Welcome to some of the cleanest and sugary white sand beaches in the World! Where “Yes ma’am, no sir, thanks ya’ll,” is the local lingo and grits, hush puppies, crayfish, pimento cheese are on the menu? Yes, Pensacola Beach and its region feels a world apart from what I knew about Florida. When people think of Florida, their mind usually wanders to Disney in Orlando or to the southern beaches in Miami, Key West, Naples, and Clearwater. These are some of the most widely visited attractions. I naturally thought this way too, until a little birdie told me to visit Pensacola Beach. My worry was that it would be like Panama City where Spring Break took its toll. To my delight, Pensacola Beach was nothing like the over touristed after party or the Florida I know.
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With over 18 miles of emerald water coastline, Pensacola Beach is home to some of the cleanest and whitest sand beaches you’ll ever find. Pensacola Beach is a fusion of the Deep South charm and beach life. Here, you’ll find polite social etiquette with a neighborly nod and wave from locals. It makes perfect sense when you realize how close Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia are to the bordering town. Only an hour from Mobile, AL; 3 hours to New Orleans, LA; and 4 hours to the GA border. On the other hand, you’ll find the community to be active in the beach life with no shortage of water toys and outdoor living.
Where to Stay
When you arrive to Pensacola, it looks like an ordinary suburban town. Where you’ll likely stay is across the bridge to Santa Rosa island where it’s surrounded by ocean and bays. One of the most recognized beach hotel brands is Margaritaville with several locations across US cities. The one in Pensacola is one of the few 4 star rated hotels in the area. Since it’s a small community, there are no 5 stars but you can rent luxury private homes with fabulous amenities. It’s location is ideal as it is situated among local condominiums instead of a hotel strip. Even at max capacity, the hotel beach and nearby areas were never crowded. It is also a gulf front property and sandwiched between the ocean and the bay. No matter which room you reserve, you’ll get a water view.
We stayed in the Executive Bay View Suite with a wonderful wrap around balcony for 5 nights. The room faced directly towards the bay and it wrapped around to the ocean. The accommodation was spacious with an extended living room and large bathroom with separate shower and full soaking tub. All windows had views of the water.
The hotel came with nice amenities. There was a gym, large pool with bar and towel service, free bike rentals, restaurant, and room service. There is salon/spa and laundry services off property. I was disappointed they did not have turn down service in the evenings, but if you needed extra towels or anything else they quickly provided it. Room service and to go orders were served within 30 mins.
The Margaritaville Hotel can book out quickly during peak seasons, especially their Executive Suites. Check out their current rates and availability here.
What to Do
There’s plenty to do in Pensacola. You can rent any toy you’d like for water sports- motorized or not. There’s plenty of beaches, hiking trails, museums, and landmarks to visit. We wish we could’ve stayed longer to experience everything. Here are some of the highlights that we enjoyed and would recommend.
Paddle Board on Little Sabine Bay
We rented some paddle boards directly across the street from our hotel. There’s a little hut called Horizons Beach Rentals that is not always manned during low season but you can call the number and an attendant will meet you there in 10 mins. Cost is $25/hr per paddle board but since it was not busy, the attendant didn’t care how long we used it. The water was calm and we enjoyed the drifting as much as the paddling.
See the Lighthouse
This activity is definitely a must when visiting Pensacola. What most people do not know is the fascinating history of this area. One of the historic landmarks is the Lighthouse Museum and it still remains active today to aid in navigation. It’s 150 feet tall and sits on a 40 feet bluff.
You have to climb 177 steps to reach the top where breathtaking views of the gulf coastline awaits you. If you’re lucky, you might even see the Blue Angel pilots flying their jets that day.
The visit to Lighthouse is $7 per adult and $4 for children, seniors, and Military Service Members.
The Lighthouse also has a small museum where you can learn about its history.
Outside of the museum are games where anyone can play or enjoy the well groomed grounds.
Visit the Naval Aviation Museum
After visiting the Lighthouse, go right across the street to visit The Naval Aviation and Aerospace Museum where you can see and interact with fighter jets. It is a large and impressive museum that’s FREE! It operates through donations and a foundation.
Both the Lighthouse and Aviation Museum is located on a Naval Air Station Military Base. It is home base to the Blue Angels, the precision-flying team of the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. It also provides advanced training for naval officers and initial primary training base for U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The museum has over 4000 artifacts and 150 aircrafts from WWI, WWII, The Gulf War, Vietnam War, and aerospace history, etc. There is also a library and art gallery full of history.
We enjoyed interacting with the jets and simulators.
