When you’re ready to pack the coats and blankets away and say goodbye to winter, a spring break getaway to Pensacola can be the antidote your family needs to welcome sunnier days and a renewed sense of adventure.
The Pensacola Bay area encompasses Greater Pensacola, as well as Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. The variety of activities that awaits – from the beaches and history to museums and more – sets Pensacola apart as a destination for families looking to spend spring break on the Gulf Coast.
Best known for its white sand beaches, this corner of Northwest Florida includes a significant portion of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The National Park Service website describes its Pensacola-area locations as “home of historic sites and the most beautiful beaches in the United States.”
Depending on your family’s interests, you could choose to spend a few leisurely days relaxing at the water’s edge or hike one of the many trails where you can spot coastal wildlife. You can tour one of the historic fortifications, Fort Pickens near Pensacola Beach or Fort Barrancas on the western side of Pensacola near Perdido Key.
Both Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key offer countless options for active families wanting to spend time in and around the water. Try your hand at surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, parasailing, or even charter fishing.
I only recently discovered Tiki Island Golf and Games nestled among the hotels and restaurants at Casino Beach, which lies in the heart of Pensacola Beach. You can play a round of miniature golf here, then make your way across Via de Luna Drive to the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk for a bite to eat, a cool cocktail or ice cream cone, and shopping in the boutiques and souvenir shops.
When it comes to restaurants near Pensacola Beach, some of my kids’ favorites are Peg Leg Pete’s for oysters and an onsite playground, which is especially helpful if you need to wait for a table, and they love the ice cream at Boardwalk Café. Lillian’s Pizza is a popular spot for families in Perdido Key.
A spring break vacation to the Pensacola Bay Area can be educational, too. In Downtown Pensacola, museums and living history presentations at Historic Pensacola Village provide an up-close look at historical artifacts and stories about the settlement and early years of Pensacola. Go here to find out why it’s nicknamed the City of Five Flags. The Pensacola Children’s Museum is especially good for kids under age 10 to explore history in a playful, engaging way.
Northwest of the city in Milton, Fla., the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site and museum welcomes visitors to learn about 19th-century industrial mills and the early railroad in Northwest Florida. Free kids programming and archaeological events are scheduled here in March, and guided tours are available Tuesday through Saturday. Also near Milton, Adventures Unlimited offers zip lining and river tubing, popular for active families with older children.
The Pensacola M.E.S.S. Hall is another stop for families visiting Downtown Pensacola. Encouraging kids of all ages to explore science, technology, engineering and math concepts, the M.E.S.S. Hall offers permanent exhibits as well as workshops and other special events for young scientists. My daughters have dissected squid and created their own video games during our visits to the M.E.S.S. Hall.
Of course, the museum Pensacola is perhaps best known for is the National Naval Aviation Museum, located aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola. Open daily; the museum showcases more than 150 restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. Admission is free. Kids also love the 3D flight simulators and the Naval Aviation Memorial Giant Screen Theater, both of which require a purchased ticket for admission. If you visit the museum during the week, you might catch a glimpse of the world-famous Blue Angels.
The flight demonstration squadron practices over the museum at NAS Pensacola most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November. Practices typically begin at 11:30 a.m. CT, and last about 55 minutes. Admission to practice is free and open to the public. Because it is located on the Navy base, do check the museum website before you visit to review the requirements for entering NAS Pensacola.
With so many options in the Pensacola Bay Area, you could easily fill your spring break days with activities for the whole family, but don’t be afraid to slow down and just enjoy the beautiful Northwest Florida sunsets. It’s your spring break. Proceed at your own pace!