Warmth, Dog Beach & A Lighthouse – Jupiter, FL
We made it to our last stop of the year!
It’s always a strange feeling when we get to this point in our travels. We spend so much time planning and thinking about where we’re going to go for the year that when it’s all over it’s like “did that all really happen??” Perhaps it’s because I’m older that I just notice the passing of events so much faster, but this sure seems to have been a really, really fast year. Granted we managed a lot, so it was perhaps more packed-than-usual in terms of movement and sightseeing, but it was also packed with emotions and unexpected set-backs. What a year….
In any case here we were. It was the very end of Nov and when we hit the middle of Florida we passed yet another significant milestone.
Not only were we back to where we started the year having completed a full end-to-end circle of the East Coast, but we were also back in the heat! This wasn’t just the South with alligators and all that, this was the tropical South which is basically the South on heat steroids. Think heavy hot, sunny and humid conditions which are perhaps a smidgen lighter in winter, but nonetheless seem to linger all year long.
Compared to the freeze that most of our fellow Americans endure this time of year I can’t really complain too much, and as long as we’re parked close to the beach (and can catch a little ocean breeze) we really don’t mind it. But it still surprises me!
I swear we used to wear sweaters in South Florida during winter (in fact I’ve got pictures that prove it), but that just doesn’t seem to happen anymore? In the space of ~7 years Florida has gone from having mild, but definable winters to having all-year heat, or so it seems. Crazy!
Anyway, for our final drive down I-95 we wanted to try somewhere new. Last year we explored St. Augustine (wonderful town) and earlier this year we hit the Space Coast (geeky cool), so we followed the road a little further south and dropped our travel pin on Jupiter. The map showed a HUGE State Park located by the coast only a few miles from a lighthouse (always a bonus), and a little Google-digging revealed one of the biggest dog-friendly beaches in Florida just minutes away. We were sold!
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
We arrived on a warm morning into Jonathan Dickinson State Park (full review coming) and settled into our spacious north-facing site which we had carefully picked out to avoid that all-horrible sun-in-the-front-windshield Florida heat (facing North helps in heat, it really does!).
There are 2 camping areas in this park, and the “big rig” section is wonderfully new but located rather too close to Hwy 1 (why oh why build it so close?). Still, our site was comfortable, the noise from the highway only moderately annoying and our first impressions were really good. Jonathan Dickinson is a wonderfully large park that covers over 10,500 acres and it is a nature and outdoor-lovers paradise.
It was formerly a top-secret radar training school during WWII, but is now protected for both wildlife and recreation, and offers everything from extensive mountain-biking trails to hiking trails, nature tours, canoeing & cruising along the Loxahatchee River, and even horseback riding. There are over 13 different natural communities in the park and once you get away from Hwy 1 and on the trails it is both wonderfully quiet and isolated.
From our site we had direct access to the trails as well as a lovely sunset view over the trees. We were content!
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse
Our very first calling in the area was of course to see Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.
She’s a gorgeous lighthouse and a rather interesting feature in the area, mostly because she’s so darn big! The red brick tower stands 105-foot (32 m) tall and contains a beautiful first order Fresnel lens (the oldest 1st order lens in Florida!) that casts a light over 21 miles to sea. Standing as she does on the inlet she seems overly big for the area, but when she was originally lit in 1860 the off-shore waters were notoriously dangerous with sand bars and reefs, and the protected man-made canal that now graces the town had not been constructed. So she was built as a true warning lighthouse and not as a (typically much smaller) harbor or river light.
She’s a stupendous sight and one of the first things you notice as you cross the bridge into downtown. We took the tour early AM (to avoid the heat) and enjoyed both the 105 steps up the old tower as well as the sweeping views from the top. The gardens around the tower are protected and well-kept and there’s even an old house (the oldest in Jupiter) which you get to visit on the way back from the light. Beautiful light in a beautiful location!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10AM –5PM (May-Dec) and 7 Days a Week, 10AM–5PM (Jan-April). Last tour leaves 4PM daily. Tours cost $12 per adult, $6 for kids. This is a formal tour behind a gated entrance and unfortunately NO dogs are allowed on-site so leave pooch at home for this one. See more HERE.
