Fun Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola, Florida boasts sugar-white sand beaches found few places in the world. But there is more to the Pensacola than just the beaches, take it from a former local to find some great spots around the town that wont involve you getting sand out of hard-to-reach places later on in he day.
Entrance to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
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 flying 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. That includes free parking, free admission and free range around the museum. If you have some money to spare, 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. The theatre also runs other flicks on a rotating basis, so you may be able to watch something new each year (like I do).
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. The flexibility of the layout of the museum is a great thing for parents of young children. You can visit the entire museum for as quick or as long as you wish. You can also view miniature displays of ships, what the inside of a submarine might look like, and even sit in retired airplane cockpit. And don't forget to look up either, where you're likely to see massive airplanes, dirigibles and helicopters galore! There is something exciting around every corner of NAS!
Interactive MaxFlight Simulators are dotted around the museum too, which 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 themselves, 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. (Make sure to thank them for their service and shake their hand, while you're at it.)
Displays at the Naval Aviation Museum change frequently, so visit often.
Pensacola's NAS is home to the flying Blue Angels.
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
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.
Many of the beach access areas offer covered benches and restrooms. A snack and souveniere shop lies about half way between the entrance to the park and the actual fort.
Things to Pack
What to Look For
Things to Do
50 SPF sunscreen (apply liberally and frequently)
collect drift wood
beach toys- bucket, shovel, net
build a sand castle
cooler with water and snacks
locate animals from park literature
goggles, snorkel, underwater camera
snorkel with the fishes
Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL.
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!
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 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, if history is any indicator, the taste of the food is sure to be spot-on delicious! Check out the restaurant's website for an upated list of their seasonal selections.
Hermit Crab Race at "Crabs" Restaurant
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
McGuire's Irish Pub may not be lining the peach, but if you're looking for menu not centered around fish- or a place with some character that don't involve fish, or just a place with great character, McGuires this is a good choice. In addition to steaks and ales, the menu includes several other traditional Irish fares as well. (I recommend the shepherds pie.)
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.
Florida Vacation Information
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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