Dreaming of a golden getaway in the Sunshine State? Pack your bags and swing down to Pensacola Beach, Florida. Set on Santa Rosa Island in the Florida Panhandle, this gorgeous destination features the best that Florida’s Gulf Coast has to offer.
Whether you’re a beach lover, naturalist, or history buff, a sunny sojourn in Pensacola Beach is sure to delight. Connected to the mainland by the Pensacola Bay Bridge, this beautiful barrier island will satisfy your vacay cravings—whether it’s white-sand beaches, a sunset stroll on the iconic Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, or fascinating wildlife encounters.
Ready to find your place in the sun? Plan the perfect Pensacola Beach vacation with this complete guide for what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay.
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What to see & do
Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier
Ever wanted to walk on the water? You can do it on the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Stretching an eye-popping 1,470 feet beyond two sand bars into the Gulf, this iconic fishing pier is a happy haven for anglers and amblers alike.
Set just off the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk on Quietwater Beach, the waters off of the Pensacola Beach Pier teem with marine life. Cast a fishing rod for catches ranging from mackerel to flounder.
Bring your binoculars for awesome glimpses of local residents like dolphins, sharks, stingrays, and seabirds. Look w-a-a-y up, and you may catch a thrilling fly-by of the Blue Angels aerobatic team.
Want a break? Grab a drink or snack at one of the shops on the pier. Cool off in the shade of the Gulfside Pavilion. At the end of the day, stroll to the end of Pensacola Beach Pier to take in one of the most spectacular sunsets in Pensacola Bay.
Pensacola Beach Eco Trail
Want to slow it down and get a closer look at the natural world? Take a trek along the Pensacola Beach Eco Trail. This untouched 8.5-mile stretch is an on-the-hoof eco-educational experience that showcases the unique Santa Rosa Island environment.
Walk, bike, run, or swim to view the 29 educational signs that are scattered along Pensacola Beach. Read the stories about the region’s abundant flora and fauna at each stop. Check out the pictures and maps that’ll guide you as you explore.
Learn about the species of fish, sharks, and other marine life that you’ll discover as you snorkel or scuba dive. Get to know the dolphins you’ll spot on a cruise. Read about the sea turtles that you’ll see nesting and hatching. Sharpen your bird-watching skills by learning about which feathered friends you’ll see cruising overhead.
And remember to leave only your footprints behind!
Pensacola Beach Boardwalk
That Drifters song had it right: you’ll be havin’ some fun down on the boardwalk. The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk, stretching along Quietwater Beach, is the destination for shopping, entertainment, and dining. So get ready to give your feet and your wallet a workout!
Choose from a bevy of beachside eateries, boutiques, souvenir shops, and live music venues. Shop for everything from handcrafted jewelry to wine and cheese. Whether your culinary cravings are for oysters, burgers, or chicken wings, the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk will satisfy.
Want to get the adrenaline pumping? Check out The Shell Amphitheater for live music and entertainment any time of year. Next door, soak up the nightlife as you savor a cocktail at Bamboo Willy’s, a favorite after-hours spot on Quietwater Beach. And while you’re at it, sit back, and take in the fantastic dockside views of the city at night.
Casino Beach & Pier
Ready to party like it’s 1931? Hit the Casino Beach & Pier to experience the surfside spot that first put Pensacola Bay on the map – and continues to draw seaside revelers today.
The resort’s days of boxing matches and beauty pageants may be gone, but the Casino Beach waterfront scene thrives. Set across from the Boardwalk just south of the Pensacola Beach Water Tower, this spacious sugar-white beach invites you to stretch out or stroll.
Feeling energetic? Rent a paddleboard, kayak, sailboat, or pontoon – and hit the waves. Book a spot on the family-friendly Dolphin Express for fantastic up-close views of these intriguing marine creatures. Or relax on a sunset cruise as the sun sinks on the horizon.
