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Discover Pensacola in Florida and show your kids The Way to Beach™

Last updated 14th March 2024

Pensacola in North West Florida is officially The Way to Beach™. If you want to know exactly what that means, planning an unforgettable family vacation in Pensacola is easily the best way to find out. Take our Pensacola Quiz to find the type of vacation that fits your family best.

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Discovering the way to beach begins young in Pensacola

Pensacola sits in the far north west of Florida, it’s the most westerly city in the state and one of the beachiest in the US. However, you may be more surprised to learn that it was also the first European settlement in America. So a family vacation here means you can mix the stunning Gulf Islands National Seashore with more than 460 years of history. Although Pensacola doesn’t make you work hard for either.

The immense, white sand beaches couldn’t be easier to enjoy, in so many different ways.  Historic Pensacola Village is a remarkably well preserved heritage site as well as great fun. Families can even explore 17th century military forts on the astonishing coast. And if you like museums, you’re in the right place for those too.

Ask a local could be the Pensacola motto. It might be the beachy atmosphere or centuries of diverse cultural influences but the people here are relaxed, friendly and love to show off their city, and it’s easy to see why.

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USA Today named the Gulf Islands National Seashore ‘Best Attraction in Florida’

Find out why Pensacola owns The Way To Beach

It’s been said that there’s something magical about Pensacola’s beaches. In fact, locals claim that simply stepping on to the sands calms you. However, with everything from eco-trails and watersports, festivals and family activities, they go well beyond a soul-soothing effect. None other than USA Today named Pensacola Beach, ‘The Best Beach in Florida’, and then it went on to name the Gulf Islands National Seashore, ‘Best Florida Attraction’. Get the feeling you should know more?

Pensacola Beach stretches along the Gulf of Mexico for miles and every single one of them is drenched in gleaming white sands. Start with the lively main beaches. They’re lifeguarded and practically made for families, whether your kids are at the sandcastle building or surfing stage.

When you want total escapism, head to Perdido Key. The aptly named ‘lost’ barrier island is a very different Pensacola beach experience, but one you have to try. Come here for the stunning sand dunes and still Gulf waters, then look forward to giving your kids the freedom to play all day, if that’s what they need. Or take the adventure up a notch and go exploring at one of the local state parks. Perdido Key is home to several, including Big Lagoon State Park and Tarklin Bayou Preserve.

Win a Family Beach Vacation in Pensacola Florida.

Take the Pensacola Quiz, find your own personal Way to Beach™ and enter our contest.

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Making the best family vacation memories is what Pensacola is all about

Discover the Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pensacola Beach, Fort Pickens, Perdido Key and Opal Beach are all part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest federally-protected seashore in the US. This eco-wonder is a haven for birds: kids will be thrilled to see the huge nests of Blue Herons in the treetops. Dolphin and cow nose rays swim in the safe waters and it’s also a nesting ground for sea turtles. Explore by bike, foot or in a kayak or canoe, but do explore. The Seashore is one of the most miraculous places in Florida and the reason why it’s impossible to deny that Pensacola’s beaches are magical.

Although there are also so many different ways to beach here. We can highly recommend ranger-led nature tours as a way to discover the hidden secrets of the Seashore’s wetlands and marshes. The Footprints in the Sand Eco-Trail is another incredible experience for kids where learning slips in unnoticed, but always sticks. However, when you want to create your own adventure, miles and miles of trails and boardwalks lead you to off-the-beaten track places which are certain to stay with you long after you’ve shaken the last of the sand out of your shoes back home.

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Paddling, Big Lagoon State Park, Pensacola, Florida

Try phenomenal only in Pensacola family vacation experiences

So now you know a little more about Pensacola’s natural phenomena, here are a few of its phenomenal experiences. But remember, this is just a hint of what you can get up to on vacation here.