There are several flight simulators that visitors can enjoy. This particular one is like being in a jet and actually turns upside down. The first turn scared me as I was not expecting it, ha! This ride can be easy or rough depending on the pilots. My hubby moved it all over the place where as I tried to keep it steady. I have a newfound appreciation for pilots.
The cost was $20 up to 2 people.
We enjoyed a couple days on the beach and LOVED it! You can rent chairs, umbrellas, and windbreakers from Lazy Day Beach Rentals. The beaches in Pensacola are protected for preservation, so the hotels do not serve food on the beach but you can bring it to the beach. We just ordered snacks from the hotel and brought it to our rental chairs. Towel service was available from the pool area and can be used for the beach as well. Remember to bring your sun block because the Florida sun is intense. For 2 chairs, umbrellas, and little table was $30 for the day.
You can walk for miles on this gorgeous beach in either direction. Each morning I ran a couple miles and loved the Gulf breeze blowing in my face. There are plenty of rental places if you want to jet ski, parasail, or drift on floaties.
Where to Eat
After all the activities, you can work up an appetite. The food was surprisingly really great in Pensacola. Unlike bland touristy food you’ll find in Orlando and other popular places in Florida, the eats here are infused with Southern seasonings and a lot of soul. The seafood is super fresh with fresh catches like grouper and snapper served daily. When in Pensacola Beach, try these local and tourist favorites.
Peg Leg Pete’s (casual)
One of the most popular restaurants in Pensacola and only a mile down from our hotel is Peg Leg Pete’s. The oysters platter and the Grouper sandwich are amazing and arguably the best in State. I don’t usually like grouper, but this sandwich turned me to a lover. The Oysters can be dressed in many flavorful spices and we enjoyed them in a sampler platter.
The seafood chowder and key lime pie. Honestly, I did not think I’d like seafood chowder. It’s better than clam chowder, one of my fave soups. The house-made rolls with freshly whipped honey butter was enough for me! I could eat those rolls all day long. The Key Lime pie was colossal! It was a 3 tiered affair with fresh whip cream and delicious limey curd. They’ve used the same recipe since 1979. The graham crust was excellent. The pie was enough to feed 4-6 people easy.
The Grand Marlin (fine dining)
The Grouper Picatta and Lobster MAC & Cheese. Incredible dishes. I ordered my grouper picatta on a bed of lettuce instead of mashed potatoes. The brown butter sauce with capers that comes on the side will blow your mind. The Lobster Mac was also incredible with a 5 cheese blend that my hubby wants to duplicate. As a connoisseur he was delighted and upset that he found something better than his blend.
Jackson’s Steakhouse (fine dining)
Great steaks that’s perfectly cooked to temperature. What’s really unique here is their warm blueberry cheesecake. Tastes like blueberry cheesecake but it’s texture wasn’t dense and it was served warm. A great way to have a lighter cheesecake after a heavy meal.
Drowsey Poet Coffee (snack)
A local coffee house and espresso bar that serves delicious drinks and local baked snacks. The one in Pensacola Beach overlooks the bay and boats for a scenic break.
The Ice Cream Shoppe in Pensacola Beach (snack)
OMG, if you love ice cream you gotta visit this place. The ice cream is incredibly delicious. It’s perfectly creamy and airy because they use less whey and more natural ingredients than normal ice cream. It’s made by Hershey’s Creamery Co. and not to be mistaken with Hershey’s Chocolate. The two are Not affiliated and it’s made known on all its products.
Pensacola Beach is still a well kept secret and the locals try hard to keep it preserved. It is a wonderful local beach town that welcomes you and feels like you have an incredible beach to yourself. Avoid the crowds and visit this gem instead.
The biggest tip to going anywhere in Florida is to get great sunblock and soothing gel. I did not use sunblock on day one and got scorched. The hotel sells Sun Bum Cooling Gel and Sun Bum Aloe Lotion that I used and are excellent products for my sensitive skin. Both items are hypoallergenic and gluten/vegan free yet highly effective. It quickly relieves the burning and itching skin. The Sun Bum combo of the SPF 50 lotion and Cooling Aloe Gel will be my defense for beach outings. I absolutely love this stuff and the cooling gel lasts for hours before reapplication.
Phone number to reserve paddle boards and other water sports equipment with Horizons Beach Rentals 1.850.232.5282. They service groups and special events too.
To rent beach chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, and water sports equipment, you can make advanced reservations at Lazy Days Beach Service website or directly at the hotel.
Wear comfortable shoes with backs or slings to climb the Lighthouse. This is for your safety and a policy. If you wear flip flops or open toed shoes with no backs, you will need to climb 177 steps barefoot.