As winter drags on the idea of taking a break somewhere warm becomes very appealing. Sure you can find some surf, but how many places offer other entertainment for those days when you’re tired of the sand? Florida may not have been the first place that came to mind, but once you’ve been to Pensacola you may never want to vacation anywhere else.
Let’s start with what you came here for – sun and sand. There are a lot of nice places to spread your towel in Florida, but Pensacola Beach is one of the prettiest. Far from the craziness of the resort areas, the beach here has room to walk and appreciate the glittering white sands and emerald seas so rich in colour you’d think you were in the Mediterranean. Shallow waters are suitable for kids to splash in without parents having to worry about sudden drop-offs in depth.
Perdido Key is a long strip of sand that’s perfect for strolling along or simply settling down to enjoy the water. Head to the eastern end to find the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a lovely spot for snorkeling or hiking. The beach is only open for day visits but it’s easy to find nearby accommodations – especially if you enjoy camping. With 75 sites and full camping facilities why not consider Big Lagoon State Park.
Play in the Water
Fishing fans can hang out on one of the main piers, drop a line over the side and wait for the big one, or take a charter out into the gulf and try for a really big one. Not interested? Perhaps dolphin-watching excursions pique your interest.
The clear waters are remarkably calm, a benefit provided by the barrier island Santa Rosa, and make a fine environment for sea creatures. Even more exciting is that snorkeling and diving are relatively easy here and most people can enjoy a peek at life under the sea. Divers with a little experience often head for the USS Oriskany, a retired aircraft carrier sunk in 2006 to create the world’s largest artificial reef.
The wreck of the USS Massachusetts is another favorite dive spot. Sitting in just 7.6 metres of water, the archeological preserve is home to nurse sharks, grouper and even sea turtles. Other wrecks are easily reached by boat and each has its own fascination.
Parasail over the water to get a bird’s eye view of the bay or relax on a silent sailboat and enjoy the peaceful power of the wind as you glide over the waves.
Don’t stress if you left your paddleboard or surfboard back home, there are plenty of places that rent equipment (even scuba gear) and many have lessons as well. If you’ve always wanted to learn to kayak, there’s no better place to try it out.
Play on the Land
Not far from the beaches are hundreds of trails for hiking and biking. The state is rich with natural parks and many are just a short drive from Pensacola and Perdido Key. Rent a bike to explore the parks or join a nature walk for some insight into the wildlife that live near the gulf. Even casual hikers will enjoy exploring the dunes near the shores or just walking the sand under the warm Florida sunshine.
Skip all that shrubbery one afternoon and try your hand at a round of golf. There are spectacular courses nearby and no one minds if you take a break from the game to appreciate the scenery.
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If you’ve never had really fresh seafood, you’re in for a treat. Try the cafes along the beach for relaxed meals in your swimwear looking out over the water. Many places have outdoor dining and seriously, what could be better than ending the day on a rattan chair with the breeze ruffling your hair and a Pensacola Bushwacker in your hand. Never tried a Bushwacker? Get your first one at the Sandshaker, the lounge that created the drink so good it has its own yearly festival.
Don’t let the natural beauty of the area fool you into thinking the town must shut down at night – if you are up for dancing, there’s always someplace to go. You could go home and dress to the hilt before hitting the nightclubs, but one of the best parts of vacationing here is that you don’t have to. Throw on a suit-cover, slide your toes into flip flops and you’re ready to hit the bars. Dancing might be tough, but the music somehow sounds better when there’s a little sand on your feet.
Whether you’re travelling on a dime or enjoying an all-out splurge, Pensacola is perfect. Campgrounds are available for the super-thrifty beachgoer, but there are plenty of budget hotels and even a few guesthouses that are easy on the pocketbook. Rent a condo for a longer stay, or do some hotel-hopping to try out different areas – totally doable as even the high-end hotels are quite reasonable in price.
The Big City
The City of Pensacola is only 15 minutes away and just as laid-back as the beaches – but with shopping! Take a break from the waves and enjoy museums, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and the unique feeling of small-town friendliness that is the heart of Pensacola. Visit with shop owners who may be fourth-generation family members running the business or buy a cup of coffee for a service member who’s taking a break from the base. Take a look around and you'll realize why many people use the slogan real, relaxed, simple.
VisitPensacola.com is the official tourism website
for Pensacola Beach & Perdido Key
Navigate to their site for trip planning resources and to read the destination blog.
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