Many people who visit our area never get to experience the real Pensacola.

For sure, there is something to be said for Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key, where life proceeds on island time; and there’s no Southern city our size that can boast a more up-and-coming, avant-garde downtown.

But visitors who first experience Pensacola by landing at Pensacola International Airport, or who stay in the numerous hotels around the airport and near our main Interstate exchange, get to see the real Pensacola - where many locals live, eat and enjoy themselves.

Uptown/Central Pensacola features all of the nuts and bolts of modern life, including Cordova Mall and University Town Plaza, major shopping centers with well-known national retailers and specialty shops; dozens of restaurants; the main campus of Pensacola State College; and countless opportunities to be entertained and stay busy – all within a few square miles.

psc art gallery

Practically every genre of food is available in this part of town. You’ll find all the familiar fast food and casual dining options. But tucked among the retailers and reader boards you’ll also find a few gems where locals love to dine.

For years, O’Brien’s Bistro has been one of Pensacola’s best-kept secrets. Its unassuming dining room belies the attention to detail the chef puts into every dish.  The menu features delicious dishes like a roast beef and cheddar omelet, Moroccan grilled salmon with chermoula sauce and veal with peppered vodka sauce. O’Brien’s prides itself on its wine pairings.

Tuscan Oven lives up to its name. The entire dining room is centered around a 2-ton, 500-degree, hardwood-fired oven made of clay, brick and pumice produced in Italy. You can sit at a bar, watching pizza chefs work their magic. The food is just as authentic as the oven. Tuscan Oven offers the original pizza, made with tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil. Irresistible Italian topping options include capicola ham, artichokes, Prosciutto, calamari and more.

tuscan oven

If you have a yen for Asian food, head to Tu-do Vietnamese Restaurant. Open for more than 25 years, Tu-do is not a buffet. Every dish from its extensive menu is made-to-order. It’s got endless variations of beef, chicken, tofu, noodles, curry, popular and much more. Tu-do was serving up pho soup long before it became trendy.

For a different kind of Asian experience, head over to Sake Café for traditional Japanese style cuisine. The restaurant features Japanese hibachi prepared and cooked right at your table, as well as traditional tables, and a sushi bar. This chic restaurant was once a church chapel, with tall vaulted ceilings, so it feels as if you’re eating in a symphony hall.

If you’re not hungry yet, Uptown/Central Pensacola also offers a full menu of things to do.

Sky Zone will get you’re your heart pumping. Sky Zone is an indoor trampoline park with various obstacles and apparatuses to engage your muscles and your mind. It offers exercise classes, a volleyball league, glow-in-the-dark events, children’s activities and, of course, “open jump.”

skyzone

The latest mode of modern entertainment has arrived in Pensacola with Gulf Coast Escape Room. Who wouldn’t want to be “locked” in a room with only a few clues and tools to help you get out? Pick your scenario from options like the Zombie Autopsy or Bates Motel.

Roger Scott Athletic Complex is the crown of the Pensacola’s public parks. On more than five acres of center city property, Roger Scott includes tennis courts, a pool, a gym, a dog park and walking/jogging paths. Visitors looking for an outdoor experience in the middle of town must visit Roger Scott.

roger scott

If you are artistically inclined – or maybe even if you’re not – there are at least two opportunities in this part of Pensacola to have fun with paint. At Painting with a Twist, you can enjoy a class that is intended to produce as many laughs as works of art while sipping your favorite wine (that’s the “twist” part) and at Kil’n Time Studio you can schedule a ceramic-painting party with your family or drop in and make your art solo.

There’s so much more to do in our part of town: you can grab an exquisite cup of Intelligentsia coffee at Leisure Club Coffee Bar and Restaurant, play some 10-pin at Cordova Lanes, enjoy the latest blockbuster on the Imax screens at AMC Bayou 15 movie theatre, help crank up the karaoke at O'Riley's Uptown Tavern – a local’s favorite for more than 40 years.

Don’t let your trip to Northwest Florida go by without breathing in the real Pensacola.