When your thoughts turn to sun, sand and water, many folks think of Florida’s panhandle. The unincorporated community of Pensacola Beach is nestled quaintly on the barrier island known as Santa Rosa Island with the Gulf of Mexico to the south. It’s the perfect drive-to destination for Southerners and an easy flight into Pensacola International Airport for those further away. Everyone loves the beach, but sometimes folks find themselves wondering what they can do aside from that. Here are 20 terrific things to do in Pensacola beyond the beach – and yes, I’ve done them all and will vouch for each and every single one!
Pensacola’s National Naval Aviation Museum is a fascinating experience with some 4,000 artifacts and more than 150 restored aircrafts that represent the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard in the aviation field. Flight Simulators offer a firsthand feel of life in the air and the IMAX Theatre is a dramatic treat for families to experience what the museum is all about! Grab lunch right there on the premises in the Cubi Bar Café, but note it will fill up fast on days when the Blue Angels are practice flying.
Speaking of the Blue Angels, I would seriously put some effort behind planning a trip to the National Naval Aviation Museum when they are scheduled for flight practice. It is one of the most exhilarating and gratifying experiences in a lifetime. Make certain that all parties have proper ID (if they are 18+) and note that backpacks and large bags are not permitted at the Blue Angels practice air shows, so leave those in the car. Be prepared to be awed!
Looking for the best view on the coast? If you are willing to climb 177 steps inside the historic Pensacola Lighthouse, you can have a stunning view of Pensacola Pass, multiple forts, the Pensacola skyline and the Navy Yard. The Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum is the fully restored Keepers’ Quarters built in 1859 and currently serves the public as a museum and gift shop. The Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bands on the Beach is exactly what you think…live music right on the beach! Beginning the first Tuesday in April (and ending the last Tuesday in October) from 7 to 9 p.m., regional artists offer a myriad of musical genres. Gulfside Pavilion (735 Pensacola Beach) is the place it’s all happening and it is always a lively, fun time for all!
Taste of the Beach is one of my favorite festivals of the year taking place each September. Held on Casino Beach directly south of the ONLY traffic light on Pensacola Beach, the event is always anchored by a celebrity chef who, along with local award-winning chefs, presents cooking demos with a beautiful beach back drop!
Take some down time…as in downtown! The City of Five Flags has a colorful history with influences from various countries, much of which is evident today and can be witnessed in things like the wrought iron balconies and architecture of the downtown area. A thorough renovation of this district allows folks to enjoy safe strolls under the covered walkways going from boutiques and cafes to art galleries and music venues. Don’t miss the Dog House Deli for over the top breakfast, brunch and lunch treats! They have two locations: one downtown and one on the beach.
See all of historic Pensacola on a guided Segway® or bicycle tour with Emerald Coast Tours! This was so much fun for two reasons: Nic gives amazing historical tidbits at every stop, and he knows where all the beautiful views are along the route. Everyone has a fabulous outing and a subtle history lesson!
Visit Joe Patti’s Seafood for a real treat! The third best seafood market in the United States, Joe Patti’s offers a long counter of seafood selections (with steamed shrimp as the crowd favorite) that they will pack for you to take back to the room and cook, or to travel home with you! Enjoy a sushi bar, fresh breads and gelato!
Big Lagoon State Park offers some 655 acres that actually separates the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. Back to nature is what you’ll get at Big Lagoon with endless opportunities for hiking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and more! Grab a picnic and spend the day at Big Lagoon!
Last, but far from least, don’t forget to find a spot to enjoy and appreciate the sunset each evening. It’s one of the best parts of a beach vacation, so don’t overlook the simplicity of its natural beauty.
There are so many things to do in Pensacola beyond the beach and you’ll likely find many to add to my list. Leave us a comment below telling us your favorite things to do in Pensacola?