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Pensacola, America's First Settlement on the Dream Coast

Updated on September 24, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

Wouldn't you like to live in Pensacola?
Wouldn't you like to live in Pensacola? | Source

Dreamland Settlements

The vibrant shades of blue and green in the Gulf of Mexico around Pensacola and the blazing white sheen of its sandy beaches under clear skies make this stretch of Florida's coast a dreamland. Water activities and the region’s Flori-Mex fusion cuisine add to the lure of visitors. Tales of UFO visitations include an air of mystery around Pensacola that intrigue still others who enjoy the Florida Panhandle.

As a waterfront city, the community is located in the northwestern corner of the state, near Mississippi and Alabama, and separated from the Gulf by Santa Rosa Island. Its beaches are protected by state and national governments and are kept clean and safe for visitors, residents, and those considering retirement to this area.

Source

According to the city web site, Pensacola was founded in 1559 by the Spaniard Don Tristan de Luna, celebrating with the first Catholic Mass held in North America and directed by Spanish leaders.

Today, almost 500 years later, Historic Pensacola Village is a museum complex that includes several original 19th-century buildings. Structures older than that are unfortunately absent.

The tradition of giving thanks in all things was carried on by early Spanish settlers in Pensacola, developing into the Spanish American Thanksgiving traditions that predate those of the British settlers at Plymouth/Plimouth Colony, Massachusetts by over 50 years.

The oldest Spanish community in what is now USA, Pensacola was followed by several other Hispanic settlements before the rest of Europe arrived in the area. St. Augustine is the oldest city in continual operation in the state, also located along the Dream Coast.

A Place To Spend One's Life

This Gulf location gives the city a personality different from that of cities located on other Florida coasts. The water even seems a different color in this region.

If you have seen the science fiction film CONTACT with Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey, you may remember the crayon picture her character did of the Gulf waters as a child living in Pensacola. When her adult character reaches a distant planet through a wormhole via her experimental spacecraft, extraterrestrials create a world for her that looks like a dream version of the Pensacola of her crayon drawings. The shades of blue look almost surreal.

This dream version is what the water and beach at Pensacola look like to me. A good water vacation is a dream from which one does not want to return and Pensacola is a good place to retire as well as one in which to attend school, work, and develop a career.

Pod of dolphins.
Pod of dolphins. | Source

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Mid-summer is humid and winter is busier, so I recommend Pensacola and Gulf Islands National Seashore in late August and September before the equinox turns the land to autumn. This national seashore is made up of a near-dozen islands and parts of islands in Florida and Mississippi, presenting plenty of water activities.

NOTE: Island chains belonging to these two states reach down together in the Gulf of Mexico, while Alabama does not reach down as far, even though it is between the other two states.

Although there are many historic military forts in the park of this national seashore, much of the protected area is underwater, providing many opportunities for viewing the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. This and the white beaches are other features that gives Pensacola its dreamlike quality. Dolphins are used several places around the state for physical and emotional therapy; the bond between human and seagoing mammal are difficult to explain.

Water Related Activities

For me, island primitive camping near the shore, dolphin watching, and shore birding are favorites, along with hiking with a park ranger on a guided tour of history, geography, wildlife and native plants through the park and along the beach.

Other activities that many people enjoy here include fishing, swim, and snorkeling. The local Andrew Jackson Trail is great for hiking and biking, but is only one of nine different trails here. All of them take visitors to the Naval Live Oaks area, which is the first national tree farm, named by President John Quincy Adams.

The wood for the historic American ship USS Constitution was taken from these strong live oaks. In relation to ships, a tour of local shipwrecks is featured at the national seashore as well.

