Visiting Pensacola - What to See and Do
(Pensacola International Airport PNS, USA)
Travelers in search of all the best elements of Florida
, without much of the tourist hype and congestion, would do well to seek out Pensacola
. The City of Five Flags has a rich history incorporating Spanish, French, British and American elements. The diversity of the city can be seen in the architecture of its downtown core, which has recently undergone a thorough revitalization effort.
The century-old buildings of downtown Pensacola contain the best atmosphere in the city. This is the place to go for dining, shopping, entertainment and general attractions. History buffs can explore Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas, while aviation fans will be happy to learn that the US Navy Blue Angels are stationed at the nearby naval base.
If this isn't enough, then the powdery white beaches outside of the city are sure to seal the deal. The Gulf Islands National Seashore begins here, offering all the coastal nature that you could possibly ask for. There are also plenty of developed beaches to enjoy like Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and other Gulf Shore resort towns.
Ten things you must do in Pensacola
- The city's appealing historic districts are its greatest asset. There are several, each with its own unique heritage, but all are worth a thorough exploration. The Palafox Historic District is home to a concentration of amazing Spanish Renaissance style buildings, including iconic architectural attractions like the 1902 Theisen Building and the 1925 Saenger Theater. For 50 square blocks north of Palafox, the North Hill Preservation District offers even more striking atmosphere to enjoy.
- Catch a performance of the city's symphony orchestra or opera company at the historic Saenger Theater. This outstanding example of Spanish baroque architecture is reason enough to plan a visit, but the local performing arts troupes are also very talented.
- Fort Barrancas is one of Pensacola's two historic forts built by the Spanish in the late 1700s and added onto by the Americans in the early 1800s. Barrancas is particularly notable because it is been perfectly restored. It is free to enter and adds a great element to a day of nature at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
- The hub of nightlife in Pensacola is firmly anchored in the historic Seville Quarter. The atmosphere is akin to New Orleans' Bourbon Street, with old-style bars on every corner featuring second-floor balconies and lovely architecture. There is a bar (and restaurant) for every taste in the Seville Quarter, and every night is as busy as the last.
- The golf courses around Pensacola are some of the prettiest in Florida. Within an hour's drive of the city you can choose from over a dozen beautiful 18-hole courses, including highly ranked courses like the Marcus Pointe and the Lost Key Golf Club. Most courses in the area are open to the general public, and the fees are surprisingly low.
- The Historic Pensacola Village is the highlight of this city's cultural offerings. Like a living museum, this original district has been protected and restored to its original shape. The guided 90-minute walking tour is essential to get an in-depth look into the stories behind the architecture, which resembles that of an English village but with Spanish style. Afterwards you can wander around on your own for a closer look.
- The National Museum of Naval Aviation is a major attraction in this region of Florida. This is where the US Navy and Marines have been training for over a century, and visitors can learn about the colorful history of their heroics, training and weaponry. More than 100 aircraft are parked inside the museum, and top attractions like the jet simulator and combat simulator are incredibly exciting. There is also an IMAX theater onsite delivering a gut-churning series of films on flying and combat.
- Just offshore of Pensacola is Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island serving as the main vacation spot in the region. Its beautiful beaches stretch for some 47 miles / 76 km eastwards and include popular hangouts like Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. The town on Santa Rosa is small, but has everything needed for a great beach vacation. Surrounding it is the Gulf Islands National Seashore, with all of its protected wildlife and natural scenery.
- A good way to learn more about the different cultures that have lived here over the centuries is to visit the Pensacola Historical Museum. Located in the 1882 Arbona Building, you will only need an hour to check out the whole place. There are some decent exhibitions, and the ongoing archaeological dig across the street has informational signs and a trendy boardwalk to let you see what is being uncovered from the Spanish colonial era.
- The fishing around the city is some of the best in Florida. There are many ways to try your luck in the water, with the Pensacola Beach Gulf Fishing Pier being a firm favorite. It is the longest pier on the Gulf Coast, stretching over 448 meters / 1,470 feet out to sea and fully set up to accommodate fishermen. There are also many deep-sea fishing charters based here that can take you out to fish for red snapper, tuna, billfish and many other species native to the Panhandle.