Photo by @zee_mymommylife
As a kid, I loved family beach trips. My parents would load up the car at their Alabama home and we’d drive south through small towns with funny names like Opp and Luverne. My sister and I played a game to see who could spot the most out-of-state license plates. It was a way to pass the time until our car crossed the Florida state line and ultimately crested that first bridge over blue water, signaling our destination was near. We could not wait to get to the beach!
Swimming and playing in the sand were our first priorities, but we also looked forward to playing mini golf at a place with a giant monkey statue along the course. A landmark that has long since disappeared, it lives on in our memories and Mom’s Polaroid snapshots. When we were really lucky, our parents let us shop for souvenirs or a coveted airbrushed t-shirt from Alvin’s Island Tropical Department Store. I guess some traditions do live on, because to this day you can shop at Alvin’s Island at Pensacola Beach. Go there for the nostalgia or maybe a sand-filled snow globe personalized with your name on it (hey, no judgment here!).
Today it’s much the same for my own kids, who have their favorite places to visit in and around Pensacola. There are outdoor activities, indoor activities, educational activities – you name it!
Here are a few places you can explore when you vacation in the Pensacola Bay Area with kids.
Fun for All
Sam’s Fun City, located just south of Interstate 10 on U.S. Hwy. 29, features classic amusement park rides, laser tag, go-carts, mini golf, an arcade and indoor inflatables. It is the ultimate kids’ destination. In late April, Sam’s Surf City, a water park, opens for the summer. Guests can try its many water slides or float along the lazy river. Ticketing options allow you to take advantage of all or part of the fun offered here, so you can plan your visit accordingly depending on what you want to do and how much time you have. Pizza and other concessions are offered inside the large arcade. It’s a good time that young (and young-at-heart) guests are not likely to forget.
Make a MESS
In Downtown Pensacola, children can learn and have fun at the same time at the M.E.S.S. Hall (MESS stands for math, engineering, science, and stuff). Celebrating its fifth anniversary this spring, the M.E.S.S. Hall will open a new exhibit in late May. “Science of the Story” presents fun-filled science lessons inspired by popular stories. From fantastic beasts to the three little pigs, recognizable characters help kids understand scientific concepts. Workshops on various topics will be offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May 30 to Aug. 4. Last summer, my daughters attended a squid dissection workshop (while their mom stood squeamishly behind them). They loved it!
If you’re feeling adventurous, do what a friend of mine did recently. She shared a parasailing experience over Pensacola Beach with her two daughters, arranged through Radical Rides. She said they enjoyed seeing Santa Rosa Island and the Gulf Breeze peninsula from high in the sky. She also recommended bringing along a waterproof camera, plus extra cash to tip the boat driver and deck hand. If heights aren’t your thing, don’t worry. Radical Rides rents wave runners, pontoon boats, kayaks and paddleboards, too.
About a 20-minute drive east of Pensacola Beach, you will find the Gulf Breeze Zoo. A pair of Caracal kittens, born this spring, is the newest addition to the Gulf Breeze Zoo family. With these and hundreds of other animals throughout the 50-acre park, families will enjoy strolling through the exhibits, learning about the various creatures and, if you are so inclined, feeding a few of them. We purchased giraffe food and budgie feed sticks for a small fee inside the zoo. A favorite, must-do part of our visits to the zoo is the train ride, which canvases a good portion of the park, enabling you to see hippos, gorillas and other animals as you ride along. Train tickets are sold separately from zoo admission. You’ll enter and exit the zoo through a gift shop offering animal-themed gifts. Food and drinks are sold within the zoo, as are stroller, wagon and wheel chair rentals.
Fresh from Florida
Last but not least, visit a local farm for fresh produce. A friend and I took our daughters to Touchablue Farm off of U.S. Hwy 29 in Molino, Florida, last summer to pick our own blueberries. They were delicious and far less expensive than if we’d purchased them at a grocery store. What better way to help children appreciate where their food comes from, as well as the hard work that goes into farming! Be sure to take sunscreen and a hat. (Buckets were supplied for us.) Some of the local farms you can visit are listed at PickYourOwn.farm. Many local farms have Facebook pages, as well, which I’d recommend checking for the most current information about hours and availability.
With so much to do here, kids are sure to leave the Pensacola area with fond memories. Isn’t that the best souvenir of all?