Pensacola, America's First Settlement on the Dream Coast
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
In the Skies Of Pensacola
The official United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is the precision-flying team Blue Angels.
Warrington, Florida at Pensacola is an unincorporated area named for Lewis Warrington, who served as US Secretary of the Navy.
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.
In the 1880s, Geronimo and other Chiricahua-Apache members were imprisoned at Fort Pickens.
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.
- Downtown Pensacola downtownpensacola.com/
- Gulf Breeze Chamber of Commerce gulfbreezechamber.com/
- Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.www.pensacolachamber.com/
© 2011 Patty Inglish MS