From Beaches to History: 10 Best Things To Do in Pensacola

things to do in Pensacola, Florida

There are lots of fun things to do in Pensacola and the surrounding area. It is a great place to visit for beach lovers and those who love spending time outdoors. The area is home to America’s famous Blue Angels and the picturesque emerald-green waters of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

You can enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches, go fishing or shelling, explore nature trails, go camping, or visit museums and historic sites.

Best Things To Do in and Around Pensacola, Florida

Happy couple at the beach near Pensacola

This Floridian city has options for beachgoers of all ages. Explore the charming downtown area, filled with historic buildings, cool shops, and restaurants. Or, there’s plenty of nature to enjoy in the area, from state parks to miles of protected coastline.

1. Catch Waves at Pensacola Beach

Boardwalk to Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach is one of the main attractions of the area. The coastline and beaches are beautiful, with sugar-white sand and crystal-clear waters. Enjoy activities like swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and kayaking.

Rent SUPs or Kayaks: There are multiple places to rent stand-up paddleboards or kayaks in the area. If you’d like to paddle, start early in the day. Earlier is best before the winds and waves pick up.

There are miles of white sand beaches stretching along Pensacola Beach and Santa Rosa Island. East of Pensacola Beach, there are also a few parking areas to access the incredible beaches as you drive along Highway 399.

2. Explore the Gulf Islands Fort Pickens Area

Fort Pickens beaches

Located on Santa Rosa Island, down the road from Pensacola Beach, is the Fort Pickens area of the Gulf Islands. Gulf Islands National Seashore is managed by the National Park Service, keeping this part of Santa Rosa Island wild and untamed.

Fees: It costs $25 to enter the park for seven days, or you can use the annual National Park Pass.

You can enjoy the beaches of the Gulf Islands, watch for dolphins and other wildlife, explore the famous fort, hike, kayak, and camp.

The beaches within the park are less crowded, and there are multiple areas to access the coastline.

If you’re camping at Fort Pickens, you can walk right to the coast. If you’re not camping, Langdon Beach has a parking area. There are a lot of great things to do at Fort Pickens.

3. Watch the Blue Angels

Image Credit: Jon Wilson/@PensacolaDrone on Instagram

If the sound of roaring fighter jets gets your heart racing, you’re in for a treat. The Blue Angels put on an incredible show over the beaches of Pensacola often. Whether you’re watching from a nearby beach or right up close to the action, there’s nothing quite like it. You can catch them in action doing practice events or main shows.

Where We Watched The Blue Angels: We saw them practice while we camped at Fort Pickens. It was awesome.

If you want to learn more, visit the Naval Aviation Museum.

4. Hit the Beach at Opal Beach

Opal Beach

Another incredible beach accessed along Highway 399 is Opal Beach. This area is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Opal Beach has pavilions, restrooms, and beach showers.

We like Opal Beach because there are facilities, and the water is shallow, calm, and warm. It is dreamy and Pablo’s favorite beach in the area.

5. Road Trip to Navarre Beach

Navarre Beach from the pier

Driving east on Highway 399, about 30 minutes from Pensacola Beach, is Navarre Beach. It is a short drive from Pensacola if you are up for beach hopping.

There are restaurants and condos and the famous Navarre Beach Pier. It is touted for being the longest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico. You can walk or fish from it.

Cost to Walk the Pier: We paid $1 to walk and take photos. It was worth it.

Navarre Beach is about 45 minutes from Destin if you’re road-tripping along the coast.

6. Hike and Camp at Big Lagoon State Park

Boardwalk in Big Lagoon State Park

Located about 30 minutes southwest of downtown Pensacola is Big Lagoon State Park. The park is an excellent place to camp as you’re road-tripping the Florida panhandle.

There are beautiful boardwalk trails through the marsh and intercoastal pine forest. Here, you can access Big Lagoon, which is more protected from the Gulf and a great place to fish, stand-up paddleboard, or kayak.

Fees: There is a fee to enter (link to Florida State Parks) and camp.

