From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Known to some as the “city of five flags,” Pensacola has changed hands a time or two — but it’s always been true to its undeniable nature as a beautiful seaside gem of a community. With its white sand beaches, sparkling turquoise waters, friendly faces and multiplicity of places to dine, discover, and explore, Pensacola is truly a town well worth getting acquainted with. That’s why we put together this guide for you to get out there and explore!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Tucked as it is along Florida’s scenic panhandle, Pensacola is teeming with incredible wild spaces to explore and discover. Here are some of the coolest state and national parks and preserves in the vicinity of Pensacola, FL.
Encompassing more than 700 miles of coastal shoreline, Big Lagoon State Park offers stunning beachfront — but also so much more. As its name suggests, it’s also home to the aptly named Big Lagoon, as well as Wild Grande Lagoon and its minor tributaries. The park also includes a variety of archeological sites, whose evidence suggests that this area has long been prized for its abundance of shellfish. Today, this park beckons visitors for hiking, sunbathing, bird watching and more. Thanks to its lagoons, it’s also a great place for canoeing and paddling.
Nestled along the length of the barrier island of the same name, Perdido Key State Park offers nearly 300 acres of beautiful white sand beaches and rolling sand dunes, and thanks to the area’s unique geography is home to not one but two beautiful waterfronts. Along with being an alluring place for people to visit, this stretch of sea and sand is also home to a variety of endangered species, such as the Perdido Key Beach Mouse and nesting sea turtles.
Spanning more than 4,000 acres at the westernmost edge of Florida’s panhandle, just across the bay from Alabama, Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park is an incredible place for hiking, birding, wildlife watching, fishing, and simply basking in the presence of such enormous biological diversity. Case in point, this park is home to four endangered species of pitcher plants, as well as nearly a hundred other rare plants and animals!
Relatively small (in comparison with other parks we’ve covered in this guide), but mighty, Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park protects one of the last remaining wet prairies in the state of Florida (and America at large), and is home to a variety of rare carnivorous plants and endangered animals. The park offers a nature trail for hikers and an interpretive exhibits, as well as beautiful waterside views.
Thanks to the multiplicity of state parks and preserves in its area, Pensacola is a great place to get your boots on the ground — or in the ground, depending on how muddy and sandy it’s gonna get where you’re going! Here are some of the best hiking trails to check out in and around Pensacola, FL.
Running just shy of six miles and seeing approximately 50 feet in elevation gain, the Perdido Bayou Trail, tucked into Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park, is easy enough for beginners, but challenging enough to help you break a sweat. Along the way, you’ll wander through typical Florida pine forests and along the water, and you may also spot wildflowers throughout the landscape.
Located right on campus, the University of West Florida Trail runs about four miles long and sees a little more than 200 feet in elevation gain, making it downright hilly by Florida standards. Commonly used by hikers and runners, this trail is also friendly for mountain bikers and those walking with the whole family, kids and dogs included — so long as Spot stays on her leash!
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with Big Lagoon State Park is to take the Sand Pine Loop and Big Lagoon Observation Tower hike, which runs a little less than six miles altogether and includes both raised boardwalk and sandy trails. The observation tower is a great place to get a full lay of the land, including endless views of the ocean as well as the lagoon and surrounding communities.
A short but sweet venture tucked into Bay Bluff Park, the Bay Bluffs Boardwalk Trail is less than a mile all told, but includes access to lots of side trails you can use to lengthen your outdoor adventure experience. Thanks to the inclusion of some stair steps, this trail is considered moderate by Florida standards, but is still fairly easy for those who hike often or are otherwise in good shape.
Less than a mile and a half all told and seeing just about no elevation gain, the Jones Swamp Wetland and Nature Preserve Trail is a great trail for beginners. The raised boardwalk meanders through the surrounding forest and swamp, offering ample shade and birdwatching opportunities. The trail is also open to dogs but they must be kept on leash the entire time.
Between hitting the beach, hiking the local trails and meandering the streets of downtown Pensacola, chances are you’re going to work up one heck of an appetite. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to sate your hunger in Pensacola! Here are some of our favorite suggestions.
Sometimes, some of the very best eats you can find come from the most unexpected places. In Pensacola, the best example of that phenomenon is Taqueria El Asador, a modest, family-owned food truck which dishes out some of the most delicious and authentic Mexican eats in town. From a variety of tacos to burritos, tostadas and more, every bite is fresh and handmade with love. Enjoy!
It’s not really a full experience of the south if you don’t get some Creole-inspired southern cooking — which is exactly what’s on offer at Five Sisters Blues Cafe, a beloved local restaurant serving up comforting and hearty fare. From fried green tomatoes to collards to shrimp & grits and more, there’s no way you’ll leave this place hungry!
A winner of multiple awards across a variety of categories, Alice’s Restaurant is a Pensacola go-to for foodies who know that the very best meals are not only complemented, but augmented by a suitable wine pairing. With a menu inspired by the decadence of Italian cuisine but constantly upping the ante in terms of creativity and flavor combinations, this place is an absolutely must-do for date night.
Along with its all-you-can-eat sushi selections, which feature hand rolls, sashimi, specialty rolls and more, Sushi Masa also offers up a range of delicious hot plates, including Japanese favorites like katsu and teriyaki as well as hibachi grill delights. There’s truly something to please everybody!
If you’re looking for a taste of India, well, that’s exactly what you’ll get at New Taste of India, a chic, modern joint, which offers up comforting and savory fare in style. From Biryani to curries and including a vast array of vegetarian and vegan selections for the plant-based set, this restaurant is sure to please every palate in your party.
