From Nashville to Asheville: A Dog-Friendly Road Trip
While traveling with their pooch in tow, this crew favored trips to the beach, hikes through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and plenty of patio time.
THE U.S. SOUTH — For us, summer is road trip season — and that includes our trusty Bernedoodle, Dill. As Midwesterners looking for city action, we pointed our car toward Nashville, Tennessee, home of live music, great shopping, and hot fried chicken. We stayed at The Dive Motel, a dog-friendly retro spot with great drinks, an on-site food truck, and disco pool party vibes. Our pup was perfectly pleased to nap while we took a few laps, thanks to the sleep button on the in-room Party Switch, a music panel that offers a curated playlist based on your mood. He thought the disco ball was pretty cool, too!
Nashville is a great town for exploring with your dog. We loved checking out 12 South, where all the boutiques were so pleased to have him stop in. (I came out of the Imogene + Willie dressing room to find a circle of adoring dog-lovers around my husband and pooch, cheering for tricks!) Patios abound in this brewery-filled town, and we thought the old factory held up by steel beams at Monday Night Brewing was one of the most unique outdoor beer garden experiences we’ve had. Breakfast spots are top-notch — we scarfed down the best breakfast sandwich of ALL time at Dozen Bakery, where our breezy sidewalk table made us feel more like we were in Venice, California, than in the heat of the South.
From Nashville, we made our way through scenic Tennessee to Chattanooga, where we came upon one of the best bizarre gems of our trip: Rock City Gardens. Perched atop Lookout Mountain in a neighborhood dotted with charming cottages, the entire nature experience is straight out of a fairytale. Literally: Paths have names like Peter Pan Road and Red Riding Hood Trail. Rock City itself is quite what it sounds like: a series of winding trails over rocky crags and stone bridges, with sheer cliffs, waterfalls, a suspension bridge, and remarkable views. It’s $30 to enter on weekends, and it was absolutely worth every penny for a wonderful dog-friendly pit stop that we’ll remember forever.
After stretching our legs, the drive through Georgia to Atlanta went by in a flash. There are lots of shaded patio options in this city. We enjoyed pimento cheese fried green tomatoes and ice-cold Arnold Palmers under the cozy canopy at Sun in My Belly. Bellies full, we made our way to Piedmont Park, an expansive 185 acres of green space with skyline views and shaded spots. At the edge of the park is the BeltLine, one of my favorite things in ATL. Lined with colorful murals, the 33-mile path connects areas of the city with a pedestrian-friendly trail that has more great patios along the way. After lots of walking, we took a break at Ponce City Market to grab some grub and enjoy the many seated areas. We ended our day at Big Softie in Summer Hill with waffle cones piled high with twisty, luscious vanilla-bean soft serve (is there a more nostalgic summer treat?) and creative toppings like candied corn flakes. Too fancy for a pup cone? We think not!
Next up on our tour was Charleston, South Carolina. If walking your dog is your favorite activity, I can think of no more scenic spot to do so than the cobblestone roads of this charming town. Our dog-friendly hotel on this stop was the darling Emeline, which felt like a perfect extension of the colorful yet muted tones of the city. Our Collector’s Suite had plenty of space to spread out, a welcome treat after 1,300 miles spent in our car — complete with a green velvet couch, mid-century modern dining table, and old-school vinyl turntable and records. And the spacious shower was a sigh of relief after our dog’s first-ever visit to the ocean at Isle of Palms Beach (be sure to research when and where dogs are allowed.)
Sightseeing and gawking at the gardens of the historic homes in the Battery took up most of our trip, but of course we fit in fresh seafood, too. Our hotel room view of the twinkle lights on the patio at Frannie & The Fox beckoned us down for a delightful happy hour featuring crispy arancini and ice cold rosé. We loved Leon’s for oysters on the patio and a couple of frozen gin-and-tonics. For dinner, Chubby Fish was a terrific meal that felt like a true neighborhood experience: We feasted on caviar sliders, tuna crudo, and garlic shrimp at the communal table, and left with a farewell hug from our new friends. We had a remarkably inventive cocktail featuring fresh dill (in a sweet nod to our pup) served by the hospitable and dog-loving team at The Gin Joint.
For the final leg of our trip, we trekked northwest, to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the most dog-friendly city in America: Asheville, North Carolina. It lived up to its reputation and required the least research of all. In short, dogs were allowed pretty much everywhere in this walkable town. We enjoyed beer tastings with pickle pairings on the patio at Wicked Weed Brewing, and dinner at Catawba Brewing, where Harvest Pizzeria hand-delivered us a hot pie from across the street. Tacos by the river at White Duck were another highlight, washed down with more frozen drinks (this time, frozen cherry colas with bourbon, apparently a classic Southern treat that I now adore). About an hour outside of town, a hike at Crabtree Falls gave our pup the chance to splash around in cold water, and us the opportunity to take in the jaw-dropping views along the winding Blue Ridge Scenic Byway.
Back the Way We Came
There’s no way to burst your vacation bubble like hauling back 13 hours in one day with your pup, so we opted to stay at the Urban Cowboy outpost back in Nashville, which was by far our most luxe dog-friendly experience. The folks at this boutique hotel are true dog lovers: Our pup got to hang in the bar, wander around the living room, and even post up with us for a nightcap and live jazz in the parlor. In the backyard, we hung out at Public House (open to the public and to pups), where we sat in the company of locals enjoying martinis, reading their books, and socializing — all with their dogs in tow. And with a Roberta’s pizza pop-up, our dog ended the trip with his favorite treat of all: pizza crust, a.k.a. “pizza bones.” Nothing like a hot slice followed by a hot bubble bath to prepare you for a long journey home. All in all, the perfect place to recharge before wrapping up 2,400 miles on the road.
Tips for Traveling with Your Dog
Chat with your vet before you hit the road. Our pup loves to ride in the car, but we got a prescription for an anxiety medication just in case. We didn’t end up needing it, but it's good to have on hand — especially if it's your pet's first long-haul trip.
Check each hotel's pet policies. Some places require you not to leave your pup unattended in your room, and others have a non-refundable pet fee. But the hang-ups are worth it to travel with your best buddy!
Map it out. Your dog will need bathroom breaks just like humans, so you might as well make the pit stops scenic. Planning ahead helped us find awesome little gems like Rock City in Chattanooga — and avoid long stretches of highway without a rest stop. Same goes for hikes: Research which trails and parks allow dogs to come along for the ride.
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