Jupiter Dog Beach
The other big attraction for dedicated paw-travelers like ourselves was Jupiter Dog Beach.
When we came to Florida back in 2010 one of the first things I bemoaned was the restrictions on dogs on beaches. For a State with SO much coastline there are surprisingly few spots you can take your paws. Not a single State Park allows dogs on their beaches, nor do most towns (there are sometimes exceptions for locals) and the places that do allow dogs typically only do it on very small spots of sand or within very restrictive hours. So you’ve really gotta search to find good spots.
Thanks to my OCD nature I’ve managed to track down several great doggie beach spots in Florida over the years including up in the Panhandle (one of the nicest beach spots overall), around Miami (a surprisingly dog-friendly town), by Tampa (Fort De Soto) and even down by the Florida Keys (we found good paw-beach spots both in the North, Middle & Lower Keys).
During my research I’d come across Jupiter Dog Beach (arguably the most famous beach-doggie spot in the State), but we’d just never made it over here. It’s a lovely 2.5-mile stretch of sand located between crossovers 25-59 along A1A right next to downtown Jupiter and it is 100% off-leash dog-friendly 24-hours a day all year long. No restrictions, no hours and no fees…just pure unadulterated full-time doggie beach heaven!
Given the crazy heat we knew we needed to go super early for Polly to be comfortable, so we headed out to the beach right at sunrise, arriving an easy 15-mins after we left our RV site. We walked along the water enjoying the first rays of golden light on the sand while Polly ran and frolicked excitedly in the sand. She had a TOTAL blast, going rather more nuts than she probably should (we had a little limping later) but she SO enjoyed it.
4 paws up on this one!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Jupiter Dog Beach is open to well-behaved doggies any time of year or day. The dog area is limited to crossovers 25-59 along A1A (areas before and after this are off-limits to dogs). Easy parking is available for free alongside the road right by the beach. Get detailed driving directions HERE.
Jupiter Food Explorations
For the last part of our time in Jupiter we explored a few foodie outlets. Jupiter is a rather interesting foodie town in that its got a very nice marina (think upscale waterfront dining) as well as lots of cheap (and food-abundant) restaurants that cater to some of the University kids in the area (FAU has a campus nearby). So we did a bit of both and discovered a few gems:
Marina Dining (U-Tiki Beach Restaurant) – I can’t say this is the best meal we’ve ever had. I mean the food was certainly tasty and the cocktails were decent, but that wasn’t what made the experience a “wow” for us. No, what made it great was the location. This restaurant is right on the marina in full view of the lighthouse (whoo hooo)! It was an AWESOME place to have our last travel meal of the year, made all the better by a gorgeous sunset over a gorgeous lighthouse. We loved it.
Thai Food (Thai Lotus Restaurant) – There seems to be an incredible number of Thai restaurants in and around Jupiter and they all seem to rate well. Thai Lotus has a location just a few miles from the State Park which made it the perfect take-out locale for a lazy dinner. Good, abundant, tasty food for a reasonable price. We were happy.
PAW NOTES/ Unfortunately neither of the two restaurants we visited were dog-friendly (Thai Lotus in Tequesta did not have an outdoor seating area, and although U-Tiki did, their outdoor area did not allow them?!). However there are definitely options around town. See HERE and HERE.
And just like that my blog is caught up to real time! I’ve got a full park review coming (as usual), but there are no more outstanding travelogues left for 2017. We are currently in South Florida (well at least three of us are…I’m still in France) and we’ll be there for at least a few months while we figure out our next moves. My usual end of year reviews are coming (round-up of our travels, as well as the best campgrounds of the year), plus I have lots to share about our next year plans which, if they work out, are going to be unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It’s going to be good…