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
Nothing says vacation to me more than arcades, go-carts, mini-golf, and more (bonus if it helps tire the kids out). Pensacola is home to a wide variety of attractions that offer fun for the whole family. Most options also include a dining or snack option that allows for a full afternoon of fun.
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. 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 deckhand. If heights aren’t your thing, don’t worry. Other fun water activities include wave runners, pontoon boats, kayaks and paddleboards.
About a 20-minute drive east of Pensacola Beach, you will find the Gulf Breeze Zoo. At over 50 acres, 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 wheelchair rentals.
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?