With air shows, history and the arts Pensacola is more than just beaches
Photos Courtesy: Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
Hold on, St. Augustine. You may be the oldest town in Florida, but Pensacola has a few bragging rights too. Spanish conquistador Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano landed in the Panhandle in 1559, six years before St. Augustine was founded.
So, OK, a hurricane interrupted Pensacola’s founding but the Spanish returned and founded Fort San Carlos de Austria in 1698, named for King Carlos II, Hapsburg King of Spain at the time. The French destroyed the fort when they took over the settlement in 1719 and its ruins exist today at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, not far from the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. Visitors to the Lighthouse can learn about the region’s unique history that goes beyond its founding, for Pensacola has served under five flags: Spain, France, Britain, the Confederacy and the United States.
The Fiesta Pensacola hosts more than 20 events throughout the year, including June’s 10-day celebration of the city’s founding and history. There’s the Grand Fiesta Parade, a boat parade, children’s activities and the Fiesta All Krewe Ball, to name a few of the events. In the fall, the organization presents the annual Seafood Festival with music, arts and crafts and, of course, Gulf seafood.
Heart-stomping, awe-inspiring and the highlight of every air show, the Blue Angels Navy flight demonstration squadron makes its home in Pensacola at the Naval Air Station. You don’t have to wait until an air show comes to town to see them in action. The Blue Angels practice their aerobatics at NAS Pensacola on select days throughout the year. On certain Wednesdays, pilots visit the NAS Museum to sign autographs. Admission is free to watch, but check the NAS website for ID card requirements.
If you’re still itching for an air show, view the Blue Angels and others at the July 7-8 Pensacola Beach Air Show or Nov. 3-4 at the NAS Pensacola Homecoming Air Show. This year, the squadron’s 77th, the Blue Angels will perform 62 demonstrations at 32 locations.
Pensacola’s not just a beach town — although the Gulf beaches at Pensacola Beach, Perdido Key and the Gulf Islands National Seashore are some of the country’s finest. The city offers a wide variety of artistic entertainment, all located in the downtown historic district. Choose from the Pensacola Opera, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Pensacola, the historic Saenger Theatre and the Pensacola Museum of Art. Downtown also features numerous galleries, many that showcase Panhandle artists, and the First City Art Center. Theatre-lovers may want to take in a performance at the Pensacola Little Theatre.
For information on things to do in Pensacola, visit visitpensacola.com.
Free Things to do in Pensacola
Places to bring the family that won’t break the bank — heck, they’re free — abound in Pensacola and surrounding areas. First and foremost are the beaches, naturally, but don’t miss the Sand Eco Trail on Pensacola Beach where signage tells the story of the region’s rich ecology. You might even spot a nesting seabird or turtle. There’s the weekly Palafox Market on Saturdays and nearby St. Michael’s Cemetery, dating to the 1700s, is one of the oldest in Florida. The National Naval Aviation Museum, where the Blue Angels practice, has no admission fees and free parking. However, special attractions, such as films and flight simulators, do require tickets.