Best Things to Do in Pensacola Beach: Top 10 Attractions You Can't Miss

Sitting on the edge of the Florida Panhandle and bordering the state of Alabama, sunny Pensacola Beach is full of great things to do. Combining a rich history, mouthwatering cuisine, exciting outdoor activities, and white-sand beaches of crystal clear waters, Pensacola Beach offers a wide range of attractions and experiences that cater to all types of visitors.

Here are some highlights of things to do in Pensacola Beach:

  • Cultural Immersion: culture is everywhere; in Downtown Pensacola you can see charming historical buildings and find superb museums and countless entertainment options.

  • Military Legacy: Pensacola is the cradle of naval aviation and home to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels squadron. No visit to this Florida gem is complete without checking the National Naval Aviation Museum.

  • Embracing Nature: for nature lovers, beautiful beaches, and state parks offer the perfect playground for water activities and fun under the sun. And since we are speaking of the Gulf Coast, we can't forget breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico from Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier.

With so many options of things to do in Pensacola Beach, sometimes it's overwhelming to choose what to do or where to go.

Worry never. This blog will bring you the best things to do in and around Pensacola Beach with a list of the top 10 attractions you can't miss.

1. Downtown Pensacola

Downtown Pensacola has it all: history, culture, and a plethora of entertainment options for the entire family. Regardless of the time you choose to explore this vibrant area, there are always interesting things happening and many things to do in Pensacola's downtown area.

In the heart of Downtown lies Palafox Street. Once elected one of the 10 Great Streets in America, this cosmopolitan and lively thoroughfare is always brimming with amazing eateries, bars, boutiques, art galleries, and cultural venues.

Layers of history are apparent on its buildings, squares, and sidewalks — a mix of British, Spanish, and French reminding visitors of Pensacola's colonial past. Don't skip a visit to Plaza Ferdinand VII, one of the most important landmarks of the city. The square was the place where the Spanish formally transferred Florida to the United States and today it's home to a stunning park surrounded by beautiful trees and buildings.

If you want to go further into exploring the area, America's First Settlement Trail is a great and fun way to explore downtown. Marked paths throughout the Historic District will lead you to several historical spots comprehending over 260 years of history.

Extra tip: if you are in town on Saturday, Palafox Market is a fun activity. You'll find lots of delicious food, art, antiques, and crafts. Also, one Friday every month, Palafox Street becomes the stage for  Gallery Night. On this occasion, the street is closed to traffic attracting locals and tourists to check out great art, music performances, and great food as well.

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2. Naval Live Oaks

Looking for a nature escape? The Naval Live Oaks Nature Reserve is one of the best places to embrace nature and enjoy outdoor activities. This hidden gem of natural beauty and tranquility is in Gulf Breeze, just a 13-minute drive from Downtown Pensacola.

With areas facing the Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay, the reserve has picnic areas where you can join the locals for a barbecue during the weekend and spend quality time with the entire family.

Trails go through beautiful live oak trees, a protected species of oak that was used to build wooden ships in the 19th century. People usually say that walking through the trails is an extremely peaceful experience where you can admire the exuberant diversity of the reserve's fauna and flora.

But the ultimate relaxation experience is to walk along Naval Live Oaks' pristine beaches soaking in breathtaking vistas. It's always a great idea to wait for the sunset for an extra special experience.

3. Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier

No Gulf Coast experience is complete without experiencing the amazing views and delightful atmosphere of a quintessential fishing pier.

Boasting panoramic vistas of the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier is a must-go place to see fishers trying their luck (you can even join them if you want since local fishers are very welcoming), admire the scenery, and spot sea life including sea turtles, barracudas, and even dolphins if you're lucky. Take the opportunity to walk along Pensacola Beach, too, and admire the structure from below.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier is also famous for being a sunset spot. Many locals and tourists flock to the pier looking forward to witnessing a one-of-a-kind sunset. And that's nothing short of what you get: the dusk glow coloring the surroundings with warm hues. Nothing less than spectacular.

4. Pensacola Beach

On Santa Rosa Island, with soft white sands and crystal clear waters, Pensacola Beach offers the perfect background for you and your family to engage in water activities, sunbathe, relax, and admire some of the best scenery in Florida.

Whether you want to rent a paddleboard, venture into a surf lesson, or just relax on a beach chair feeling the breeze coming from the ocean, spending an afternoon or morning in Pensacola Beach is definitely one of the best things to do in Pensacola.

Don't forget to check Pensacola Beach Boardwalk out. Lined with boutiques, restaurants, and other entertainment venues, the boardwalk is a magnificent spot to have a meal looking at the sea, take nice pictures with the family, and catch live performances happening.

Also, thanks to the proximity of the beach with Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, you're just a few steps away from watching the sunset in an iconic spot after a day of beach fun.

Extra tip: if you're a nature lover, try the Footprints in the Sand Eco Trail. This 8.5-mile trail explains the amazing aspects of the island's ecology and it's as fun as it's educational for kids.

5. Gulf State Park

If you have some extra time during your visit to Pensacola Beach, driving to the neighboring state of Alabama to enjoy the pristine beaches of Gulf State Park should be on your bucket list.

In the Gulf Shores, less than an hour's drive from Pensacola Beach, the park has two miles of some of the most exquisite beaches in the country. The best of it all? The shorelines are not crowded, which gives visitors privacy and a serene atmosphere to enjoy nature. For a dose of adrenaline, you can even go parasailing and see all the natural beauty from a different perspective.

