Twinkling lights, frosty air, and that undeniable feeling of comfort and joy. The holidays are in full swing, and there is no better way to share the season than spending time with your four-legged family members. And if you’ll be doing some holiday traveling with your dogs, consider making a pit stop at one of these pet friendly towns en route to your destination. From open markets to one of the most impressive light displays in the entire country, these top 11 holiday towns will give you and your dog the opportunity to enjoy the magic together.
Annapolis, Maryland’s historic downtown district that’s right by the water lights up every holiday season. One day in December, Annapolis hosts the Christmas Boat Parade. Pet owners can watch with their dogs as boats sail around the harbor all decked out in their best holiday lights from the shore. You might even spot fellow furry friends standing on the boats. During Midnight Madness, which is two Thursdays before Christmas, all of the shops are open until 11 p.m. or midnight. During this time, pet parents and their dogs can enjoy carolers, live musicians, and some late night local shopping. The Loews Hotel and the Westin in Annapolis both have stellar pet programs that supply pets with beds, bowls, and treats.
“The white lights and garlands make [downtown] look like a Dicken’s Village that just calls your name to come down,” says Michelle Kownacki,owner of Paws Pet Boutique, established in 1999 in downtown Annapolis. “Dogs are always part of that. We’re always giving them a complimentary treat and helping them with their shopping.”
Besides her own shop, she also says that Annapolis Pottery, Shades by the Bay, Zachary’s Jewelry and Brown Eyed Girl all welcome dogs.
Mountain city Prescott, Arizona, beckons holiday travelers with a charming downtown district that really gets into the holiday spirit.
“Prescott is called ‘Arizona’s Christmas City’ and we go ‘all out’ with decorations and events throughout December. We are also a very dog-friendly town,” says Debra Campbell, owner of TimberWoof Pet Boutique in historic downtown Prescott.
The Courthouse Plaza, the city Christmas tree, and more than 150 trees throughout the Historic Square in downtown Prescott are all decorated in lights. Many of the city’s holiday activities are held outside so pet owners and their dogs can enjoy them together. One Friday in December, musicians perform in the downtown square. The historic, open-air, and dog-friendly Sharlot Hall Museum hosts a Frontier Christmas event that celebrates Arizona’s history with carolers, hearth-baked cookies and luminaries. The TimberWoof Pet Boutique hosts a “photos with Santa” session one weekend in December.
Mountain village Bethel, Maine, is where the movie The 12 Dogs of Christmaswas filmed, and it should come as no surprise that the city caters to its furry friends in the winter. Dogs are welcome to walk in the Jingle Bell Walk, an annual tradition where people are invited to carol on Main Street and businesses and homes turn on their lights as they pass. Santa and Mrs. Claus ride along on a vintage fire truck. At the end of the parade, when the crowd makes it to the town common, Bethel’s Christmas tree is lit.
“Pet owners should consider visiting Bethel because there is a big variety of places for owners and their pets to stay together and plenty of places to explore once they get here,” says Jessie Seymour Perkins, events and marketing manager at Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. One of those places? The Bethel Inn Resort. The resort welcomes dogs with a Christmas tree decorated with dog treats. When the snow arrives, the resort’s golf course is converted to its Nordic Center. Pups can snowshoe and cross-country ski with their owners on a dedicated 10-kilometer trail with their dogs.
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers a stunning light show in the middle of the desert. Pets and their owners are welcome to stroll the property’s outdoor grounds. Throughout the resort, 200 trees are wrapped in lights, many draped with icicles and snowflakes. Visitors also may see a 20-foot snowman, elves in the trees, and a giant walk-through ornament. The resort’s Christmas tree is adorned with 70,000 LED lights that are timed to music in the evening hours. In 2016, the hotel will be offering the Paw-sitively Christmas package where owners and their pets can get pictures taken with Santa.
The Fairmont is also home to two canine ambassadors, Bixby and Gibbs, both retrievers who can often be found in the lobby. The Concierge Desk also provides a special pet check-in with dog treats and recommendations for dog parks, animal clinics, and local pet-friendly hikes. Call ahead and be sure to mention that you’ll be bringing a dog or two. “With an average of 330 days of sunshine a year, Scottsdale beckons residents, guests, and their pets to outdoor patios, dog parks, and desert trails. From doggie yoga and spas to plush bedding and dog walking services, your four-legged family members will feel right at home,” says Laura McMurchie, vice president of communications for Experience Scottsdale.
McAdenville, North Carolina
McAdenville, North Carolina, is also known as Christmas Town USA. And for good reason. Throughout the entire month of December (usually ending on December 26) select homes in the city are decked out more than 500,000 lights. Expect to see numerous houses decked in wreaths and colorful lights. Although most people drive the 1.3-mile route, leashed pets are allowed to walk through. You must stick to sidewalks and not go into yards. One favorite spot? The lake, which is surrounded by 33 trees all decked out in lights.
Charlotte—a 20-minute drive away—is another dog-friendly city where pet owners can find hotels, restaurants and other attractions that cater to them.
“The Charlotte area’s abundance of pet-friendly accommodations make the city not only a great place to live with pets, but also to visit, says Laura White, director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “Our city boasts plentiful green space and dog parks as well as a countless restaurants, bars and breweries that welcome dogs. An array of outdoor markets and neighborhood tree lightings happening through the holidays represent some of the fun events that are pet-friendly too.”
