At the far west end of the Florida panhandle — between Destin, Florida and Mobile, Alabama — are the city of Pensacola and the island community of Pensacola Beach.
Surf, sun and sand draw tourists and long-term residents to the area every year. Pensacola itself has a population of about 54,000, and the greater Pensacola area (which also includes the towns of Ferry Pass and Brent) is home to about half a million Floridians.
If you’re thinking of spending time in Pensacola — whether you’re just taking a day trip or you’re making a permanent move to one of the many homes for sale in the area — here are 21 ways to enjoy yourself in this Gulf Coast community.
Table of Contents:
- 1. Enjoy the surf and sun on a smooth, sandy beach.
- 2. Try out some paddle sports.
- 3. Get a great view by parasailing over the water.
- 4. Be wowed by the Blue Angels.
- 5. Appreciate the arts.
- 6. Catch some thrills at an amusement park.
- 7. Go camping.
- 8. Observe the wildlife.
- 9. Entertain the kids, or act like one.
- 10. Learn some history.
- 11. Do some shopping.
- 12. Take in a sporting event.
- 13. Catch a fish.
- 14. Take a tour.
- 15. Push yourself in a run or triathlon.
- 16. Enjoy the water in a boat.
- 17. Go golfing.
- 18. Watch a short track race at Five Flags Speedway.
- 19. Pamper yourself.
- 20. Indulge your inner foodie.
- 21. Enjoy a drink in a fun establishment.
1. Enjoy the surf and sun on a smooth, sandy beach.
Pensacola is known for its beautiful Gulf of Mexico beaches. With an average high temperature over 75 degrees more than half of the year, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to soak up some Florida sunshine.
Here are a few of the favorite spots to enjoy the waves:
- Casino Beach is one of the most popular beaches around, but one with room for everyone. It is long and wide, with warm, shallow water. You’ll also find restaurants and the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier nearby.
- Perdido Beach, located on the barrier island of Perdido Key, just west of Pensacola, has white sand and clear water.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore has been named “Florida’s best beach.”
- Pensacola Dog Beach East and West are the places to go if the family pet wants to join you for a swim or a run.
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2. Try out some paddle sports.
If you’d rather take to the water than spend all day lying in the sun, rent the non-motorized equipment you need to try out some surfing or paddling. Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUPs), kayaks and canoes are all great ways to enjoy the local waterways. And it’s not just the ocean; you can also explore bayous, marshes and canals.
3. Get a great view by parasailing over the water.
You’ll find opportunities to parasail at places like Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. Not familiar with parasailing? You’ll be in a harness under a parachute-like “wing,” towed behind a boat as you rise up in the air like a kite. It’s a quiet, peaceful way to take in your surroundings from a bird’s eye view, as long as you’re not afraid of heights.
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4. Be wowed by the Blue Angels.
The world-famous U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, with its iconic blue and gold planes, is based in Pensacola at Pensacola Naval Air Station. If you’re lucky, you might catch the Blue Angels flying in formation and practicing maneuvers over the water — they practice from March through September.
5. Appreciate the arts.
A great way to experience Pensacola is through art and music. Here are a few of the venues where you can experience concerts, theater, and visual arts:
- Pensacola Opera
- Pensacola Symphony Orchestra
- Ballet Pensacola
- Saenger Theatre
- Pensacola Museum of Art
- First City Art Center
- Pensacola Little Theatre
- Vinyl Music Hall
- Pensacola Bay Center
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6. Catch some thrills at an amusement park.
If you’ve got kids in tow, a day at the amusement park is likely to be a hit. Pensacola is home to Sam’s Fun City, an amusement and water park featuring kid-friendly rides, water slides and more.
Another option is just across the border in Foley, Alabama: Tropic Falls at OWA Parks and Resort. Thrill rides, water park classics and midway games will keep the whole family entertained all day.
7. Go camping.
For a different way to appreciate the outdoors, try camping on the beach. Your options include Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach and the campgrounds at Fort Pickens. There is also a new Pensacola Beach RV Resort if tent camping isn’t your style.
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8. Observe the wildlife.
Off the shores of Pensacola is a great place to meet a dolphin. Boat charters will take you out to see these friendly creatures swim and leap.
9. Entertain the kids, or act like one.
Play a round of mini golf or two at Tiki Island Golf and Games, watch dolphins play at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in nearby Fort Walton Beach, or find your favorite animal at the Gulf Breeze Zoo. If you’re a kid in spirit only, play some vintage games at Play, an arcade and bar on Palafox Street.
