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Museums Add Unexpected Vacation Dimension

While visitors flock to Pensacola for our sugar-white beaches and emerald-green surf, there is a wealth of fascinating history and culture to be discovered just a short ride from shore in the community’s many diverse museums.

Downtown View

Downtown Pensacola – the first European settlement in North America, established by Spanish explorer Don Tristan De Luna in 1559 – offers a collection of museums focused on the area’s rich history and culture.

The T. T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is the flagship museum of the University of West Florida Historic Trust, which manages several history museums in Downtown Pensacola.

Much of the permanent collection at the Wentworth Museum – housed in the three-story, 1908 former Pensacola City Hall – pays homage to Pensacola's heritage as the "City of Five Flags," referencing the Spanish, French, English, Confederate and U.S. jurisdictions that have controlled the city.

It was from the Wentworth Museum’s second-floor balcony that Spanish King Juan Carlos I addressed citizens of Pensacola on his 2009 visit to mark the 450th anniversary of De Luna’s landing.

Also among the Historic Trust museums is Voices of Pensacola. Opened in 2014, Voices is a multicultural center that features exhibits about the various cultures that helped shape Pensacola. It offers oral history recordings, documents, maps, and photographs.

Another downtown amenity, the Pensacola Children’s Museum, provides visitors 10 and younger with a hands-on experience of local history, including explorations of Pensacola’s colonial period, military heritage, Native American influence and more.

The Voices of Pensacola multicultural center also offers youngsters an organized story time.

Fine art lovers are not left out of the Downtown Pensacola museum scene. The Pensacola Museum of Art’s permanent collection includes works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Miriam Schapiro. The museum hosts a continuous stream of rotating exhibits, as well.

Maritime History

Since the 19th century, Pensacola has served as a home for the U.S. Navy. In 1914, the Navy performed its first flight at the base here, earning the community the distinction of being the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”

One of the most-visited museums in Florida, the National Naval Aviation Museum showcases more than 150 painstakingly-restored aircraft. The museum also offers innumerable artifacts from presidential memorabilia to astronaut space suits, as well as flight simulators, a recently-updated giant screen digital movie theater, the Cubi Bar Café, Blue Angel practice and autograph sessions, a gift shop and more.

Even before naval flight, the Pensacola Lighthouse served as a beacon to mariners on the sea. The lighthouse was built in 1859 and stands 191 feet above sea level. A museum is located in what was once the keeper’s quarters, and visitors are encouraged to climb the 177 steps to the top of the tower.

Featured on the Travel Channel’s “Haunted Lighthouses of America,” the lighthouse offers ghost-hunting tours as well as various special events, including romantic champagne toasts for two at sunset, Blue Angel practice viewing from the lighthouse catwalk, a Christmas-themed event and more.

So, after a few days on the sand, come inland and explore the history and culture that have developed all around our beautiful beaches for almost 500 years.

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