REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. -- When you're looking to get a dog, experts tell you to find one that fits your lifestyle. And when you take your dogs on vacation, you need to find a vacation that fits the dogs.
That's why, for about a dozen years now, my husband and I have spent a weekend or two each summer in Rehoboth Beach. We go back again and again in large part because our dogs like it.
And what's funny is, we like Rehoboth even though dogs are not allowed on the beach -- or even the boardwalk -- between May 1 and Sept. 30. In fact when my first pug, Lilly, was young, a police officer stopped us and told us we couldn't even carry her on the boardwalk.
But unlike a lot of visitors, we actually don't come here for swimming or sunbathing. Fortunately, our dogs have the same taste in leisure as we do. They're pugs, so they don't like the water. The ocean is just a pleasant backdrop for activities all four of us enjoy: shopping and eating out.
Rehoboth is the perfect place for this, a city of restaurants and shops extending out from the boardwalk that has lots of dog-friendly amenities. Many shops put out bowls of water for dogs and there are a number of restaurants that allow your dogs to sit with you at outdoor tables. In fact the range of dining options is one of the main features of Rehoboth that keeps us coming back.
Humans can choose from everything from fudge and french-fry stands to high-end chef-driven cuisine. One favorite is a place called Hobos (56 Baltimore Ave.) where the outdoor tables are sheltered from the weather, the drinks are fantastic, and they even offer a special doggie bowl of organic chicken and rice (although ours would rather share whatever we're having).
We also return for our annual fix of Kohr Bros. Frozen Custard, which conveniently has stands on both sides of Rehoboth Avenue so you don't even have to cross the street when you're struck with a craving. The dogs share bits of my husband's peanut-butter flavor, since I always get vanilla dipped in chocolate and chocolate is not good for dogs.
The pugs also have options they don't have to share, ranging from bowls of Milk-Bones set outside of shops to the fancy frosted cookies at a shop called Critter Beach (156 Rehoboth Ave.). In between meals and snacks, we stroll up and down Rehoboth Avenue and the side streets, where people stop to chat and pet the pugs while we window-shop. Some of the shops will let you bring your dog inside, and one that doesn't, Browseabout Bookstore (133 Rehoboth Ave.), has an outside window where dog owners can ring the bell and buy a coffee or cold drink, a great convenience for the dog-walker whose travel companion is sleeping in. The store also gives out dog treats at the window and has a bowl of water outside.
There are also a couple of places where you can rent a surrey (a four-wheel pedal bike) for about $20 an hour, and they won't even laugh if you put your dogs in the front basket.
Another nice thing about Rehoboth Beach is that there are some civilized lodging options for people with well-behaved dogs so you aren't stuck with the sort of crummy motel where dogs are allowed because anything goes. This year we stayed at the Bewitched & BEDazzled B & B, immaculately clean and amusingly decorated in the theme of the old "Bewitched" TV show. The nice deck out back is gated so you don't have to hang on to your leash while you're lounging on the patio furniture, and if your own dog is too big for a lap, one of the owner's little cavachons (a cross between bichon frises and cavalier King Charles spaniels) will be pleased to help out. Another place we've stayed is the Canalside Inn, on a quiet street a bit farther from the beach.
We also usually take a ride to a couple of neighboring towns with shopping districts that are smaller, but share the crucial trait of having a fancy dog shop. Bethany Beach is a nice drive south along a part of Route 1 with water and beach-shrubbery views. There, we visited Yuppy Puppy (123 Garfield Parkway) for "boardwalk pizza"-flavored dog biscuits made in nearby Fenwick Island. The rest of the crew tolerates my visit to Japanesque (16 Pennsylvania Ave.), an Asian-themed gift shop, since they can wait on a shaded porch outside. An admittedly less pleasant drive north through the outlets and strip malls is the charming town of Lewes, with historic buildings and another nice shop, Pups of Lewes (117 Second St.).
If your dogs do want to go to the beach, there's a patchwork of complicated rules regarding times, dates and specific locations in the towns and the state parks, but one close and easy option in Cape Henlopen State Park is Gordon's Pond, just a short drive from Rehoboth, where leashed dogs are permitted in certain areas.
While we don't care about the beach, we've often talked about going in a month when dogs are allowed on the boardwalk. But there's a problem: Our favorite croissant place is only open in tourist season. Someday we'll figure out if there's a perfect weekend when those two seasons overlap. So far, the croissants have always won out, and I think all four of us agree that's the right decision.