Pensacola boasts a surprisingly interesting and little-known past. On August 15, 1559, Don Tristán de Luna established the 1st American settlement in Pensacola Bay. Since this time, the flags of Spain, Britain, France, Confederacy and America have flown over the city, which is why Pensacola is nick named the ‘City of Five Flags.’
Pensacola Bay also played a historically significant role in the Civil War. Luckily, local business owners and residents have done an excellent job preserving their rich heritage, and there are a lot of interesting cultural and historical sites to explore. So, as tempting as it is to spend every moment of your vacation with your toes in the sand, we urge you not to miss out on the areas historical and cultural offerings.
The Palafox Historic District is like a theme park for architectural buffs. You will find beautifully restored Spanish Renaissance and Baroque buildings including the Pensacola Saenger Theatre - a 1925 movie palace that is now home to the Pensacola Opera and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. There are numerous great restaurants and shops housed in atmospheric historic buildings or behind beautiful wrought-iron balconies that are a legacy of the city’s Creole past.
The Historic Pensacola Village in Seville Square consists of twenty-seven buildings listed in the National Historic Register. Eleven of these are open to the public. There are thousands of exhibits to enjoy at the at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum and Pensacola Historical Museum. Admission to all is free.
There is a statue of Andrew Jackson in Plaza Ferdinand VII square which is located on Palafox Street between Government and Zaragoza. This is the spot where General Andrew Jackson accepted the territory of West Florida from Spain in 1821. Another interesting site is the Veterans Memorial Park located just off Bayfront Parkway near 9th Avenue. Here you will find a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The nearby North Hill District contains fifty square blocks of residential streets listed in the National Register of Historic Homes. This southern architectural bonanza is clearly populated by descendants of Spanish nobility, timber barons, French Creoles, Buccaneers and Civil War soldiers.
Emerald Coast Tours
Experience the rich history and culture of Pensacola as you glide, ride or walk throughout downtown! Emerald Coast Tours is the premier touring company in Downtown Pensacola offering Historic Segway and Bicycle Tours daily between 10am – 5pm. With guidance from an experienced tour guide, you have the opportunity to leisurely discover Pensacola’s best local restaurants, bars and shopping. ECT also offers the Pensacola Pub Crawl where you can truly experience the downtown nightlife by visiting the hottest bars in the area. You can read about Emerald Coast Tours on Toes in the Sand Blog.
Fort Pickens provides a great opportunity to explore a massive brick fortresses that, despite its southern location, once housed Union troops. It’s located on the far western end of Santa Rosa Island and is maintained by the National Park Service. It was originally built to defend Pensacola Harbor from foreign invaders but during the Civil War, it was manned by Union troops, who used it to attack the nearby Confederate occupied forts. The fort also enjoys notoriety for imprisoning Geronimo. There are both guided tours and self-guided tours available. Entry to the park costs $8 for a carload and the pass (which is good for all Gulf Island National Seashore entries) is valid for one week. Read more about Fort Pickens on Toes in the Sand Blog.
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
Built in 1859, the Lighthouse, situated on Pensacola Bay across from the Naval Aviation Museum, offers indoor and outdoor history exhibits, gift shop, Blue Angel and Light of the Moon Tours, ghost hunts, weddings and special events. Yes, you need to climb 177 steps on a spiral staircase in order to get to the top of the tower, but you can’t beat the view at the top that overlooks the Pensacola Pass, three forts, the Pensacola skyline and the historic Navy Yard. The museum and gift shop are located in the completely restored Keepers’ Quarters.
National Museum Of Naval Aviation
The National Naval Museum—one of the world’s largest aviation museums and one of the most-visited museums in the state of Florida—features thousands of artifacts and over 150 restored aircrafts representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. The museum is a perfect place to bring the family to participate in experiential fun including: the Blue Angel 4D Experience, Flight Stimulators and the IMAX movie theater. Also located on the premises is the Cubi Bar Café where you can treat yourself and the family to delicious dishes. The museum is free to visit, but donations are appreciated. The museum is definitely a must-go destination if you have any interest in aviation or history. The Naval Air Station is also home to the Blue Angels Flight Squadron.