Families looking for a little R&R at the beach this spring break will find it – and much more – in Pensacola.
(I should know. I’m fortunate to explore the area often with my husband and our three high-energy children. From one busy parent to another, consider this your guide to a fun Pensacola vacation!)
White sand beaches are the hallmark of Florida’s Gulf Coast, inviting visitors to bask in the sunshine and surf. Whether you opt for beachfront accommodations or stay in the heart of Pensacola and take a short drive to one of the public beach areas, families can relax and play at Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key.
Hearing the waves crashing from your condo or hotel balcony is hard to beat, but you can also drive to family-friendly spots like the Fort Pickens area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The beaches at Fort Pickens are often more private than some public access areas. There is a small admission fee to enter the park, but you can swim, fish, hike or enjoy a picnic lunch here. Camping is offered, too. The fort itself dates to the 1830s, and my kids love exploring the many tunnels and seeing real cannons.
The family who loves the outdoors will find activities galore in Pensacola. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are popular and available for rent. Charter boats and the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier offer many options to help you reel in the big one.
One of the most fun activities our family has experienced is a sunset dolphin cruise. We boarded the Chase-N-Fins on Santa Rosa Island and cruised into Pensacola Bay for a two-hour adventure. Just feeling the ocean breezes and seeing the sights along the coastline made for a nice evening, but the dolphins really put on a show. Kids squealed and cheered at the sight of a family of dolphins swimming near the boat. Other dolphins swam with the boat, flipping along in its wake. Have your cameras ready! We took a cooler with drinks and snacks on board with us, and the friendly staff was knowledgeable and entertaining for the kids.
You could spend your entire visit to Pensacola on the water or kicking back in the sand, but the beaches here are really just the beginning. The city is brimming with more than 450 years of history.
In Downtown Pensacola, a collection of museums, tours and living history programs tell the story of America’s first multi-year settlement. The T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum is a good starting point. An anchor from one of the ships used by Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano in the 16th Century Spanish settlement of Pensacola is housed here, along with several permanent and seasonal exhibits.
Across the street at the Pensacola Children’s Museum, young children will enjoy learning about history through imaginative play, acting out scenes from Pensacola’s past. My kids played in colonial period costumes, raised the five flags that have flown over the city, and pretended to row in a Native American canoe. Older children may appreciate touring any of several historic homes nearby or the living history exhibits offered periodically.
If taking in all of the history in this area makes you hungry, grab breakfast, lunch or dinner (or snacks in between) at restaurants along Palafox Street, a central hub of activity in the city center. After our visit to the Pensacola Children’s Museum, we walked to Bubba’s Sweet Spot for ice cream and other treats.
The National Naval Aviation Museum, where more than 150 restored aircraft from the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard are displayed, is another must-see attraction. Learn about the history of military flight as you tour the larger-than-life exhibits. Admission is free and you can easily spend a whole day here, especially if you allow time for the popular flight simulators or a movie at the Giant Screen Theater (not free). Our family tried the motion-based simulator that lets you experience what a flight with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels might feel like. All I can say is fasten your seatbelts! As an added bonus, the world-famous Blue Angels can be seen practicing over the Museum most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from late March to November. Seeing the Blue Angels fly is pure delight! Frequently members of the Blue Angels will sign autographs inside the museum at the conclusion of the Wednesday practice, too.
If sporting events are your thing, cheer on Pensacola’s hometown teams during spring break. The Pensacola Ice Flyers hockey team take the ice at Pensacola Bay Center through late March, and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball team play ball beginning in April at Blue Wahoos Stadium along Pensacola’s waterfront. Community Maritime Park, adjacent to the baseball stadium, has a large, modern playground that is fun (and free) for the little ones.
With so much to do in and around Pensacola, families can find plenty of ways to have a memorable spring break.