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48 Hours In Pensacola

Pensacola Beach You could say that Pensacola is an old southern town but that would be an understatement. The first European settler was Tristan De Luna, a Spanish explorer who arrived in 1559, more than 200 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

A lot has happened since De Luna first marched ashore and today visitors will find in Pensacola a small and welcoming city that’s part of the “upside of Florida,” a place not anywhere near the crowded and costly population hubs in the southern part of the state. In fact, Pensacola is so far west that it’s in a different time zone. It’s only three hours by car to New Orleans plus it’s far enough north to experience real seasons. Mild seasons — seasons where you don’t have to worry about three feet of snow — but seasons nevertheless.

So what can you do in 48 hours? Here’s a rundown

Friday

1. Downtown and the Ballpark, 4 PM.

Pensacola has an international airport that served roughly 1.5 million airport passengers last year, and while that sounds like a lot it’s only an average of about 4,100 people a day. The result is something largely unknown in air travel today, nothing fancy or formal but a very nice and easy experience arriving and departing.

You can call a cab or other rental vehicle from the airport but the better choice is a rental car. The reason is that Pensacola is a small city – it’s less than four traffic-free miles to downtown and free or cheap on-street parking is the norm.

The downtown area – centered roughly on Palafox St. from Garden south to the Pensacola Bay – is an easy place to walk. More importantly, it’s a great area with art galleries, shops and restaurants, one of the “ten best streets” in America according to the American Planning Association. There’s great sushi at Khon’s; something to munch on at Bubba’s Sweet Spot, a new candy store owned by golfer and local resident Bubba Watson; and intriguing works of art at the member-owned Quayside Art Gallery off Palafox at 17 E. Zarragossa St. Just north of the main downtown area at Palafox and Cervantes you can find the newly-renovated and expanded Temple Beth El, the first Jewish congregation in Florida.

Next, head west on Main Street and in about two minutes you can watch the Blue Wahoos play baseball at the Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, a new and modern facility that overlooks the bay and has been voted the 12th best stadium out of the 2,000 or so which dot the US.

You won’t blow the budget at the ballpark, good seats behind home plate can be had for about $10 apiece and that brings us to some important points: Very good things are available in Pensacola at very sane prices, informality is welcomed, real estate is remarkably inexpensive, there’s no state income tax, and pack light because you won’t need a suit, tie, heels, snow boots, gloves, or parkas.

At the end of the day go to the Lee House at the end of S. Alcaniz Street, a boutique hotel a few blocks from downtown and overlooking the bay, or one of the small hotels and motels in the downtown area.

Saturday

2. The National Naval Aviation Museum, 9 AM.

Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, a modern and airy facility with 150 beautifully restored planes, one of the 20 best museums in the country.


Out back are the Naval Air Station (NAS) runways, home to the world-famous Blue Angels flying team. Admission is free, parking is free, and you can go on tours with Navy vets. After the museum you can visit historic Fort Barrancas and the Pensacola Lighthouse, both of which are on the NAS property. (To get to the museum, go west on Barrancas Avenue (Rt. 292). It becomes Gulf Beach Highway. Go left at Blue Angel Highway and continue to the NAS entrance. All adults should have photo IDs.)

3. Joe Patti’s, Noon.

Joe Patti’s Seafood, a local landmark and surely one of the best seafood outlets in the country, is on the bay about three minutes by car from downtown. There are fishing boats out back and inside you can find fish, sushi, more fish, gourmet foods, live lobsters, mussels, oysters, scallops, gelato, gumbo, and still more fish. When you see people leaving with rolling ice chests you’ll understand why. Out front you can buy fresh vegetables as well as beignets cooked on the spot. There’s lunch next door at Captain Joey Patti’s, a seafood restaurant that seems straight out of the 1950s, or nearby at the Oar House overlooking a boat basin and the water.

After lunch go right on Main Street, go across the three-mile bridge, stay right, go across a second bridge ($1 toll) and in a few minutes you’re at Pensacola Beach. Once past the light go straight on Rt. 399 and you’ll head toll-free toward part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Navarre, and miles of nearly-empty public beaches with the area’s famous crunchy white sand, plus a dog beach.

Or, go through the toll and turn right at the light to Fort Pickens Road. You’ll see the entrance to Casino Beach and a huge, free, parking lot. However, if you keep going you’ll come to more beaches, another dog beach, and then a toll to enter the Fort Pickens area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The toll is $15 per car but there are free entrance days, free passes for military personnel and their families, plus seniors can get in with a $10 lifetime pass good at national parks nationwide.

Down the road past the toll booth, perhaps six miles, is historic Fort Pickens. Along the way are some of the finest beaches in the world plus — if the Blue Angels are in town — an absolutely prime place to watch them practice at the Naval Air Station across the bay.

4. Dinner, 6 PM.

Go back to Pensacola (there’s no toll) and head to the corner of E. Government and S. Alcaniz Streets. Here you have a choice: Hub Stacey’s for exceptional burgers and bar food or Dharma Blue for seafood, steaks, pasta and game. Or, go over to the Five Sisters Blues Cafe at 421 W. Belmont St., a popular destination for food and music. After dinner walk through the historic area and visit the Seville Quarter entertainment area and nearby Palafox Street.

Sunday

5. Brunch on the beach, 11 AM

You’re at one of the most beautiful beaches in America — #7 according to a 2016 Tripdvisor survey – so it makes sense to enjoy your last few hours along the shore. The Gulf water in Pensacola is warm generally from May through October and usually calm and placid. You can go to Casino Beach and walk out on the 1,470 foot long Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier for $1.25 per person. On days when the water is calm you can see dolphins below the pier as well as sharks and different types of fish.

After the pier enjoy the beach and then have brunch at the Casino Beach Bar & Grille next to the pier (the restaurant opens at 7 AM on Sundays). They have indoor seats, outdoor seats, and chaise lounges on the beach where they serve food. Try the shrimp tacos….

Alternatively, go to Perdido Key, also a few minutes from downtown. The Crab Trap is right on the beach and there’s free parking.

Later — assuming you’re willing to leave — go back to Pensacola and stop by the Apple Market, a local favorite just a few minutes from the airport for hand-made sandwiches, gelato, sushi and other goodies.

When you get home you’ll likely find a little sand here and there in your shoes and things. That’s okay. It’s just a small part of Pensacola, and no doubt you’ll be back for more.

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1 Comment on "48 Hours In Pensacola"

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  1. Jessika Young says:

    Loveely article, makes me proud to be blessd enough to live here! We just moved from busy Tampa Bay area to Perdido Key and it is a different world. Like everywhere there is good and bad. I will choose to focus on all the good. Thank the Lord for His blessings!!!

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