As the weather warms up and daydreams fill with visions of sun and sand, summer vacation plans start to become more than passing thoughts. The Gulf Coast has many beautiful offerings, one of which is award-winning Pensacola, Florida, where there is so much more than a beach!
Pensacola comes by the nickname “The City of Five Flags” quite honestly, having changed hands more than a dozen times in some 450 years to include flags from Spain, France, England, the Confederacy and the Unites States. Each of these ownerships left strong influences on the seaside community that today are evident through architecture, history, museums and culinary delights.
Downtown Pensacola is only a short drive from the beach area and is absolutely worth the time to meander through the revitalized district. Park your car and stroll down the sidewalks ducking in and out of eclectic boutiques, cafes, art galleries and more! Over 130 new businesses have opened within the last five years as part of the renaissance this downtown has experienced. Wrought iron balconies and street lamps offer a bit of a New Orleans feel – probably because both have similar histories with multiple country influences as part of their heritage.
Three don’t miss activities in downtown…
Joe Patti’s Seafood Market is a Pensacola icon having been there since the 1930s. Ranked the third best seafood market in the United States, this family-owned and operated establishment offers a gigantic assortment of fresh fish selections and a unique gourmet market featuring fresh baked breads, sushi and even gelato! Steamed shrimp is a popular to-go item (of course with a loaf of delicious garlic bread).
A quick (hour and a half) walking tour of the historic district is full of fun facts and great period-furnished homes from the Colonial era to the Victorian age. On this inexpensive guided Historic Pensacola Village Tour, you’ll visit one of the oldest churches in Florida and see first-hand some living history examples of life in the old days.
The most exciting way to tour downtown Pensacola is with Emerald Coast Tours on bicycles or Segways! Nick and Rick are extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city and map out their tours to encompass breathtaking views of the bay. Their humor mixed with city facts provides an awesome venue for family fun!
Sand and sun…
Pensacola Beach features famous sugar-white sand and emerald-green waters dotted with sea oats and wildlife. The area is a little less crowded than other popular vacation destinations along the panhandle, yet they still have all the amenities a family needs to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation. There are companies and areas that provide canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding, as well as boat rentals and sailing opportunities. For more information on all of these outdoor activities, check out www.visitpensacola.com.
Where to stay…
Accommodations in Pensacola are much like other similar areas in that they have many great hotels along with condos for those who like a little extra room to cook in the unit, do their laundry and spread out. For hotels, the Hilton Pensacola Beach is spectacular! Rooms are spacious and the hotel’s list of amenities is lengthy including: Bonsai Sushi Bar, H2O Cajun-Asian Grill, beach service, water sports, spa/salon, two outdoor pools and one indoor, whirlpool, children’s programs (seasonal), fitness center and more! It is within walking distance to popular restaurants, shopping and activities.
Portofino Island Resort is a lovely choice for families looking to make their home away from home in a roomy, luxury condo. Not only are rooms larger than normal condo units, but you will enjoy all the amenities of home…washer/dryers, gourmet kitchens, lots of closet space and beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico or the Santa Rosa Sound. Each tower has its own pool and whirlpool so no overcrowding issues! The resort is Mediterranean style with gorgeous architecture and tons of added amenities such as the spa, fitness center and on-site tennis courts!
As with any beach town, there are restaurants that are too good to miss and Pensacola is no exception! Lunch favorites include:
• Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille (South Palafox St) – flatbread pizzas and small plates with gorgeous views of the yachts in the Palafox Marina and Plaza de Luna Park.
• Al Fresco – fabulous food trucks in downtown (at Palafox and Main). Choose from Cajun food, tacos, barbeque, the Greenhouse or Gouda Stuff Gourmet Melts (the classic grilled cheese hits the lunch spot just right).
Dinner selections are plentiful including these popular eateries:
• H2O – Celebrity Chef Dan Dunn throws a Cajun-Asian spin on some seafood favorites that are simply to die for! Check it out inside the Hilton Pensacola Beach.
• Red Fish Blue Fish – a new restaurant (across from the Hilton, sound-side) with food as good as the ambiance. Eat under the stars in their waterfront backyard and enjoy local, fresh seafood with southern-inspired ingredients. (HINT: Yum Fish Dinner is the bomb!)
• The Grand Marlin – definitely a grand choice! Watch the sunset and enjoy the catch of the day at this fairly new restaurant on Pensacola Beach Blvd at the causeway.
• The Fish House – upscale dockside dining (South Barracks St) at its best featuring picturesque views and innovative recipes using seafood favorites and house-smoked steaks. Chef Jim Shirley is one of the five Pensacola Celebrity Chefs who presented their culinary treats at the James Beard House in New York City in March of 2013 for the third consecutive year. The dish to have is the Grits a Ya Ya – a world-famous southern dish of smoked Gouda cheese grits smothered in a sauce of fresh cream, sautéed Gulf shrimp, spinach, Portobello mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic and shallots!
When planning your summer beach vacation, think about the Pensacola Beach area. Loaded with arts and culture, lots of adventure and beautiful beaches, you really can’t ask for more.
Getting there is half the fun in this great SUV!
2014 Lexus LX570 SUV
Fuel Economy: 12/17
Class: Standard SUV
Base Price: $81,780
Lexus makes this family vehicle for those in pursuit of happy travels with lots of space and added amenities including a premium Mark Levinson Audio System with an impressive 19 speakers and a dual-screen DVD Rear Entertainment System with wireless headphones.
The engine fully accommodates this extra-large Lexus with 383-hp in a 5.7-liter V8 package. So while you give up a little in the fuel economy department, you gain the power to jump out in traffic and negotiate the highways like a boss!
My favorite features of this vehicle include:
Bluetooth and Navigation – two must haves for this traveling mom.
Beautiful wood trim in the interior cabin of the SUV.
Heated and ventilated seats.
Rain sensing wipers (love love love this!).
Overall safety features from the multitude of airbags to the tire pressure monitoring.
Don’t let the massive size of this Lexus fool you, it drives well and handles with typical Lexus style. It’s perfect for this travel mom who loves the space and luxury.
If you go…
Emerald Coast Tours
5 W. Main Street, Pensacola
Hilton Pensacola Beach
12 Via De Luna Dr., Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
Historic Pensacola Village Tour
205 E. Zaragosa Street, Pensacola
Joe Patti’s Seafood Market
524 B. Street, Pensacola
Portofino Island Resort
10 Portofino Drive, Pensacola Beach