  • Paddling in Pensacola isn’t just dipping your toes in the sea. It’s all about getting out on the water in canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Expert local companies hire kid-friendly equipment and you have your pick of places to paddle. If you feel really adventurous, head to Big Lagoon State Park to try part of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail which actually starts in the Pensacola Bay Area.
  • Catch a dolphin cruise and add complete enchantment to your vacation. You’ll find a wide range of tours on offer so getting one to suit the ages of your kids is easy. There’s even a dolphin tour which coincides with the Blue Angels practicing their aerial manoeuvres for an extra unforgettable experience.
  • When nothing will do but thrills, Splash City Adventure satisfies amusement park and waterpark cravings all in one place. Right in the heart of Pensacola, it’s a favourite with local families, which is always a good sign.
  • The legendary Blue Angels are at home in Pensacola and they put on a sensational Air Show in July every year. However, from March to September, you can also see the squadron practising their aerial moves from vantage points around the area, including Fort Pickens. Don’t forget to tell kids that seeing a practice gives them the right to call the squadron, ‘Our Blues’. It’s a fact, ask anyone lucky enough to live here.
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Pensacola Historic Village brings the past to life for kids

Pensacola makes over 460 years of history fun for kids

It’s not always easy to imagine anything apart from sun, sand and sea on a Florida family vacation. Yet Pensacola manages to make the idea of museums almost as tempting as the beach. Although having almost 500 years of history to fall back probably helps with that.

  • Visit Historic Pensacola and prepare to be amazed. This was the first America’s first European settlement, the history spans over 460 years and kids don’t even notice they’re learning, because it all just feels like fun. Plus, you only need to buy one ticket each and you have seven days to explore. So take your time, there’s a lot to see and do.
  • Spend the day at Fort Pickens. One of four military forts constructed to protect the Pensacola area during the 1800s, it comes with a fascinating history. Explore the buildings, visit the museum and then go swimming at Langdon Beach.
  • The National Naval Aviation Museum is free which is very generous as it makes a great family day out. The collection includes over 150 restored aircraft. Kids can get on board with flight simulators and the Giant Screen Digital Theater is worth a visit alone.∗∗
  • Get hands on with history at the interactive and imaginative Pensacola Children’s Museum. Here kids can experience a Colonial Classroom, discover daily life in a Native American Village and even visit a Trading Post. Two floors of endless play might be a bit much for one day, but the museum is included in your Historic Pensacola ticket, so you can come again, and again.

∗∗ Remember to check opening times and visitation requirements before you visit the National Naval Aviation Museum.

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Downtown Pensacola, Florida

City of Five Flags and Festival City of the South

Pensacola goes by a few names and all of them flattering and well-deserved. Over the centuries the flags of Spain, Britain, France, the Confederacy and the US have flown over the city, hence the name City of Five Flags. However, the more recent title, Festival City of the South comes directly from the deep spirit of good-time that runs right through Pensacola 365-days a year.

In that spirit, there’s even an ‘only in Pensacola’ cocktail, the Bushwacker. Think milkshake with a kick for adults-only and best enjoyed with a long, hot day and a perfect Pensacola beach!

If you want a carnival with Florida sunshine, visit in February and catch beads and brilliant vibes at one of America’s original Mardi Gras celebrations. There are Bands on the Beach from April to October every year. And it’s eyes to the skies in July for the Blue Angels Air Show. September is the month for the ridiculously delicious annual Seafood Festival . And the one and only Foo Foo Festival is end-to-end Pensacola culture for 14 days and nights in November.

Although missing out on the Seafood Festival doesn’t deprive you of fabulous eating experiences at any time of year. Downtown is the foodie heart of Pensacola and delivers on everything from cute food trucks to fine dining. Naturally, sea views on the side are a big draw at beachfront restaurants on the Gulf. Local beach bars rustle up southern seafood like you’ve never tasted and they’re just one of the toes-in-the-sand style places for families to kick-back, tuck-in and savor Pensacola’s exceptionally good taste.

How to plan your family vacation in Pensacola

Pensacola sits in the north west of Florida. The most westerly city in the state, its coast is the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

When to go

Pensacola has long, hot summers and short, mild winters.

Spring and summer are the busiest beach seasons.

Autumn is quieter, although it’s still beach weather with average temperatures of 25° between September and November.

 

Visit Pensacola for everything you need to know about beachy and historic family vacations