Dig Into History, Beach Sand and Gulf Seafood in Pensacola
Colin Hackley/VISIT FLORIDA
Whether you know it as “The City of Five Flags,” “The Nation’s Oldest City” or “P-Cola,” the beautiful, coastal city of Pensacola, Florida, is an ideal vacation destination. Here is a sampling of the area’s many unforgettable attractions.
Arts & Entertainment
The refurbished and fabulous Saenger Theatre, built in 1925, was a busy venue during its early years, showing silent movies, Vaudeville productions and Broadway shows. It later became a traditional movie theater. Twenty years after it closed in 1975, heavy renovations transformed the long-vacant Saenger into a cultural affairs center for the city. It now welcomes performers such as singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, jazz singer Harry Connick Jr., magician David Copperfield and the colorful puppets from Sesame Street.
Find more artistic performance at the University of West Florida’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts, which regularly hosts Ballet Pensacola and the Pensacola Little Theatre.
Sun, sand and saltwater enthusiasts find all three elements in abundance on Perdido Key, a barrier island south of Pensacola that boasts beaches that have consistently been ranked by the Travel Channel as among the best in the country. Perdido Key is also home to a national park and two state parks, all with public beach access.
Dine and Sip
From seafood to cheeseburgers and from Pinot Noir to root beer, Pensacola serves it all. One of the most popular restaurants in the area is The Fish House, which boasts an impressive Southern seafood menu directed by a James Beard award-winning chef. Try the snapper with The Fish House’s famous Grits à Ya Ya: smoked gouda cheese grits topped with Gulf jumbo shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, shallots, spinach and a creamy sauce. Another Pensacola landmark is Joe Patti’s Seafood Company, selling fresh Gulf fare for feasts you prepare on the deck of your vacation lodging.
Young and old will enjoy Sam’s Fun City, combining amusement park rides and arcade games with a great water park, called Surf City. Here, younger kids can splash in the kiddie pools and fountains, their older siblings can rocket down the water slides and adults can join in or chill at poolside. When you’re ready to rest, go for a float on the 750-foot-long Endless River.
More than a dozen golf courses can be found in and around Pensacola, with personalities unique to the Gulf Coast. Golfers will enjoy — and perhaps be challenged by — the fresh breezes blowing in at seaside links such as Lost Key and Perdido Bay Golf Club; but they’ll also love teeing up on the hilly inland courses, which are lined with hardwoods and towering pines.
Fun facts: PGA Masters champion Bubba Watson grew up in Pensacola, and the Scenic Hills golf course at the University of West Florida is the only golf course in Florida to have hosted a U.S. open.
History & Heritage
History buffs find treasure here, strolling the streets of Pensacola, which was the first city to be established by Europeans in what is now the continental United States. Founded in 1559 — long before Jamestown, shortly before St. Augustine — the colony was short-lived, destroyed by a hurricane the same year, and was re-established a century later, in 1667. Twenty-eight homes and properties that date from this period are open to the public as museums and/or living history centers.
Also open for tours is Fort Pickens, standing guard at the tip of Santa Rosa Island. This fort pre-dates the Revolutionary War.
National Naval Aviation Museum & Blue Angels
The first naval air station in the United States, NAS Pensacola is located just outside the city. The air station is home to the renowned Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The museum boasts more than 150 restored aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and displays thousands of artifacts from the nation’s aviation history. Visitors can take a “flight” in one of the Flight Simulators at the museum or catch a movie on the giant screen in the museum’s theater.
Take a break from the sand and head to Downtown Pensacola, where you’ll find galleries and boutiques offering trendy garments, hand-made jewelry, fine art, eclectic home furnishings and unique cuisine. The main street downtown, Palafox Street, is designated one of the “10 Great Streets in America.”
For more details, browse VisitPensacola.com.
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