Things to do in Pensacola: Beaches, Bridges, & Breweries
Pensacola, Florida is an absolutely unique town on the gulf coast that really doesn't get the attention it deserves. After visiting for a weekend, we think we've figured out why: they want to keep their charming and romantic town somewhat of a secret so it holds its character rather than transforming to a tourist serving machine.
BLUF on Pensacola:
- Palafox Place is the main street with the majority of things to do in the historic downtown district. Pensacola itself is huge, but we prefer towns that are 'walkable' and Palafox Place runs right through the heart of the town. It's packed with rooftop cafes, bars, restaurants, as well as boutique shopping and art galleries. A truly classic European feel surrounds the street.
- The architecture is as fascinating as the history, with influence from 5 'nations' - which is why the town is called the City of Five Flags.
- Lodging - avoid the chain hotels and book with something more interesting. We stayed in a Victorian house built in the 1850s that was converted to a Bed and Breakfast. It was absolutely the coolest BnB we've ever stayed in (and we've stayed in BnBs across the globe!) You can book the BnB we stayed at in the video here.
- Pensacola Beach is a slight drive from the historic district, but we can't recommend the beaches of the Emerald Coast enough. Pristine white sand and Caribbean clear water are just two of the reasons to visit. Pensacola's beach area is by far less touristy than, say, Panama City Beach, so we give it two thumbs up.
- Breweries are all the rage these days, and Pensacola currently has four. We visited two, which you can see in the video, (Pensacola Bay and Perfect Plain are right off Palafox) and they both had great vibes, pretty much free tours, and were dog friendly. They were packed with locals and the energy level, lighting, music, and overall ambiance was super pleasant.
Bottom Line - we recommend a 2-3 day visit so you can take it slow and enjoy the historic area and see a few sites that require driving. Hit the lighthouse, the fort, Palafox Place, a couple breweries, and Pensacola beach if you have the time. If you haven't already watched our video, take a look below. Keep reading to get the details on our personal experience and more advice/tips.
top thing to do in pensacola:
a day on palafox place
In a city like Pensacola, it's hard to give an action packed itinerary for the day because it would defeat the whole point. The historic area of the town has a slow and relaxed pace that demands you approach it in the same manner. Palafox Place and the side streets are just packed with so many restaurants, cafes, bars, and art galleries that there is no way to truly enjoy it if you have a schedule.
HOWEVER, we are slightly militant people and even relaxation and a "go with the flow" attitude can be improved with a bit of planning, right? So here's what we'd recommend: start at North Palafox and start walking south in the morning. No need to get a super early start on this, because like we said, you can walk the entire street in half an hour if you don't stop. So, when you see a cafe that entices you (we stopped at the Bodacious Brew because they had rooftop seating) go ahead and spend an hour enjoying an awesome cappuccino and some sort of breakfast sandwich.
After your coffee and snack, you'll notice that quite a few restaurants offer bottomless Mimosas. That's totally our style, so we'd probably sit down for a glass or three at this point. I'm sure some sort of fruit bowl would be in order as well, even though we'd technically just had breakfast.
The art galleries are here and there on Palafox, as well as some one of a kind shopping. Midday would be perfect to check each one out, as well as the art museum if you were so inclined. As the day wanes on and you end up toward the southern end of Palafox, you should stop in to one of the few breweries in the area, Pensacola Bay Brewery of Perfect Plain Brewery. Both are quite cool and have good vibes.
Just when you think you're finished with Palafox, you'll be approaching the Pier. There's not a ton to this pier at the moment, but it's a nice stroll to take a look at the sailboats slipped in the marina or head to the very end to see what sort of sea state exists in the bay. On a windy day, you'll likely see a few sailboats on the water as folks go wherever the wind takes them.
We visited two breweries on our weekend trip, so we'll only speak to these two. Perfect Plain Brewing Co has only been open for about a month (as of the writing of this article in February 2018). As soon as you walk in, you can tell they've put in some thought to the design and aesthetic of their location, which is definitely appreciated.
We also appreciate that their menu changes almost daily, so you won't grow tired of their selections. In warmer weather, they open up their garage style doors to get natural airflow and advertise that their patio is dog friendly. While we visited, there were a few dogs inside the facility as well, which we thought was super cool.
Pensacola Bay Brewery has been around a bit longer and thus they've had more time to really nail down their signature brews. Seriously, you'll probably be impressed with the beer. The facility isn't as vast as Perfect Plain, but that just forces the crowds together a bit more, so in our experience, there was more volume, more energy, and a few more spilled beers among the crowd. We can't claim it's always as energetic as it was while we were there, but it was a Saturday afternoon in the off-season, so who knows. The tour of the brewing facility in the back is $5, but a beer costs about $4.50, and the tour comes with a free beer, so you're essentially paying 50 cents for the tour. Not a bad deal to gain a bit more knowledge on the brewing process.
We'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite thing about Pensacola, but believe it or not, Jimmy had never been to a lighthouse. For said reason, that part of the trip was especially exciting. For those that want to visit this lighthouse and will be heading toward it from Pensacola itself (meaning driving toward the West), you should double check your GPS route to ensure it doesn't try to take you directly through Pensacola Naval Air Station (Pensacola NAS - it's a military base).
If you don't have government identification and/or some sort of base access, you'll likely end up confused and stressed. We're not sure why the GPS decided to take us this route - it's unlikely that google has learned we are military and can drive across military installations. We did speak to a gate guard that informed us the West entrance (on the opposite side of the base) allows civilians to access the small portion of the base that holds the lighthouse, and once we researched this, we confirmed the details on their website.
All civilian visitors to NAS Pensacola during daily operating hours must use the West Gate entrance, located approximately one mile south of the intersection of Blue Angel Parkway and Sorrento Rd. This gate closes to visitors at 4:30pm, so be sure to be on the base by that time in order to see the lighthouse.
Access to the lighthouse was $7 and is definitely worth it. It's incredibly old, built in 1859, and has been featured on an episode of ghost hunters or some other sort of spooky show. Considering we are very visual people, we found tons of photo and video opportunities and could have easily spent another hour there being creative, but alas, we had more of Pensacola to explore.
If you'd like more information, the website has driving directions, schedules, ghost tours, etc - head over to www.pensacolalighthouse.org
WHat about lodging?
You won't find a lack of lodging options in Pensacola - considering Pensacola Beach is a very popular tourist destination, the actual downtown area of Pensacola is on the rise as well and thus there are multiple chain hotels. Sometimes we feel that a review of where we stayed deserves it's own write-up if it was especially awesome....and our BnB in Pensacola was probably the coolest/most unique lodging we've had, so click here for the details!