15 Reasons Why You Should Plan a Visit to Pensacola for Your Next Non-Beach Vacation

Yes, we said it.

Don't call Pensacola a one-trick pony. This Gulf Coast city, tucked away on the western edge of the Florida panhandle, has a history rivaling that of a certain circa 1565 tourist destination about 400 miles due east, but with white sanded shores and a food scene that will have you scheming your next visit from the first bite. From diving into the best shrimp and grits in the Sunshine State (arguably) from your dockside high-top table overlooking the marina to pausing in your beachside Frisbee-throwing for an impromptu air show from the world-famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels, you're unlikely to find a Florida coast with more to offer. If you're feeling adventurous—and like making new friends—the locals will be more than happy to dole out the must see, eat, and do spots in town. But, for those who prefer a game plan, look no further.

Boats in Harbor in Pensacola, Florida
Getty/Dan Reynolds Photography

On day one, don't even think about sleeping through breakfast. Start bright and early in the historic district's Fosko Coffee Barre for a latte and a crepe (strawberry-banana-Nutella if you're a sweet; bacon-apple-Brie if you're a savory). Take your coffee to go and pop into Bluetique just a block away for breezy fashion that'll have you looking the part of a local in no time. If you're game for more retail therapy, hop on over to Duh for Garden & Home for homewares, specialty foods, and all the hostess gifts you can fit into your weekender.

When you've lingered a while and your appetite is starting to pick up again, head over to Seville Square and take your pick from any one of the casual dining spots lining the park. Hub Stacey's for sandwiches and burgers, Lucy's in the Square for shareable small plates and flat breads, and Dharma Blue for elevated Southern classics like fried tomatoes with tomato jam and goat cheese.

Next up, head to the beach, but this time you'll skip the swimsuits in favor of sneakers as you take in some of the city's rich history with a walk about Ft. Pickens, a military fort built in the 1800s to protect and defend the bay area and Pensacola Navy Yard and Depot from attacks. Heads up: There's an entry fee to gain access to the Ft. Pickens area, but you'll be covered for all future visits to any of the Gulf Islands National Seashore locations for the next week. Head over to the Fort Pickens Discovery Center for a download on the area's history, wildlife, and natural environment.

Now it's time to pick your next adventure. If you want to experience more of the Gulf Coast city's history and culture, Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola Museum of Art, and Pensacola Children's Museum are all worthy of a visit, if not a full day exploring. But, if a slowdown and cool-off are in order, head back into town for a mid-afternoon pitstop at Perfect Plain Brewing Co., a 10-barrel brewhouse with a dog-friendly patio overlooking historic Garden Street. Opt for whatever local, seasonal brew is on tap—you can't go wrong.

When you've once again worked up a sufficient appetite, hop over to The Fish House, a harborside mainstay and home of the self-named World-Famous Grits a Ya Ya, a dish featuring perfectly seasoned Gulf shrimp piled atop creamy, decadent smoked Gouda grits, and smothered in a bacon-shallot-garlic cream sauce. After you've taken your fill, sit and stay a while, taking in the Seville harbor views and Pensacola Bay just beyond.

When it's time to rest your head and recharge, a stay at the Oyster Bay Boutique Hotel will keep you right smack dab in the middle of the historic district so you can wake up from their luxurious accommodations and do it all again, maybe this time on two wheels thanks to your Electric Bike Co. rental or via a Pensacola Bay Ferry where you can revel in the coastline from the upper deck. After that, if you end up moseying over to those white sand beaches for a day in the sun, we don't blame you one bit.

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