Fun Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola, Florida boasts sugar-white sand beaches found few places in the world. Although the US has plenty of beaches, Pensacola is a beach town with rich history and several fun things to do that don't involve getting sand out of hard-to-reach places.

Entrance to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

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Naval Air Station

Pensacola's Naval Air Station (NAS) is famous for several reasons, including that it was the military training grounds of Senator John McCain, and home of the world-famous Blue Angels.

One thing that my family loves about the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS is that admission is free. That's right- free parking, free admission and free tours. Sure, you can shell out a few extra bucks (currently $8.25-$8.75 per person) to view the "Magic of Flight" movie in the IMAX theater (and while the movie narrated by Tom Selleck) is cool, it isn't necessary to enjoy the museum.

Feel free to walk around the displays at your leisure, where you can see what it looks like on the moon, what a camp at Vietnam looks like, and what a town might look like circa World War I. You can also see miniature displays of ships, what the inside of a submarine might look like. And don't forget to look up either, where you're likely to see massive airplanes, dirigibles and helicopters galore!

Interactive MaxFlight Simulators dot the museum too, and let you experience what it's like to "pitch and roll" just like the guys in the sky.

Another great aspect of the museum is all the photo opportunities you'll have. Not only can you take photos (from different angles) of the massive machines, but your family and friends will have some great photo opportunities too. Imagine standing in front of airplanes (from both past and present), sitting inside the cockpit of airplanes, rocking-it in front of a giant US flag, and being strapped down into flight chairs. You might even see some men in uniform too, and if they aren't on duty you could likely get a picture with them too.

Displays at the Naval Aviation Museum change frequently, so visit often.

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Pensacola's NAS is home to the flying Blue Angels.

Blue Angels airplanes on display at the National Naval Air Museum.
Blue Angels airplanes on display at the National Naval Air Museum. | Source

Fort Barrancas

Located on NAS, Fort Barrancas is a rich piece of history your family won't want to miss out on. For Barrancas sits atop a bluff and overlooks the bay, making it a perfect military vantage point, since the military could see any ship that came into the bay.

And it's family-friendly too boot. Not too big, not too small. The restored armory and battery makes for great photo opportunities too. For more details, check out the short video, from Visit Florida, below.

White Sand of Pensacola Beaches

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Beaches

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach is one of the more popular beaches in Gulf Breeze, due in part to it's central location to shops and dining and overnight accommodations. Pensacola Beach, famous for the giant beach-ball painted water tower is also appreciated for its recreational areas such as the fishing (and walking) pier, public restrooms and showering areas as well.

Although Pensacola Beach boasts a large parking lot, the area also offers a trolley service, so that visitors can park at the main beach location while actually taking in the sun and surf farther down the line.

Pensacola Beach is also walking distance from shops, eateries, and rental shops sure to make your stay more pleasurable.

Fort Pickens (Private Beach)

Although the public beaches in Gulf Breeze (right outside Pensacola), are nice, the private beaches in the area offer some great things too.

Just about 5 minutes down the road from iconic Pensacola Beach (and the giant beach-ball water tower) lies Fort Pickens, a part of Gulf Islands National Sea Shore. For a nominal entrance fee (about $8 for the day, with a one week extension) you will be allowed to not only park closer to the water than at public beaches, you'll also and avoid some of the riff-raff of the more public areas of the beach too.

Things to Pack
What to Look For
Things to Do
shade/umbrella
sting rays
collect shells
50 SPF sunscreen (apply liberally and frequently)
minnows
collect drift wood
beach toys- bucket, shovel, net
dolphins
build a sand castle
cooler with water and snacks
crabs
locate animals from park literature
goggles, snorkel, underwater camera
jelly fish
snorkel with the fishes

Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL.

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In addition to better water access at Fort Pickens beaches, you also have access to visit the actual fort at Fort Pickens, as well as access to overnight camping and RV sites as well.

Interestingly, Fort Pickens was one of four forts in the South not occupied by Confederate forces. According to the National Parks Services, it was just as important to the Union cause as Fort Sumter.

