Voted among the top 20 beaches in the States, Pensacola is a beach buff’s dream. Sugar-white sands, emerald-green waters and gently swaying sea oats are what Pensacola is all about – nicely topped off by clear sunny skies and toasty temperatures that never seem to get inferno hot.
There’s a Old Florida feel to Pensacola, which has one of the longest piers in the Gulf of Mexico and a fine boardwalk along Santa Rosa Sound. Casino Beach is at the heart of the action, but there are plenty of options when you want to get away from it all: the silken sands of the protected Gulf Islands National Seashore stretch away to the east, offering solitude, spectacular vistas and amazing birdlife.
Watersports go with the territory on Pensacola Beach holidays and dolphin-spotting cruises, sailing, jet skiing, and water skiing are all on offer. You can paddle a canoe through one of the local State Parks like Big Lagoon and Blackwater River to spot local wildlife, and there’s fine fishing too. Anglers haul in red snapper, grouper, mackerel and tuna, both off the pier and on boat trips into the Gulf.
Landlubbers might be happy just to while away the day with their toes in the sand but if you want to go exploring, there’s the city of Pensacola to discover, with its fine old buildings and interesting historic districts. And golf addicts have a great choice of greensward, with plenty of local championship courses like the Lost Key Golf Club.
Once the sun’s over the horizon, the evening’s entertainment can be as low-key or as lively as you like. There’s a good spread of restaurants and bars, fantastic fresh seafood, and live Bands on the Beach from April to October. Let the good times roll!
When the water is this clear, why wouldn’t the snorkelling and diving be spectacular? There are 35 artificial reefs in the area (courtesy of a strong military connection) and you can swim among loggerhead turtles while exploring the sunken wrecks of the battleship USS Massachusetts and the 900 ft-long aircraft carrier USS Oriskany.
The iconic black and white, and reputedly haunted, Pensacola Lighthouse has stood guard on the shore since 1859. Climb to the top for spectacular views over Pensacola Pass, three forts, the city skyline and the historic Navy Yard. You can also visit the museum, and go on a moonlight tour or a ghost tour – if you dare!
Flight fanatics will love the National Museum of Naval Aviation, which explores the history of flight from its birth into a projected future. There’s over 150 aircraft to explore, including the A-4 Skyhawks of the Pensacola-based Blue Angels U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, as well as flight simulators and an IMAX theatre. From March to November you can even meet Blue Angels pilots in person.
Relaxing on an outdoor terrace with a Bushwacker cocktail in hand and the sun setting over the Gulf in a blaze of colour is a staple of Pensacola Beach holidays. The area’s signature drink is a delicious frozen mix of vanilla ice cream, rum, and coffee and chocolate liqueurs.
At the western end of Santa Rosa Island is Fort Pickens. Built in the 1830s, it’s set on one of the most stunning stretches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and is where Apache medicine man Geronimo was imprisoned. Take a ranger tour then head to the beach for white sand, crystal-clear water, amazing views and wildlife-spotting.