose for swimming fun at the “Pool Pawty.” Inn By The Sea is a member of the luxury Virtuoso travel network, so if you use a good travel agent you can get a lot of extras booking here, and its ultra-sustainable ocean to table Sea Glass restaurant is a New England standout. In an example of perfect timing, right around the start of the pandemic they unveiled a new level of luxury lodging, the Cove Suites, 2-bedroom residences with extensive indoor and outdoor living spaces, fireplaces, kitchens, and furnished decks. These are set in separate beachfront buildings with their own exterior doors, the kind of private lodging everyone wants now. To top it all off, the resort added tented open air beachfront cabanas for spa treatments, anticipating exactly what guests crave in these strange times.
Woof Cottages, Nantucket, MA: Nantucket is one of the top private jet destinations in America, an oasis of open-air tranquility off Cape Cod. But most people arrive by ferry, and these are also very dog friendly, making a visit easy – even the public busses on the island allow dogs. Nantucket love dogs, everyone seems to have one, there are lots of beaches and parks and preserves that allow off-leash access (times vary seasonally), dog stores, and great outdoor eateries allowing dogs (especially the Cisco Brewery!).
But you’ll need a place to stay, and it doesn’t get better than the Woof Cottages. These are a dedicated subset of the Cottages at Nantucket Boat Basin, an all-cottage resort set on piers right in the heart of the main waterfront, walking distance from the ferries (but they transport you with golf carts). Super popular with dog owners, boaters, or in many cases both, these have real New England flair, are large, comfortable and very private, but super close to everything. The resort is first class, part of the hotel group that owns and runs Nantucket’s two top luxury properties, the White Elephant and the Wauwinet, and they have shuttles to both if you want to eat at one of the great restaurants (the White Elephant’s Brant Point Grill is nationally famous for its decadent lobster Bloody Marys, FYI). The Cottages do not have their own eatery, but most of the island’s best restaurants are within walking distance. In addition, the concierges have an encyclopedic knowledge a of all things dog friendly, from hiking trails to dining spots. They even have a “Pet Concierge,” Bailey, the resident Black Lab/Britney Spaniel mix. Cottages are one or two bedrooms with kitchens, outdoor seating areas, loaner bikes, and add dog beds, bowls, welcome amenities, turndown treats, and personalized dog tags with hotel info for your stay to increase the safety (just in case). Dog walking is available, and my two goldens are still playing daily with the high-quality and suitably fish-themed dog toys they were given there last summer. But my favorite thing about this place is getting up in the morning, coming back from a dog walk, and sitting outside on the wharf drinking coffee with the dogs, taking in the harbor scene and salt air. Hard to beat!
Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, CO: A pioneer in the world of luxury dog friendly travel! I attended the 2002 grand opening, and for the 20 years since they have been doing it right. Bachelor Gulch was the world’s first Ritz-Carlton with a canine “Ambassadog” to greet visitors, my friend’s yellow lab was the original “Bachelor,” and today there is Scout, a 5-year old Bernese Mountain Dog who is on the clock, and part of his job is “Four Legged Greetings” every weekday afternoon to spread the joy, especially to kids. Amenities include dog beds, bowls and treats, concierges know area walks and activities like the back of their hands, and they even offer dog friendly rooms and suites on the Club Level, which is extra special. The resort is best known for skiing but has incredible outdoor access in a mountain paradise all year round, and Beaver Creek is a very pet friendly community with a pedestrianized village, lots of outdoor dining and drinking, and plenty of access to nature and trails. To help guests enjoy non-dog activities, such as a raft trip or long day ski expedition, the Ritz-Carlton has a day care partnership – including transportation – with the deluxe Wanderlust Dog Ranch. This rustic-luxe resort has fairly been credited with helping to change the hotel pet paradigm, popularizing the house dog concept, and inspiring many other luxury hotels.
Camp Long Creek, Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, MO: For over a decade Big Cedar Lodge has been quietly but rapidly expanding into one of the nation’s top truly “full-service” resorts. Owner Johnny Morris is the founder of retail giant Bass Pro Shops, also owns retail giant Cabela’s and many other companies, including several of the nation’s largest boat manufacturers, and Big Cedar Lodge is his personal passion project. He spares no expense to showcase his beloved Ozarks and has grown the 4,600-acre outdoor activity focused property in every conceivable direction. He quickly built it into one of the nation’s premier golf resorts with five courses, including the top three in Missouri and the nation’s only public Tiger Woods design, complete with caddies – just named America’s Best New Course of 2021 by Golf Digest. It sits on a huge, beautiful lake with the best equipped freshwater resort marina in the country, a kids adventure park, one-of-a-kind cave tour, and he recently added a state-of-the-art shooting facility. But Morris is also a longtime dog owner and dog lover, and two years ago he opened Camp Long Creek, a dog friendly mini-resort right on the lake just down the road, sharing all the Big Cedar main property facilities but with its own full service marina. A more elaborate spin on the glamping concept, it offers the choice of well-appointed cottages, cabins and safari-style glamping tents, all welcoming pets, and even has its own dog park, a virtually unheard-of amenity!
