Are you picturing a relaxing beach vacation with your dog by your side? Then look no further than Dauphin Island, a quiet beach town in Alabama. As you cross the three-mile bridge that brings you to this low-key island situated not too far from Mobile, Alabama, you’ll be greeted by a sign that says, “Welcome to DI.”
Of course, “DI” stands for “Dauphin Island,” but it could just as easily stand for “Dog-Friendly Island.” 🐾🐾 Based on the number of dogs sniffing the salty ocean breeze, this island with a small town feel is becoming a favorite for dog-loving travelers.
If you want peace and quiet with only the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and your furry pal’s dog tags jingling in the breeze, this island may be the escape for you. And if you’re searching for all the nitty-gritty details about a Dauphin Island getaway, we’re happy you’re here.
The dogs and I are sharing a “virtual tour” of our own visit to Dauphin Island. Grab your sweet tea and follow along for an overview of this Southern escape that’s especially for vacationers who prefer living on island time. Is that you?
Table of contents
- Dauphin Island: A dog-friendly beach vacation in Alabama
- What can you expect on a Dauphin Island vacation?
- Where is Dauphin Island?
- Is Dauphin Island a good beach?
- Can you take dogs to Dauphin Island beaches?
- Can you stay on Dauphin Island?
- Are there restaurants on Dauphin Island?
- What things can you do on Dauphin Island?
- What else is Dauphin Island known for?
- If you’re planning a dog-friendly vacation to Dauphin Island
Dauphin Island: A dog-friendly beach vacation in Alabama
With our own family’s two dogs in mind, I had been intent on finding a dog-friendly beach in Alabama or along the Florida panhandle. The parameters were fairly simple. We needed a beach getaway where we could walk the dogs on the beach, find dog-friendly accommodations, and didn’t require boarding an airplane to get there. And the clincher? We needed a place to stay that welcomed not one but two dogs—and welcomed dogs that were over 20 pounds.
So I searched my heart out on Google, first looking at the Gulf Shores, Alabama area. Most of the search results were confusing. Which beaches were dog-friendly and which were not?
That’s when I came across Dauphin Island. With some more digging, I determined that Dauphin Island checked all our boxes: ✅ Within driving distance so we could bring the dogs ✅ Dog-friendly beach ✅ Dog-friendly accommodations. We’d found our island escape!
What can you expect on a Dauphin Island vacation?
After driving across the high-rise bridge over sparkling water and expansive marshes, we entered Dauphin Island, which has a population of around 1,200. As much as I’d researched, it wasn’t until experiencing Dauphin Island that I got a true feel for the small town, local feel of the island. It was a bit like stepping back in time to days before chain stores and mega souvenir shops.
In other words, the sleepy barrier island is not commercial. There is no CVS Pharmacy (or the likes) on any corner. Nor are there any chain restaurants lining the streets. Also, looking up and down the beach, you won’t see any high rise condos or chain hotels.
However, you will find miles of dog-friendly beaches, an abundance of nature, beautiful marshes, bird watching, and sunsets. In fact, Dauphin Island has been dubbed the “Sunset Capital of Alabama.”
On this tiny island that is less than two miles wide at its widest point , you will find a handful of locally-owned restaurants, homemade ice cream to enjoy after a day at the beach, and easy paved bike trails curving along beside a two-lane road. Whether oceanside or bayside, many beachfront houses on stilts dot the island’s shorelines.
Where is Dauphin Island?
Now that you have a feel for Dauphin Island’s vibe, you may be wondering where this island is situated. Dauphin Island is a barrier island located southwest of Mobile, Alabama, in the north-central Gulf of Mexico. Dauphin Island, the name for both the town and the island, gets less attention than its neighbor to the east, Gulf Shores, Alabama.
How far is Dauphin Island from Mobile and other nearby cities?
