People from all over the world are enticed to visit Pensacola’s pristine sugar-white beaches, but many find themselves captivated by its history, culture, and diverse heritage.
A small city, Pensacola has built a reputation as one of Florida’s special places to visit. Mature travelers will find a variety of activities perfect for them. Museums, gorgeous beaches, water sports, a ballet, and a symphony orchestra are just a few highlights.
Pensacola is unique in that it is in a different time zone than the rest of Florida. Much of its cuisine and culture are tied to the Deep South. It has existed under five different flags, each engraving its signature flair into the city’s cuisine, architecture, and local attractions.
It is a given you will enjoy the beach when you visit, but there is so much more to Pensacola. Here are just a few things you should be sure not to miss on your next visit.
Visit Pensacola hosted my stay and activities in Pensacola. All opinions are my own.
1. National Naval Aviation Museum
The world’s largest naval aviation museum is a must-see when visiting Pensacola. Home to over 150 classic combat aircraft from both World Wars, the National Naval Aviation Museum houses planes that have been carefully restored and lovingly brought back to mint condition.
Along with their pilots, the planes helped shape our nation’s history. Many of the aircrafts are the only ones still in existence.
Combat comes alive in the museum by engaging all your senses.
I loved this museum because it was as much about the people who designed, built, repaired, tested, and flew them during combat as it was about the aircraft.
Several graduations were being held for students in their pilot training program when we visited. It was fun to watch their excitement.
Pro Tip: Take your camera! There are several spots for great photos and many planes you might want to remember in pictures.
2. The Blue Angels
The Navy’s Blue Angels consider the Pensacola Naval Air Station to be home. The Blue Angels were formed “to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.”
Since their formation in 1946, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squad, made up of top Navy and Marine pilots, performs complex flight maneuvers in exhibitions. You can watch them fly the blue and gold F/A-18 Hornets in tight formations over the water and the city as they practice from March to November.
Pilots serve 2–3 years with the Blues. The team is comprised of more than 100 enlisted Marines and sailors plus 16 officers.
If you are lucky, you will get to see them practicing or putting on a show when you visit.
3. Pensacola Lighthouse And Maritime Museum
You will enjoy an absolutely stunning view from the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse. You can see all of Pensacola Bay and the sparkling waves stretching to the horizon. When we visited, we climbed the 177 steps to the top on a very windy day, but the view was worthwhile.
This tower has been lighting the way with its beacon for mariners since the 1800s. A fun tidbit of knowledge is that the Pensacola lighthouse was once part of a ship. “Lightships” were used to travel around the islands of Pensacola. This one was removed and transported to its present location.
The Maritime Museum has fascinating displays related to illumination and the U.S. Coast Guard history. There is also a gift shop with fun souvenirs.
Pro Tip: There is no elevator, so you should have the stamina to walk up the steps and have good balance. Wear comfortable flat or wedge-type shoes with backs on them. Heels will be a problem.
4. Gulf Islands National Seashore
If you love an uncrowded beach with miles of fine-white sand sparkling in the sun, you will love the Gulf Islands National Seashore. It stretches from the Florida Panhandle into Alabama and Mississippi for 160 miles. You can enjoy the turquoise water and tropical breezes as you walk along the beach.
You will find trails and uncrowded campgrounds, kayak rentals, pristine beaches, historic forts, and plenty of unique wildlife along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing are the most popular activities in this beautiful tropical paradise.
Pro Tip: There is an entrance fee per car; it provides repeat entrance for 7 days. If you have the National Park Pass, you get in for free.
5. Fort Pickens
The most interesting military establishment in Pensacola, Fort Pickens, is a massive pre-Civil War brick fortress that once housed Union troops and the famous Apache leader Geronimo. Fort Pickens isn’t the only military establishment in Pensacola, but it’s one you won’t want to miss.
It is a beautiful drive to get to Fort Pickens, which is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore.
Walking the corridors of the fort is a great way to learn about history. Abandoned years ago, the facilities have not been updated, so you see exactly what things were like when this fortress was used.
Park rangers offer free tours to explain the significance of the cannons and other equipment.
