There are a slew of cool things to see and do in Pensacola. But every town-proud Pensacola resident will readily tell you’ll be bowled over by the unique beauty of the sugar-soft white sand beaches here, with their glass clear waters, and array of pretty seashells. Pensacola is not only home to some of the best beaches in Florida, but in the entire country. Pensacola Beach was named by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 best beaches in the US. While the nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore was ranked as both #3 in the nation, and among the top 25 beaches in the world.
If you’re a fan of Tom Cruise and his Hollywood blockbuster ‘Top Gun’ then you’ve already gotten a glimpse of the Pensacola Naval Air Station where some aircraft scenes were shot. Aside from its cinematic fame, the sprawling 8,000-acre air base was also once home to astronauts John Glenn and moon-walker Neil Armstrong. What’s more, the big base is also home to the amazing National Naval Aviation Museum. Aviation buffs will be thrilled here, but actually the entire family will enjoy this unique free museum. Visitors can see more than 150 military aircraft close-up. But there are also live-action displays, including the Max Flight Simulator, where even children can feel what it's actually like to fly a jet fighter, including going through the motions of air-to-air combat! There’s also an IMAX theater so the whole family can experience together the wonders of high-speed flying.
No one should visit Florida without seeing dolphins in the wild, and that’s most definitely do-able in Pensacola. Chase-n-Fins offers three 2-hour cruises each day (10am, 2pm 5pm), which takes you out into the calm waters of Pensacola Bay where you can see large pods of dolphins including babies close-up. The spacious 50-foot boat is certified for 49 passengers but rarely carries more than 25, so there’s plenty of room to move about. The highly knowledgeable crew knows how to spot these highly-social sea creatures, so be sure to bring your camera! $25 per person, $15 ages 5-12, under 4 free.
From the blue sea of Pensacola Bay, we move to the brilliant blue skies above Pensacola – the home of the world famous Blue Angels. This highly-trained precision flying team showcases the amazing skills of six fearless Navy flyers. Each year, the team gives thrilling flight demonstrations around the country. But they can often be seen practicing at Pensacola Naval Air Station; usually on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings; weather permitting, when the team is home. A practice schedule can be viewed on the Blue Angels' website.
Bird lovers will tweet with delight at the incredible numbers of different birds which can be spotted at Pensacola’s Beach Fishing Pier. They range from gannets and gulls, to ducks, loons, herons and cormorants. One official bird-watcher even reported seeing more than 300 birds all at once here. Little wonder that the Nature Conservancy called the 1,471 feet long Pensacola Beach Pier a must-see hot-spot for bird lovers. But fishing fans should also visit, as many Gulf species are caught right from the pier—including Spanish Mackerel, Pompano, Mahi Mahi, Flounder, Tarpon and Bonito. And recently a 50-pound sailfish was even hooked here.
Spanish for ‘lost island,’ Perdido Key is a barrier-island which includes three acclaimed nature parks - Big Lagoon State Park, Perdido Key State Park, and Johnson Beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore. A visit here brings you to pristine wetlands and wildlife. The Key is also home to Lost Key Golf Club, a designated Audubon Signature Cooperative Sanctuary golf course.
Who doesn’t love the romance of an old-fashioned light house? Especially one that has been beautifully preserved and still works to keep ships at sea safe. Located inside the Naval Air Station (just across the street from the Aviation Museum)—the historic lighthouse was built in 1869 and is said to be haunted. Some 177 steps lead up the spiral staircase to the top, where you get a close-up look at the powerful French-made mega-lens, plus there’s a cool cat-walk which gives sweeping 360 degree views of the bay.
Being right on the bay, with the Gulf beyond, Pensacola can boast many superb seafood restaurants. Two of the most popular with locals include Grand Marlin on Pensacola Beach Boulevard and Crabs – We got Em. At Grand Marlin, we recommend the oysters Rockefeller, the pan-seared swordfish and the grilled Mahi Mahi; while the Ahi Poke is as good as anything served in Hawaii. The highlights at Crabs—we got Em is, yes, crabs! Favorites include the Blue Crab, the only crustacean caught wild in local waters. But they also have excellent king crab and snow crabs from Alaska, as well as savory raw oysters and fresh local red snapper. Both eateries are located right on the water.
Yes, we’re serious! If you’ve never been to a ballet, here’s your chance because Pensacola has an excellent one, which offers four performances throughout their season, which begins in August and runs until May. Aside from its own original performances, visitors can also see favorites such as Sleeping Beauty and the Nutcracker, sure to charm any young teens in the family. And in April, an exciting interactive performance—The Enchanted Toy Shop, is offered specifically for children ages 2 to 10. Tickets are $13, available at Ballet Pensacola.
There’s probably no other city in Florida that can boast a calendar more packed with fun festivals than Pensacola. From the city’s own annual Mardi Gras in January, to its annual week-long Seafood Festival in September, plus its Bill Fishing Tournament, and it yearly Bushwhacker Festival, to the Greater Gulf Coast Arts Festival, to the Oktoberfest, there’s always something fun going on in Pensacola!