Trying to find great activities and attractions in the City of Five Flags? Our guide to the best things to do in Pensacola is all you need to plan the perfect trip!
Having a proud military heritage, Pensacola, Florida, is known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” home to the Naval Air Station and the world-famous Blue Angels, officially called the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. And that’s not all Pensacola is known for!
A tropical paradise, Pensacola is part of the Panhandle’s Emerald Coast. It is famous for its sprawling sandy beaches, lively nightlife, outdoor recreational activities, rich history, and overflowing culture.
The first Spanish settlement in the Lower 48 was settled in Pensacola before a hurricane tore through the area, and the colony was abandoned.
Pensacola became known as “The City of Five Flags” because of its establishment, swapping with the Spanish, the British, the French, the United States, and the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Some say the first shots to start the Civil War occurred here at the historic Forts, now abandoned and used for historical guided tours to educate visitors on local history.
There’s so much to do in this prosperous oasis, and with our list of the top things to do in Pensacola, you can experience them all for the best vacation ever!
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida
- 1) Explore The Lifestyle Of Downtown Pensacola
- 2) Learn The Impact Of The Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
- 3) Visit The Fort Pickens Area Of Gulf Islands National Seashore
- 4) Peruse Modern & Contemporary Works At The Pensacola Museum Of Art
- 5) Buy A Ticket To A Show Or Game At The Pensacola Bay Center
- 6) Walk, Shop, & Dine Along The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk
- 7) Sink Your Toes Into The Sand At Pensacola Beach
- 8) Visit The National Naval Aviation Museum
- 9) Walk Along The Scenic Trails Of Bay Bluffs Park & Preserve
- 10) Engage Young Minds At Pensacola MESS Hall
- 11) Step Through History At The Historic Pensacola Village
- 12) See Albino Alligators At The Gulf Breeze Zoo
- 13) Remember The Fallen At The Veterans Memorial Park Of Pensacola
- 14) Go For The Ultimate Kayaking Challenge At Big Lagoon State Park
- 15) Catch A Big One At Pensacola Beach Pier on Casino Beach
- 16) Race To Your Heart’s Content At Fast Eddies Fun Center
- 17) Vacation On Santa Rosa Island
- 18) Check Out The Pensacola Graffiti Bridge
- 19) Pick From A Jar Of Entertainment Options Along The Seville Historic District
- 20) Go For A Swim At Perdido Key State Park
- 21) View The Historic Fort Barrancas
- Where to Stay in Pensacola, Florida
The Best Things to Do in Pensacola, Florida
From outdoor activities in the fresh air to exploring the city’s history through museums and art galleries, this lively Florida city has so many fun things to do.
Explore the best of Florida’s Gulf Coast with an excitement-filled trip to Pensacola!
Be sure to check out our brand-new, comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Florida!
1) Explore The Lifestyle Of Downtown Pensacola
The historic waterfront of downtown Pensacola is home to 19th-century buildings and many Pensacola attractions you mustn’t miss out on during your visit.
This area is notorious for its rich history and coastal lifestyle, and with a trip to downtown Pensacola, you can get a taste!
First, step over to one of the many historical sites, like Historic Pensacola, to learn and experience the heritage of the first multi-year European settlement in America.
Then, dine like royalty, or as the locals do, by grabbing a meal at one of the many casual eateries, food trucks, and fine-dining establishments downtown.
Fish House is one such example, an upscale dockside award-winning restaurant with Southern specialty cuisine.
2) Learn The Impact Of The Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
After the United States took over Florida from Spain in 1821, a naval yard and lighthouse were established on Pensacola’s harbor to protect the bay. Congress authorized the construction of the Pensacola Lighthouse in 1823.
However, a two-day battle erupted during the Civil War after Florida seceded from the United States. As a result, the Pensacola Lighthouse fell under Union forces’ control. Today, the lighthouse remains an active United States Coast Guard aid for navigation.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is an educational opportunity for visitors to learn about the lighthouse’s role in history.
