Pensacola’s sugar-white sand looks like snow to many, and visitors from cold climates enjoy posing near sand dunes in the winter to show the folks back home what a Pensacola winter looks like.
The beach creates a relaxing backdrop for sunbathers, shell collectors, frolicking children or content beach walkers. Some enjoy the surf of the Gulf of Mexico, others prefer Pensacola’s calm inland beaches, which provide the perfect setting for wading children.
Pensacola’s beach atmosphere ranges from lively crowds with lifeguards to desolate beaches bordered by wispy sea grass. No matter what the season, beachgoers can relax on the sunny, peaceful shores of Pensacola’s award-winning emerald-green coastline.
Clear waters and inviting sand beckon thousands of visitors a year to Pensacola Beach, long the signature of Pensacola.
In the old days, ferries shuttled eager tourists across the bay to the bustling beach. Today, long scenic bridges carry beachgoers to their destination.
Pensacola Beach occupies nearly eight miles of the 40-mile long Santa Rosa barrier island. It is surrounded by the Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and south and on either side by the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore. Much of the barrier island is protected from development, preserved by a determination to maintain the natural environment for generations to come.
Yet Pensacola Beach, more than any other beach in the area, offers an array of shopping, restaurants, beach bars, lodging and entertainment – all with minimum travel, traffic and cost. The calendar is filled with special events, including Mardi Gras celebrations, a triathlon, wine tastings, a summer music series, boat racing and the ever popular annual Blue Angel air show in July, featuring the Navy’s precision flying team.
Beaches include Casino Beach, the core of Pensacola Beach, where many gather for swimming and fun; Quietwater Beach near the commercial core of the city, and many uncrowded areas where only a few have congregated to unwind.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
The Gulf Islands National Seashore hopscotches along the coast on barrier islands from Mississippi to Florida’s panhandle, providing Pensacola with 16 miles of emerald waters and eye-catching vistas without commercial development. Run by the National Park Service, Gulf Islands encompasses several beaches, picnic areas, campsites, historic areas and diverse wildlife along the Santa Rosa Island and part of Perdido Key.
The Naval Live Oaks area on Santa Rosa Sound, off Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze offers more than 1,000 acres of woods and waterfront ideal for walking and wading. The preserved area is a refuge for species of plants, small animals, and birds. Nature trails and picnic areas provide ideal settings to examine live oaks, which were used to make navy ships in the early days because of their unusual strength and naturally curved shape. The Seashore headquarters is located here along with a display of Indian artifacts and an orientation show about the seashore.
Fort Pickens, located at the island’s western end, offers uncrowded, pristine beaches as well as a little bit of history for divers, boaters, campers, and beachgoers. The fort at the western end of the island was one of three built in the 1820s to protect Pensacola Bay. It was held by Union troops during the Civil War and later served as a prison for Apache leader Geronimo and other Apaches.
One of the newest additions to the park is the newly refurbished Opal Beach, named for the 1995 hurricane that damaged part of the coast. Located halfway between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, the park offers ample parking, picnic facilities, and bathrooms.
For more information, call Gulf Islands National Seashore at (850) 934-2600.
Meaning "Lost Island" in Spanish, Perdido Key offers a refreshing escape with its bays, estuaries, wetlands and abundant native sea life and wildlife. The key, located 30 minutes west of Pensacola, combines slow-paced life with its award-winning beaches and plenty of lodging and quaint shops.
Located about 15 miles west of Pensacola, Perdido Key was first discovered by the Spanish in 1693, and its beauty is continually rediscovered by tourists throughout the year. Maryland geologist Dr. Stephen Leatherman placed it in his Top 20 Beaches in America 2000 ranking. Leatherman considers factors including cleanliness, appearance, and weather in making his choices. Boating World magazine has named it among the 100 best "fantasy islands" for boaters to cruise, fish, relax, camp, explore and entertain.
Accessible by boat or bridge, Perdido Key is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and by the tranquil Olde River on the other. The variety of water settings makes it ideal for family water sports, including fishing, skiing, snorkeling, surfing, and swimming.
While upscale development has modernized part of the key, more than half of the island is preserved from growth by federal and state parks. For more information, call the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce at (850) 492-5422.
Big Lagoon State Park
Covering 712 acres west of Pensacola, Big Lagoon State Park fronts Big Lagoon and the Intracoastal Waterway. Visitors enjoy camping, swimming, boating, fishing, crabbing, walking nature trails, and cast netting for mullet. Guided walks, campfire programs, and recreational skills instruction are available, and a 40-foot tower provides an exceptional view of the surrounding woods, marshes, and beaches. Call (850) 492-1595 for more information.