Pensacola is well-known as a vacation hotspot. Its sugar-white sand and turquoise water attract visitors from all over the world. What many people don’t know is that the very first tour group to touch down on those white-sand beaches weren’t tourists at all.
Pensacola’s first non-native visitors arrived in 1559. The hardscrabble group, led by Spanish conquistador Don Tristan De Luna, included about 1,500 settlers. The town they founded would become the first multi-year European settlement in North America. It would have been the first permanent settlement — a title now enjoyed by St. Augustine — had a hurricane not destroyed it a mere two years later. For the next 456 years, historians and archaeologists searched for the site of Luna’s lost settlement and in 2015 they finally found it.
Tom Garner, an amateur archaeologist, happened upon the discovery while scouting for artifacts at a construction site last fall. Archeologists with the University of West Florida later confirmed the site’s authenticity, uncovering numerous artifacts that they said linked it conclusively to Luna’s failed expedition. It might have taken four centuries to find Luna’s lost settlement, but Pensacolians have always held a special place in their heart for the city’s founding father. If you look closely enough, you can find evidence of him everywhere — even in some pretty unexpected places. Here are our picks.
Plaza de Luna
Situated at the end of Palafox Street, downtown’s main commercial corridor, the plaza offers panoramic views of Pensacola Bay and the Port of Pensacola. It’s one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset. The park even features a nine-foot-tall statue of Luna himself.
De Luna Winery
In the years leading up to the 2015 discovery, archaeologists uncovered the remains of two ships from Luna’s fleet at the bottom of Pensacola Bay. Among the artifacts recovered from the shipwrecks were a number of jars that historians believe might have contained wine. While the jar’s liquid contents have been lost to time, one Pensacola business is conjuring their ghosts. Since it’s uncorking in 2006, De Luna wine has brought the story of Pensacola’s founding to ever wider audiences. If you give it a try, be sure to raise a toast to the wine’s namesake.
De Luna Pale Ale
Alcoholic tributes to the city’s forebear aren’t in short supply around here. The Pensacola Bay Brewery, located in UWF’s Historic Pensacola Village, is a favorite watering hole among locals. Their brewmasters draw heavily upon local lore when crafting new beers. The De Luna Pale Ale is one of their best sellers. It’s rumored that, when you take a sip, you can hear the voices of Luna’s crew, begging you to share.
De Luna Lanes
Among the more unexpected tributes to Pensacola’s founding father is De Luna Lanes, a bowling alley located a half-hour outside Downtown Pensacola. The alley, a local favorite, has been around for more than 30 years.
The Fiesta Celebration — Pensacola’s answer to Mardi Gras — happens each year, during the first two weeks of June. The festivities include parades, balls and ceremonial reenactments of Luna’s expedition. Each year the festival has culminated with a gala and ball, where one citizen is crowned “DeLuna.”