We’ve been to Florida several times already and we’ve been to major cities like Orlando and Miami. When it comes to beaches, one part of Florida that readily springs to mind is Miami and it’s pristine beaches located on the west coast of the state. Another city that you may want to visit if you want a good time under the heat of the Florida sun is Pensacola. This westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle is the county seat of Escambia County. It is known for a lot of things including a robust and lively culture. Of course, it is also known for its beaches but that’s just one of the things you should visit the city for.
- 1 Pensacola History
- 2 How to Get to Pensacola
- 3 Getting Around Pensacola
- 4 Best Time to Visit Pensacola
- 5 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida
- 5.1 Dine at a former hospital
- 5.2 Spot carnivorous plants
- 5.3 Express yourself at the Pensacola Graffiti Bridge
- 5.4 Join the fun at the Palafox Market
- 5.5 Experience a somewhat a Coachella event
- 5.6 Enjoy more music
- 5.7 See the city’s past live
- 5.8 See the Blue Angels
- 5.9 Witness the city’s festivals
- 5.10 Go on a dolphin cruise
- 5.11 Sign up for an architecture tour
- 5.12 Try the float therapy
- 5.13 Have fun in the sand river
- 5.14 Go on a red light district tour
- 5.15 Rent beach wheelchairs
Historically speaking, Pensacola is the first Spanish settlement that resides within the borders of the continental U.S. as it was inhabited in 1559. However, the settlement was abandoned shortly because of hurricanes but it was re-established in 1698. Due to its location, Pensacola became a seaport on Pensacola Bay and it was protected by the barrier island of Santa Rosa which allows it to connect to the Gulf of Mexico.
Aside from being a great seaport, the city of Pensacola is also the home of a large United States Naval Air Station, which is the first in the country. It is the base of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team as well as the National Naval Aviation Museum. These are just some of the exciting attractions in the city.
Pensacola is also nicknamed as The City of Five Flags. This moniker was created to symbolize the five governments that have ruled the city in its history. These flags include Spain, France, Great Britain, the U.S., and the Confederate States of America. Its other nicknames include World’s Whitest Beaches, Cradle of Naval Aviation, Western Gate to the Sunshine State, America’s First Settlement, Emerald Coast, Red Snapper Capital of the World, and P-Cola.
With regards to tourism, there are a lot of reasons why Pensacola is considered as one of the crowning jewels in Florida. It is home to many annual festivals, events, historic tours, as well as landmarks. Some of its staple events are the Pensacola Seafood Festival and the Pensacola Crawfish Festival which are made to celebrate the city’s booming seafood business.
Other than its beaches, some of the top tourist destinations in the city include several historical military installations from the Civil War, as well as the Pensacola Lighthouse at NAS Pensacola, and the Vietnam Veterans’ Wall South.
Praises aside we’re sure you’re very excited to visit this booming city so without further ado, let’s talk about a few pointers from us regarding your trip.
How to Get to Pensacola
People who visit Pensacola have a simple saying, “getting here is easy, leaving is hard.” There are several ways to get to the city. If you are traveling by car coming from the north, take I-65 south through Alabama. Once you pass by the Greenville exit, take Exit 69 to Pensacola and then turn left onto Highway 113. Once you reach a dead-end, take a right to get to Highway 29 and then take a left onto Highway 29 south. Take this road for 45 minutes and you’ll be at Pensacola.
From the east or west, you simply have to take the I-10 and take one of the several exits to Pensacola. If you take the I-110 exit south, you’ll be able to get to the beaches and downtown area.
If you are coming from somewhere far off, make sure to book a flight that gets you to the Pensacola International Airport. This will be your gateway to the Gulf Coast and the Pensacola Bay Area. It serves airlines such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier AirlinesSilver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. Needless to say, the airport will be able to accommodate you if you come from major U.S. and international cities.
Getting Around Pensacola
Easy things first. Ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber are available within the city itself. This is an excellent way to get to and from restaurants, hotels, and other attractions in the city. Alternatively, you can take taxis or rent a bike to get around the main city.
If you are planning to bounce around the beaches in the city, you may want to rent a car instead as this will be the cheaper and more convenient option. Taking a taxi to get around the beaches would be way too expensive. Renting a car would not only be cheaper, but it will also ensure that you are going to be able to visit all of the beaches in the Pensacola provided that you have the time.
Best Time to Visit Pensacola
According to other travelers, the best time to visit Pensacola is from mid-September to October. This is somewhat of a shoulder season in the city. The summer season is ending but the weather remains perfectly warm and just perfect for a day at the beach. Aside from this, most attractions are going to be available at this time of the year. Do keep in mind that there are still some hurricanes at this time of the year so check the advisory beforehand. On the bright side, these months include important events such as Taste of the Beach in September and the Pensacola Seafood Festival which is from September to October.
Visiting during summer and spring are great ideas as well especially if you want to visit the beach but keep in mind that this is peak tourism season for Pensacola so expect higher rates and busier streets.
