Known to most as the cradle of naval aviation, Pensacola’s military history spans back to military conquests in 1559 when Don Tristan De Luna was sent to settle the northern part of the globe. Over time, Pensacola has been the epicenter of military dealings between battles and training. Read below for a roundup of all things military-related in the Pensacola Bay Area that you should experience. *Anything onboard NAS Pensacola requires someone with a DoD ID to be present. Wherever you want to visit aboard NAS Pensacola, it is important to plan ahead and follow procedures for entering the base. Please remember – all visitors must enter NAS at the West Gate civilian entrance on Blue Angel Parkway (unless you are military).
National Naval Aviation Museum
One of the Pensacola Bay Area’s most popular destinations for visitors, the National Naval Aviation Museum, has consistently ranked one of the Top 25 museums in the nation by the travel website TripAdvisor. This glimpse into modern-day naval defense leads you into the heart of the museum, where you can explore over a century of military history. More than 150 restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation are displayed, including many rare and one-of-a-kind flying machines.
After you peruse the many aircraft and artifacts, take to the skies in one of the museum’s 3D flight simulators or watch a film at the Naval Aviation Memorial Giant Screen Theater, both of which require a purchased ticket for admission.
Catch a Blue Angels Practice
March-Sept. America's favorite flight squadron takes to the skies on select days to practice its famed air shows and YOU can have a front-row seat to it. For those DoD ID cardholders and their guests who can access NAS Pensacola and visit the National Naval Aviation Museum, they will be offering the opportunity to view Blue Angels practice flight demonstrations on the flight deck. Viewing opportunities outside of NAS Pensacola include Fort Pickens, boat cruises, and various points throughout downtown.
Pay Your Respects at Barrancas National Cemetery
Barrancas Cemetery, open daily from sunrise to sunset, covers close to 100 acres. Many Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate are buried in the cemetery, which became a national cemetery in 1868. Expanded numerous times over the years, the cemetery is still used for military interments today. Flowers are allowed year-round and numerous decoration events occur throughout the year.
Please note, for security purposes, you must present a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and current proof of car insurance to enter Barrancas Cemetery. Guests should be prepared to complete forms requiring a Social Security Number and other personal information, as well.
Climb Hight at the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum is another stop to make on your tour of NAS Pensacola. If you are so inclined (and wearing closed-toe shoes), climb the 177 steps to the top of the 160-year-old lighthouse for views of Pensacola Pass, where Pensacola Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, as well as three historic forts, Downtown Pensacola and the Navy Yard. Stroll through the Richard C. Callaway Museum, located on the ground floor, to learn about local history, Civil War and U.S. Coast Guard history and more. You may even hear a thing or two about ghosts, which many believe haunt the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse and museum are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 for adults or $4 for ages 65+, military and children age 12 and under.
To experience military history first hand, take a walk through the storied arches and stand where cannons were fired at Fort Barrancas. Built in 1844 on a bluff overlooking Pensacola Bay, Fort Barrancas saw combat action during the Civil War. Confederate troops occupied the fort during a fight against Union forces camped at Fort Pickens in 1861. With brick walls standing 20 feet high and four feet thick, the diamond-shaped fort, which included a water battery and drawbridge, continues to impress visitors today as a monument of early military engineering and national defense. The fort is open Thursday-Monday, 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. A Fort Barrancas self-guided tour map is available to download to any mobile device.
Veteran’s Memorial Park
Dedicated to the memory of servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives defending the United States, Veterans Memorial Park is a multi-acre public space near the Pensacola Bayfront. It is home to Wall South, the first permanent replica of the National Vietnam Wall Memorial, as well as memorials for lives lost in the Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War on Terror. Other statues and plaques honor courageous individual efforts and local heroes. Special ceremonies are frequently held in the park, and it is a good place to take children or anyone who wants to learn more about honoring the U.S. military.
Fort Pickens is one of four military forts designed to protect Pensacola in the 1800s. Located on Pensacola Beach on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens is accessible by foot and boat and is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Entrance fees are required and collected upon admittance into the park. The Fort Pickens area is anchored by the historic landmark and offers many recreational activities including fishing both from the shore and the pier, exploring trails and the fort, birdwatching, camping and so much more. A visitor information center is located at the west end of the island and includes a history museum on the area.
Have a Drink with Trader Jon
Martin "Trader Jon" Weissman, owner and namesake of Trader Jon's Bar, was well known for his personal eccentricities such as his famously mismatched socks and "Tradernomics" as well as his eclectic establishment. One of Pensacola's top tourist destinations for decades, Trader Jon's, decorated with photos and memorabilia, some traded for drinks, was a safe haven where young flight students, military personnel, astronauts and movie stars rubbed shoulders with local politicians, characters and the occasional ne'er-do-well. Trained as a U. S. paratrooper in WWII, Trader's lifelong love of naval aviation and his livelihood were inseparable. There was truly nothing like it on Earth! Step inside and experience the legend that was Trader Jon's.
The Trader Jon Room is housed in the Pensacola Museum of History. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.