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Situated on Santa Rosa Island, a 40-mile playground of sand dunes extending into the Gulf of Mexico, Pensacola Beach is a community completely independent from mainland Florida that has emerged as a top beach destination in its own right.
The long stretches of white sandy beaches are hugely popular in the summer, and sometimes host aerobatic aerial shows by the famous Blue Angels navy flight demonstration squadron. Further afield, visitors explore on bicycles to discover deserted stretches of beaches and calm lagoon waters of Santa Rosa Sound. Nature lovers can take scuba diving tours of historic shipwrecks full of marine life, and birdwatching opportunities abound in the Fort Pickens National Seashore.
The historic city of Pensacola is easily accessible over the Pensacola Bay Bridge and features a wide variety of historical attractions, shopping complexes, and quality restaurants featuring local specialties and freshly-caught seafood.
Due to the peculiar quirk that no property can be owned on the island, accommodation options are not as varied as in similar locales, but a decent number of hotels are dotted along the sands.
Below are some of the best in the region.
Best Overall: Portofino Island Resort & Spa
Overlooking a secluded stretch of beach on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Portofino Island Resort & Spa houses two and three-bedroom condos in a series of five soaring tower units. Each tower features an exclusive outdoor pool and a whirlpool spa, as well as views over the Gulf of Mexico or Santa Rosa Sound from spacious balconies.
At the Spa Portofino, guests can indulge in exfoliating massages, body treatments, and manicures in a calm relaxing environment, or request massages poolside or in the privacy of their suite. Dining options include the elegant Coastal restaurant, the casual Cobalt Bar with fire-pit tables, and specialty stone-cooked pizzas from the Portofino al Fresco, a relaxed Tuscan terrace with fountains and ocean views. Additional perks include a floating water park, dolphin cruises, and a complimentary water taxi service which whisks guests to the restaurants, shops, and bars of the Portofino Boardwalk.
Best Budget: Surf & Sand Hotel
Set by the calm waters of Little Sabine Bay, just a short distance from Casino Beach and the Portofino Boardwalk, the Surf & Sand Hotel is a great budget option that offers a relaxed, social vibe and an impressive list of amenities. Rooms feature simple and comfortable furnishings, a soothing blue and aqua color scheme, and surfboards hanging from the walls. Amenities include a flat-screen TV, coffee maker, microwave, and mini-fridge, as well as a wheelchair-accessible shower and bathroom vanity. Both the pool deck and the adjacent beach are lined with sun lounges and shade umbrellas, and evening bonfires around the large firepit situated on the beach are a focal meeting point. The hotel offers lots of free perks, including a comprehensive and tasty breakfast, kayaks, paddleboards, floats, and bikes and car parking.
Best Boutique: Soundside Holiday Beach Resort
The Soundside Holiday Beach Resort offers modern and luxurious condos built in a classic beach shack style. The large, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos come with fully-equipped kitchens and feature retro furnishings, including wooden furniture, floral print quilts, and a warm marigold palette. Private furnished patios face out over pebbled gardens containing a tennis court, wooden pool deck, outdoor hot tub, and a BBQ area with stone tables, benches, and shade umbrellas. The private beach contains a shaded wooden pagoda on the hotel jetty, which extends out into the bay and is a great place for fishing or just relaxing in the sun and enjoying the tranquil lagoon views. Located in the midst of Pensacola Beach, attractions like Casino Beach and the Portofino Boardwalk are just a short walk from the hotel.
Best for Families: Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach
Located in the heart of the hotel zone and with plenty of restaurants and family entertainment options nearby, the Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach delivers the best in wholesome holiday fun. All rooms are large and bright and come with Keurig coffeemakers, microwaves, and mini fridges, but families with young children should book a Kidsuite. The family-friendly accommodations come equipped with bunk beds, bean bags, and gaming centers. Of course, the kid-centric perks don't stop there.
Seasonal interactive shows featuring pirates and mermaids make for a fun time and great photo opportunities, while the large beachside pool presents a water playground well-suited for the whole family with rock waterfalls, wooden bridges, and a lazy river that winds past palms and gardens. Brightly-colored umbrellas shade sun lounges lining the pool's edge so you can enjoy the sun in moderation. The large, thatched-roof pool deck hosts Riptides Sports Grill and Tiki Bar, which serves classic American fare and expansive beach views.