The Lowell, NYC: If it is possible to be a “well-known hidden gem,” the Lowell would qualify. Easily skipped over by those who look first at big brands like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton or Peninsula, it is nonetheless a luxury hotel in the truest classic European style, intimate with a hands-on staff who make every visitor feel like they have just returned home. A Forbes 5-Star, The Lowell is extremely popular among the nation’s best and most well-informed luxury travel agents and advisors, and is a boutique property occupying a slender, low key 17-story residential building just off Central Park. That is one of its key selling points, as the biggest failure of the many dog friendly upscale hotels in the Big Apple is lack of proximity to grass. Other centrally located patches of green space, such as Bryant and Madison Square Park are near some good hotels, but very much off limits for dogs, as is much of midtown and most of the East Side. They have pet beds and fancy cookies, concierges know the neighborhood well in terms of everything dog, and the room service menu includes a pet version (or custom dishes).
But beyond location and pet amenities, the Lowell is just an exceptional hotel with an equally hidden gem restaurant, Majorelle, the kind of place most tourists would never go to, but when they do, they discover it is chock full of neighborhood regulars for whom it is a once weekly favorite, with the same kind of warm, personal, old-school service as the hotel – service that is increasingly hard to find. While even the “basic” rooms here are wonderful, another area in which the Lowell excels is its suites, many of which are true residences, large and spacious with fireplaces, vast living rooms, gourmet kitchens and best of all, outdoor garden areas and corner terraces, though by New York standards the word terrace does not do these justice. There are very few hotels here where you can sit outside your room and drink coffee and read the paper amidst greenery and the Lowell is one. The three-bedroom penthouse has four outdoor terraces and its own private elevator. It also sums up its pet policy succinctly: “The Lowell proudly accepts pets.” It is the only place I ever paid staff to walk my dogs as we had to go crosstown for a long holiday dinner, and afterwards the person who did it described the walk so vividly that our conversation alleviated all the concerns I had going in. Simply put, the Lowell is a spectacular home away from home for dogs as well as people.
Boston Harbor Hotel, Boston, MA: Another home away from home type city hotel, another Forbes 5-Star, and another best-in class luxury property that often gets overshadowed for first time visitors by the city’s big chain brands. But once you’ve stayed, you go back, and the waterfront Boston Harbor is not just my favorite hotel in Boston, it is one of my favorites nowhere. Ditto for my dogs, who over the years have loved nothing more than sitting in the big bay windows and staring out, mesmerized by the boats and scene in Boston harbor. It is the kind of hotel where the doorman immediately knows your name – and your dogs’ names – the Rose Kennedy Greenway is immodesty outside, and it has exceptional food and beverage options. In warm weather, there is lots of outdoor dining and entrainment space and it has direct boat taxi service from its pier to Logan Airport in under ten minutes – one of the coolest hotel arrivals in the nation (very close by regular taxi too). The Boston Harbor hotel is home to the longest running wine festival in the United States (the 33rd year is going on right now, and you can read this slightly out of date piece to get the gist) and not so long ago added the most luxurious Presidential suite in Boston. It is walking distance to Faneuil Hall, the entire waterfront, the Italian North End and so much more. Great hotel for business travel, leisure travel and dog travel.