Watch our Big Lagoon State Park Campground review on YouTube.

7. Explore Perdido Key

Perdido Key Beach

Perdido Key is another beach town that offers great activities for visitors, such as swimming and sunbathing, kayaking, and fishing.

There are restaurants and bars in the area, making it the perfect spot to spend a weekend or more extended vacation. It is a short 30-minute drive from downtown Pensacola.

Watch our video about the beautiful parks and beaches to explore in Perdido Key.

8. Visit Perdido Key State Park

Perdido Key State Park

While in the Perdido Key area, be sure to visit Perdido Key Beach and the state park area. The beaches are gorgeous, and there are miles of coastline.

9. Visit Johnson Beach National Seashore

Gulf Islands Perdido Key area

The Johnson Beach area of Gulf Islands National Seashore will blow you away if you like wild beaches. The sand is incredible, the water is clear, and the area doesn’t get as crowded since there is limited parking.

Where To Park: The parking areas near the pavilion tend to get crowded, but you can drive further along the island for a more rugged beach vibe. Be sure to get there early to find a spot.

Keep your eyes open for dolphins and sea turtles. We saw dolphins right off the beach. This is one of the best beaches in the Florida panhandle — it’s my personal favorite.

Fees: It costs $25 to enter the park for seven days, or you can use the annual National Park Pass.

10. Go Shopping and Restaurant Hopping in Downtown Pensacola

Image Credit: Jon Wilson/@PensacolaDrone on Instagram

There are unique shops and restaurants to explore, plus history and culture to enjoy downtown. Walk around the historic district, take in the beautiful architecture, or tour one of the museums.

If you’re there on a Saturday, from 9 am – 2 pm, check out the Palafox Farmer’s Market.

Best Campgrounds Near Pensacola

Fort Pickens Campground

We have stayed at Big Lagoon State Park and also Fort Pickens. Both are nice locations, and they allow dogs. These two campgrounds have some of the best camping on the Gulf of Mexico.

Watch our Big Lagoon State Park Campground review on YouTube.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Pensacola, Florida


Pablo and I love Pensacola. Every time we visit, we go home and plan our next annual trip. It is a great place if you’re looking for a fun and relaxing beach town. With plenty of things to do, beautiful beaches, and delicious food, it’s no wonder this city is a popular tourist destination. Plus, we think it is really affordable.

Out of all the beaches we have been to, we think Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches along the panhandle are second to none.

Have a great trip.

Ashlee & Pablo

More Day Trips From Pensacola:

You might enjoy these day trip options from Pensacola:

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.


  1. Brittany on September 15, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    I’ve never been to Pensacola before, but all the beaches look beautiful! Thanks for sharing this awesome guide!

    • Ashlee Fechino on September 16, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Brittany – thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

  2. Lisa Manderino on September 15, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    Wow, the Emerald Coast is so beautiful! I really need to go!

    • Ashlee Fechino on September 16, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      Lisa – You will have a great time exploring the Emerald Coast in Florida!

  3. Alice Ford on September 14, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    I have never been super enthused by a Florida vacation but you make Pensacola and the surrounding area look awesome. The beaches look clean and tranquil and so do the nearby nature areas.

    • Ashlee Fechino on September 16, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      Hi Alice – thanks for reading!

  4. Elyse on September 14, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    I didn’t know a whole lot about Pensacola so this was a great read, the beach looks amazing too

    • Ashlee Fechino on September 16, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      Hi Elyse! There are so many things to do in Pensacola. It is a great beach town to explore.

  5. Gordon Grindstaff on August 8, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Interesting but you left out the three most visited things in and
    Around Pensacola. Joe Patti’s Seafood market, The national Naval aviation museum and the Pensacola lighthouse and Maritime Museum.

  6. Burt Randall on July 28, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    I love the beach too !! THANKS for

    this article, Ashlee + Pablo !!

    • Ashlee Fechino on July 28, 2022 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Burt! So nice to see a comment from you. Thank you for reading!