Best for Romance: Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa
Large, bright suites at the Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa feature unique décor, but each is as elegant and modern as the next. All suites have gourmet kitchen areas, dining rooms, bathrooms with walk-in showers and a separate bathtub, and a full range of amenities. Beautiful views over the Gulf are available via floor-to-ceiling windows and from spacious furnished balconies.
In the central hotel courtyard, a large free-form pool is surrounded by sun lounges and offers views over the adjacent beach. In the marble-lined Aqua Spa, couples can indulge in exfoliation, aromatherapy, and massage treatments, enjoy the sauna, whirlpool spa, and indoor pools, and work out on the modern fitness equipment in the gym. Traveling beaus will also appreciate complimentary extras like beach chair set-ups, free-to-use bicycles, complimentary daily rounds of golf, and deep discounts at the Aqua Spa and selected boutique shops and restaurants on the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk.
Best for Luxury: Margaritaville Beach Hotel
Located on a secluded stretch of coast — but with the sights of central Pensacola Beach just a short distance away — the Margaritaville Beach Hotel strikes an ideal balance between a quiet getaway and exciting vacation hotspot.
Here, spacious suites epitomize beach-chic with simple nautical themes, traditional décor, and large windows and balconies taking full advantage of ocean and lagoon views. Guests can relax under the skilled hands of professional masseuses, shop for casual wear, or join in on hotel activities (peep the hotel's packed entertainment schedule ahead of time). The elegant pool terrace features a large pool, sun lounges, and a casual tiki bar which serves drinks and small snacks. On the beach, the LandShark Landing bar is the perfect place to enjoy additional light bites and beverages while catching a game of volleyball, lounging in a hammock, or watching movie screenings around the firepit.
Best for Singles: Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach
With a desirable, central waterfront location, the Hampton Inn Pensacola Beach keeps guests close to the region's top attractions. Roomy accommodations are decked out in modern furnishings — think plush beds, flat-screen TVs, retro swivel chairs, and settees clad in vibrant blues and oranges. Many also offer private balconies offering beach views. Standard amenities include coffee makers, mini fridges, and microwaves. Hot breakfasts are provided daily, and free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.
A large beachfront courtyard houses two swimming pools and the thatched-roof Gilligans Tiki Bar, which serves tasty snacks, cold beer, and refreshing cocktails. Numerous sun lounges face out over hammocks on the manicured lawns, long sand dunes, and blue ocean vistas. Since the hotel is situated in the center of Pensacola Beach, the area's best shops, restaurants, and bars are all easily accessible when you're ready to explore off property.
Best for Business: Hilton Pensacola Beach
With the largest hotel event space in Pensacola Beach, the Hilton is well equipped to host functions, conferences, and business seminars. The hotel features over 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including executive conference rooms with walk-out balconies overlooking the Gulf. Modern audio-visual equipment is available to ensure presentations make a memorable and informative impact, and the professional Meetings Team is on hand to organize and manage all aspects of event planning and catering.
Whether you're on or off the clock, comfortable and stylish guest rooms come with workspaces, couches, and balconies with ocean views. A 24-hour business center and gym keep guests fit and productive while traveling on business, and the large oceanfront pool provides opportunities to relax after a productive day. The award-winning H2O restaurant offers a wide selection of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, and the Executive Lounge is available for Gold Member guest use.
Best Beachfront: Holiday Inn Express Pensacola Beach
Facing directly onto a secluded sandy beach with stretches far in both directions, the Holiday Inn Express Pensacola Beach offers an unsurpassed location for those looking to laze in the sun in a relaxed atmosphere. Large hotel rooms feature traditional hotel décor and come with TVs, fridges, and comfortable workstations should you need to get in a little work. Coffee machines, iPod docking stations, and a complimentary morning newspaper are all provided as well. Uninterrupted panoramic views of the Gulf can be enjoyed through the floor-to-ceiling windows and from the furnished balcony. A free breakfast buffet is provided in the morning, and coffee is offered throughout the day in the lobby. The hotel courtyard is filled with sun lounges under shaded pagodas and contains a graceful free-form pool with gently bubbling waterspouts and zero-entry access. A wooden boardwalk cuts through the dunes to offer direct beach access, and chairs and umbrellas offer an ideal place to soak up the Florida sun.