What to do in Pensacola, Florida
What to do in Pensacola, Florida
A Guide by Alexis Craft
A Guide to Pensacola, Florida
Along the Gulf of Mexico lie numerous beautiful beach towns, but one, in particular, has my heart: Pensacola is the place that I call home, but it is also known for its white sand beaches, the City of Five Flags, the Blue Angels, and now its small but growing city life. It may not be as popular as Miami Beach, but no two Florida beaches are alike, and they each have something different to offer. So, if you’re bored with the bustling city life or you just want to relax at a local and less-touristy area, I highly recommend Pensacola! It’s a great place for families, friends, and solo trips if you ever want to explore a new place. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with the place, just like I have all my life! So, here are my recommendations if you plan on visiting:
1. Explore Pensacola Beach
No stay in Pensacola is complete if you don’t go to the beach. Whether you want to relax on the sand or explore the clear blue water with a kayak, you’re up for an adventure! Along the 8 miles of its coast, you can watch the sunrise or sunset (trust me, pictures don’t do it justice), go fishing along the pier or on the beach, rent a paddleboard/jet ski/kayak, go parasailing, or just tan on a beach chair. You can also explore the two sides of the beach, the Gulf of Mexico side and the Sound side. If you want the full ocean experience (waves, open ocean, and more sea creature encounters), the Gulf side is for you. It is my personal favorite, but if you want to walk along a boardwalk, and float in semi-still waters, the Sound may be best for you! Also, if you have a dog who wants to explore a new place with you, we do have 2 marked dog beaches!
Once you get tired and hungry, you can relax on/off the beach at these iconic restaurants: Crabs, Peg Leg Pete’s, Flounders, Red Fish Blue Fish, Casino Beach Bar and Grille. There’s no need to wear shoes or shirts at these restaurants, so come visit in full beach attire! Also, if you’re in the mood for some booze, you need to get a Bushwacker from the Sandshaker Lounge! It’s the beach’s’ most popular drink, and it is sold at a few of the bars, but the original is definitely the best.
If you’re not one to get seasick, book a morning going deep sea fishing! It doesn’t matter whether you are a first-time fisherman or an expert angler, because the waters around Pensacola Beach offer plenty of fishing opportunities. The necessary equipment is provided, plus you’ll learn a lot from the experienced captain and crew. You can have the full fishing experience, even if you’re not up for a few hours out in the ocean: At Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier you can rent a pole and get the necessary equipment and still have a good time.
If you’re a bit of a history buff or just want to explore a fort on the beach, I highly recommend Fort Pickens! It is located on the west side of the beach and offers lots of things to do! Visitors can take a self-guided tour of this Civil War fort, which was later used as a jail to hold the infamous American Indian chief Geronimo. Also, the fort offers the opportunity to go wildlife viewing! Plus, it’s fun to walk around and on top of the fort and get a different view of Pensacola Beach.
EVENT: Bands on the Beach
Bands on the Beach is Pensacola Beach’s’ popular outdoor summer concert series. If you’re planning on visiting during the summer, the lineup of performers is sure to please every musical taste. So, bring a lawn chair or a towel and head to the Gulfside Pavilion for great tunes and a great time. Check visitpensacolabeach.com for the days and times that specific bands are playing. It begins the first Tuesday in April and ends the last Tuesday in October!
2. Take a tour of Pensacola
If you’re ever bored, take a tour of Pensacola! We have A LOT of them. Some don’t even make sense, but hey, a tour is a tour, and you will leave with learning something new. Check out these local tours:
- Historic Pensacola Tour: The Historic Pensacola Tour happens downtown, and you can get a ticket to participate in guided and self-guided tours of historic homes. This allows you to interact with period-dressed living history interpreters and learn about Pensacola’s long history. A ticket is $8, and you have a whole week to explore the museums and tours along the way.
- Pub Tour: We have 2 types of pub tours: walking or on a Pedal Trolley. But trust me, the Pedal Trolley is 100x more fun and efficient. Bring 15 friends or just a few and let a trained driver steer you around downtown with plenty of stops where you can try locally-made drinks.
- Segway Tours: We have a few Segway tours throughout Downtown Pensacola. Most are by Emerald Coast Tours, and they are extremely informative. You can rent a Segway be shown the most popular places of Downtown Pensacola, go on a historical Segway tour, and go on a wine and glide tour. But, I personally recommend the Pensacola Haunted Nighttime Segway Tour. You get to wear a helmet with a light, ride around on a Segway at night, and hear about the ghost stories of Pensacola. I went on it and wasn’t scared at all, more scared of hitting a bump on my Segway at night, but it is lots of fun if you want something different! Plus, who doesn’t love a Segway ride!
- Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum: Climb 177 steps up the historic Pensacola Lighthouse for one of the most beautiful views on the Gulf Coast. The lighthouse offers climbing tours throughout the day and haunted ghost tours at night. Some believe its haunted and some don’t, wouldn’t you like to find out?
- National Naval Aviation Museum: This military and aerospace museum is located at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and features aircrafts and exhibits, a giant screen theatre, flight simulators, a virtual flight deck, and more! If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a Blue Angels show or practice while you visit! The Blue Angels is the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration squadron, and though I don’t generally get excited about watching planes fly, I do thoroughly enjoy watching the Blues put on a show.
EVENT: Blue Angels Show
Check the Naval Aviation Museum’s schedule to see if you will be able to catch a Blue’s show! The practices last about 55 minutes, and admission is free and open to the public. If you visit around mid-July, you can even go to Pensacola Beach Air Show on the beach! You will probably never see a beach so crowded, and traffic gets bad around 8am, but seeing the Blue Angels fly on the beach is an unforgettable experience.
