The city of Pensacola has a rich history full of everything from archeological sites to significant historical events. In 1559, the area was the site of the first multi-year European settlement in what is now the continental United States. The first commercial export cargo left the Port of Pensacola in 1743 and consisted of pine, pitch products and the wooden masts and spars for sailing ships. In 1825, then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams ordered the establishment of forts as well as the navy yard at Pensacola, which signaled the beginning of the Navy’s long association with the city and its people. Visit the Historic Pensacola Village archeological site downtown in the historic district for an in-depth look into Pensacola’s history to include recreated homes, kitchens and shops full of re-enactors giving demonstrations. Some of the stops on these guided tours include the 1805 French Creole Lavalle House and the 1832 Old Christ Church which is one of the oldest masonry church structures in Florida. Some museums in the area include Florida State Museum at 330 S. Jefferson St. and Pensacola Children’s Museum at 115 E. Zaragoza St.
For more military history, you might try the site of Fort George, which is also part of the historic district downtown. You can tour Fort Barrancas on the mainland and Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. In the late 1800s, Fort Pickens was also used to house the Apache chief Geronimo and some of his warriors; it is the largest of four forts that were built to defend Pensacola Bay.
Located a short distance from downtown and onboard NAS Pensacola, you can experience the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the largest aviation museum in the world. The museum provides more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation. These historic and one-of-a-kind aircraft are displayed both inside the museum’s nearly 350,000 square feet of exhibit space and outside on its 37-acre grounds. The National Aviation Museum also features the Giant Screen Theater.
Don’t forget to visit the Pensacola Lighthouse, established in 1859, just down the street from the aviation museum. The Pensacola Lighthouse is the oldest and tallest light station on the U.S. Gulf Coast. You can climb the Pensacola Lighthouse’s 177 cast iron steps and visit its museum. The fully restored Keepers’ Quarters — built in 1869 — is home to the Richard C. Callaway museum, which houses numerous exhibits on local history and the lighthouse itself. For more information, visit www.pensacolalighthouse.org.
For more information about Pensacola, its history and its current attractions, contact Visit Pensacola at 800-874-1234 or visit www.visitpensacola.com. You will also find MWR to be a great resource for information and discounts on admissions to local attractions.
The Florida Panhandle offers mild winters and warm summers tempered by the prevailing winds off the Gulf of Mexico. Peak tourist season is from May through September, so you may wish to time your visits to the most popular local attractions accordingly. Average temperatures from November through February are usually in the low to high 50s, while the water temperatures range from the mid-60s to low 70s. From March through September, you can look forward to a gentle curve of warmth and sunshine that peaks in June, July and August, when the air temperature is in the 90s and water temperature is in the 80s.
No description of the area can begin without first mentioning Pensacola’s two most obvious and notable features — its emerald-green waters and its miles and miles of white-sand beaches that resemble pure cane sugar. Best of all, both are free. Santa Rosa Island is one long, spectacular beach the whole family will love and want to return to again and again.
For those who enjoy being out on the water, Pensacola offers the ability to participate in a wide range of water-based activities which include surfing, paddle boarding, fishing, diving, snorkeling and swimming.
For those who prefer their sports on land, Pensacola has plenty to offer. For the hunter, there are woods galore in the immediate area alive with deer, quail, squirrel, dove and wild pigs. For runners, there are the 15k Double Bridge Run in February and the Blue Angel half-marathon in March. For those who like to chase the little white ball, the Pensacola area offers both nine- and 18-hole golf courses in addition to those on base.
Pensacola also has something for those who would rather watch than participate. The Pensacola Bay Center hosts a professional Ice Hockey team, the Pensacola Ice Flyers. Located in the heart of downtown Pensacola, the Blue Wahoos play Minor League Baseball. Soccer fans will get a kick out of Ashton Brosnaham Park, Pensacola’s soccer complex. The 103-acre park features 10 soccer fields and four softball fields. Auto racing fans will love Five Flags Speedway. Whatever your interest, Pensacola has something for you.
