Pensacola Has It All - By Margaret Park
Vacationers considering a visit to Florida have a wide range of choices. Do they want thrill rides and night life? How about silky-soft, white sand? Is peace and quiet important? Maybe a boardwalk with plenty of diversions is in order. For those who wish to taste a little bit of everything Florida offers — including Apalachicola oysters and Cajun spices — Pensacola Beach is the perfect destination.
Pensacola Beach is located on Santa Rosa Island; however, fun is not island-bound. Pensacola is home to an annual Blue Angels air show as well as the Naval Aviation Museum. Located just a few miles from the origin of Mardi Gras — Mobile, Ala. — Pensacola is a perfect place to experience fat Tuesday without the big-city crowds. This year’s parade is February 10.
Vacationers looking to connect with history or nature will enjoy Historic Pensacola Village and Pensacola Light House or a side trip to Perdido Key, Santa Rosa’s neighbor island that is home to Perdido Key State Park.
Pensacola offers a little bit of everything without overdoing it. Here kids can enjoy shaping the perfect sandcastle, Mom can relax in a five-star spa and Dad can hit the links on one of the Emerald Coast Golf Trail courses. Pensacola is a family-fun destination.
No stranger to thrill rides, thrills in Pensacola feature jaw-dropping scenery, not long lines and crowds:
• Go parasailing
• Rent a WaveRunner.
• Take surfing lessons.
• Dive the world’s largest artificial reef, and check out local marine life.
For a tamer thrill, the 360 Pensacola Beach Observation Wheel takes the traditional Ferris wheel to new heights. This ride features enclosed gondolas that carry visitors 200 feet above the beach. Each gondola is made of non-reflective glass, making it a perfect location to capture vacation pictures.
Guests who need a respite from their hectic lives instead of thrills will find tranquility in Ft. Pickens and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, both on Santa Rosa Island. Although visitors must be careful not to disturb protected shorebirds, they will find the same white sand and emerald waters they expect from the Gulf Coast.
Those who want to literally “get away from it all,” can board a boat and leave for a while:
• Go deep sea fishing, and come home with a trophy.
• For constant smiles, take a dolphin tour.
• Slow down and go sailing.
Visitors can choose from a variety of lodging options. Vacation rentals dot both Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key. However, visitors who prefer hotels can choose among many, ranging in both price and amenities.
Jimmy Buffett fans will enjoy visiting The Margaritaville Hotel. This hotel features plenty of escapist fun from the Frank and Lola Love Pensacola Café to the Land Shark Landing beach cabana.
More traditional hotels include the Portofino Island Resort and Spa, the Hilton Pensacola and the Holiday Inn Resort. Families who desire a less-expensive stay can choose among a large number of hotels, motels and inns, such as Paradise Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn.
Gulf Coast fare is always a treat. Whether vacationers wish to dine nearby, downtown or on Perdido Key, tantalizing restaurants await. Expect to find PoBoys, coconut shrimp, oysters on the half shell and key lime pie on local menus. Mild Gulf Cost fish, such as grouper, amberjack, red snapper and orange roughy, are white, flakey and delicious.
The Grand Marlin offers upscale dining and a fully stocked oyster bar. The menu is chef-driven and printed daily, so you can expect the freshest seafood in town. Other fun and fresh dining options at the beach include Flounder’s Chowder and Ale House, Peg Leg Pete’s, H2O Cajun-Asian and Crabs We Got Em. For fresh seafood and quality atmosphere, The Oyster Bar on Perdido Key is absolutely worth a drive.
Across the Pensacola Bay Bridge, vacationers will find long-standing Pensacola restaurants that have become traditions. McGuire’s Irish Pub is known for good food and good times. The Atlas Oyster House, The Fish House, Joe Patti’s, Five Sisters Blues Cafe and The Angus are perennial favorites. For unforgettable, downtown dining, try Jackson’s Steakhouse.
Pensacola is family friendly, but those seeking a bustling night life will not be disappointed.
Although they require a drive across the Bay Bridge, McGuire’s Irish Pub — featuring live (sometimes bawdy) Celtic music and a stuffed Moose — and Rosie O’Grady’s top the list for fun. Closer to the beach, find delicious food, great drinks and live music throughout Santa Rosa Island at places like Paradise Bar and Grill, Paddy O’Leary’s Irish Pub, Bamboo Willie’s, and Shaggy’s Waterfront Bar and Grill.
Pensacola is truly a vacation destination that exceeds expectations. Pensacola has it all: luxury, fun, white-sand beaches, boating, nightlife, secluded island nature preserves and even a temporal representation of the ultimate escapist destination, Margaritaville.