Dauphin Island is about 35 miles from the city of Mobile, Alabama. Also, since research studies say that travelers are driving an average of five hours to get to their vacation destinations, we compiled a list of some nearby cities that are within a five-hour drive from Dauphin Island:
- Mobile, Alabama: about 40 miles
- New Orleans, Louisiana: about 119 miles
- Birmingham, Alabama: about 290 miles
- Atlanta, Georgia: about 328 miles
- Memphis, Tennessee: about 357 miles
For the enthusiastic traveler who’s ready to road trip (especially to get to a beach that welcomes leashed dogs), here are a few major cities about a day or so’s drive from Dauphin Island:
- Nashville, Tennessee: about 480 miles
- Dallas, Texas: about 615 miles
- Kansas City, Missouri: about 870 miles
And, if you’re wondering what to pack for a driving trip with your dog, check out our comprehensive list of dog road trip essentials.
🚗 If you’re one of the 27% of pet parents who are planning to travel with their dogs, remember to allow plenty of extra time for potty breaks and stretch breaks for your four-legged besties. And never leave your dog unattended in the car. Our motto? Safety first and happiness will follow. 🐾
What is Dauphin Island like?
Based on our experience vacationing on Dauphin Island with dogs, I put together this summary of what Dauphin Island was more like and less like.
|What Dauphin Island is…||What Dauphin Island is not…|
|Dog-friendly||An off-leash dog beach|
|Wildlife||Night life, party hotspot|
|A few boutiques||Shopping mecca|
|A handful of restaurants, some with outdoor seating||Filled with restaurants|
|Quiet, Low-key, Relaxing||Touristy|
|Fishing, kayaking, bicycling||Loaded with attractions|
Is Dauphin Island a good beach?
As someone who is landlocked except for infrequent getaways to the ocean, every beach is a good beach. That said, the dogs and I would give Dauphin Island four paws up as a good beach. The sand was white, the beaches were pristine and stretched for miles, the water had an easy, sloping entrance (as you can see in the photo below), and there were other well-behaved dogs (on leash) sniffing all the sniffs. Ahhh…yes, a good beach.
While the water wasn’t crystal clear due to a number of rain storms while we were there, it was beautiful. Also, during our visit in May, we were happy that there were no jelly fish! This had been one of my concerns about walking dogs on the beach.
Can you take dogs to Dauphin Island beaches?
As I mentioned above, Dauphin Island is one of a few dog-friendly beaches that we could find in Alabama. Leashed dogs are allowed on Dauphin Island’s beaches except for the West End Beach Park, which is home to migratory birds.
The rules for bringing your furry family member to the beach are simple: Keep your dog on a leash, pick up after your dog, and be considerate of other beach goers. For more on Dauphin Island’s policies, please visit the townofdauphinisland.org .
Can you stay on Dauphin Island?
Dauphin Island is sprinkled with rentals, mostly beach homes, so you can definitely stay on the island along with the locals who’ve made it their home. Also, we saw a campground (dog-friendly), condos, hotels, and inns. Many of the dog-friendly beach houses have direct access to the beach. If you are looking for chain hotels, this may not be the island for you.
Are their dog-friendly places to stay on Dauphin Island?
Yes, along with a dog-friendly beach, there are many beach houses that accept (and welcome) dogs. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dog-friendly rentals there were to choose from. Plus, many have direct access to the beach. You can check AirBnB, VRBO, and local realty management companies for dog-friendly accommodations.
If you have a large dog or are traveling with two or more dogs and are searching online for a beach house or condo rentals, I’d suggest checking the “extra notes” section within the descriptions. Some rentals have pet policies that don’t allow dogs over a certain weight, or they may not allow more than one dog.
We stayed at a lovely dog-friendly beach house with a view of the ocean and just steps to the beach. We knew from the moment we stepped into the beach house that we’d found our home away from home because the welcome mat was a paw print design. The deck was even gated so dogs could roam it freely, but could not bound down the steps and out to the beach.
🦮 If you’re searching sites like AirBnB or VRBO for dog-friendly accommodations, I suggest checking the accommodation’s location. Even when I limited my search results to “Dauphin Island,” results included Dauphin Island rentals AND other locations that are not on a beach where dogs are permitted.
Are there restaurants on Dauphin Island?
There are handful of local restaurants, and a few have outdoor patios where dogs are welcome. Our favorite stops were Island Rainbow, Lighthouse Bakery, and the seafood market.
