Growing up in Pensacola, there was never a shortage of places to explore, sites to see and fun things to do to keep my active mind engaged. With one of the most beautiful natural settings on Earth at my fingertips, plus so many attractions to visit, there was no excuse for boredom in my household.
So I’d like to share with you ten free things you should check out while here. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
#1 Visit Pensacola Beach
Let’s start with the most obvious option: Pensacola Beach. When most people think of Pensacola Beach, they picture popular Casino Beach with the iconic beach ball water tower and the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier. If you’re looking to socialize and be within walking distance of the pier, boardwalk, restaurants and shops – Casino Beach is a must. But, if seclusion and privacy are more your thing, a real hidden gem is located a few miles down Via de Luna Drive on Avenida 23. Here you can get away from the crowds and find an isolated spot to kick back and relax, with only the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. This has been my go-to spot for as long as I can remember. It’s the place I go, time and time again, when I want to get back to nature.
#2 Enjoy an evening listening to music on the beach
One of my favorite Pensacola Beach events begins the first Tuesday in April and ends the last Tuesday in October. Bands on the Beach starts at 7 p.m. Tuesdays from the Gulfside Pavilion stage at Casino Beach. If you’re into propping your feet up on a cooler full of beverages while laying back in your beach chair listening to some of the greatest bands around the Gulf Coast, then Bands on the Beach is the event for you. This event appeals to all ages. Adults gather around the stage as the little ones show off their best moves in the front. The only requirements are to bring your best dance moves and a smile.
#3 Visit Plaza de Luna
Located on South Palafox Street at the end of Palafox Pier. Visitors to Plaza de Luna are greeted by a life-size statue of Don Tristan de Luna, Pensacola's founder. Chill out on a blanket or bench while the kids cool off in the splash fountain. Plaza de Luna is a great place to take in the views of the beautiful Pensacola Bay. Opt for a stroll around Palafox Pier, if you're one to adventure you can arrange a sailing trip right of the dock. If you have fishing gear handy, it's a great place to fish and enjoy a cool breeze.
#4 Relax and explore Perdido Key
Pensacola isn’t the only place with a great beach and great adventures. Perdido Key, located on a thin strip of land just west of Pensacola Beach, has so much to offer — whether you are a beach bum or a true adventurer. The beaches of Perdido Key are decorated with hundreds of varieties of seashells. Beware, you can easily lose track of time and spend hours combing the shoreline for these tiny treasures. Many come home with a bag full of shells and a sunburned back, so sunscreen is a must.
#5 Enjoy a day at Bayview Park
For a day of fun with all kinds of outdoor activities, pack a lunch and head to Bayview Park, located along Bayou Texar. The 30-acre park offers a large boardwalk over the water, a pier for fishing, a kayak and canoe launching site, an enclosed dry dog park, paved walking trails around the park, tennis courts, covered picnic tables and pavilions, grill stations, a padded playground and kids area, boat launches, and Pensacola’s only dog beach. Whether you want to enjoy a picnic on the water or fish from the pier, Bayview Park is the ideal place for a relaxing day.
#6 Take a historic walk through Pensacola
With over 450 years of history, Pensacola is teeming with places to take you back in time. Take a walk down Zaragoza Street, home to Historic Pensacola, you'll see houses built in the 1800s that are fully intact. If you keep going, you'll see the famous Old Christ Church that is still operational today! All throughout downtown, you'll find historic buildings, some that are even still in use. The Quayside Art Gallery was built in 1873 and was the headquarters and social center for the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company. The Old Hickory Whiskey Bar around the corner is still in an original building dating back to 1881!
#7 Take a walk through St. Michael's Cemetery
Just a short distance from downtown Palafox Street lies St. Michael’s Cemetery, one of the two oldest cemeteries in the state of Florida. The eight-acre cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a testament to the diverse history of Pensacola. Historical research indicates that the site was in use as a burial ground beginning in the mid-1700s, however, the land was officially named a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807. The cemetery’s earliest surviving above-ground marker is that of José Roig from 1812, which is associated with Pensacola’s Second Spanish Period (1781-1821). During that period of time, Pensacola drew immigrants from around the world. The cemetery is the resting place of captains of industry, victims of yellow fever epidemics and steamship explosions, along with those who died in childbirth, as infants, and of old age.
There are approximately 3200 marked graves in the cemetery with subsurface anomalies possibly indicating an additional 4,000+ unmarked grave. Tombstones in the cemetery reflect not only status and ethnicity of individuals but also reflect society as a whole on the Florida Gulf Coast frontier. This open-air museum and history lesson is shaded by ancient live oaks and is definitely worth a visit while in Pensacola.
#8 Contemplate those who have served our country
Veterans Memorial Park, along Pensacola Bay, pays tribute to those who served in World War I and II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War. Here, you’ll walk along sidewalks lined with monuments and statues — including a half-scale replica of the National Vietnam Memorial. This is an ideal place to go for a contemplative stroll while exploring the memorials that honor the men and women who sacrificed themselves for our country.
You can spend an entire day in the National Naval Aviation Museum, located on Naval Air Station Pensacola. There is that much to see. From hopping into the cockpits of various aircraft to watching “The Magic of Flight,” in the giant-screen movie theater, to learning the history behind every plane and artifact — this museum appeals to children and adults alike. There’s just something about standing next to an airplane that fought in World War II, or touching the aircraft that was flown by my own grandfather, which fills me with pride. From interactive flight simulators to vintage uniforms and historic documents, this museum is both a learning experience and an adventure.
#9 Watch the Blue Angels practice
While touring the museum, step outside to watch the Blue Angels soaring overhead in their signature diamond formation. The Blues practice every Tuesday and Wednesday from March to November around 11 a.m. On Wednesdays, after their hour-long practice is over, the pilots hold a meet and greet at the museum where they take pictures and sign autographs. This is truly a unique experience as the Blue Angels are Pensacola’s hometown heroes.
#10 Get out in nature
Feeling up to an outdoor adventure? Go explore the Edward Ball Nature Trail, located at the University of West Florida. This trail caught my attention because of its boardwalk that loops a mile through dense tree canopies and over the serene Thompson’s Bayou. Here, you may spot a variety of songbirds and waterfowl. Step right off the nature trail and access a 1,600-acre wildlife refuge with more than 20 miles of hilly terrain, perfect for an adventuring cyclist or a leisurely bike ride. The trail is open daily from dawn to midnight. Access your visitor’s pass from the UWF Welcome Center and get ready for a day of adventuring through beautiful trails.