The Umstead Hotel & Spa, Raleigh, NC: If you draw a rough triangle between the Washington, DC metro area, Atlanta and Kiawah Island near the South Carolina/Georgia border, you will encompass a huge swath of the Southeast, within which the Umstead is the only 5-Star hotel and another hidden gem “sleeper” among this top tier of hospitality. It is an oasis of Southern serenity set on a private lake amidst 12-acres of carefully tended gardens, yet just minutes from the international airport and downtown Raleigh. When you are not playing in the hotel’s enclosed dog park, “DogWoods,” walking the nature path around the lake, visiting adjacent William B. Umstead State Park, or relaxing on your patio, you can kick back and enjoy afternoon tea with a harpist or evening cocktails with a live pianist at the lobby bar. The Umstead’s fine-dining restaurant, Herons, also gets the top Forbes 5-Star rating, serving an 8-course chef’s tasting menu that changes based on the art on display – there’s a museum quality permanent collection spread across common areas, plus a rotating exhibition gallery. Built to fill a luxury void for business travelers in the tech-heavy Research Triangle, the Umstead has surprisingly become a hugely popular weekend “staycation” escape for Southerners. Ground level rooms and suites have large Zen-like private patios, some with fountains. The pervasive relaxation theme continues in the extensive spa -Forbes 4-Stars – occupying most of large hotel’s bottom level, with lavish his and her locker rooms each with steam, sauna and whirlpools, along with a state-of-the-art fitness center, outdoor heated pool complex and meditation garden.
Basin Harbor, Vergennes, VT: This quintessentially New England resort occupies 700 waterfront acres on Lake Champlain and is one of the nation’s only properties with its own dog friendly swimming beach. Basin Harbor also has a marina and allows dogs on all its watercraft – power boats, sail boats, paddle board, kayaks, pedal boats. They own a large parcel of wilderness across the lake in New York State and took my wife and our two dogs there in a powerboat for a guided off leash hike. Our dogs also went on the evening group historic sightseeing cruise around the lake. The family-owned resort is famously dog friendly, the GM walks his two Golden Retrievers around the park-like property, and guest dogs can enjoy homemade biscuits while staying in one of 74 freestanding cottages (studios to 3-bedrooms). The family-friendly resort has a low-key summer camp aesthetic with more than 130 daily activities, plenty of outdoor dining options, a Wine Spectator award-winning list, and its own 18-hole golf course.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, CO: The Broadmoor is the longest running 5-Star resort on earth, and its founder was a dog lover. Today all guest pooches are honorary members of the Pitty Pat Club, named for his beloved poodle. Membership includes custom pet bedding, bowls, treats, a map of the resort’s designated dog trails, nearby dog parks, dog dining menu, sitting and walking services. The shops at the Broadmoor even include a full retail pet boutique. All dog friendly rooms and suites are ground level for ease of access, including the lavish Estate House, a 5-bedroom, 12,000 square foot mansion with landscaped private gardens. You can walk dogs around the centerpiece lake, grounds are expansive, and in addition, The Broadmoor has two renowned golf courses, too many eateries to count, an antique pub shipped brick by brick from the UK, and a Forbes 5-Star spa.
Montage Palmetto Bluff, SC: I put this Forbes 5-Star property in as a prime example of Montage resorts, all of which welcome pets, and it’s worth noting that California’s wine country is an especially dog friendly region, with lots of great choices including the Montage Healdsburg. Palmetto Bluff is a village-style resort just off Hilton Head with an enormous amount of green space for dogs to play and run – the property is 20,000 acres including miles of trails. They provide deluxe pet beds, toys, and house-made sweet potato chews and mint/oat cookies returning four legged guests love. There are multiple house dogs “on staff,” and extras include pet room service menu, pet walking, sitting and grooming services. Historic Old Town Bluffton is very close by with lots of stores and outdoor eateries that also welcome dogs. The sporting style resort has a choice of lodgings in hotel rooms, suites, cottages and homes, lavish spa, many outdoor activities, and an exceptional Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course ranked in the nation’s Top 100.
Solage and Calistoga Ranch Calistoga, CA: Like Montage above, Auberge Resorts is an extremely dog friendly luxury brand, from Maine to Mexico and Aspen to Telluride. It also has a strong presence in California wine county – home to the original flagship namesake Auberge du Soleil. In addition, Auberge’s Solage, a smaller Forbes 5-Star resort hideaway on 22-acre in the heart of Napa, is especially attractive for dogs, who receive beds, bowls, biscuits and other treats. Walking paths around the resort connect to more trails surrounding the property, and all lodgings have outdoor spaces dogs will enjoy. Humans will like the 4-Star spa and a recent major renovation of all guest rooms and public spaces, as well as a new restaurant. Calistoga Ranch nearby is the home of Cal, a resident Golden Retriever, and features privacy in its lodging with 50 freestanding cottages with furnished decks. Many also boast features such as fireplaces, outdoor showers, gourmet kitchens and private hot tubs. Visiting pooches get gourmet goodies, dog beds, and bowls, while the Canine Culinary room service menu is one of the most elaborate anywhere (think organic braised short rib over brown rice). The property includes dog-friendly hiking trails and an interactive Scavenger Hunt through the resort’s designed by dog lovers.