Ready to get away and take a break? An escape to Pensacola can be the antidote your family needs to welcome sunnier days and a renewed sense of adventure. The Pensacola Bay area encompasses Greater Pensacola, as well as Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key. The variety of activities that await – from the beaches and history to museums and more – sets Pensacola apart as a destination for families looking to spend their vacation on the Gulf Coast.
Get Out and Enjoy the Beach
The number one thing to do in Pensacola is to hit the beach. With over 20 miles of spectacular white sand and emerald green water, the beach offers free fun, entertainment, and relaxation for all. Our favorite activities include lounging, shelling, building sandcastles, and hitting the waves. Remember to pack your beach essentials and follow the rules to stay safe and have the most fun.
Adventure into Water Activities
Get out of your comfort zone and enjoy the area’s stunning emerald surf with a myriad of water sports rentals. Paddle boarding and kayaking is a favorite local way to see the area and interact with marine life. Parasailing and boat rentals are another great way to get a view of the area and relax.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Pensacola Beach has many public access points, but if you want to camp or experience a bit of history, pay the entry fee at Fort Pickens, part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Tour the remains of the Civil War fort or just enjoy the more secluded beach and unspoiled scenery. If you are looking for seashells, you won’t be disappointed here. Gulf Islands National Seashore also has a section located along Perdido Key at Johnson Beach. Passes are $25 for a private vehicle and last for seven days and can be used at any national park. Annual park passes are $45 and totally worth it!
Freaky Fast Amusement Fun & Attractions
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.
Zoom to the Zoo
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.
Experience Naval Air Station Pensacola
*NAS Pensacola is currently only open to valid DoD ID holders. DoD ID cardholders are allowed to escort up to 15 guests (limited to 2 vehicles) onto NAS Pensacola and to visit the Museum.
The National Naval Aviation Museum, located aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, is one of the area’s most popular attractions. The museum showcases more than 150 restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. Admission is free. Kids also love the 3D flight simulators and the Naval Aviation Memorial Giant Screen Theater, both of which require a purchased ticket for admission. If you visit the museum between March and November, you might catch sight of the world-famous Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron. The Blues, as many locals call them, practice in the skies over the museum most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings during the performance season. It is recommended that you check the museum website before you visit to review the requirements for entering NAS Pensacola. While you are on the base, be sure to check out historic Fort Barrancas and the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum, as well.
Step Back in Time at Historic Pensacola Village
Learn a little something about local history when you visit Historic Pensacola Village. The settlement and early years of Pensacola come to life within the preserved homes, Old Christ Church and other buildings, where you can see artifacts and photographs, and hear stories about the city’s origins. Visit the adjacent Pensacola Museum of History to learn about Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano’s 16th Century voyage to Pensacola from Spain. At the Pensacola Children’s Museum, young children will learn history through interactive play as they captain a replica ship, row a Native American canoe, or dress up in colonial period costumes.
Explore Local Parks and Trails
Saltwater marshes, lush fine forests, sand dunes and more await you on the trails in Pensacola. Hike or bike, launch a canoe or paddleboard or observe the local wildlife amidst these natural treasures. Big Lagoon State Park is the start of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail as well as the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, The GINS is the longest federally protected seashore in the United States
Beat the Heat and Head Indoors
Sometimes too much fun in the sun can be a bad thing. When you get tired of the rays, head indoors to cool off. Pensacola is home to skate parks, bowling alleys and more for those looking to have fun
They’re not picky, they just know exactly what they want, right? Just like we adults know that we want a steak or sushi, the kiddos in the room have all the right to request pizza, popcorn shrimp, and an array of Shirley Temples. As parents too, it’s always a nice treat to include entertainment for a little piece of mind so playgrounds and life-sized lawn games are sometimes exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t forget the cherry on top of that “Dirty Shirley” to fully enter vacation mode. Check out our list of family-friendly eateries below.
Bonus: Discounts and Deals for the Whole Family!
Something to remember wherever you travel within the Pensacola area is to ask about military and senior discounts if you believe a member of your party may qualify. Many businesses have options to make your vacation more affordable and fun for the whole family. Start exploring deals here.
With so many options in the Pensacola Bay Area, you could easily fill your vacation days with activities for the whole family, but don’t be afraid to slow down and just enjoy the beautiful Northwest Florida sunsets. Proceed at your own pace!
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.