Although history and animal life abound in this area of Gulf, be sure to check for accessibility to the area due to issues with weather and mother nature. The narrow strip that separates the Gulf from the Sound is prone to flooding during heavy rains and may be impassible due to high winds which cover the roads with sand. Flexibility is a must here in Pensacola, just as with all vacation destinations.

Flounder's famous key lime pie!

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Places to Eat

When visiting the Gulf, a seafood restaurant is sure to be on your "must-stop" list, so why not consider stopping at one or both of these fine establishments owned by the same proprieter- Flounders and Crabs. Both restaurants are located in Gulf Breeze, Florida, right on Pensacola Beach.

Flounder's Chowder House

Flounder's Chowder House is known to the locals just as Flounders, and it's so good that tourists and locals alike are always crawling this place. Flounders is located on the sound side of Pensacola Beach, and has great indoor/outdoor ambiance, and has been successful since its establishment in 1979. That's what happens when the food, prices and atmosphere are all great!

And while the establishment is (of course) known for it's seafood -- you can mix and match your fish with different flavors-- it's desserts are what keep people driving from miles around for things such as the triple-stacked key lime pie shown to the right. Who could possibly resist that after a long day on the beach (or at work, for that matter)?

Although their menu is sure to change from time to time, (see link for a pdf) if history is any indicator, the taste of the food is sure to be spot-on delicious!

Hermit Crab Race at "Crabs" Restaurant

Crabs - We Got 'Em

Crabs- We Got 'Em, lovingly known as just "Crabs" is located literally across the street from Flounders and has the best view of any restaurant since it's located right on the Gulf side of the ocean.

Crabs has an even more lively crowd than Flounders, and is great for young people and family alike. For example, the restaurant often has live music and events such as hermit crab races. Crabs also boasts a live blue crab tank as well as a fresh water tank on location.

While the menu may also be subject to change, one thing that surely won't change is the quality and great ambiance of this restaurant.

McGuire's Famous Sign

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McGuire's Irish Pub

McGuire's Irish Pub may not be limited to Pensacola alone, but if you're looking for delicacies that don't involve fish (or looking for a traditional steak house) this is a good choice. In addition to steaks and ales, the menu includes several other traditional Irish fares as well.

Originally opened in 1977 the steak house moved to it's current location in 1982, where it is decorated with over 1 million signed dollar bills hanging from the ceiling and walls.

Interestingly the restaurant also sponsors a bagpipe band— McGuire's Pipes and Drums— which plays at collegiate events, sporting events, parades and other local activities, including Highland games all over the Southeast.

Over one million single dollar bills hang from the ceiling and walls of McGuires.

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Don't worry, this isn't an exhaustive list of things to do in Pensacola. Of course there are plenty of other fun things to do while visiting Pensacola and the surrounding area, such as visiting the historic Seville Square, visiting the Pensacola Lighthouse (near the National Naval Air Museum), watching a baseball game of the Blue Wahoos, and much more. For more information on the Pensacola area, visit the tourists center (near the beach) once you get into town.

© 2013 Diane Lockridge

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4 comments

Emily Richey profile image

Emily Richey 2 years ago from Florida

Hi Diane-I just moved to Pensacola with my husband, who is in the flight program at NAS Pensacola. This hub was a great read and very informative, thanks so much for taking the time!


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Diane,

This is a very interesting and useful hub for anyone traveling to Pensacola. I remember visiting Pensacola at the end of March in 1972. I was in the Naval Reserve at the time and had a cryptologic course at the Naval Air Station, I believe. Although I spent most of my time on the base, I remember getting into Pensacola one evening with my shipmates and visiting a honkytonk called Trader John's. One of my shipmates had a girl friend who was dancing there. I also remember the white beaches and the very warm weather having just come down from Wisconsin. Voted up and sharing with followers.


Diane Lockridge profile image

Diane Lockridge 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA Author

Thanks @ThelmaC, my extended family still lives near Whiting Field, that's why we make the yearly treck.


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

Great job on this article about Pensacola. My husband was stationed near there at Whiting Field when we married 43 years ago. We have lots of fun memories of Pensacola. We must plan a trip back to the museum as I'm sure it has grown and become even better than it was all those years ago. Thanks for bringing back some memories for me!

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