- Address: 2081 Radford Blvd, Pensacola, FL 32508, United States
- Hours: 10 am – 4 pm (Closes at 5 pm Fri-Sun)
- Cost: $9.50
3) Visit The Fort Pickens Area Of Gulf Islands National Seashore
Home to a collection of stunning beaches and prosperous marshes, Gulf Islands National Seashore expands from Cat Island, Mississippi, to the east of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
It attracts millions of visitors yearly thanks to its thriving ecosystems and the hoard of recreational activity opportunities.
The Fort Pickens Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola is a historic landmark established to defend Pensacola Bay. President James Monroe ordered this fort, and others, to be built in 1825 after Spain ceded their Florida territories to the United States. This was to protect the United States territory from any potential invasions.
Throughout the Fort Pickens Area Of Gulf Islands National Seashore are multiple historic structures, including Battery Worth, Fort Pickens, and Battery Cooper. Go on a tour to learn more about the impactful history of these structures.
Many people also travel to the site to stay at the Fort Pickens campground for easy vacation access to the beach.
- Address: 1400 Fort Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561, United States
- Hours: 5 am – 9 pm
- Cost: $15 per person or $25 per vehicle (National park entrance fees are good for 7 days)
4) Peruse Modern & Contemporary Works At The Pensacola Museum Of Art
The only art museum in Pensacola, the Pensacola Museum of Art, was established by a group of women from the American Association of University Women in 1954.
Found in the heart of Pensacola, the museum’s building has been an impactful landmark and community member for more than a century and has acted as a top-class art gallery for over 60 years.
The Pensacola Museum of Art engages the mind with cross-disciplinary exhibitions and boasts a growing collection of contemporary and modern art from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Browse through each art gallery and gain a new appreciation for creativity and history!
- Address: 407 S Jefferson St, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
- Hours: 10 am – 4 pm (Opens at 12 pm on Sundays, Closed Mondays)
- Cost: $12
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5) Buy A Ticket To A Show Or Game At The Pensacola Bay Center
An indoor arena, the Pensacola Bay Center hosts various events, from big hockey games to lively concerts.
If you’re a hockey fan or want to see your first hockey game, catch a game of the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League as they go up against their opponents across the ice.
For concertgoers, don’t miss out on a performance here! Big names such as Bon Jovi, Van Halen, and Janet Jackson performed at the center. KISS was the first band that performed here to start off its enigmatic reputation as a performance center and arena.
- Address: 201 E Gregory St, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
6) Walk, Shop, & Dine Along The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk
Pinpointed by the iconic Shell, an amphitheater, the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk is one of the best things to do in Pensacola, thanks to its meeting point between the beach, dining, entertainment, and shopping.
Between hitting the beach or taking in the views from the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, grab a drink at Bamboo Willie’s Bar & Grill.
It’s one of the most popular bars in Pensacola Beach, perfect for socializing with friends and strangers while basking in the beachy scenery.
Then, scour the numerous shops along the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk. You can find anything from eclectic shops to top-quality boutiques to participate in much-needed retail therapy or snag a few souvenirs to take home.
7) Sink Your Toes Into The Sand At Pensacola Beach
A tropical paradise, Pensacola Beach is every traveler’s dream, with its crystalline waters, welcoming mild temperatures, and white-sugared beaches.
There are numerous activities to participate in at Pensacola Beach, whether aiming for the ultimate relaxation day or the top adrenaline-pumping day of adventure. First, head out on a guided dolphin tour of the waters to see these playful mammals soar out of the waters.
Then, reserve a pontoon boat to fish with friends or family for awesome catches like red drum, pompano, flounder, mackerel, and blue fish. And keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles or dolphins!
If you don’t have the necessary equipment to get the most out of your trip to Pensacola Beach, rental shops are nearby to save the day. Check out rentals of towels, beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks – you name it!
Hit the water of Pensacola Beach on this dolphin bay tour on The Frisky Mermaid, boasting one of the highest perches perfect for sighting a variety of marine wildlife swimming through the waters.
The National Naval Aviation Museum is the world’s largest aviation museum. It is also the most visited museum of its kind in Florida and is home to the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Fondly referred to as the “The Spirit of Naval Aviation”, the museum preserves over 4,000 artifacts and more than 150 restored aircraft.