3. Explore Downtown
Downtown Pensacola has experienced an economic boom over the past few years. With new shops and buildings popping up every couple of months, the amount/time that the city has invested in reinventing the downtown area is incredible. Here’s a few things to do and a few local spots to check out:
- Grab A Coffee – If you’re in need a caffeine boost, check out Bodacious Brew, Fosko Coffee Bar, and Constant Coffee and Tea. Fosko’s is my favorite because they’re right in the middle of downtown, they serve crepes, and they have a very homey ambiance.
- Restaurants – Almost every restaurant in Downtown Pensacola is local and extremely good, so I kind of recommend every one. But if you want a vegan meal, check out End of the Line cafe!
- Catch a Play – Pensacola Little Theatre and Saenger Theatre are the places to be to watch a play. They have their performances and schedules online, and you should be able to buy a ticket online or walk up and buy a ticket if the play isn’t too popular!
- Hang out at the Palafox Pier: Get an ice cream and watch the sunset on a bench or eat at Jaco’s - either is a great way to be by the water without having to deal with the sand everywhere.
- Bars: One of my favorite bars in downtown is Seville Quarter. It has 8 rooms of fun and is open 7 days a week! Between the Billiard Parlor, the Dueling Pianos, the Palace Café, and the dance/club area, it offers a variety of fun for everyone. Other bars such as O’Riley’s Irish Pub, Old Hickory Whiskey Bar, and 5 ½ Bar are also extremely popular. But if you’re looking for a hole-in-the-wall place that has bands come and perform, I recommend Chizuko! This dive bar has vegan and vegetarian snacks, sick music, and an overall mysterious vibe.
- PMA- Pensacola Museum of Art is the only art museum in Pensacola and has rotating exhibits, fun art classes, and tours throughout the museum. It is a bit smaller than most museums, but it is definitely worth checking out if you want a change in scenery!
- Grafitti Bridge- If you’re feeling artistic, buy some spray paint and go decorate Graffiti Bridge downtown! According to the site, it has been decorated since 1935 and has become an iconic spot for locals and tourists to visit. Sometimes it gets completely repainted for holidays and tributes, but it usually looks like a collage of messages and artwork. So feel free to tag the wall and have your art live on in Pensacola.
EVENT: Gallery Night
Each month on one set Friday evening, the streets of Historic Downtown Pensacola come alive for Gallery Night. The majority of the galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars open their doors to visitors and locals who come downtown to enjoy music, art and cuisine. The streets are blocked off so you can catch a live band performing, shop at local artists’ booths, and grab a bite to eat from one of the local vendors. This is the perfect chance to see the downtown sector at night and check out Pensacola’s thriving art scene.
4. Visit a park
Pensacola has a mix of different ecosystems nearby and within its city limits. So, whether you want to walk on a beach, take a small trek through the woods, swim at the beach, or float down a creek, we have the whole variety to fit almost anyone’s needs. Check out our most popular parks and what makes them special:
- Bay Bluffs Park – If you want to experience a small nature preserve along a scenic highway of Pensacola, Bay Bluffs is for you. It’s perfect for an afternoon and it has walking paths throughout the woods, pavilions for picnics, and more! Plus, if you walk all the way down the steps, you will be able to walk onto the beach and have a more secluded and serene experience.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore – This is the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. There are 35 miles of trails throughout the seashore that allow you to hike and explore another side of Pensacola! The seashore stretches along the coast, but 7.5 miles of the trail are within the Naval Live Oaks Area which is perfect for a morning/afternoon hike!
- Big Lagoon State Park – Located near Perdido Key, Big Lagoon is a coastal park that sits on the northern shoreline of… you guessed it: Big Lagoon, which separates the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Blackwater River State Park – This park is located in Milton, FL, which is about an hour away from Pensacola, but hanging out at Blackwater River is a great experience! It is considered one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the world and checking out this area gives you a feel of what Southern Lifestyle is all about. Plus, there are rental companies along the river that allow you to canoe, kayak, or tube down the river. If you have a day to waste and don’t mind getting wet, check out the rental companies and go on an adventure! There are trips suited for each person, depending on the amount time you want to spend on the river. There’s even an overnight trip if you want to camp on a riverbank underneath the stars, just don’t forget your bug spray! And if you like zip lining, check out Adventure’s Unlimited, which lets you zip line over the river and throughout the woods!
5. Honorable Mention: The Florabama Mullet Toss
The Mullet Toss is one of the biggest beach parties on the coast. And even though it is not located in Pensacola, it is a really big deal along the Florida and Alabama coast. For it is a celebration where you get to throw a dead mullet over the Florida and Alabama state line and see who throws it the farthest. And no, I am not talking about that type of mullet, as if we were throwing the scalp of a 1980s guitarist, but a mullet, which is a type of fish. Yes, we really do celebrate people throwing dead fish across a state line and I am not going to lie, it is pretty fun. It lasts 3 days during a weekend in Spring and costs $15, but you get a souvenir t-shirt and a portion of the proceeds benefits local charities! It’s a great way to check out Florabama, drink on the beach, listen to great music, see local celebrities fail at throwing fish, and throw a fish yourself!
Though I complain about Pensacola having nothing to do a lot, it definitely has enough events to fill up a vacationer’s schedule. Though laidback, I believe it is enough to break away from someone’s normal routine and explore a new and growing area. It’s cute, charming and full of character. So, who wants to visit?
Like it? Pin it!
We are a team of four feminist travelers coming together from different parts of the world to share with you what we have learned from traveling, living, loving, and exploring all over the world. Join us and tell your story about female solo travel, relationships, mental health, city guides, or whatever else comes to your mind.