Downtown Boise, Idaho, becomes transformed into a charming holiday town every winter. Pet parents and their pooches can stroll downtown to see the massive Christmas tree on the Grove Plaza, listen to carolers strolling throughout the city, and then finish the day with a hot cup of coffee on the pet-friendly patio at the downtown location of Java Coffee & Cafe. The Riverside Hotel is a laid-back lodging option just a few minutes from downtown that allows dogs. If you’ll be ringing in the New Year when you’re in Boise, consider staying at The Inn at 500 Capitol, which opens on December 31, 2016. Furry guests all receive a complimentary food and water dish and a dog bed at the boutique, art-centric hotel. “Boise is not only the most welcoming city in America for visitors, but also their four-legged friends. Dogs with their owners are welcome at many area hotels, breweries, restaurants and trails throughout the Boise area,” says Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Located in Central Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia’s historic downtown mall is all lit up during the holidays. Pet owners and their dogs can stroll along this quaint and historic brick street all decked out in lights. If you head here on Saturdays starting in late November and continuing right before Christmas, you can browse goods from more than 100 local vendors. Although it might be chilly, visitors can bundle up and eat outside downtown too. Dig into hearty pub fare like burgers and fried pretzel bites at Miller’s Downtown.
“Many restaurants on the Downtown Mall offer al fresco dining and pets are welcome at most of those places. In addition, many businesses have water bowls at their store front, and even have pet treats on hand,” says Brigitte Belanger-Warner, director of Sales and Marketing for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau
California’s coastal town Carmel is known as “doggy heaven,” and it’s also a great place where pet owners and their dogs can enjoy the holidays. They can start at holiday-light-filled Carmel Plaza. Stroll through the shopping center with wreaths, red bows and garlands hung up throughout the multi-level place. Sit on the patio—the average temperature in this coastal California city is 60 degrees—as you nosh on espresso and teas, pastries, sandwiches, garden fresh salads and ramen noodle bowls at Carmel Coffee & Cocoa Bar. Your dog can even lick from the famed Fountain of Woof at the mall. It’s allegedly good luck.
If you’re searching for a festive place to stay, the Carmel Country Inn B&B goes all out during the holidays. The inn’s outside display is the ideal Christmas photo opp complete with a lighted topiary deer and a grapevine sleigh in addition to cypress trees decorated with oversized ornaments, holly bushes, greenery, and poinsettias. On Christmas morning, Carmel Country Inn pet guests will find a stocking on their door knob filled with treats and toys.
“We love pets! We understand that pets are just as important, and sometimes more important, parts of people’s families and we welcome all pets, no matter size, shape, color or species,” says Amy Johnson, innkeeper of the Carmel Country Inn. “Especially during the holidays, you want your family all together, no matter if they have paws or claws, we make sure everyone is welcome and taken care of.”
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach’s The Founders Inn gets in the holiday spirit and has a pet program to boot. Expect a lobby decked out with a huge Christmas tree and garlands hanging on the balconies in addition to lights draped over trees outside. Dogs are welcome to check out the Grand Illumination in late November where the lights outside are turned on for the very first time.
“We are one of the few hotels in Virginia Beach that allow pets,” says Kari Journigan, PR representative for The Founders Inn and Spa. “We’re also the only pet friendly hotel in the area that has a fenced in dog park. It gives pets room to walk.”
All the pet-friendly rooms are nearby this park. The hotel’s pet-friendly package includes a welcome letter with pet-friendly suggestions of what to do around town, food bowl and mat, toys, and bag of treats. If you’d like to get a taste of the holidays, consider leaving the hotel to head to the city’s boardwalk on the beach. In the winter, dogs are welcome on the boardwalk during the daylights hours. Stroll on the wooden pier and admire the waves. Wait until nightfall to hop into your car, drive on the concrete boardwalk as part of the city’s annual Lights at the Beach event. From there, you can drive your car under U-shaped lights that light up the night. Your dog is welcome, provided he stays in the car.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio’s most famous attraction, the River Walk, becomes a holiday haven for pets and their owners in the winter. Leashed dogs are welcome to stroll the public park located along the banks of the San Antonio River that exudes holiday cheer with trees wrapped in lights, decked-out bridges, and even a few decorated boats too. Most weekends in December, you can expect to see more than 3,000 glowing luminaries lining the River Walk as part of the Ford Fiesta De Las Luminaries.
“Whether you’re staying at hotels like Hotel Emma and Westin Riverwalk, walking along the scenic River Walk, dining at restaurants such as Charlie Wants a Burger, The Cove and The Friendly Spot, or shopping at the Pearl Brewery complex—San Antonio provides many opportunities for you and your four-legged best friend to make memories together,” says Casandra Matej, executive director of Visit San Antonio.
One of Chicago’s biggest holiday events, the Christkindlmarket, welcomes leashed dogs. Modeled after German Christmas markets, Christkindlmarket is the largest open-air market in Chicago. Visitors can stock up on gift-ready items like hand-blown and painted ornaments, and traditional German products like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, and beer steins. Admission is free. Dogs are not permitted in inside areas such as the warming tent, Timber House, or any walk-in vendor booths.
Chicago is also teeming with dog-friendly hotels. And Chicago’s Trump International Hotel & Tower goes all out for the holidays. The luxurious hotel features a grand Christmas tree and light-packed lobby.
“We welcome four-legged friends at Trump Hotel Chicago, and treat them with the same warmth and hospitality as all of our guests,” says Robert Prohaska, Director of Sales and Marketing. “Our pet-friendly amenities and services include a plush dog bed, in-room dining menu with gourmet treats, a water bowl with fresh bottled water, dog toys and a map of the city highlighting all of the city’s best dog-friendly parks. Guests also have access to the on-site private dog park.”
Other pet-friendly lodging options include Kimpton Hotel Allegro (mere steps from the Christkindlmarket), Hotel Lincoln, The Langham, Chicago, The Talbott Hotel and the Dana Hotel and Spa.
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.