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More Than the Beach: The best activities, museums, restaurants and entertainment in Pensacola, FL

Updated on June 8, 2012
Plaza Ferdinand in Downtown Pensacola.
Plaza Ferdinand in Downtown Pensacola. | Source

Pensacola is more than just a beach!

As you might know already, if you have planned a trip here, Pensacola is a city with a rich history. It has been governed by five different nations in its history, earning it the nickname "City of Five Flags."

With a such a diverse history, Pensacola has many activities, sights and museums to visit and experience. These awesome attractions include plenty of opportunities for:

  • Professional sports
  • Shopping
  • Casual and gourmet dining
  • Museums and history
  • Music festivals
  • Local theatre

Continue reading to learn about the many activities available to visitors in Pensacola!

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Professional Sports

It's no secret that sports are a big deal to most Americans. Pensacolians are no exception, but we like to do more than just sit on the couch and watch sports from a distance. We like to get up close and personal!

Pensacola has two hometown sports teams, and their games are more than just sports; they are events which bring the entire community together and keep the downtown area alive with activity.

  • The Pensacola Blue Wahoos - Minor League Baseball - The Pensacola Blue Wahoos play their home games in a beautiful stadium complex in downtown Pensacola. Completed in early 2012, the brand-new stadium has become a local hotspot, with new restaurants and shopping opportunities opening all the time within walking distance. If you want to feel like part of the local community, see some good baseball and enjoy a drink, all within walking distance of some of Pensacola's best restaurants and shops, you can't do any better than seeing the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
  • The Pensacola Ice Flyers - Southern Professional Hockey League - Formerly known as the Pensacola Ice Pilots, The Pensacola Ice Flyers are a hometown institution! It might sound funny that a warm, humid city like Pensacola has a professional ice hockey team, but during their game seasons, the Pensacola Civic Center ices down its arena and plays host to teams from all over the Southeast. A hockey game can be a great way to beat the heat in downtown Pensacola!

Jeweler's Trade Shop
Jeweler's Trade Shop | Source
Don Alan's Clothiers
Don Alan's Clothiers | Source

Designer Shopping and Local Vendors

Downtown Pensacola is boasts dozens of boutique fashion stores, local craftsmen and gourmet food and wine shops. The atmosphere of downtown Pensacola is like New Orleans' French Quarter--wrought iron balconies extend from beautiful brick buildings and overlook a street alive with activity. The shops themselves reflect the personalities of their owners, offering visitors a truly representative experience of Pensacola's culture and local flavor. Just a few of these many locations include:

  • A & J Mugs - If you are a beer connoisseur, this is the place to get a truly unique mug or stein to impress your friends. Be on the lookout for mugs reflecting Pensacola's naval history!
  • Distinctive Kitchens - Gourmet cookware and cooking classes.
  • Duh - Unique home furnishings and decorations.
  • The Bodacious Olive - Artisanal olive oil, handmade pasta and gourmet salts. Did you know that Pensacola was where olives first came to America?
  • Grand Reserve Cigar and Smoke Shop - An old-school cigar emporium, just like your granddad would have liked.
  • Jeweler's Trade Shop - Owned by the hometown brothers, Bill and Corbett Davis, for years, the opulence and selection of this shop rivals anything to be found in a major city like New York or Chicago.
  • Palafox Market - A weekly institution, featuring local produce, homemade condiments, and local arts and crafts. Get there early!
  • The Wine Bar on Palafox - A gourmand's delight, featuring wines and gourmetantipasti and entree items, including imported cheeses and meats.

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Casual and gourmet food + Awesome coffee and snacks

Historically, one of Pensacola's major industries has always been seafood. The Pensacola red snapper trade sent fish from Gulf of Mexico waters all the way to the tables of gourmets in the Northeast. Pensacola's unique placement on the Gulf Coast, adjacent to vibrant agriculture and bountiful fishing waters, makes it a fantastic food town.

With many gourmet havens to choose from, how does a newcomer decide which ones to visit?

I have written an entire hub devoted to my personal favorite restaurants in Pensacola; restaurants in whose management and chefs I have total confidence:

Local Favorites: The best places to eat in Pensacola, Florida.

Aside from my top favorites which I put on the list, here are some more great restaurants worth trying in Pensacola; all of them locally owned and operated.

Feel like just a cup of coffee in a quiet atmosphere? Perhaps a muffin or a cup of gelato? Here are the best places to get coffee and snacks in Pensacola:

King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia of Spain visiting Pensacola in 2009.
King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia of Spain visiting Pensacola in 2009. | Source
National Museum of Naval Aviation
National Museum of Naval Aviation | Source
The T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum
The T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum | Source

Museums and Local History

The City of Five Flags

Pensacola was founded in 1559 and has been governed by Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America and now the United States. As such, it has a very rich and diverse cultural history. There are many museums and historical sites devoted to Pensacola's rich history.

