From sugar-white beaches to the Blue Angels, Visit Pensacola offers travelersfive fun, free activities to experience in the Pensacola Bay Area this fall
This historic port city, located on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, boasts more than just beautiful, powdered-sugar beaches and jewel-green water. The Pensacola Bay Area also offers some of the best values of any coastal destination — giving a much-needed break to you and your budget. Indeed, many of the area’s most popular attractions are absolutely free.
Here are five of Visit Pensacola’s favorite no-cost ways to enjoy a Pensacola fall vacation:
1. Step Back into History – Pensacola’s downtown is full of historic sites, but the truth is, with more than 450 years of history, every step one takes on this city’s brick sidewalks or public parks is a part of the United States’ earliest days and memories. The Pensacola Bay Area was home to the first European settlement in the New World, founded by Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna in 1559. Over the centuries, the flags of Spain, Britain, France, the Confederacy and the United States all have flown over the “City of Five Flags,” each new culture influencing our art, cuisine, religion, architecture and way of life. Want to take it all in? Break out your walking shoes. Start at Plaza de Luna where we pay tribute to our city’s founder with a waterfront monument and work your way north along historic Palafox Street, the heart of Downtown Pensacola. Stroll through Ferdinand Plaza where Andrew Jackson took back Florida from the Spanish in 1821. Mosey through the oak-canopied Seville Square where Old Christ Church stands and then detour through some of the neighboring streets to view some of Pensacola’s oldest houses. Some date back to the early 19th Century, and are built in the Victorian, Spanish and Mediterranean Revival architecture styles. End your tour at St. Michael’s Cemetery, one of the two oldest cemeteries in the state of Florida. Historical research indicates that the site was in use as a burial ground beginning in the mid 1700s, however the land was officially designated a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807. The eight-acre cemetery has approximately 3,200 marked graves, with subsurface anomalies possibly indicating an additional 4,000-plus unmarked graves, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This open-air museum and history lesson is shaded by ancient live oaks and is definitely worth a visit while in Pensacola.
2. Geocache your way through four different trails – The Pensacola Bay Area has been loved by explorers since 1559. Now you, too, can embark on your own adventure and discover our destination on the Explore Pensacola GeoTour. Using a GPS-enable device, instead of a compass, you can become a modern-day Tristan de Luna in search of hidden treasure. The Explore Pensacola GeoTour is comprised of four different trails – Western Gate Trail, Historic Pensacola Trail, Cultural Trail and Coastal Trail. Your family will have fun exploring our award-winning beaches, discovering the history and becoming immersed in our culture on this fun outdoor adventure. Complete all four geocaching trails and you’ll receive an Explore Pensacola GeoTour coin from Visit Pensacola. For each trail completed, you will receive a commemorative bracelet unique to that trail. So, what are you waiting for?
3. Military Memorials – Located on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Barrancas National Cemetery traces its history to three 19th century forts that once guarded the entry to one of the best natural harbors in the Gulf of Mexico — Pensacola Bay. The pre-Civil War cemetery at Fort Barrancas began as a small post cemetery for those who lived and worked at the U.S. Navy Yard Pensacola. Burials from this time period were located in the southeast corner of the original cemetery. With the onset of the Civil War, the cemetery expanded to the north and west to accept the remains of soldiers killed in action. In 1868, the site was officially designated as Barrancas National Cemetery. Today the cemetery is the final resting place for more than 36,000 military veterans, including several Medal of Honor recipients, the nation’s highest military decoration. The cemetery is open to the public Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors to the base must enter through the back gate on Blue Angel Parkway. In addition to Barrancas Cemetery, Pensacola is also home to what is commonly known as the “Wall South,” the only permanent replica of the National Vietnam Memorial. In 1992, a half-scale version of the memorial was unveiled at what is now called Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park overlooking Pensacola Bay. Today, the park now includes a WWI Memorial, WWII Memorial, a Korean War Memorial, and a series of plaques to honor local warriors who have fallen in the Global War on Terror. There is also a Purple Heart Memorial and a monument to the submarine lifeguards who rescued so many Navy pilots in WWII. Its most recent addition is the Marine Corps Aviation Bell Tower, a popular venue for local veteran’s events and ceremonies. For those that wish to honor the memory of those who have sacrificed their lives in the service and defense of the United States, Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park is a must.
4. Experience the thrill of flight – Pensacola’s naval base is known as the “The Cradle of Naval Aviation” and honored to be home to the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s elite flight demonstration squadron. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, you can catch the Blues practicing their jaw dropping maneuvers over Naval Air Station Pensacola on mostTuesday and Wednesday mornings for free. Plus, every November, the Blues close out their season with one final performance of the year. The 2016 Blue Angels Homecoming Air Showtakes place Nov. 11 and 12 and includes spectacular day and nighttime aerobatic performances, featuring the world-famous Blues. What makes this air show unique is that spectators can get up close and personal with the airplanes and the pilots. They can see, touch and climb into the planes on static display, talk to the pilots before and after performances and meet the Blue Angels who visit the flight line. In addition to our hometown Blue Angels, Pensacola is also home to the world’s largest naval aviation museum, which spans more than 350,000 square feet. Step back in time, and experience biplanes of the Great War, record-setters, experimental platforms and survivors of epic aerial battles, while viewing more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft along the museum’s floors and vast ceilings. Climb into airplane cockpits and check out vintage military planes from the ‘60s, ‘50s, ‘40s and earlier, along with more than 4,000 artifacts, posters, pictures and military uniforms on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is always free. *** For an extra fee, you can test your air-combat skills in a jet simulator or watch the IMAX film, “The Magic of Flight,” on the Giant Screen Theater inside the museum.
5. Relax on award-winning beaches – Named “Best Florida Beach” and “Best East Coast Beach” in USA Today readers’ choice polls, recognized as one of the best naturally preserved coastlines in the nation, and consistently ranked in Trip Advisor’s Top 10 Beaches in the country — the beaches of Pensacola boast some pretty impressive accolades, and the list just keeps growing. Visitors will find some of the most pristine beaches in the world along the barrier islands that are home to Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach, where blue skies meet emerald-green water and sugar-white sand with wispy sea oats, providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation.
From toes in the sand to angels in the sky, Pensacola offers an impressive variety of experiences for all ages. And what better time to visit than the fall— when the water is still warm and the crowds have dwindled, a cooler breeze is in the air, and there are better bargains to be had on beachfront accommodations?
To learn more about the Pensacola Bay Area or to plan a trip of your own, head to www.visitpensacola.com.