The artifacts represent Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps aviation. This fascinating museum offers a chance for guests to experience the adrenaline-pumping thrill of flight in Flight Simulators.
Unfortunately, after a terrorist attack on the NAS Pensacola in December 2019, access is extremely limited to the National Naval Aviation Museum. Only individuals who are current Department of Defense (DoD) ID card holders or those escorted by a DoD cardholder.
- Address: 1750 Radford Blvd, Pensacola, FL 32508, United States
- Hours: 9 am – 4 pm
- Cost: Free
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9) Walk Along The Scenic Trails Of Bay Bluffs Park & Preserve
Bay Bluffs Park is an expansive waterfront park and preserves with picturesque views near a scenic highway with almost a full mile of boardwalks.
The natural beauty of Bay Bluffs Park shows new perspectives of one of Florida’s oldest cities. The park and preserve are notorious for stunning bluffs overlooking Escambia Bay and Pensacola Bay collide.
The historical significance of these bluffs extends to when Don Tristan De Luna first arrived in Pensacola Bay in 1559 and pinpointed a red bluff for his anchorage point. And in 1992, a 16th-century galleon was discovered by archaeologists near the bluffs!
- Address: 3400 Scenic Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32503, United States
- Hours: 6 am – 6 pm
- Cost: Free
10) Engage Young Minds At Pensacola MESS Hall
A hands-on, interactive science museum downtown, the Pensacola MESS Hall strives to inspire curiosity in young minds through engaging exploration of the sciences.
Not like your typical science museum, the Pensacola MESS Hall doesn’t use exhibits with planned outcomes. Instead, visitors can perform as real scientists do to develop questions, create experiments, and establish conclusions.
This is an opportunity for young minds to engage in complex reasoning and try their hand at tinkering to solve problems. As one of the most fun things to do in Pensacola, this is a great place to bring your kids and those with inquisitive minds.
- Address: 418 E Wright St, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
- Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm Tuesday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm Saturday, Closed Sunday/Monday)
- Cost: $12
11) Step Through History At The Historic Pensacola Village
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic Pensacola Village is a downtown area of historic importance featuring buildings and museums dating from the colonial to WWII era. You can experience more than 450 years of American history in this village!
Across the Historic Pensacola Village are 28 properties, established in various architectural designs, including Folk Victorian and French Creole, that lie within what once were the original Spanish and British forts.
In the village, you can learn about local west Florida history and visit historic buildings, such as the Old Christ Church, one of the oldest surviving church buildings in the state.
Sometimes referred to as Old Pensacola Village, exploring this beautiful area is one of the most fun activities for history lovers!
- Address: 205 E Zaragoza St, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
- Hours: 10 am – 4 pm Tuesday – Saturday
- Cost: $12
12) See Albino Alligators At The Gulf Breeze Zoo
Only a 30-minute drive from Pensacola, the Gulf Breeze Zoo is home to more than 900 exotic animal species sourced from across the globe, including orangutans and the Western lowland gorillas.
Take the safari line train to get unique viewpoints of the animals in their habitats, or enjoy a slow-paced stroll along the zoo’s boardwalk to take your time learning about these intriguing species.
Get up close and personal with species such as the albino alligator at one of the animal encounters. Or watch the animals in all their splendor during the animal feedings. And definitely don’t miss out on going through the Budgiery Adventure Aviary!
The aviary allows visitors to see colorful budgerigars, nicknamed budgies, as they flit about the aviary looking for snacks that can be purchased at the Gulf Breeze Zoo gift shop.
- Address: 5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy, Gulf Breeze, FL 32563, United States
- Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
- Cost: $27.95
13) Remember The Fallen At The Veterans Memorial Park Of Pensacola
The Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola has honored United States heroes for over thirty years, established as a place of remembrance, learning, healing, and celebration.
Receiving more than 100,000 visitors every year, the Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola features more than 750 bricks in the walk of honor. It hosts 12 monuments to honor the fallen heroes, including the Minuteman Memorial, the Persian Gulf War Memorial, and the Global War on Terror Memorial.
The Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola is located downtown, scenically constructed along the Bayfront Parkway.
After the park, check out the nearby Plaza De Luna or watch some minor league baseball at a Pensacola Blue Wahoos Game. There are lots of cool things to do in this area of downtown!
- Address: 200 S 10th Ave, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
- Hours: 6 am – 10 pm
- Cost: Free
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14) Go For The Ultimate Kayaking Challenge At Big Lagoon State Park
A vast expanse of land stretching across the northwestern Florida coast, Big Lagoon State Park showcases pine flatwoods and saltwater tidal marshes teeming with life.
A host of outdoor recreational activities are welcome at Big Lagoon State Park, where adventure is welcome!
For a one-of-a-kind experience, take on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. This sea kayaking adventure trail spans 1,515 miles across the water, traveling around all of Florida.
Though if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can still go for a mini-kayaking journey to explore the park by the water.
Big Lagoon State Park is also home to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Within the park are more than 23 species of wood-warbler and other intriguing bird species, including black-bellied plovers and sandpipers.
- Address: 12301 Gulf Beach Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32507, United States
- Hours: 8 am until sunset
- Cost: $6 per vehicle
15) Catch A Big One At Pensacola Beach Pier on Casino Beach
The Pensacola Beach Pier, also known as the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier or Fishing Pier, is one of the best things to do in Pensacola for its family-friendly opportunities and stunning scenery.
Located on Casino Beach, this fishing pier is where anglers of all kinds flock to catch a big one. Expect catches such as spotted Seatrout, Cobia, Sheephead, Tarpon, and Redfish as you spend the day casting a line at the pier.
If you forgot your bait and tackle at home, Pensacola Beach Pier has everything you could possibly need, from rental rods to fish and drinks.
Open from sunrise to sunset, heading to the pier to bask in the awe-inspiring displays of reds, pinks, and yellows makes for a cherishable moment – and a tremendous photo-taking opportunity!
- Address: 41 Fort Pickens Rd #2005, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561, United States
- Hours: 6 am – 4:45 pm
- Cost: $1
16) Race To Your Heart’s Content At Fast Eddies Fun Center
One of the best things to do in Pensacola for families, Fast Eddies Fun Center is a recreation attraction featuring a tropical-themed mini-golf and a boisterous arcade.
The recreation center welcomes all ages and is dedicated to providing an affordable, safe, family-friendly activity. Fast Eddies Fun Center boasts four go-kart tracks to race friends, family, and strangers to your heart’s content.
For little ones, these enigmatic racers can participate in the Junior Racers to test their skills or join an adult for a double-ride go-kart on the other track.
Test your gaming skills at the Game Room to win tickets to exchange for top-notch prizes. Or, play a round of Funtastic Mini-Golf at Fast Eddies Fun Center’s fun, tropical-themed course. Either way, fun is guaranteed at Fast Eddies Fun Center!
- Address: 505 W Michigan Ave, Pensacola, FL 32505, United States
- Hours: 3 pm – 9 pm Monday – Thursday, 3 pm – 10 pm Friday, 11 am – 10 pm Saturday, 11 am – 9 pm Sunday
- Cost: Prices vary based on attraction, check the website for more info
17) Vacation On Santa Rosa Island
Located off the coast of northwest Florida, Santa Rosa Island is a barrier island less than 20 minutes from Pensacola.
As one of the largest barrier islands in the nation, visiting this island is hands-down one of the best things to do in Pensacola. The island is notorious for its ideal year-round weather, natural wonders, historical attractions, and entertainment.
The island is home to three beach communities connected to the mainland with bridges, most of which are part of the protected Gulf Islands National Seashore.
These include Navarre Beach, Pensacola Beach, and Okaloosa Island, which are attached to Navarre, Pensacola, and Destin.
On Pensacola Beach, you can take on a boatload of activities (pun intended!), including this scenic boat tour across the turquoise waters of Pensacola Beach as your USCG licensed captain wows with information tidbits of historical and wildlife points of interest along the way.