About the Area
The city of Pensacola has a population of more than 53,000 people and lies within the Central time zone. The city of Pensacola is organized as a council-manager form of government with 10 council members elected to alternating two-year terms. The mayor is elected by a popular vote of the residents. The city manager is appointed.
The Escambia County government is governed by a board consisting of five district commissioners elected to four-year terms. The county administrator is an appointed position.
In addition to all the museums mentioned earlier, Pensacola is also a thriving setting for the performing arts. You’ll find outstanding theater, ballet, opera, symphony or any number of cultural performances at the Saenger Theatre or the Pensacola Little Theatre downtown, at Pensacola State College or at the University of West Florida. If you need information on current activities, go to www.visitpensacola.com.
If your interest is higher education, you will find the University of West Florida right in Pensacola as well as satellite locations Eglin Air Force Base and Fort Walton Beach. Further options include Pensacola State College, Pensacola Christian College, Troy University and George Stone Technical Center.
For information about childhood education, contact the Escambia County School District. The district administers grades kindergarten through high school and educates more than 45,000 students each year. Alternatively, there are many private schools throughout the area to choose from. All in all, Pensacola truly does have something for everyone.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key both are home to Florida’s Gulf island National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. Island beaches, sparkling waters, bayous, historic forts and recreational opportunities are plentiful at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Open year-round, the seashore is in Mississippi and Florida. Gentle breezes, tides and hurricanes have constantly reshaped this dynamic landscape.
Salt marshes, dunes covered with sea oats, and maritime forests of live oaks and pines are part of the national seashore. Animal life includes sea turtles, alligators, a wide variety of birds (such as plovers, terns, sanderlings and pelicans), and abundant fish, shellfish and other sea life.
For history buffs, the forts of Gulf Islands National Seashore span almost 150 years, from the Spanish colonial Bateria De San Antonio (1797) to the WWII-era Battery 234. This reflects the historic value of the anchorages at Pensacola Bay, Florida and Ship Island, Mississippi. Most striking among these are the American Third System forts: Fort Pickens, Fort Massachusetts, Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt, all which saw action during the Civil War.
The Fort Barrancas area is on Taylor Road, approximately a half-mile east of the Museum of Naval Aviation. The area includes the historic Water Battery, Fort Barrancas, trails, a visitor center, picnic areas and the Advanced Redoubt. Fort Barrancas sits on a bluff overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay; the natural advantages of this location have inspired engineers of three nations to build forts. The British built the Royal Navy Redoubt there in 1763 of earth and logs. The Spanish built two forts there around 1797. Bateria de San Antonio was a masonry water battery at the foot of the bluff. Above it was earth and log Fort San Carlos Barrancas. American engineers remodeled the Water Battery in 1840 and built a masonry fort on the bluff between 1839 and 1844, connected by a tunnel to the Water Battery. This is the current Fort Barrancas. A 1.2 million, 18-month restoration project led to its reopening in 1980. Scheduled tours of Fort Barrancas are offered throughout the year. Call 850-934-2600 for more information.
The Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas was built between 1845 and 1870 as a part of a defensive network for the Pensacola Navy Yard. Fort Pickens, McRee and Barrancas protected the entrance to the harbor; the Advanced Redoubt was constructed to defend the northern side of the peninsula on which the navy yard was located. The redoubt is unique among the early American forts at Pensacola in being designed solely for resisting a land-based assault. Scheduled tours of the Advanced Redoubt are available 11 a.m. Saturday.
Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay, Florida, and its navy yard. The construction of fort began in 1829, completed in 1834 and used until the 1940s. Built in the age of wooden warships and cannons firing round balls, the fort underwent changes in response to advances in weapon technology following the Civil War.
Ten concrete gun batteries including one in the middle of the historic fort was built from the 1890s through the 1940s, each a response to a particular threat. Atomic bombs, guided missiles and long-range bombers made such forts obsolete by the end of World War II, and the Army abandoned the forts. Following extensive repairs by the National Park Service, the fort was reopened in 1976.
For more information on Gulf Islands National Seashore forts and points of interest, visit www.nps.gov/gui.