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10. Learn some history.
Pensacola is a very old city, established as far back as 1559 by Spanish settlers. There are many ways to learn about and appreciate all of the historical and cultural influences that remain in the city today.
Fort Pickens is a pre-Civil War era fort located on Pensacola Beach, and a popular place to tour.
Historic Pensacola is home to a number of museums and historic homes and properties located where Spanish and British forts once stood.
11. Do some shopping.
Spend some time downtown checking out the charming shops and boutiques, or do a little antiquing. If that’s not enough shopping for you, look to Cordova Mall, an upscale center that is also the largest in the area. For festive souvenirs and the like, take a stroll down the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk.
12. Take in a sporting event.
Baseball fans can watch the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the local minor league team, score some runs at Community Maritime Park. Hockey fans can take in an Ice Flyers game at the Pensacola Bay Center, and college sports enthusiasts can follow the University of West Florida and Pensacola State College’s many athletic events.
13. Catch a fish.
Where there are bodies of water, you’ll find anglers ready to pull fish out of them. Pensacola has the Gulf, 3 bays, and a river with Florida’s most diverse freshwater fish population. Many local guides offer charter trips, or you can fish from the piers. Local tackle shops will sell you the supplies you need for your big catch.
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14. Take a tour.
Walking tours, history tours, ghost tours, Segway tours, retro bus tours, pub tours . . . If you want to see it, someone out there is probably leading a tour of it.
15. Push yourself in a run or triathlon.
Pensacola hosts many races each year. These include the Pensacola Half Marathon and 5k, the Bayou Hills Run, the Bushwacker 5K, The Pensacola Turkey Trot, the Ho Ho Hustle and many more. It’s running weather year-round in Pensacola, so bring your shoes and sign up for an event.
16. Enjoy the water in a boat.
Sailing, motor boating and yachting all have a place in the Pensacola area. Rent a boat at a local marina and spend your day out on the water.
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17. Go golfing.
With so many sunny days each year, Pensacola is a great place to hit the links. One favorite spot is Lost Key Golf Club, which boasts an Arnold Palmer-designed course and a special environmentally friendly type of grass. Another favorite is the 600-acre, award-winning Marcus Pointe Golf Club.
18. Watch a short track race at Five Flags Speedway.
The flagship event at 5 Flags Speedway is the Snowball Derby, a 300-lap “super late model” stock car race held in early December each year. This half-mile asphalt track hosts races and events throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar.
19. Pamper yourself.
20. Indulge your inner foodie.
Pensacola is rife with restaurants to satisfy any craving. Don’t leave without trying some fresh-caught seafood, but that’s not the only type of cuisine you’ll find here. Thanks to the varying cultural influences, you’ll find everything from French to Spanish to Cajun food.
If you want to cook for yourself, check out Joe Patti’s Seafood Market. It has been a Pensacola landmark for over 90 years.
21. Enjoy a drink in a fun establishment.
For some grown-up fun after dark, visit one of Pensacola’s many lively bars and clubs. Whether you prefer a decked-out tiki bar, an upscale cocktail bar or a laid-back sports bar, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Pensacola.
The heart of the bar scene is downtown, with many popular establishments lining Palafox Street.
Here are a few local favorites:
- Seville Quarter combines several different bars in one space — a New Orleans-style restored brick building. Check out quirky favorites like Rosie O’Grady’s Goodtime Emporium for the dueling piano show and Phineas Phogg’s Balloon Works for dancing.
- Flora-Bama Lounge calls itself a “honky tonk” and a “beach bar.” If you’re into live music, you’ll enjoy the five different stages featuring “country, rock, dance and beach music.”
- McGuire’s Irish Pub is a festive New York-style “Irish Saloon” occupying an old firehouse. The atmosphere is unique — you’ll immediately notice that the ceiling and walls are lined with signed dollar bills. Enjoy a pint of ale or a hearty Irish meal.
- Old Hickory Whiskey Bar is a Palafox Street favorite. It’s serious about whiskey, offering at least 375 drink options. Even non-whiskey drinkers can enjoy the cozy atmosphere and creative cocktails.
Pensacola is warm, sunny, beachy and full of activities and venues to keep you busy and entertained. Whether you prefer active adventures or long, relaxing days watching the waves roll in, you can find what you’re looking for in Pensacola.
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