Pensacola is also strongly tied to the history of the United States military, and the Pensacola Naval Air Station includes many activities and attractions for the public to learn more about Pensacola's military history.

Museums in Pensacola:

  • The National Museum of Naval Aviation - Possibly the top attraction in Pensacola, the National Museum of Naval Aviation contains over 300,000 square feet of exhibit space. Visitors can see aircraft from all period of American history, see artifacts owned by United States presidents, sit in the cockpits of fighter jets or even watch a film in the museum's iMax theater, which is the largest iMax screen in Florida!
  • Fort Barrancas and Bateria de San Antonio - Just down the road from the Museum of Naval Aviation, these Civil War-era battlements are open to the public for most of the year. Visitors can walk through the Fort complex on their own or with park rangers on one of the daily tours. It's hot outside, but the interior of the forts are cool and breezy year-round.

The above four locations are all part of a complex of museums and restored homes located just down the street from Pensacola's boutique shopping district, thePensacola Historic Village is dedicated to interpreting and sharing the rich history of Pensacola, from its early days as a settlement to the founding families which established it as center for trade and commerce in the south prior to the Civil War.

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Music and Festivals

Regular Venues:

Pensacola is full of musical talent. As such, there are numerous venues where local singers and songwriters perform every night.

  • Vinyl Music Hall - The answer to many prayers when it opened in 2010, this mid-size venue is responsible for bringing well-known talent to Pensacola on a regular basis. Past acts include Crystal Method, Electric Six, Steve Earle, Chris Thomas King and Ben Sollee.
  • Seville Quarter - Pensacola's legendary bar complex and concert venue. Six bars and multiple stages present local and out of town talent every week.
  • Sluggo's - This vegan bar recently moved into a classy new location downtown, and plays host to independent artists every week.
  • End of the Line Cafe - A hometown favorite for its coffee, Vegan Sunday brunches, music and poetry readings, End of the Line is Pensacola's cornerstone for all things indie and underground.
  • Pensacola Civic Center - The Pensacola Civic Center is Pensacola's premiere venue for big-name talent. With recent acts ranging from Michael Buble to Carrie Underwood, visitors to Pensacola have plenty to look forward to if a favorite artist happens to be in town during their stay.

Annual Pensacola Community Festivals

In addition to the regular hotspots, Pensacola holds several major music festivals every year. To get the most out of a visit to Pensacola, plan to arrive in time for one of Pensacola's festival weekends. Pensacolians love a party, and there is no better chance to see everyone in one place, hear great music and taste the best food in Florida than to attend one of Pensacola's many awesome community festivals.

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Performing Arts

Pensacola loves the performing arts. With three theaters, a local opera company and two local college stages, guests of city need never be deprived of culture while in town.

Professional Theatre

  • The Saenger Theatre - The Grand Dame of Palafox Street, nestled among the city's best dining options, this historic theatre is Pensacola's largest and most opulent performing arts venue. Built in 1925 and restored to its original glory in 1995, the Pensacola Saenger is a draw for many traveling theatre companies, and is the first place to look for quality theatrical entertainment in Pensacola.
  • Pensacola Opera - For the true theatre devotee, Pensacola Opera offers the very finest in artistic consumption. Their seasons include material ranging from venerable operas to conert tributes to modern masters like Sondheim and Webber.
  • Loblolly Theatre Company - While most Pensacola stages are devoted to the past and present hits of Broadway, the Loblolly Theatre Company is where patrons may find original material by local writers, performed in an intimate, 35-50 seat auditorium.

Community and Student Theatre

  • Pensacola Little Theatre - While the Saenger draws in companies from out of town, the Pensacola Little Theatre is the place to see local talent performing broadway hits. Located downtown, within an easy walk of the area's best food and shopping, the Pensacola Little Theatre has been a wonderful Pensacola tradition since 1936.
  • Pensacola State College - A small college with a close-knit and devoted theatre department, Pensacola State College features a variety of performance during their spring and fall terms, as well as community-wide summer shows. While their theatre program is heavily weighted toward Broadway classics, be sure to also check the schedule of the Pensacola State College Lyceum Series to see the full scope of their artistic offerings.
  • University of West Florida - The University of West Florida Department of Performing and Communication Arts offers a wide range of shows as part of their performing arts program. From Broadway hits to intense straight dramas, the institution offers a fantastic array of quality entertainment for both its students and for the public.

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The Golden Gate to the Sunshine State

Pensacola is a great town. It is a city with many wonderful cultural opportunities, great food, beautiful scenery and some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

As our former mayor, Vince Whibbs, used to say:

"Pensacola is the golden gate to the Sunshine State; where thousands live where millions wish they could."

Come to Pensacola and find out that it is much more than just a beach!

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