Connecticut inspires thoughts of quintessential New England charm and the Ivy League, but this state also boasts roughly 12 beaches and dozens of fun swimming holes, many of which are dog-friendly. Several of the swimming holes are tucked away inside national waterfront parks, hemmed on all sides by lush woods and green hills, and are situated just a short drive from plenty of beautiful Connecticut vacation rentals. Take your pick of beaches that require leashes for pets or shores that have off-leash areas. In between day trips with your four-legged bestie, explore farm country or one of several legendary urban centers like Hartford or Bridgeport. To get you started with your itinerary, here’s our list of the five top dog-friendly beaches in Connecticut.

1. Compo Beach

Located in Westport, Compo Beach is at the heart of a 29-acre park, spanning Long Island Sound and bordering the Saugatuck River. Your dog is welcome in the park and on the beach from October to March. Leashes are a requirement, but there is a designated off-leash spot on the beach. Posted signs confirm the exact location. Locals say the northern end of the beach is typically less crowded on any given day. There are benches on the actual beach, in case you need a pleasant sit-down while your dog frolics.

There are concessions, dining areas, and restrooms inside the park, and you must also remove your dog’s waste. Ned Dimes Marina, adjacent to Combo Beach, is also pet-friendly and hosts pet fundraisers annually. Feel free to stroll the grounds in and around the marina, but remember to keep your dog leashed. Heads up: Connecticut has no statewide leash law, but leashed dogs are the norm unless you hear otherwise.

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2. Hammonasset Beach State Park

This Madison, Connecticut, state park occupies two miles of beach property on Long Island Sound. If you’re considering Connecticut vacation rentals in Madison specifically, this state park is a major perk. The park allows leashed dogs in all areas year-round, including picnic areas, nature trails, bike paths, and ball fields. The only exception is the beach, where leashed dogs are welcome between November and April. Locals rave about visiting the beach with their dogs in the off-season when the park is virtually uninhabited, peaceful, and friendly.

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3. Jennings Dog Beach

Open to dogs and their two-legged buddies between October and March, Jennings Dog Beach in Fairfield is the only off-leash dog beach in the entire city. This is central to the beach’s allure and its enjoyability. People come from neighboring areas and cities just to socialize their dogs and to meet other dog lovers in a non-aggressive, dog-friendly, off-leash beach environment. The beach itself encompasses 27 acres, the largest in Fairfield. There are restrooms and concession areas for your convenience.

If you and your dog want to catch some waves without getting wet, swing by the Town Marina, located within the beach environs. The Town Marina welcomes dogs, so renting a boat for an afternoon excursion on the water is an option. There’s also a Jennings dog park near the beach, with chain-link fences separating areas for large and small dogs. The off-season is very casual and uncrowded, and the city permits leashed dogs in the large green Ash Creek Open Space. Parking and admission are free in the dog-friendly off-season.

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4. Mixville Recreation Area

Located in Cheshire, this lightly wooded recreation area sits next to a large fishing and swimming pond, and the entire area is dog-friendly. The dog-friendly swimming area in the pond is segregated for safety reasons. Mixville is open to the public and dogs all year long, and parking is free in the off-season. There are parking fees during summer, and you’re required to purchase parking passes. There are common areas where your dog must be leashed at all times, including two pavilions and several picnic areas.

To dry off after swimming or to work up an appetite, stroll the plethora of easy trails that wind through the area’s otherworldly woods. Then swing by one of Cheshire’s handful of pet-friendly restaurants, such as Biagio’s Osteria and the Watch Factory.

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5. Bluff Point State Park

Bluff Point in Groton is open year-round from morning until sunset. Parking is free, and leashed dogs are welcome from October until March. The park is a whopping 800 acres in total, with tons of boating, saltwater fishing, and hiking. Speaking of hiking, the park’s main trail leads to the bluff that overlooks the sound, with views of the water all along the way.

The beach frames part of the sound along the Connecticut coastline, and there’s direct access from the beach to side paths and picturesque, undeveloped land on a wooded peninsula. Thanks to the sparse woods, there are many shady spots for relaxation and cooling down. It’s quite extraordinary, and locals say their dogs can’t get enough of this playground. Connecticut vacation rentals in Groton have the added advantage of the city’s overall pet-friendly atmosphere, with amenities and many downtown restaurants catering to dog lovers, such as Anthony J’s Bistro and Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream.

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