18) Check Out The Pensacola Graffiti Bridge
If you’re looking for some cool, colorful street art, the Pensacola Grafitti Bridge is an epic location located downtown.
Open 24/7 and free to visit, this vibrant attraction showcases the best of the local artists in the area. The bridge itself was built in 1888, so it’s a historic spot as well as artistic.
You only need a short time here to absorb all the artwork, but you can easily fit this spot into your walking tour of Pensacola!
- Address: N 17th Ave, Pensacola, FL 32502, United States
19) Pick From A Jar Of Entertainment Options Along The Seville Historic District
The Seville Historic District, also called the Pensacola Historic District, is a spirited neighborhood that hosts festive events such as the Pensacola Seafood Festival and the Pensacola JazzFest. This all occurs within the historic Seville Square, a 1752 Spanish outpost.
A permanent settlement was established within the district from survivors who attempted to settle on Santa Rosa Island. Unfortunately, the survivor’s island was destroyed after a hurricane hit the island in 1752.
Along the Seville Historic District are entertainment, dining, and shopping options. A night out here is one of the most fun activities in Pensacola!
Visit Rosie O’Grady’s for their popular sing-along Duelling Piano Show. Go dancing at Phineas Phogg’s Balloon Works, a two-story dance club. Grab food at Lili Marlene’s, a World War I Aviator’s pub featuring weekend live music and karaoke on weekdays.
Dive into more Florida history in St. Augustine, the oldest city in America!
20) Go For A Swim At Perdido Key State Park
Found on a barrier island about 15 miles from Pensacola, Perdido Key State Park is a tropical wonderland with sprawling sand dunes speckled with sea oats.
Perdido Key State Park is a popular spot for tourists and locals, which is one of the best things to do in Pensacola for anyone who loves to soak in the sun and dip in the water. If you’ve ever tried your hand at surf fishing, this is another favorite activity at the park.
Throughout Perdido Key State Park are endangered and threatened species that should be respectfully left alone. These include nesting sea turtles, nesting shorebirds, and the Perdido Key beach mouse.
- Address: 15301 Perdido Key Dr, Pensacola, FL 32507, United States
- Hours: 8 am – 7:30 pm
- Cost: $3 per vehicle
21) View The Historic Fort Barrancas
Fort Barrancas, also known as Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, is a National Historic Landmark and historic military fort. It is found within the Naval Air Station, constructed around the historic fort.
The fort represents the legacy of homeland defense in early America, established strategically high on the bluff with optimal views of Pensacola Bay. It took six million bricks to complete the construction of Fort Barrancas, which was officially completed in 1844.
Fort Barrancas’s purpose was to defend the bay from foreign invasion. The only action the fort ever saw was during the American Civil War.
- Address: 3182 Taylor Rd, Pensacola, FL 32508, United States
- Hours: 9 am – 4:15 pm Saturdays and Sundays
- Cost: $15 per person or $25 per vehicle (National park entrance fees are good for 7 days)
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Where to Stay in Pensacola, Florida
Now that you know the best things to do in Pensacola, let’s check out the best places to stay! There are excellent options to suit travelers of all budgets.
Best Cheap Hotel in Pensacola
Ideally located on Pensacola Beach, Surf & Sand Hotel is within walking distance of some of the best Pensacola activities. Start the day by taking one of the complimentary kayaks on Little Sabine Bay or floating in the hotel’s pool to catch some rays.
Guests are able to use free kayaks, paddleboards, floats, ice, and Wi-Fi for the ultimate stay in Pensacola!
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Pensacola
Begin the day with fresh breakfast every morning at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Pensacola West I-10 before heading out to explore all Pensacola has to offer.
Then, within easy access to Pensacola Beach, you’ll be headed home with a much-needed tan and plenty of cherishable memories to remember the trip by. There are lots of other Pensacola attractions nearby as well, making it a super convenient place to stay.
Best Luxury Hotel in Pensacola
Oyster Bay Boutique Hotel, where the world is your oyster, is located perfectly downtown near all the top Pensacola attractions. This luxurious and charming hotel promotes an unrivaled stay with the sparkling bay to one side and the historic district of downtown Pensacola to the other.
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