In the center of the park lies the idyllic Lake Shelby, the perfect playground for water activities. Besides swimming in the lake, you can rent paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks.

Gulf State Park also offers several hiking and biking trails that give you the chance to admire nature and spot beautiful flowers and diverse wildlife. Speaking of wildlife, make sure to visit the butterfly garden. Kids love to see the wide variety of butterflies and moths flying amid colorful flowers.

That's not all! The park is also famous for geocaching, a series of hide-and-seek games, where hiders provide online clues for seekers. Using a GPS, you can engage in a real "treasure hunt."

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6. Big Lagoon State Park

Big Lagoon State Park is one of the best places to enjoy Pensacola Bay's natural beauty and have lots of fun in the water. Saltwater marshes, shallow bays, and beaches offer kayaking, paddling, canoeing, swimming, and fishing opportunities. Pine Flatwoods, nature trails, and open woodlands are perfect for exploring nature and wildlife.

The park is the gateway to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, an educational and exciting adventure where you can spot a wide variety of beautiful birds. Another fun activity is crabbing in the shallow waters of Big Lagoon.

After so much activity, you can grab a table under pine and oak trees at the West Beach picnic area and have a delightful meal surrounded by some of the most untouched nature escapes in Florida.

Big Lagoon State Park is truly a can't-miss spot if you're a nature lover and want to explore the best of what Mother Nature has to offer in and around Pensacola Beach.

7. Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens is an iconic landmark near Pensacola Beach that blends history and stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay. Built in 1843 with over twenty-one million bricks, this is a gorgeous piece of American history worth exploring.

You can take a guided tour or explore the fortified walls on your own. Visit the officers' and prisoners' quarters and have a glimpse of how people used to live during and after the Civil War. Most of the majestic walls and arches are intact and they are quite a sight.

For a sense of adventure, you can couple your visit with hiking trails leaving from the fort and explore the stunning surroundings. A great tip is to watch the sunset from Fort Pickens, with panoramic views of Pensacola Beach and the sun reflecting a golden glow on the fort's walls. This is a memorable way to end the day in the city.

Extra tip: for more history and grandeur, also visit Fort Barrancas. You can explore this amazing landmark through hiking trails that also offer fantastic views of the sea.

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8. National Naval Aviation Museum

Being the cradle of naval aviation, any visit to Pensacola Beach is only complete by checking the National Naval Aviation Museum. The museum's collection of over 4,000 artifacts and 150 restored aircraft will amaze even those who are not that much into aviation.

One highlight visitors usually love is the high-definition flight simulators where you can have a glimpse of how combat and stunt flying feel.

The museum is also home to the Cubi Bar Café, a themed restaurant serving delicious salads, sandwiches, and desserts. They also bake fresh bread daily. To end your visit, check the museum shop for some souvenirs to take home.

Also, since we mentioned aviation, most Tuesdays and Wednesdays from March to November, you can have the privilege to see the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's elite flight demonstration squadron, practicing above the Navy base. On selected days, visitors can even meet the team after their practice.

9. Pensacola Lighthouse

On top of being a charming background for photos, Pensacola Lighthouse offers one of the best views in town. Next to the National Naval Aviation Museum, this historic tower is where you can climb 177 steps to the top and soak in the stunning vistas of Pensacola Bay, the city's skyline, and the Navy Yard.

Here's a secret: on the days the Blue Angels practice, you can watch them from the top of the fort — a true once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Make sure to also visit the Maritime Museum in the fully restored Keepers' Quarters showcasing various items and exhibits telling the story of the fort.

If you're looking for a spot where you can experience the rich history of Pensacola Beach and its region while being just a few steps away from its natural beauty, make sure to add the Pensacola Lighthouse to your Pensacola Beach bucket list.

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Housed in an elegant Mediterranean Revival-style mansion, the Pensacola Museum of History at the University of West Florida is the ultimate experience for those who want to understand the history of this charming Florida gem.

On the museum's first floor, you can check out a permanent exhibition on archeology, the history of Florida, and the preservation of Pensacola Beach and the region. The second floor is designated for rotating exhibitions making every visit to the museum a unique experience. With several photos, their collection makes you travel back in time and imagine life in the old days.

One highlight of the museum is a mock-up of the old Trader John's Bar with lots of Naval information and showcasing some of his eccentricities. The Civil War History section on Pensacola is also a highlight for every visitor. 

Top 10 Things You Can't Miss in Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach is definitely a jewel of the Gulf Coast. It's a vacation destination boasting the best Florida has to offer: rich history, exuberant nature, delightful city vibes, and endless entertainment options for the entire family.

This city is a perfect place to create unforgettable memories with your loved ones all year round. There's much more to see and do in Pensacola Beach but with our picks, you can't go wrong.

Wondering what else we recommend for your visit to Pensacola Beach? How about booking a great vacation rental so you can enjoy the city just like a local?

At Pensacola Beach Properties, we always go the extra length to ensure you have a 5-star experience when booking one of our condos and private houses. We have a wide selection of the best short-term rentals in Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, including vacation rentals with pools and pet-friendly stays.

There's nothing like experiencing this piece of paradise in Florida with all the privacy and comfort you need. Staying with us, all you have to do is kick back, relax, and soak in the Gulf Coast vibes to the fullest.

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