Fun and Unique Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida
When we think of Florida, admit it, all we can imagine are heavily touristed beaches and theme parks. It’s understandable, though, as the place indeed has some of the best beaches and theme parks in the world. There are even several all-inclusive resorts in Florida that many locals and tourists frequent; and these, by the way, make the state so loved by many.
However, the sunshine state isn’t just about its resorts, beaches, and theme parks. It also houses some hidden gems that we’re sure you will love. Pensacola city alone has plenty of them. And if you want to see more of what Florida has to offer, head to this city and you will be pleased. Here’s a rundown of some of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola in case you want to try them out.
1Dine at a former hospital
If you want to try a different travel experience, dining in a former hospital is one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. But don’t get discouraged yet. Don’t worry, you won’t be literally dining in an abandoned hospital where there are still dusty hospital beds, operation tables, or whatnot. Rather, you will dine in a hospital-turned-restaurant called the O’Zone Pizza Pub.
Apparently, the O’Zone Pizza Hub was once Sacred Heart Hospital that was built in 1915. However, in 1965, the hospital relocated and the Gothic revival building was turned into a pizza parlor that, until now, serves some of the best pizza in town. But aside from the pizza parlor’s delicious dishes, what draws locals and tourists alike are the tours to the other parts of the former hospital being offered and the rumors about the apparent looming ghosts and horror stories that it tells. Don’t worry if you get scared after the tour as the pizza parlor’s delicious dishes will make you forget them all right away.
2Spot carnivorous plants
If you listened to your Science teacher back then, you’re probably aware that carnivorous plants exist. However, you might not be familiar with some of the pitcher plant species as some of them are already endangered. Luckily, you can spot them at the Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park and, needless to say, it is one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. In fact, the place is also known as the best place in the state to find pitcher plants. It also houses the largest cluster of white-top pitcher plants, a rare carnivorous plant that you can only find between Mississippi and Apalachicola Rivers. What’s even better is that the place is also home to approximately 100 species of rare animals. What also makes it worth visiting is that it has nature trails that you can explore and a secluded spot for when you want to go on a picnic with your travel buddies.
3Express yourself at the Pensacola Graffiti Bridge
Expressing yourself is also one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. Okay, it might sound a bit confusing as you can express yourself in any way and everywhere. However, it’s much more fun and different when you’re in Pensacola as it has a bridge where you can paint its walls with your most colorful artwork, drawing, messages, well-wishes, and even confessions. You can also write your name, your loved ones, some announcements, and whatnot. And for that reason, a lot of people also visit the place for many occasions. In fact, some visitors have already got engaged here and some have even gotten married. It’s not strictly legal, though, but the Pensacola community seems to have already accepted the bridge, as well as the art on it, as a local landmark. The police even usually look the other way as they drive past the taggers. Take some of the most Instagram worthy photos and even add more art to it and bring a can of paint with you. It’s worth the try.
4Join the fun at the Palafox Market
As its name suggests, the Palafox Market is where you’ll want to be if you want to buy some homemade goods, fresh produce, and other items that you can also take home with you as a souvenir for your trip, as a gift to your loved ones back to your home town, or whatnot. But this place offers more than that. Apparently, this is also a place for when you want to enjoy some live music; and checking them out is also one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola because where else have you found a market with several good musicians? You won’t just get to buy fresh goods but you can also get to fill your ears with fresh music as well. If you want to hear them, don’t miss a chance to visit the Palafox Market on a Saturday morning (from 9 AM to 2 PM), rain or shine.
5Experience a somewhat a Coachella event
And speaking of music, you can also get to hear more of it if you will head to the Gulfside Pavilion. Here, you can see and hear several musicians perform at the Bands on the Beach event every week (every Tuesday, between 7 PM and 9 PM). And what makes it as one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola is that you can also get to enjoy some of the nicest views that the city has to offer as you indulge in good music as the place overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. But if you’re planning to experience this fun event, note that you can only get to enjoy the event from the first Tuesday in April until the last Tuesday in October. Also, don’t forget to bring your own deck chair or whatever chair you prefer or your beach blanket as there are no seats provided.
6Enjoy more music
If you still want more fun and music, you need to see and take part in the Gallery Nights events. And being a part of it is actually one of the fun and unique things t do in Pensacola as well because unlike in the Gulfside Pavilion and the Palafox Market, you will not just get to enjoy music with your ears but you can also get to dance the night away in the street without anyone batting an eye on you as you are more than welcome to connect with the locals and the culture of the city through this event. If you want to experience this unique party, keep an eye out on the Gallery Nights’ website or on their Facebook page. But usually, all events start at 4 PM until 8 PM and it’s the recommended schedule if you have kids with you. The after-party, however, starts at 8 PM until midnight.
