If you’d like a taste of the deep South with the option of escaping to pristine white sand beaches, Pensacola is the place. With just a little scratching at the surface you can uncover more than the average tourist’s experience to catch a glimpse of Pensacola’s quirks and eccentricities. Known for it’s sparkling white sands and emerald ocean, Naval Air Station, historic downtown, and famous seven room club, Pensacola is the perfect spot for a three-day weekend in May (just before the heat settles in).
Population: Around 53k
Climate: Long summers with short springs, summers, and falls. The fall and winter tend to be wet and overcast with a temperature averaging in the 50s. The spring is mostly dry with temperatures in the 70s, perfect but short lived. By June the sweltering summer inches in with highs in the upper 80’s–but don’t be fooled by the number. It’s the humidity that makes it overwhelming. July and August bring temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, with the same sticky air. Also, once summer has set in there tends to be a sudden but short lived shower in mid-afternoon, followed by a brief relief from the intense humidity.
South of Garden St. on Palafox are dozens of galleries and boutiques with the city’s best restaurants sprinkled in. In summer, there is a farmer’s market with fresh produce and crafts on Saturday mornings. One boutique worth visiting but just outside the Palafox cluster is called Scout, which has been described as a “New York boutique” specializing in designer clothing and accessories otherwise not common in the city. It is situated across the street from the Historic Crowne Plaza Hotel on Wright St at Alcaniz.
Just one hour from Mobile, and three hours to both New Orleans and Tallahassee. Located on the I-10, it is easily accessed from the East and West. Coming from the Northeast or all points in Southern Florida I-75 connects with I-10 in Tallahassee, and I-95 in Jacksonville. Approaching from the North and slightly West, I-65 meets I-10 in Mobile.
Where to Stay:
Depending on the time of year and what your focus is, you can opt to stay downtown or on the beach. (All downtown hotels are about 10-15 minutes drive to the beach.
Portofino Island Resort & Spa – A luxurious indulgence located on a more serene and less populated area of Pensacola Beach. Starting at around $600/night for a 2 bedroom condo with private balcony, gulf views, and access to pools, tennis, fitness center and spa. (Rates become more affordable with longer stays.)
Hilton Inn – A large and attractive complex with a first rate restaurant and a glamorous pool with a large patio and bar on the beach. Rooms from about $180/night during peak season.
Days Inn Pensacola Beachfront – Located beside the Hilton with equal access to the beach, but slightly more bare bones. Rooms start at about $140/night.
New World Inn – Close enough to the heartbeat of culture and nightlife but far enough to be serene and overlook the Palafox Pier Yacht Harbor. This boutique hotel’s rates start at $130/night.
Historic Crowne Plaza – Chic and stylish, located downtown next to Pensacola’s Civic Center. Also conveniently close and accessible to I-10. Rates begin at $140/night.
Solé Inn and Suites – This new hotel advertises hip and modern decor with affordable rates, starting as low as $89/night. It is located very just a block from the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market and a five minute walk to downtown’s galleries, restaurants, and bars.
What to Do:
Memorial Day Weekend – This mega beach party lasts five days and proves to be a major event in this otherwise conservative city.
– In mid-February the Mardi Gras celebrations harolds the end of the winter and welcomes the party spirit of summer. There are events catered to children during the day and little bit of the famous New Orleans’ Mardi Gras spirit at night (though far more tame).
Theater – There are two major theaters in Pensacola: The Saenger Theater and Pensacola Little Theater. Both bring in local talent and call in performers from all over the country to create brilliant productions all year long. A small, intimate, and very unique theater called the Loblolly offers plays written by local playwrites to an audience of 35-50 people. It is located in the East Hill neighborhood above Madison’s Restaurant on 12th Avenue.
Seville Quarter – Ranking in the top 100 nightclubs in the nation, Seville is a labyrinth of seven separate bars, each with separate live entertainment or DJ’s, both indoors and outside.
Blackwater River State Park – A bit of a hike outside of Pensacola, but entirely worth the trip. It is about a 40 minute drive into Florida’s State Forest, and while it may not have the breathtaking beauty of the beaches, the kayaking, canoeing, or inner tube ride down the river is a days worth of bliss.
Where to Dine:
Jackson’s Steakhouse -In a revitalized 1860’s building is an award winning steakhouse serving the best quality ingredients artfully presented and paired with a selection of fine wines. The setting is refined and tranquil, perfect for a romantic evening or business lunch.
Global Grille -Known for it’s tapas menu, this restaurant and gallery offers a truly global menu with everything from sushi to Southern frogs legs, and somewhat shockingly, does all of it spectacularly.
Ozones Pizza Pub – Located in the basement of a huge stone building in the East Hill neighborhood, Ozone offers the best pizza in the city. Rumor has it that a hospital once stood on this property, and Ozones is actually what used to be the morgue! But don’t worry, these days there isn’t a trace of what it may have once been.
McGuire’s Irish Pub –This award winning steakhouse has an in-house brewery and a more relaxed atmosphere than Jackson’s. Beer and steak tends to be a successful combination for most trekkers, so give it a try.
The Fish House -Great Southern fare overlooking a marina, with an adjoining bar called The Deck attracting locals and tourists equally.
Pensacola presents a plethora of options for the adventurous trekker, and during your tour of Florida it’s a must-stop. Whether you’re a partier or a beach bum, adding Pensacola to your intenerary is a good move.