Historic Pensacola Florida

Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna established the first European settlement here in 1559

In the early spring we like to escape the cold Wisconsin winters by traveling to Northern Florida and the Florida Panhandle.

One of our favorite places to spend some time is in Pensacola and Pensacola Beach. Since we travel by motorhome, we stay at RV parks and prefer state and national parks for their wilderness settings and hiking trails.

On our first visit to the area  we stayed at the Fort Pickens Gulf Islands National Seashore Park campground on the far western end of Santa Rosa island. The island is a gulf barrier island that is mostly within the Gulf Islands National Seashore but also includes the resort town of Pensacola Beach. The Fort Pickens campground and recreation area is about 6 miles west of the busy resort town and is a quiet and low-key contrast to the resort atmosphere.

Florida State Museum Pensacola Florida
The Spanish architecture of the Florida State Museum is fitting since it is built on the site of the old Spanish fort
historic us post office pensacola
US Customs House & Post Office – 1887 – is now the Escambia County Courthouse. One of many historic government and commercial buildings in the downtown Palafox Historic District.

While Pensacola has many beaches that face Pensacola Bay and has beaches on protected lagoons, only Pensacola Beach and Santa Rosa island have beaches that are actually on the Gulf of Mexico. So when Pensacola residents say they are “going to the beach” they are talking about Santa Rosa island’s lengthy and un-crowded beaches facing the Gulf. Many of these beaches, since they are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park, are quite secluded because they have no hotels or structures fronting the beaches.

Things to See and Do in Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola, home of America’s first new world settlement (1859), is known for its military and cultural history, its southern cuisine, and its sparkling sugar-sand beaches. We sampled some of the Pensacola’s military history at the National Naval Air Museum, Fort Barrancas, and at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa island. The Naval Air Museum  (with over 150 planes on exhibit) and the Blue Angels Flying Squadron is by far the most popular Pensacola attraction. We spent several hours there on several return trips and there is  still more to see. The actual restored Fort Pickens (the “fort” itself vs the park with the same name) is also a top Pensacola attraction. In 2020 there will be a ferry service from the mainland to the fort which if you are staying in Pensacola itself will save about 50 miles round trip you would normally take by auto to visit the Fort.

Pensacola Historic District Walks

There are two historic districts in the downtown area. Closest to and technically a part of downtown is the Palafox Historic District. The center-piece of this district is Florida’s State Museum which is built on the site of the former Spanish Fort San Miquel, Pensacola’s first settlement. Palafox street itself contains many historic buildings as well as interesting pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, many with sidewalk cafes. This area has a New Orleans Bourbon Street feel to it. Nearby downtown is the Seville residential neighborhood, also a historic district, with a number of carefully restored and cared-for homes from the 1800s and some from earlier eras.

Within the Seville neighborhood is the Pensacola Historic Village, a complex of unique museums, with restored pioneer homesteads, structures, and artifacts. There are self-guided and directed tours. During some hours the village is populated by costumed interpreters recreating artisan crafts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

See the Slide Show below of historic homes

  • St. Michaels Benevolent Society pensacola Historic Homes
    One of the many restored historic register homes in the Pensacola Palofax-Seville Park neighborhood.
  • Moreno House Pensacola Florda
    Pensacola's Moreno House 1879
  • shotgun house pensacola
    Hendrix House - 1879 - is an example of a southern style of house popular in the 1800s named for its narrow profile and alignment of one room after another without any hallways.
  • pensacola tuttle house pensacola florida
    Tuttle House - 1850 - is an example of a "double-barrel" shotgun house, two shotgun houses sharing a common wall between them.
  • Lear-rocheblave house pensacola florida
    Lear-Rocheblave House 1890 is one of the community of homes and structures in the Pensacola Historic Village museum that can be toured.

Pensacola Dining

Carmen's Lunch Bar Pensacola
Carmens Restaurant, Pensacola

Within the Pensacola historic districts are a number of interesting pubs and dining places.

Pensacola Golf Courses

Pensacola offers a nice range of golf courses from a modest-priced municipal course to meticulously groomed semi-private courses.

Pensacola Scenic Bluffs

scenic overlook
One of the observation decks along the boardwalk at Pensacola’s Bluff Park

We took a drive along the Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway that was advertised in a brochure we picked up. We expected to see quaint cottages, unique restaurants, secluded picnic areas, and bluff-top vistas of Escambia Bay. These bluffs are reputed to be the highest points along Florida’s entire oceon coastline. The scenic drive begins near the Pensacola Visitor & Welcome center (take 17th avenue to East Cervantes Street – also US 90) and ends 11 miles later when US 90 crosses the Escambia River. Bay Bluffs park has an interesting boardwalk trail with some good views of the bay but after that the drive offers little to be called a scenic drive. Unfortunately for us the actual experience fell short of the promotion.

Camping & RVing in Pensacola

In addition to some private parks and campgrounds, campers and RVers can chose from a Florida State Park Campground and a National Park Campground. Both offer beaches on the gulf, some decent hiking/biking trails, modern campgrounds with electric hookups, canoeing and kayaking  and in the case of Fort Pickens some impressive historical exhibits.

More Pensacola Visitor Attractions

One of your first stops in visiting Pensacola should be at the Pensacola Visitor Center, conveniently located at the mouth of the Bayou Texar and at the base of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. Convenient parking, helpful staff, lots of maps and brochures, and hot coffee or chocolate. include map on location.

Gulf Islands Scenic Drive and Scenic Highways 98 & 30A

More impressive was the drive we took down the length of Santa Rosa Island to Destin and then south along Scenic Highway 30A. Our favorite spots along this route are Grayton Beach and Apalachicola.

Scenic Drive Part 1. Pensacola Beach to Grayton Beach

Scenic Drive Part 2. Grayton Beach to Apalachicola

Look for our next gulf drive article covering Apalachicola to Cedar Keys

Happy Trails