With its many museums and historic sites, as well as the shops, restaurants, hotels and year-round living accommodations that have revitalized Downtown Pensacola over the last two decades, more people are setting out to explore the streets of the city by foot.
Monthly Gallery Night celebrations and the weekly Palafox Market, held on Saturday mornings, have helped bring locals and visitors outdoors to enjoy life in the city. Other special events and festivals attract guests to the Downtown area throughout the year. From the bustling city center to the waterfront along Pensacola Bay, there is something to experience at every turn. If you can spend a day or two in Downtown Pensacola, here are some of the places to visit on your walking tour.
Palafox Street is the central thoroughfare running north and south through the city. At its southernmost point are the Palafox Pier and Plaza de Luna. This is also a good place to begin a walking tour, as there is usually parking available at the pier, along the street or in a nearby lot. Besides the views of Pensacola Bay, you can see boats in the adjacent marina and shipyard, as well as a bronze statue of Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano, the Spanish explorer who led the effort to establish America’s first settlement in what is now Pensacola in 1559.
As you head north on Palafox, take in the beauty of the moss-covered oak trees and crepe myrtles that line the sidewalks. Spanish-influence is seen in much of the architecture here, too. After you cross Main Street, stop into shops like Bubba’s Sweet Spot, Pure Pilates, Bodacious Brew, or Carmen’s Lunch Bar & Tapas.
Plaza Ferdinand occupies the east side of the next block. Stroll through the lawn, which includes a fountain similar to one in Seville, Spain. The magnificent cover of oaks provides shade when it is hot out. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the park is named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain, and features a bust of Andrew Jackson, the first territorial governor after the land was ceded to the United States. When you have time to visit at night, come back to this block to try Jackson’s Steakhouse or O’Riley’s Irish Pub.
From here, you can choose your own adventure by continuing north on Palafox or exploring areas to the east or west. Here are a few highlights to see in each direction.
East of Plaza Ferdinand
The Pensacola Museum of History sits due east of the plaza. Visit the museum for a look at Pensacola’s rich history that spans more than 450 years. The Pensacola Children’s Museum, the Pensacola Little Theatre and the Pensacola Museum of Art all are located just south of Zaragoza Street at Jefferson Street. Maritime murals hang outside some of the buildings in this area, while other outdoor art displays can be viewed in the plaza behind the Wentworth museum. This area also marks the beginning of the Colonial Archaeological Trail, which leads into Historic Pensacola Village with its many preserved homes and Old Christ Church.
The African American Heritage Society and the Dorr House are just north of here, while the Museum of Industry and Museum of Commerce are nearby, as well. When you reach Seville Square, enjoy the public park with its oak-shaded swings and fountain, or stop into Pensacola Bay Brewery for a growler. Restaurants here include Lucy’s in the Square, South Market, Dharma Blue and Hub Stacey’s. Seville Quarter, with seven rooms of nightlife options, is a block west of the square. To the south, you can cross Bayfront Parkway to Bartram Park, which features scenic waterfront trails, or have dinner at The Fish House.
About three blocks east on Bayfront, on the north side of the street, you can walk through Veterans Memorial Park. There are many monuments and memorials to view, or enjoy the Admiral Mason Park Walking Trail. Hackshaw Lagoon Memorial Park is directly across Bayfront Parkway overlooking the bay.
West of Plaza Ferdinand
Walking west from Plaza Ferdinand on Government Street, you will pass Historic St. Joseph Catholic Church and various municipal buildings. At Reus Street, turn south passing Union Public House, an intimate restaurant known for its gourmet specials and cocktails. Reservations are highly recommended if you plan to come back here.
Straight ahead across Main Street is Blue Wahoos Stadium and the surrounding Community Maritime Park. Home to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball team, the Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, the stadium has welcomed more than two million guests in its first seven years, and repeatedly has been named the best ballpark in Minor League Baseball. Watching a game or any event held at the stadium throughout the year is an experience rarely matched by other venues due to its proximity to the water. The breezes are certainly welcomed for summer baseball games.
Behind the stadium is an expansive and well-manicured walking and jogging space along the bay front. A playground and fitness court offer additional recreation space, and future developments are underway in this area, as well.
North on Palafox
At Palafox and Government Street, the large building with green and white striped awnings is the old Escambia County Courthouse, which now houses Artel Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery run by volunteers. The Pensacola Saenger Theater is another landmark you cannot miss. This Spanish Baroque gem, opened in 1925, continues to host Broadway plays and popular music acts, as well as a classic movie series.
One block east at Intendencia and South Jefferson streets, the area known as Southtowne features condos, the Bear Levin Studer Family YMCA, Angelena’s, a restaurant opened by Celebrity Chef James Briscione and wife Brooke Parkhurst, and shops like the Bodacious Bookstore and Properly Posh Baby.
Back on Palafox Street, shops such as Indigeaux Denim Bar & Boutique and Rusted Arrow Mercantile, which sells furniture, décor and gifts, join eateries like the Tin Cow, Dog House Deli and Cactus Cantina dotting the east side of the street. Old Hickory Whiskey Bar, Global Grill and Blue Mountain Gallery are favorite stops on the west side of the street. This area, known as Palafox Place, covers the blocks from Government Street to Garden Street, where the bright lights of Vinyl Music Hall’s marquee sign provide a recognizable landmark. Pensacola Pelican statues representing the branches of the armed forces are located at the intersection of Palafox and Garden, as well.
To the north, you find Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, where a monument and bust of the Civil Rights leader stands. It is also the site of the bustling Palafox Market, a collection of dozens of vendors selling everything from fresh produce, live plants, baked goods, fine art, antiques, craft items and more every Saturday morning.
At the Wright Street and Palafox intersection you’ll find a statue of General Bernardo de Gálvez, who, on behalf of Spain, a U.S. ally in the American Revolution, delivered Pensacola from British rule in 1781. Surrounding this intersection are shops and restaurants such as Polonza Bistro, plus some of the cities oldest churches and houses of worship.
Other Points of Interest
While it is not as convenient to visit these areas by foot from the center of the city, some additional stops to make while in Downtown Pensacola include the North Hill Preservation District, Fort George Memorial Park, Bellmont-DeVilliers Neighborhood, the Chappie James Museum of Pensacola, and St. Michael’s Cemetery. All have their own history to tell, as well.
Amy Minchin has vacationed in Northwest Florida since she was a young child. Despite a few sunburns and freckles picked up along the way, she’s been proud to call the Pensacola area home for the last seven years. She and her husband enjoy sharing Pensacola’s natural beauty, history and culture with their three daughters. An award-winning writer, Amy left a career in corporate communications and marketing to pursue freelance writing and consulting opportunities. Her writing has been published in the Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola Today, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Birmingham Magazine, Lakeland Ledger, UAB Magazine and UWF Connection. Amy shares her family’s adventures and helps others discover ways to enjoy all that the Gulf Coast has to offer through her blog, Sand in My Minivan.