Pro Tip: There are many terrific photo opportunities as you drive to and from the fort as well as when you visit. Be sure you have your camera with you.
6. Palafox Street
Downtown Pensacola has a variety of shops, galleries, coffeehouses, restaurants, and markets connected by Palafox Street. Considered one of America’s top ten streets, Palafox Street is a bustling tourist attraction that is usually busy, and there is almost always something new and exciting to try.
I highly recommend a stop at Bodacious Brew. A full-service espresso bar featuring gourmet coffee and tea from around the world.
If you are interested in an evening drink, stop at the Old Hickory Whiskey Bar. It is named after the seventh U.S. President, Andrew Jackson. Jackson was the first territorial governor of Florida.
Old Hickory features over 600 types of whiskeys and creates some amazing cocktails.
7. Seville Quarter
If you are looking for a place to liven up your evening, head to Seville Quarter. Located in downtown Pensacola, it is a lively mix of dancehall, club, and bar.
There are seven bars within the building, and each offers something different.
You will find dueling pianos, jazz shows, dance floors, restaurants, etc. You will often hear up-and-coming musicians showcasing their stuff on stage at Seville.
Seville Quarter is one of the premier nightlife spots in the city, and everything is under one roof.
8. Historic Pensacola Village
Just a few blocks from Pensacola Bay, you can step back in time and visit the Historic Pensacola Village. The village sits on 8.5 acres and includes the Pensacola Museum of History, the Pensacola Museum of Art, the Museum of Commerce, Outdoor Kitchen, Dorr House, and more.
Your tour begins at the Tivoli High House, an old-fashioned, two-story visitor center where you can purchase tickets and obtain information.
One of my favorite stops was the Old Christ Church. It is the oldest church in Florida, still standing at its original location.
As you experience the various sites, you have an opportunity to interact with Colonial period-dressed history interpreters. You will see Mediterranean Revival, Renaissance Revival, Greek Revival, Classical Revival, French Creole, and Folk Victorian architecture styles.
All the buildings included are within walking distance of each other. You can purchase a pass for entry into the entire Historic Pensacola Village. Most are self-guided tours. A few have guided tours only and require reservations and time-ticketed access.
Pro Tip: If you desire to see the ticketed tours, be sure to make the reservations at the beginning of your visit to plan your stops according to your tours.
9. Perdido Key
Nothing is better than feeling the soft sugar-white sand on your toes. There are stretches of untouched coastline with clean water and fresh air. It is an excellent place to watch for shorebirds and sea turtles.
Perdido Key is one of the nesting spots for sea turtles. They nest annually in their natural habitat, and it is crucial to look but not disturb the turtles.
Perdido Key is often described as the “Lost Island.” Perdido means “lost” in Spanish. In the past, the water shifted the sands during hurricanes, and you couldn’t see the island. Now it is a premier beach island.
When we visited Perdido Key, it was a bit windy, but the beach was beautiful, and we stayed to watch an amazing sunset.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses. The sand is so sparkling white from the quartz it creates a glare.
Flora-Bama is a destination in itself. The honky tonk/hangout/restaurant/gift shop is an iconic hotspot. Sitting right on the beach, on the border between Florida and Alabama, is the world-famous Flora-Bama Lounge. There is live music every day at multiple venues on the property.
Flora-Bama is home to the annual Mullet Toss every April, when 40,000 visitors throw fish across the state line. They also host other popular events throughout the year. It is just a fun place you have to visit at least once.
Pro Tip: Flora-Bama is massive! Plan to spend a little time just looking around. Eat at the dining area on the beach, on the deck, or inside the air conditioning overlooking the ocean.
11. Pensacola Beach
A haven for fun and relaxation, Pensacola Beach is located on Santa Rosa Island. There is something for almost everyone on the beaches. Fishing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, parasailing, boating, surfing dolphin tours, birdwatching, and sunbathing are activities visitors can enjoy. Plus, there are hiking and golfing opportunities nearby.
There is much to do in Pensacola, and I’ve just touched the surface of all the fun activities. While there are many great vacation destinations, Pensacola should be at the top of the 50+ travelers list. From the miles of shoreline to the fine dining to the downtown and historic village, there is much to enjoy.
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