Camping

The national seashore provides space for primitive camping for 14 consecutive days per visit at the following places:

  • Cat Island
  • East Ship Island
  • Horn Island
  • Perdido Key -- This is a barrier island on which you can see many birds and other wildlife. It is fairly large and covers over 240 acres right on the Gulf of Mexico with white sand beaches and sand dunes, sea oats, abundant wildlife, and plenty of places to swim and relax. Other activities include surf fishing, birding, the free use of boardwalks to view habitats and wildlife, picnicking, and the primitive camping. Camping permits are self-register and free. Public showers are also available and camp fires may be built according to regulations on the beach.
  • Petit Bois Island
  • Spoil Island (also called Sand Island)

White sand beaches and colorful Gulf waters.
White sand beaches and colorful Gulf waters.

Special Events In Pensacola

Pensacola holds the greatest number of special events during June and September out of the summer months, but events occur all around the calendar year:

  • First Week of January: Pensacola's 12th Night: traditional Mardi Gras Kick Off.
  • February: Mardi Gras and PensaCon comic convention - dress as a superhero!
  • Early March: Gulf Coast Renaissance Fair.
  • Early April: JazzFest at Seville Square Park.
  • Second Week of April: Fiesta of Five Flags Historic Treasure Hunt.
  • Late April: Annual Crawfish Festival.
  • Mid-September: Gallery Night for arts and culture, a gallery hop in Downtown Pensacola.
  • Mid-September: Taste of the Beach, an annual sampling of island cuisines.
  • Late September: The Pensacola Seafood Festival. Seafood, of course, live musical performances, shopping, fine arts, crafts, and a 5K run make this a lot of fun.
  • Mid-October: Greek Festival.
  • Early November: Frank Brown Annual Songwriters' Festival.
  • Mid-November: The Blue Angels Homecoming; Creek Indian Days & Pow Wow

Attraction: A Light That Was Once a Ship

The first Pensacola Light was a ship - a lightship called the Aurora Borealis. Today's lighthouse is a reconstruction of the building that replaced the ship for greater range of light out to sea.

Flyover for troops at Naval Air Station.
Flyover for troops at Naval Air Station. | Source

In the Skies Of Pensacola

The official United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is the precision-flying team Blue Angels.

The Blue Angels
The Blue Angels | Source

Warrington, Florida at Pensacola is an unincorporated area named for Lewis Warrington, who served as US Secretary of the Navy.

Pensacola Naval Air Station Historic District
Pensacola Naval Air Station Historic District | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Exterior of Fort Pickens, a fort with five walls (pentagonal).Exhibits at U.S. Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Fort Pickens Museum. Under Fort Pickens
Exterior of Fort Pickens, a fort with five walls (pentagonal).
Exterior of Fort Pickens, a fort with five walls (pentagonal). | Source
Exhibits at U.S. Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Fort Pickens Museum.
Exhibits at U.S. Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Fort Pickens Museum. | Source
Source
Under Fort Pickens
Under Fort Pickens | Source

Best Local Attractions

  • Fort Pickens Area at Gulf Islands National Seashore:Historic fort and grounds make a massive installation connected to the U.S. Army. The complex defended Florida's Pensacola Bay during the years before the Civil War as well during the war years. 1400 Fort Pickens Road, Pensacola Beach FL 32561
  • Gulf Breeze Zoo. 5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy, Gulf Breeze, FL 32563
  • Historic Pensacola Village: 205 E Zarragossa St, Pensacola, FL 32502. This historic district contains 22 historic buildings, museums, and other sites.
  • National Naval Aviation Museum: See the U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet fighter team practice here. Enter only at 1878 South Blue Angel Parkway and arrive by 9:30 AM if you want to ensure seeing a practice session. www.navalaviationmuseum.org/
  • Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum: This is billed as the most haunted lighthouse in America, with original decor and buildings that house a museum. However, you can see the Blue Angels practice from the lighthouse catwalk during the day. 2081 Radford Blvd, Pensacola FL 32508
  • Seville Historic District: Seville Historic District.This area has merged into the Pensacola Village District.
  • Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park: Information about and photos of Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park in Florida
  • UWF Division of Anthropology and Archaeology: Pensacola's Historic Colonial Trail: Through Downtown Pensacola there is a trail of history and archeology.

