While summer is the traditional slow season for tourist resorts in hot
and muggy South Florida, it is peak season 600 miles (965 kilometers)
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.
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
kilometers) 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
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
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 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.
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
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.
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 to watch the team practices at the base.
the practice schedule, check out blueangels.navy. mil. 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.
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.
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.