Hungry? Check out the popular Casino Beach Bar & Grille, one of several beachside restaurants around Casino Beach. Their menu includes a Chicken & Waffle Sandwich featuring fried chicken, smoked bacon, and bourbon barrel maple syrup. Dare to resist!
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Want to explore a haven that showcases Pensacola Beach’s rich and varied wildlife? Grab your binoculars and head for the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Boasting amazing beaches and the largest protected seashore in the U.S., this national park offers endless opportunities to nature lovers.
Roam the beautiful white beaches and enormous sand dunes. Discover the fertile marshland. This secluded spot brims with thousands of plant and animal species, many of them endangered. Keep your eyes peeled for bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, armadillos, gators, and more.
Explore the park’s trails by foot or bike for a scenic journey. Want to cool off? Hit the emerald green water for some kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling. Hop on a shoreline cruise for a real visual treat.
Time to refuel? Unpack the hamper and stretch out in the shaded picnic area. No need to leave this paradise. Book a campsite, sit back, and marvel at the beautiful night sky.
Looking for pristine beauty and room to move? Make Opal Beach your destination. One of the Emerald Coast’s most beautiful attractions, this popular beach is a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore preserve. Visually stunning with its sugar-white sands and azure water, this is the longest continuous stretch of protected beach in Northwest Florida.
This often-overlooked gem was created in 1995 when Hurricane Opal flattened the existing dunes, leaving today’s smooth, sugar-white blanket. Dig your toes in and go for an eye-filling stroll as you take in the gorgeous scenery. Hike or bike the beach trails. Cast a fishing line and see what bites. Or slip into the crystal-clear water and chill out.
Ready for a break? Stake out one of the beach’s pavilions, unpack the picnic hamper, and chow down!
Want to be immersed in a place that vibrates with history? Make your way to Fort Pickens, a century-old structure that was once a vital part of America’s naval defensive strategy.
Known as the “Guardian of the Gulf,” this five-sided fort was designed to let loose a “ring of fire” in the event of an attack. Much of the fort remains intact, including some of the hundreds of original cannons.
Walk the historic grounds. Explore the fort’s corridors. Feel the past in its thick brick walls. Climb the heights to take in the view that made this spot a critical military post.
Want to check out more of this top Pensacola attraction? Hop aboard the free tram service to check out the Fort Pickens area’s major attractions. Hop off at Langdon Beach for a dip and a picnic. Chug along to the Discovery Center, and explore intriguing exhibits on the wildlife, natural environment, and history of the region.
Gulf Breeze Zoo
Ready for a family-friendly adventure guaranteed to be a hit with the kiddos? Pack them up and head for Gulf Breeze Zoo–and prime your camera for some truly post-worthy pics of giraffes, gorillas, and rhinos
Spread over 50 acres, the zoo is home to over 800 animals. Observe them in their natural habitats as you stroll the elevated boardwalk or ride the safari train. Visit the farm for a fun face-to-face experience. Drop by the petting areas to show some love. Feed giraffes, budgies, and gators. Book a one-on-one encounter with a sloth, giraffe, or hippo. Check out the behind-the-scenes activity with an animal care specialist.
Phew! If your gang is feeling peckish on your day trip, you’re covered. Slip into Gulf Breeze Zoo’s Watering Hole Cafe for a tasty meal or snack. Refueled, you’re ready for Round Two!
Looking for a destination that spells “relaxation”? Amble over to Navarre Beach, a tranquil beach community. A regular winner of “best beach” awards, Navarre Beach offers 12 miles of amazing beaches.
Stretch out and soak up some sun on the pristine sand, paddle in the azure waters, savor a picnic in the park, or saddle up and take a scenic bike tour.
Want to take a deep dive into marine life? Experience some close encounters with sea turtles, sea horses, and lionfish at the Shanna Litterst Education Center. Check out the interactive exhibits to learn more about the area’s marine life.
