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How do you make Florida beach vacations more fascinating? Come to Pensacola!

Last updated 23rd March 2024

Fascinating history might not be the first thing you associate with family vacations in Florida, but Pensacola is most certainly not your average Florida vacation.

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Historic Pensacola Village makes history fun on family vacations in Florida

In fact, it’s the first European settlement in North America with an enthralling past that spans over 460 years. And, although it was discovered by Spanish Conquistador, Don Tristán de Luna, in 1559, the flags of France, Britain and America have all been planted here over the years. So it almost goes without saying that you’ll find a broad mix of cultures and influences everywhere from its food to the people lucky enough to live here.

Although what may really surprise you is how well Pensacola handles the history. Don’t expect dry and dusty. It’s definitely an education, but making that as much fun for families as the spectacular beaches, wildly beautiful state parks and colourful year-round festivals, is a matter of local pride.

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Visiting Historic Pensacola Village

Add centuries of history to family vacations in Florida

Pensacola really is a city that wears its history on its sleeve. If you want to see how that plays out, head to Historic Pensacola Village and all you have to do is stroll around. Thirty buildings here are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you’re walking on traditional brick pavements, and all around you life is being lived as it was in the 18th and 19th century.

Really experience what went on in the olden days

It’s fascinating to meet costumed locals and find out how day-to-day tasks were carried out before the existence of all the things we take for granted. Of course, this extraordinary way of experiencing the past first hand, is also great fun for kids.

And you can all take your time: ‘One Ticket, Seven Days to Explore’ isn’t just great value, it lets you discover Historic Pensacola Village at your own pace, and makes sure you miss nothing. Although some visits you might want to prioritise.

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Getting interactive on America’s First Settlement Trail

What not to miss in Historic Pensacola

  • Julee Cottage was originally owned by Julee Panton, a freed black woman who bought the house for $300 in 1805. Julee ran a business making candles and pastries, however, it’s also believed she helped many slaves to freedom in the years leading up to the American Civil War. A tour of the cottage with a costumed living history guide is great for older kids.
  • The Pensacola Children’s Museum covers two floors and specialises in learning through play. So kids can look forward to interactive experiences of  everything from Native American culture and colonial classrooms to sailing on a traditional tall ship.
  • Don’t miss Quina House. Dating back to 1810, it’s Pensacola’s oldest building still in its original location, and furnished just as it would have been back in the day. Another great tour to take.
  • If you drop in on the Appleyard Storytelling Cottage you can hear all the best Pensacola tales told by the city’s premier storyteller, John Appleyard.
  • Pensacola Museum of History gives you an insight into the people, places and events which shaped the city. So it’s the perfect place to start a self-guided tour of Historic Pensacola.
  • America’s First Settlement Trail covers the entire history of Pensacola in one family-friendly walk. It’s three miles long, but even younger kids will be happy to keep up and easily distracted by the 70-plus points of interest and 20 stops along the way.
  • Drop into the Belmont-Devilliers neighbourhood to see why it earned a marker on the historic Mississippi Blues Trail. The entire trail has over 200 markers, each recognising a significant spot in the southeast US which has added to the understanding of the country’s blues history, and Pensacola’s marker is one of only two in Florida.

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Fort Pickens, Pensacola Beach, family vacations in Florida

Walk in some fascinating footsteps on family vacations in Florida

A long history always has a bit of conflict in the mix, and Pensacola is no exception, as the three military forts built to protect Pensacola Harbor prove. Constructed between 1829 and 1844 and in use as recently as World War II, they provide a unique perspective on another aspect of the area’s complex past.

Jump at the chance to walk in the footsteps of soldiers and settlers on ranger led tours around Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee. All three forts are also accessible for self-guided tours too and work for kids of all ages as their history can be easily woven into a day at the beach: Fort Pickens is on Pensacola Beach and Fort McRee is on Perdido Key.

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Pensacola Lighthouse

Climb Pensacola Lighthouse and be amazed

On New Year’s Day 1859, the Pensacola Lighthouse was lit for the very first time. Today it’s as impressive as ever, now on the National Register of Historic Places, and also home to an excellent museum.

Although before you explore that, you should climb the 177 steps to the top and take a look around. Not only will you get one of the best views in Pensacola, you may be lucky enough to see the U.S. Navy’s elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, practicing their thrilling aerial manoeuvres.

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National Naval Avaiation Museum

One of the most visited museums in Florida is at home in Pensacola

The National Naval Aviation Museum is Pensacola’s top attraction, one of the most visited museums in Florida, and it’s free.

You’ll find this incredible museum at Pensacola Naval Air Station, which also happens to be home to the Blue Angels. It’s housed in an astonishing 350,000 square feet indoor exhibition space which contains over 150 restored aircraft, including the first to cross the Atlantic and the first to land at the South Pole. As well as these legends, you can try simulators, get hands on with interactive exhibits, explore stunning dioramas, and discover unique historical artefacts. Did we mention, it’s free?

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Exploring America’s First Settlement Trail

Walk a few miles on America’s First Settlement Trail

Follow this three-mile interactive trail through downtown Pensacola and the Historic District for an end-to-end experience of more than two centuries of history.

Along the way you’ll find 20 stops and more than 70 points of interest, including sites which date back to 1756. It’s one of the most exciting ways to get kids involved in the evolution of the city, as well being a fun walk and another of Pensacola’s great learning experiences.

Now head to Visit Pensacola for everything you need to plan your family’s Pensacola vacation