Ferries to Fort Pickens, Perdido Key, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Chulamar and Katelyn Charters is the first Ferry Service business in Pensacola to offer transport to Fort Pickens by ferry since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The Gulf Islands National Seashore reported that much of their land is Mississippi on West Ship Island was under a 30-foot flood, but that is has recovered.

Charter boats include the Chulamar and the Katelyn, which can take passengers from Pensacola Beach to either Fort Pickens at the national seashore and its surrounding park and aquatic preserve or out to viable fishing areas.

Additional fishing charters start out from Gulf Breeze FL, a few miles north of Pensacola Beach across a causeway bridge. Dolphin watching tours are also scheduled from Gulf Breeze.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Perdido Key Beach Mouse: endangered animal on the key.Monarch butterflies also appear on Perdido Key during migration flights from South America.
Perdido Key Beach Mouse: endangered animal on the key.
Perdido Key Beach Mouse: endangered animal on the key.
Monarch butterflies also appear on Perdido Key during migration flights from South America.
Monarch butterflies also appear on Perdido Key during migration flights from South America.

Famous POWs

In the 1880s, Geronimo and other Chiricahua-Apache members were imprisoned at Fort Pickens.

Pensacola's 450th Anniversary Celebration. The Spanish Navy vessel Juan Sebastian de Elcano and the King and Queen of Spain arrived to celebrate Pensacola in 2009.
Pensacola's 450th Anniversary Celebration. The Spanish Navy vessel Juan Sebastian de Elcano and the King and Queen of Spain arrived to celebrate Pensacola in 2009. | Source

ECAT - Free Beach Trolley

The local bus service has been operating since 1950, but public transportation has been a vital part of Pensacloa since the 1880s, when mules pulled trolley cars. ECAT bus system, whose logo is the Florida Panther, offers free beach trolley service in the summer months and the first part of autumn.

The free trolleys take passengers around all of Pensacola Beach. They are avaiable every weekend Friday - Sunday. beginning Memorial Day Weekend and ending September 30. Added routes and times are featured for the large 4th of July celebrations, the US Navy Blue Angel Air Show held every year, and Labor Day Weekend.

Sources

  • Downtown Pensacola downtownpensacola.com/
  • Gulf Breeze Chamber of Commerce gulfbreezechamber.com/
  • Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.www.pensacolachamber.com/

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      The water at Pensacola is gorgeous!

    • sillysara profile image

      sillysara 

      6 years ago

      Going to Pensacola in May for my first time ever to the gulf. I go to New Orleans often, but never have made it to a nearby beach. I cannot wait! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for posting, Brian - I love the idea of those kayak trips!

    • Brian Weekes profile image

      Brian Weekes 

      6 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      A very impressive and well done article.

      I tried google direction planner from my home address in Tasmania. It told me to drive to Darwin and then point 68 was 'kayak across the pacific, entering Japan'!! It eventually reached the state of Washington after another two Pacific crossing world record Kayak trips!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Yes, exceedingly white, like sugar.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 

      7 years ago from The Zoo

      Wow! Are the beaches really that white?! How I would love to camp on a beautiful beach!!! Beautiful hub!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh my gosh, Pensacola is gorgeous! I wish I were there for its 450th anniversary... but I'd love to go any ol' day!! Gorgeous Hub.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      Sounds like a beautiful place to visit. I like the historical aspects of the city as well as the lure of the beaches. Nice job.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Nice read-interesting and full of useful info both past and present. :)

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      Wow! What a fantastic trip you offer here in written form Patty! I do recall the movie CONTACT and the imagined vision of Pensacola found in a young girls drawing; awesome summary!

      "A good water vacation is a dream from which one does not want to return."

      NICE!

      Up, awesome and those images are just beautiful!

      K9

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, Lovely!!! My first sight of the ocean was near Pensicola, it was so picture-perfect, just like the postcards. I couldn't believe how beautiful the beach was, and how the water went all the way to the horizon. Thanks for taking me back there, Patty!

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