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Essentials: Everything you need to know about summer beach fun in Pensacola, Florida

PENSACOLA, Fla. – While summer is the traditional
slow season for tourist resorts in hot and muggy South Florida, it is
peak season 600 miles (965 kilometres) northwest in the beach towns of
Florida’s Panhandle. From St. George Island in the east to Pensacola
Beach in the west, there is plenty to explore in this
sometimes-overlooked region.
Pensacola Beach offers gleaming white
sand and warm turquoise waves. The beach is buffered on both sides by
lengthy stretches of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a protected
national park and wildlife sanctuary where visitors can hike, bike or
kayak along more than 20 miles (32 kilometres) of pristine shoreline.
Pensacola
Beach itself is an ideal location for a family vacation or a romantic
getaway. Smaller than the popular Panhandle towns of Destin and Panama
City Beach, there is still plenty to see and do on Pensacola Beach and
in the city of Pensacola.
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WHAT’S NEW
The hub of
Pensacola Beach is Casino Beach, which sits under a giant water tower
painted like a beach ball. In days past, food offerings on the beach’s
main fishing pier were limited to a single hot dog vendor. The new
Casino Beach Bar in Grill offers a variety of dishes including shrimp
and mango ceviche, seared ahi (yellowfin) tuna and fish tacos. The
restaurant includes a full bar along with a covered beach patio with
cooling sprayers. Visitors can enjoy their food while watching surfers
go for breaking waves near the pier or cheering on an impromptu game of
beach volleyball.
Downtown Pensacola has undergone a major
revitalization in recent years. About 10 minutes away from Pensacola
Beach, Palafox Street is downtown’s main drag. The street features a
variety of shops, bars and restaurants and is home to a regular Saturday
morning farmers market with fresh food, vegetables, baked goods and
items made by local artists and crafters.
Also new in recent years
is the Blue Wahoos minor league baseball team and waterfront stadium
downtown. The AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Wahoos’ games
offer a fun family outing with entertainment.
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CLASSIC ATTRACTIONS
On
most Sunday evenings during show season, six-F-18 fighter jets streak
over the beach before heading home to Pensacola Naval Air Station, a
U.S. Navy base. The acrobatic team of jets, called the Blue Angels, is
based here and practices here, but they travel to other locations in
spring, summer and fall for their performances.
The Blue Angels
can also be seen doing morning practices at the base in West Pensacola
on certain days. The jets can usually be seen from historic Fort Pickens
across Pensacola Bay on the eastern tip of Santa Rosa Island, the
barrier island that encompasses the beach and Gulf Islands National
Seashore. Those wanting a closer view of the elite pilots and their
fighter jets can drive 20 miles (32 kilometres) to watch the team
practices at the base.
For the practice schedule, check out
http://www.blueangels.navy.mil/media/show/2015PracticeSchedule.pdf .
Most practices are followed by autograph sessions with the pilots inside
the nearby National Museum of Naval Aviation. The museum is home to a
world-class collection of historic military aircraft and artifacts.

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TIPS
Most sections of Pensacola Beach
and Gulf Islands National Seashore do not have lifeguard towers.
Pensacola Beach is patrolled by lifeguards in trucks and ATVs, so it is
best for inexperienced swimmers to stick to the main beaches where
lifeguards are stationed.
Traffic to and from Pensacola Beach can
get heavy on weekends during the summer season. If you are staying on
the beach, plan to stay put during the weekends and make trips into town
during slower times on the weekdays.
The shoulder months of April
and October are also good times to visit — the weather is ideal and the
beach is less busy because school is in session.
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HANGING OUT
Pensacola
Beach offers a variety of stereotypical beach bars where covers of
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Jimmy Buffett’s
“Margaritaville” can be heard day and night, and fried shrimp and
oysters on the half-shell are menu staples.
For a little more
music variety, check out Paradise Beach Bar and Grill. The popular local
hangout sits on Santa Rosa Sound just across from the Holiday Inn,
Hilton and other large hotels on Via De Luna. The bar features live
musical acts. Many New Orleans musicians are frequent performers.
Of
course, the ideal place to hang out is the beach itself. Every Tuesday
night at the pavilion on Casino Beach you’ll find Bands on The Beach, a
sunset performance by various musical groups. Bring a towel, folding
chair and picnic dinner and join the crowd in enjoying the music and the
beach. Dancing is optional.

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