Drop into the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station to learn about the region’s aquatic life and ecosystems. Have a hands-on experience with marine animals at a “touch tank”, or join in on a dolphin rescue.
Naval Live Oaks Preserve
Want to be surrounded by some true American icons? Head to the Naval Live Oaks Preserve, a jewel in the Gulf Islands National Seashore crown. Stretching from Santa Rosa Sound to Pensacola Bay, it’s one of the oldest federally-protected forests in the U.S.
Explore the wild beauty of the windswept shoreline. Take in the majestic grandeur of the live oaks, unique symbols of America’s naval shipbuilding tradition. The oak’s legendary strength made it the #1 choice for warship construction in the early 19th century and earned it official presidential protection.
Check out the preserve’s interpretive exhibits to learn about this site’s intriguing history. Or for a more active adventure, choose from 7.5 miles of hiking trails.
Want to aim high? Venture along the Brackenridge Trail, a quarter-mile boardwalk looping into the forest. Hop off at the far end, follow a short footpath – and be rewarded with a spectacular view from the bluffs above Santa Rosa Sound.
Where to eat & drink
After all the action around Pensacola’s beautiful beaches, you’re bound to be looking for tasty spots to eat and imbibe. Pensacola Beach does not disappoint! You’ve got a mind-boggling variety of delicious food and drink to choose from. Here are a few options:
If “relaxed chic” is your taste, the Grand Marlin of Pensacola Beach is your place. It features a raw bar and fresh, locally-sourced seafood. Take your pick of goodies like Oysters Rockefeller and seared Red Snapper. Sip a cocktail and enjoy a spectacular view.
Looking for a kid-friendly spot where you can shake a leg? Then hop on down to Peg Leg Pete’s. Choose from the raw bar, or chow down on offerings like Cajun shrimp or fried catfish as you enjoy live music—and the kiddos can keep busy in the children’s play area. Everyone’s happy!
After a boardwalk stroll, head to Shaggy’s Pensacola Beach. This is a lively spot where you can soak up a fun, island-style atmosphere with oceanside views from every table. Dig into treats ranging from seafood fries to shrimp & grits and soak up the laid-back vibe.
Want to chill out? Check out The Sandbar, a welcoming beach bar favorite that draws lively crowds. Find a spot on the patio and choose from a menu that ranges from fresh seafood to classic Cajun beans and rice. And savor a truly spectacular sunset!
Looking for a cool indoor/outdoor deck beach setting? Join the gang at the Frisky Dolphin Sunset Oyster Bar & Grill, and take your pick of everything from Philly cheesesteaks to blackened fish plates. Settle in for a Watch Party Night—or hit the bricks for a pub crawl.
Want to get a taste of a Pensacola Beach icon? Head to the Casino Beach Bar & Grille for an unforgettable dining experience. Soak up the island vibes, live music, and a diverse menu that features a world of options ranging from coconut shrimp to fresh-catch Reubens. There’s something for everyone at this popular spot!
Boasting the largest outdoor screen on the beach, Laguna’s Beach Bar & Grill is the place to hit up on game day. Sit back, sip a frosty on-tap beer, and dig into delectables like buffalo chicken pizza and seafood tacos.
Where to stay
Looking for a getaway the whole family will love? Book your and your crew in at the Holiday Inn Resort. Everyone will love soaking in the hotel’s 250-foot lazy river, waterfalls, and both an indoor and outdoor pool. End the day with a relaxing cocktail at the on-site tiki bar.
For a self-catering stay, dip your toes in at this all-suite hotel. The spacious family-friendly units feature large bedrooms, a sitting rooms, and ocean views from private balconies.
Want a little beachside luxury? Give the popular Margaritaville Beach Hotel a spin. One of the area’s top luxury hotels, this property is chock-loaded with amenities for your entire group. Aside from the unique luxurious requisites, the hotel features bicycle, kayak, and paddleboard rentals so you can explore all the town’s charms both on land and at sea.