Sugar-fine white sand beaches. Emerald coloured waters. A warm breeze blows in from sea. We get why Canadians visit Pensacola - and keep coming back. It's Gulf of Mexico bliss meets laid-back cityscape. This is a community where one can surf the break after sunrise, and spy dolphins at sunset atop a stand up paddleboard. In between, there's beach, greens and deep sea to explore. We asked Pensacola locals for insider information and here's what they say visitors absolutely should not miss.
1. Break out the paddles
The best way to enjoy Pensacola Bay’s natural attractions? One resounding answer: by water. Specifically? By kayak or canoe. (We bet you're envisioning canoeing in the tropics right now - a slight diversion from the vision of one cutting through a placid Canadian lake - eh?) Visitors can rent canoes or kayaks to explore beautiful areas like Big Lagoon State Park, Fort Pickens, Johnson Beach, Perdido River or Blackwater River State Park. These areas take paddlers through secluded forests and beaches. While you're out, spot a variety of birds and fish as you move through various landscapes of beaches, wetlands and saltwater marshes.
2. Meet a dolphin
Take an excursion to see dolphins and other wildlife in Pensacola Bay. Multiple boat charters like Chase-N-Fins offer one- and two-hour tours that take you to an area known for dolphin viewing. Trust us, this is something the kids will not be able to stop talking about.
3. Take a ride above the water
The first thing to know about parasailing is that you’ll get much higher than you ever imagined. The other thing to know is it’s eerily quiet, in a relaxing way, as when being pulled behind a boat high in the air by a giant parachute. It’s easy to go parasailing in the Pensacola Bay Area: rental spots like Bonifay Water Sports and Key Sailing are both recommended options. Never tried it before? No worries, no experience needed. Both operators offer personal training before pulling you across the bay for a bird’s-eye view of the city and the beach.
4. Hit the links
As they say, "When in Florida...golf!" Okay, we just made that up, but greens are one of the first things we think of when we envision the orange state. And for good reason; there's a host of world-class courses. Lost Key Golf Club is an Arnold Palmer signature designed course with premier grass called Sea Dwarf Paspalum. The course takes pride in being one of the few golf courses that is naturally resourced and protective of the environment. Marcus Pointe Golf Club is another fantastic course with an award-winning 600 acres of rolling hills and fairways.
5. Pull out the tents—or 'glampers'
Why camp in a forest when you can do it at the beach? Whether you’re travelling by RV or bringing tents, the Pensacola Bay Area is great for camping by the beach. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy beautiful natural settings in Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach. The campgrounds can accommodate both tent and RV camping. Just imagine the sun setting over the horizon, flooding vivid colours across the sky. Then imagine the cloak of twilight cascading the world into darkness. Life's a beach!
6. Go fishing
BYOB (that's bring your own boat) or take a charter to cast your line into the world's luckiest fishing hole. Some of the best fishing happens just off Pensacola's coast. What can anglers expect to catch? Blackfin tuna, almaco jack, blue marlin, cobia, kind mackerel, gag grouper, spotted sea trout, wahoo, flounder and yellowfin tuna all frequent the area's waters. Charter boats like A Reel Eazy supply fishing poles and bait, making a fishing expedition extremely easy—though catching something isn’t guaranteed. Some tours will even cook or grill your fish on the boat just minutes after your catch.
7. Seek hidden treasure
The beaches of the Pensacola Bay Area have been an oasis for explorers since 1559. Visit Pensacola offers a unique Geocaching Tour, providing you with coordinates instead of a compass. The four designated trails for geocaching provide explorers an educational tour on the history, culture and wildlife of Florida’s panhandle.
Never geocached before? Get ready to turn your hikes, walks and wanderings into treasure seeking! Millions of hidden caches have been placed in obscure places around the globe. As you read this, chances are, you're sitting within a couple hundred metres of one right now. Geocaching started 160 years ago, using clues to guide players to hidden caches. As Global Positioning System (GPS) became accurate and available to the public, the game was revived using specific coordinates instead of clues. Once GPS became commonplace on smart phones, apps were created to allow almost anyone to join in the game.
8. Obviously, go to the beach
8. Obviously, go to the beach
The most obvious thing to do in Pensacola Bay Area is to hit the beach. Florida’s panhandle is known for its pearly white sands and crystal-clear warm waters, making it a paradise for beach-goers. When not swimming or sunbathing, take a walk along the coast and collect seashells as souvenirs. One of the reasons we especially love the beaches in the area? The sand doesn't burn under foot. (Perfect for little feet!)
9. Go on a ghost hunt
(c) Visit Pensacola
Do you believe in the paranormal? The historic Pensacola Lighthouse offers year-round ghosts hunts for the brave. It's even been featured on the TV show Ghost Hunters. So how spooky is it? It’s been classified as one of America’s most haunted lighthouses and documented paranormal activities take place when the sun goes down.
10. Tower climbing
Big Lagoon State Park is 655 acres of activities for everyone. Take in the natural surroundings and meet the local residents like blue herons and hawks. Kayak through the salt marshes or go fishing. (Canadians will need a license.) Be sure to walk to and climb the three-story observation tower for breathtaking views of the park and the Intracoastal Waterway. (Bring the camera...and maybe even the selfie stick.) On your walk back, stop by Long Pond, known for alligator sightings. Entrance fees to the park are $6 per vehicle.
11. Dive to great depths
Fancy diving down to the world's largest intentional artificial reef? The USS Oriskany lies 40 kilometres southeast of Pensacola, at a depth of 65 metres. Open water divers will note that's a bit deep, however one encounters the at 25 metres and flight deck at 44 m. Laying in a water grave, the 277 metre aircraft carrier is a hulking sight to behold. 'In a previous life' she was active in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Diving this site is literally like touching history.
Ready to start crossing items off the bucket list?
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