7See the city’s past live
It might sound weird but you can actually get to see a bit of the city’s past live and it is also one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. There’s no time-traveling device, though. Rather, a group of good performers from the Historic Pensacola who portray what it’s like in Pensacola years ago. You can even get to see the Jacksonian Guard Colors Ceremony. However, if you want to see it, note that a daily schedule is maintained from Tuesday to Saturday. The Jacksonian Guard Colors Ceremony re-enactment, for instance, is performed every third Saturday of the month. Don’t worry if you miss it as you can still get a glimpse of the city’s history through the walking tours that they offer. You can go on a self-guided walking tour or opt for a guided walking tour to hear more interesting stories from the past.
8See the Blue Angels
This also might sound weird but we’re actually talking about the real angles here. Rather, we’re talking about the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (also known as the Blue Angels). While you might not be able to literally see some heavenly creatures here, seeing them is still one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola and as close as seeing angels or whatnot as they paint the sky and show their aeronautical prowess and stellar airplane acrobatics. However, before you go, make sure to take note of the following:
- Don’t forget to bring some hearing protection if you have sensitive hearing.
- If you are 16 years old and older, you will need to provide a form of identification when attempting to access the museum flight line to view them as they practice.
- You are not allowed to bring any backpack, luggage, daypacks, and the likes. You will not be allowed on the flight line during the practice air shows.
9Witness the city’s festivals
There’s no shortage of fun and festivities in Pensacola and, needless to say, witnessing and/or taking part in even one of the city’s countless festivals is one of the most fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. With this, you will not just get to meet new friends and have fun but you can also get to see portions of the city’s culture. One of the festivals that you shouldn’t miss is the Foo Foo Festival. Basically, aside from culture, this event celebrates music, art, entertainment, and cuisine as well. And the best part of it is that it isn’t just a one-day event; rather, a 12-day festival. On top of that, you have Instagram worthy street art to enjoy. Plus, you can enjoy most events for free. With the countless things to do and see during this event, it sure is going to be a memorable travel experience.
10Go on a dolphin cruise
Florida’s waters aren’t just for people who love sunbathing but it is also home to marine life and a place for those who want to see these adorable creatures. And if you’re one of those who want to get more up close and personal with some of Florida’s marine animals, going on a dolphin cruise is one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola. With the assistance of Chace-N-Fins, you can hop aboard an aquatic charter and go on a cruise and spot dolphins in Pensacola Bay. With this activity, you can also get to see more marine life. And the best part of it is that you can get a dose of the city’s history as well as you go on a cruise. Relax, take in some of the breathtaking views that Pensacola has to offer and learn more about the city; it’s an activity that’s not to be missed, especially if you’re traveling with your family as it’s for people of all ages to enjoy.
11Sign up for an architecture tour
For a lot of cities, historical walking tours are popular among both locals and tourists. But have you heard of an architecture tour? It’s one of the fun and unique activities in Pensacola that you should try out whether or not you are an architecture student. This is because, with this activity, you can also get a glimpse of the city’s past. But unlike other historical tours, this one highlights the city’s architecture from the past to present, the diverse influences that it has gained, the distinguishing patterns that have emerged through the years, and more. With this, you will not just learn but get to see a lot of beautiful architectural structures around the city of Pensacola too. If you’re planning to sign up for this, might as well allot 1.5 hours for this to fully enjoy the activity. You don’t have to worry about the transportation as you will hop on a modernized Ford 1930’s transit bus. You can check the tour schedules here.
12Try the float therapy
Touring the city can be quite tiring as Pensacola really has a lot of attractions and activities to offer. But don’t worry much, you can try the 60-minute float therapy that the city has. Sure, there are a number of spas out there but this one is quite different as you can get to relax in a private float booth and it’s one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola too. This therapy promises to deeply relax you and melts your stress and muscle tension away. It also lowers blood pressure and reduces pain and body stiffness. What’s even better is that it doesn’t just relax your body but your mind as well. In fact, it can enhance mental focus and clarity, plus help improve your mood, as well as your sleep. It’s definitely a nice activity to try out after a long day of exploring the city.
13Have fun in the sand river
Sand rivers are rare. In fact, there are only a few sand rivers in the world. Fortunately, Pensacola has one of the few places that has a sand river; and visiting it is, needless to say, one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola.
Named as the Blackwater River, this place lets you enjoy clear spring-fed water with a walking-speed current that is just right for when you just want to have a relaxing tubing trip with your family and friends. What’s even better is that there are some picturesque views waiting for you.
14Go on a red light district tour
Prostitution was once legal in Pensacola. The city even has a red light district and today, you can tour it and it’s one of the fun and unique things to do in Pensacola too. Don’t worry, though, you won’t be doing some rated PSG activities here. Rather, this tour lets you see a glimpse of the city’s past and discover the days when prostitution was legal as you visit former brothels. It’s not for the whole family, though as visitors under 17 years old will not be admitted without an adult.
15Rent beach wheelchairs
What makes Pensacola even more worth the visit is that it really has a lot to offer for people of all ages and even to those with special needs. In fact, the city even offers beach wheelchair rentals so even people with special needs can fully enjoy their trip, unlike in other cities.