Miami and Orlando might get all the glory, but make no mistake about it: there’s plenty of fun to be had in Pensacola. Whether you’re adventuring with the family or exploring with your sweetheart — and even for those flying solo — here are our favorite must-dos in this panhandle town.
Bringing the kiddos along to explore? There’s plenty to keep them engaged and entertained in Pensacola; here are some options.
You don’t have to road trip all the way to Orlando to benefit from Florida’s rich tradition of theme parks. Sam’s Fun City is an amusement and water park tucked right into the heart of Pensacola proper, including roller coasters, go karts, fair food, and all sorts of other fun attractions that’ll keep you occupied for an afternoon — or longer. Thank goodness they offer annual passes!
Offering a menu not of dining options, but full-on culinary experiences, Pensacola Cooks isn’t a restaurant — it’s an educational kitchen where chefs of all ages can learn new skills and then put them to the test, crafting delicious, specialty recipes you’d never dream you could enjoy at home. Offering events suitable for adults as well as children, this is a great spot for families to help get their kids excited about the necessity of feeding themselves throughout their lives… but also a solid option for those looking for things for couples to do in Pensacola.
While you certainly won’t run out of things to do during the daytime in Pensacola, the good news is, there’s plenty to get into at night, too. Here are some of our favorite after-hours to dos in town.
Pensacola may be a bustling beachside city now, but it’s been around for a while — and plenty of souls have come and gone in this place. Learn more about the local hauntings and happenings aboard a fun and spooky Ghosts and Graveyards Tour, which will orient you to the unseen history of Pensacola. (No guests under 13 allowed!)
Think of it as an open air market, but for nightlife: Seville Quarter offers seven themed rooms including a pool hall, a dance club, and multiple dining and bar options, and also offers space for private events and shows. With more than five decades of entertainment history, a trip to this place truly amounts to leaving your mark on the Pensacola scene.
Don’t want to take out a second mortgage to enjoy all there is to see and do in Pensacola? Good news: You don’t have to! Here are some cheap things that are still well worth pursuing in town.
Everyone knows that the Florida shores are considered gold by local surfers… but have you ever thought about taking them on yourself? Even if you don’t have any experience, a variety of local outfitters are standing by to give you lessons and also rental equipment so you can take to the waves like a pro. (Well… maybe after a few tries. Hey, surfing is hard!) Check out Innerlight Surf Shop or Waterboyz for two popular options.
An important piece of United States history, Fort Pickens is named after the Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens, and was one of only a handful of forts that remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War. Today, it’s part of the larger Gulf Islands National Seashore attraction, which spans from Florida to Mississippi and offers many unique opportunities to get acquainted with the area’s landscape and legacy.
It’s a fact: there’s a lot you can get into in Pensacola that’s 100% free of charge. Here are some options.
Offering a one-of-a-kind perspective on the evolution of naval aviation — and better yet, completely free of charge — the National Naval Aviation Museum is a Pensacola must-stop, even if you think you’re not particularly interested in this kind of history. We promise, once you meander through its educational and entertaining exhibits, you will be!
There’s a reason the string of beautiful Gulf beaches near Pensacola are often referred to as The Emerald Coast. With deep green-blue waters and soft, white sands, the beach is this area’s number one attraction… and aside from parking and whatever snacks might beckon from the boardwalk, they’re completely free! That’s hard to beat.
As beautiful as wavy beach hair is, sometimes, you need a little bit of professional help — or maybe just a massage. Here are the best salons and day spas in Pensacola.
From classics like massage and facials to more in-depth treatments like body wraps, microneedling and dermaplaning, Escape Wellness Spa is all about bringing you the services you need most in a friendly and professional atmosphere. Both beautifying and rejuvenating, you’ll be sure to leave this spot both looking and feeling better than you did when you walked in.
Obviously, looking your best is about more than just keeping up with the latest trends… but it certainly can’t hurt to have help from folks who know what’s happening! Trends Salon & Spa offers both hair styling and color as well as spa services, nail care, waxing and more. They’ll also help you gear up for your big day with wedding styling services.
Any body can be a bikini body — but if you’re after a great sweat session, here are the best Pensacola gyms and yoga studios to help put you in the right frame of mind.
A no-nonsense, locally-owned establishment that truly offers something for the needs of everybody, Pensacola Fitness is stocked with all the free weights, cardio machines and strength training equipment you need to make your goals a reality, and also offers a range of circuit training and classes to help motivate you if you’re not quite ready to get there on your own.
Yoga is so many things — but one of the most important is a reminder to sit back, relax, and take a deep breath (or ten). At Breathe Yoga and Wellness Center, you’ll be guided toward calm and enlightenment by dedicated and empathetic practitioners who have been on both sides of the mat. The winner of many “Best of the Coast” awards, this place is beloved by locals.
With the stunning beaches and sunshine shimmering on the water to keep you occupied, chances are good you won’t want to leave Pensacola anytime soon. But when the urge for a day trip or long weekend strikes, you’ve got options! Here are a few.
The beaches are wonderful, but if you’ve yet to jump into a Floridian cold spring, you’re in for a treat: 72 degrees year round, these clear blue pools are chilly in summer and relatively warm in the winter, and Ponce de Leon Springs are less than a hundred miles from Pensacola. (They’re also named after the Spaniard who first colonized Florida back in the 1500s!)
It’s not a long trip to cross state lines and see what life is like in sweet home, Alabama — and Mobile is the perfect beachside town to hang your hat for your visit. Home to a great diversity of museums and restaurants as well as the oldest organized carnival/Mardis Gras celebration in the United States, Mobile is well worth your drive time… especially since it’s under an hour!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Pensacola that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Pensacola? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.