🦮 Like many small towns, restaurants may close a day or two a week so owners can get a day off, especially in the off-season. For the best experience, we suggest checking days and hours so you can plan accordingly.
The Lighthouse Bakery on Dauphin Island is a popular spot and has seating on the front porch for dogs and their people. The tiny bakery is known for its cinnamon rolls with an abundance of cinnamon. They didn’t disappoint!
🍥 When we visited, this little bakery was bustling! The wait in line was worth it!
After a day at the beach, you may want to cool off with homemade ice cream from Island Rainbow. Customers can order pizza, ice cream, or snow cones at the walk-up window and sit under a covered “front porch” that has picnic tables for seating.
While we were waiting for our pizza (which didn’t take long at all), one of the employees, a dog lover, stopped by to say hello to our dog and offered her a choice of a pup cup (whipped cream) or shaved ice. The person was so kind. It made an extra special memory for us.
In fact, we couldn’t resist a return trip to Island Rainbow for homemade ice cream for the humans! It did NOT disappoint!
Skinner’s Seafood Market: The best alternative to a restaurant
Skinner’s is a family-owned seafood market where you can order take-out “steamer pots” (your choice of steamed seafoods with potatoes and corn), seafood plates, or buy “off the ice” by the pound. You can call ahead to order your meal and then pick it up and take it back to where you’re staying. Especially after a day at the beach, this is an easy way to enjoy seafood.
🍤 Skinners may get busy about an hour before closing. I suggest ordering earlier in the day with a later pick up time. Your food will be ready for you!
What things can you do on Dauphin Island?
7 things you can do on Dauphin Island with your dog
- Watch the sun setting over the ocean.
- Go for walks along the beach.
- Fly kites on the beach.
- Go birdwatching. Or if you’re renting a beach house, watch the birds from your deck. (This was a favorite for our two dogs.)
- Visit a few boutiques. Don’t expect to find the mega souvenir shops like those popular in more touristy locations. Rather, you’ll find a handful of small boutiques. Our favorite was Blu Revival Surf Shop, which had adorable “all’s swell” surf apparel and beach clothing.
- Visit the Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary. It’s dog-friendly and includes many hiking trails. However, its biggest claim to fame is in its name. It is one of the top four spots in the U.S. to observe spring bird migrations.
- Build sand castles and take photos of your dog.
Plus, there is always time for fun and games to play with dogs.
7 more things you can do on Dauphin Island (not necessarily dog friendly)
Looking for more things to do? We didn’t do everything on this list, but hope to on a return visit!
- Visit The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab.
- Go fishing. From the pier, from the shore, from the bay, or from the deck of a chartered boat, fishing is popular.
- Bike along the paved trails. Sections of the bicycle trail were under water due to heavy rains while we were there, but bicycling is on our list for a future visit.
- Take the Mobile Bay Ferry. The 40-minute ferry ride across Mobile Bay connects Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan.
- History buff? Check out Fort Morgan, which is a ferry ride away from Dauphin Island.
- Rent kayaks or paddleboards.
- Look for seashells.
That said, if you’re looking for a go-go-go style vacation with blocks of bars, restaurants, attractions, and shopping, this tiny town that feels like a throwback to simpler times may not be for you.
When we were visiting, the beach was quiet—no planes flying across the skyline advertising drink specials or happy hours. There weren’t jet skis bumping over ocean waves.
In fact, the only boats we saw dotting the horizon were shrimp boats. Ahhh…relaxation.
What else is Dauphin Island known for?
Besides its sunsets, natural beauty, and growing recognition as a dog-friendly beach. what else is Dauphin Island known for? Dauphin Island was named one of the best places to own a beach home according to a recent survey by Vacasa, one of the largest property management companies in the U.S. The survey ranked Dauphin Island as the third best location to buy a beach house.
If you’re planning a dog-friendly vacation to Dauphin Island
Plan to relax, spend time with your dogs, walk on the beach, and relax some more. In this tiny gem among dog-friendly beaches, Dauphin Island will leave a happy pawprint impressed on your heart.